dublin ireland

Uh, Hey, We’re in Ireland! (Our European Adventure: Day 1)

June 13th, 2019:

So there we were. Overstuffed backpacks making our shoulders ache, wheeled suitcases constantly hitting bumps and threatening to topple over, and ankles far too bare for the unexpected wind that welcomed us into the Dublin morning. After 13 hours of travel, my family had landed in Ireland and were making our way to our European rental car, which promised a complete shattering of muscle memory.

Our plan was to make our way around Ireland in four days, and had decided to forego a bus and a designated schedule in favor of a terrifying adventure on the wrong side of the rode, a passionate new dedication and reliance on the design of Apple Maps, and the freedom to stop for pee breaks whenever we wanted. The pro and con list really could have been a novel in itself.

So there we were, in our just big enough car for a family of five with five suitcases, five backpacks and a lot of emotional baggage provoked by sleep deprivation. But alas, my dad started the car—from passenger seat, so it seemed—and we skittered into the streets of Dublin, each of us wondering if this was such a good idea.

Now, for any of you who have read my blog before, you might know that my sister and I went to Ireland a few years ago. And if pictures from that trip are any indication, we were disgusted to be back. I mean, imagine having to look at this for a SECOND time.

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Aside from simply wanting to visit this friendly, welcoming and beautiful country again, our main reason for making Ireland our first destination was to show my mom, dad, and brother the country that had stolen our hearts. We wanted them to see what our (pristinely executed) slideshow from three years ago couldn’t. And although we showed them ridiculously unmoving, definitely not borderline spiritual photos like this:

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…they still agreed to come along.

Our first stop after landing was the Guinness Storehouse, (pro tip: buy your tickets online in advanced to save money, skip the line and get a free pint!) where my sister, Natalee, and I had previously become “certified Guinness pourers.” We were excited for our family to achieve this status so we could finally stop looking down on them.

Our reservation was for 4:30 p.m., and although we landed late and took a few (or six) wrong turns trying to navigate our way through the city streets, we were still running a little early by the time we parked in a nearby parking structure and made our way to the front door. So to kill time we headed to Harkin’s, a pub in walking distance from the Storehouse, and dove headfirst into some burgers, beers, and Irish coffees.

As we ate, we met up with the other half of our adventure crew: the Stevens. My cousin Taryn had just finished up a three-week study abroad stint in Ireland and was the catalyst for our entire vacation/hijacking of her family’s vacation. What started as a “wouldn’t it be crazy to meet you in Ireland?” was suddenly a very real, “uh, hey, we’re in IRELAND!”

Once we finished our meal, we made our first walk as the newly imposing yet undeniably fabulous group of nine. We took our tour of the Storehouse, were all successfully certified (and recertified) and shared our first (and free!) pints of Guinness.

To my absolute unsurprise I still hated it.

Back at our car, we were met with our first dose of pure luck and (undoubtedly) heaven sent Irish hospitality. Being from Southern California, you’d think we’d be better equipped at reading street signs and might notice that our parking structure closed at 7:00 p.m. To our great fortune however, even though it was nearing 8:00 p.m., a security guard just so happened so be walking by and was able to unlock the gate, saving us a €100 retrieval fee, and a whole lot of over exhausted family angst. Slainte, you broad, Irish angel.

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In the planning of this trip, we had a lot of conversations as to how we wanted to get around Ireland, where we wanted to stay, etc. My sister and I had previously taken a clockwise route around the country, making pit stops in five main cities (Dublin, Cork, Gallway, Londonderry and Belfast) and so initially I assumed we’d do the same thing. However, in looking up lodging, I found that that route was going to be pricey. So, instead we opted to pick a city in the middle of the country to act as our home base—at least for the first couple days.

Which is how we wound up at the gate of this Airbnb in Mullingar.

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photo credit: Airbnb (check out the profile and rates for this place here. It’s way more affordable than it looks!)

Though it was a bit of a trek, the hosts, Carmel and Fintan, were incredibly charming and made us feel so at home that we were able to unload, unpack and crash—hard.

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As I lay there in the moments before falling asleep, with the Irish countryside sitting right outside my window, the trip became both real and completely unfathomable all at the same time. I knew we’d made it, to both this country, this house and this adventure, but I also wondered if I’d wake up the next morning and it would all be a dream.

Spoiler alert: it wasn’t.

50 Shades of Goodbye (Last Day in Ireland)

If Day 7 was weird to wake up to, Day 8 was worse. Since Natalee and I didn’t fly out until 12:30, we were able to take our time getting ready. That morning, I woke up with my focus primarily on making sure everything was in place for our trip home. I collected my things, double, triple, quadruple checking I had my passport, and I wrapped my souvenirs tightly in the hope that none of them would break on the way home.

While I was packing my suitcase, I came to find that the only way I was going to get it to shut was if I reorganized the entire thing. When I left, everything had fit perfectly, neatly. I’d organized it down to the inch. But as I looked at it now, it was kind of a disaster. So, I sat down in the middle of the floor, removed everything one by one and put them in piles around me. And even though I grew frustrated at first, trying and failing and then trying again to making everything fit, I started to realize that I simply had to approach it differently than I had at home. Because like me, my suitcase was different than it was when I started. With each city it had collected little things, memories, pictures, souvenirs, and they changed its shape, changed how it fit together. And so as I again began to make sense of everything, I began to appreciate these differences and I was thankful for them, because I knew that when I got back home and unpacked everything, I’d still have those new pieces I’d collected here and they would stay with me. Further down the road, when the trip becomes more of a distant memory, I know I’ll come across these pieces, in perhaps the most unexpected of ways and I’ll remember how they changed me, how they helped me grow and I’ll be able to look back at them and smile.

Once I fit the last few things inside my suitcase and zipped it shut, Natalee and I did one last look around our room.

“Is that everything?” I asked, and she nodded, opening up the door for us to roll our suitcases out the door and down the hall.

When we got downstairs, we handed the attendant our room keys and asked him to call us a taxi to the airport. Once the taxi arrived, we quickly walked outside, loaded our bags and got in, the initial action of which seemed like it had only just happened, as if this taxi driver should be that same man who talked football with us only a short time ago.

As he drove, I looked around at all the cars driving past. Some were taxis, perhaps shuttling tourists like us, some were families going somewhere on a Wednesday morning, and some were singles or couples, talking or laughing or sitting silently. In all the driving I’d done for work, I’d seen all these combinations before, and now here I was on the opposite end of the world seeing their mirror image. It made me realize how many worlds there are in our world. How many lives are all happening at the very same time, most of which we’ll never know about. But as the taxi driver continued down the highway to the airport, I realized how many lives I’d gotten to be a part of over the last week. Both those in our group, and those of people I’d met in restaurants and gift shops and pubs. We’d all shared something, even if it was brief. And I think that’s one of the greatest things about traveling. For no matter where you go, you’re going to find worlds upon worlds spinning and lives upon lives being lived, and if we’re lucky, we’ll get to be part of them, if only for a moment.