It’s not every day you wake up knowing that you’re going to fly across country to the land of luck and leprechauns, but for my sister, Natalee, and I, Tuesday was that kind of day. With our bags packed with clothes and our stomachs packed with nervous excitement, we made our way through security at LAX and took a seat at our gate, anxiously awaiting the 12:45 boarding call, and even more, the 1:10 departure.
Our first flight was to Toronto and we weren’t sitting together. So after we scanned our boarding passes we each made our way to our individual seats, exchanging geeky smiles all the way. I was seated next to a couple who, like us, were in transit to Dublin. The man talked at length about his daughter and her husband and how he and his wife had got roped into taking a vacation with them, never once buying into the fact that they weren’t primarily invited to babysit their 4 grandchildren. He didn’t mind though, said he couldn’t complain, and how could he? It’s not every day you get invited to babysit in another country, especially for kids you already (at least on most days) love.
Before the plane took off, our row was approached by a flight attendant who informed us of a neighboring passenger with a peanut allergy, asking that we please refrain from eating any products that could “create danger.” I nodded along, assuming I’d have no issue with this restriction, not expecting the immense anxiety to come 4 hours later when I was starving, craving the granola bar I had in my bag, but too terrified to even reach for it, as I feared a crinkling of the paper would release a nutty plume and murder my neighboring passenger in his sleep.
When we boarded our second flight, THE flight, Natalee and I again weren’t sitting together, so we again bid each other adieu and bundled up in our chair shaped beds. Then, after six strangely cold and quiet hours, the captain came over the loud speaker requesting that we prep for landing. I rubbed my eyes, stretched, then opened my window shade and all at once was in complete awe. All I could see was green. Miles and miles of green. Which was appropriate, because as I would come to learn, the slogan for Irish tourism is, “50 Shades of Green.” (Those cheeky shamrocks.) I pressed my hand against the window, anxious to be among all of what I was seeing, and then I heard the voice of a boy about 7 or 8 years old who was sitting a few rows ahead of me. “There it is!” he said, “IRELAND!” And while it was adorable, it was also awakening. There it was: Ireland, and soon I’d actually be able to plant my feet in it.
After we made it through customs, Natalee and I walked outside to hail a taxi to our hotel. Our taxi driver, who’s name I’ve currently forgotten so we’ll call him Dave, was a jolly, jumpy, but kind man who merrily chatted with us for the entirety of the ride. He asked us questions of where we were from and told us stories of why he left Dublin to move to Vancouver, only to return to Dublin four years later. And after somehow getting on the topic of football, we learned that he was a passionate 49ers fan, which, upon hearing of our sworn allegiance to the New York Giants, set him off on a rant regarding the seemingly still open wound caused by San Francisco wide receiver, Kyle Williams, in the 2011 NFC Championship Game. When Dave dropped us off, he wished us well on our trip and our team luck in the upcoming season, then waved goodbye from a seemingly misplaced driver’s side of the car. Once he was gone, we turned around and looked up, reading the sign on our hotel: Travelodge Dublin Airport, still trying to convince ourselves that yes, we were actually in Ireland.
At 4:30—actually, let’s go full European on you—at 16:30, we made our way down to the lobby (floor “0” on the elevator panel, strange to anyone else?) where we found 48 friendly faces who looked equally as excited/nervous/exhausted as us. We also met our Contiki tour guide, Tim, who kicked off the meeting with six of the most magical words possible: “I have a schedule for you,” followed by the second best set of words he could have ever given an anxious, jet lagged control freak like me: “And I’ll make one for you each day.” Essentially my first impression was: Tim for President.
After the meeting we all departed for our rooms as, according to the schedule (drool emoji) we had an included dinner at the hotel set for 18:30. (a.k.a 6:30 for all those of you who just rolled your eyes, I’m just trying to fit in you guys…) At dinner, we were able to get acquainted with a few of our new traveling companions. Among those sitting at our table, we had 4 Californians (including us), 2 Australians, and 2 New Yorkers. (As the week went on, we would find that our group as a whole represented around 6 countries!)
Oh, and on the subject of dinner, allow me to introduce a segment I’m going to call: POTATO WATCH a.k.a the noted tendency for the Irish to include potatoes at every meal. So, for night one, on the plate delivered to me I received: garlic chicken, vegetables and mashed potatoes potato siren (think the slime alert on old school Nickelodeon.)
After dinner, the group made its way to the Old Storehouse, our first official Irish pub. My sister and I, in our best attempt to fit in, both ordered a pint of Guinness, and while I’ll never claim it as my favorite, I also wouldn’t classify it as something I’d never drink. Somehow I think I get nostalgic for it in the future, relating its taste to that night in the pub. I’ll think of the faces of all my new friends, how awkward we all were that first night, but how easily our relationships seemed to grow, even in those first few hours after dinner. For as we all sipped our drinks and listened to the Irish music being played, the trip suddenly became real.