Hangovers and Bus Tours (Thankfully In That Order)
January 1st, 2015
12:00 PM IST
Isaac’s Hostel, Dublin, Ireland
No, I do not regret sleeping through half a day. If college taught me anything, it’s that sleeping through your hangover is 1000x better than actually trying to cure it. But now I’m up and there’s about four and a half hours of daylight left since winter in the Isles basically means about 8 hours of daylight and 16 hours of darkness. It’s the kind of post-party day when I just don’t feel up to dealing with humans. All I want is a nice breakfast and to wander a bit on my own. So after another brisk wake-up shower, I set off to do just that.
1:00 PM IST
Somewhere along the River Liffey, Dublin, Ireland
Walking alone is always a lot more comforting behind a camera. It’s a nice shield, a thing to be doing that encourages people not to question your alone-ness. Though it does make you stand out a bit more as a “tourist”, it also blends you into the anonymity of that phrase. And so I wandered and just snapped as I went, allowing myself to get hopelessly lost in the streets of the city.
It’s a bit rainy and damp, and so as the sun dips down to the horizon, I pick my way back to the hostel to warm up and begin to plan a bit more of the journey. This is a big travel discovery for myself as well, not every day must be packed to the brim with activities and plans, sometimes it’s good for the body and mind just to wander in a new place. I feel refreshed, and of course, a lot less hungover.
8:00 PM IST
Isaac’s Hostel, Dublin, Ireland
Finally enjoying an extended WiFi connection, I begin to plot out my next adventure. My attention is drawn to the bus tour that the cheery desk clerk had shoved into my hand upon arrival. I flipped through the pages and realized that given my limited budget, this was actually a really cost-effective way to see a bit more of the country. €45 ($52) would get me a trip all the way from Dublin to the west coast to see the Cliffs of Moher and along the way also stop at Corcomroe Abbey, Limerick, Doolin, and the Burren. So I hopped online and booked a ticket for the next day….at 6:30 AM…..
January 2nd, 2015
6:00 AM IST
Irish Day Tours Bus Stop, Suffolk Street, Dublin
Jesus, if I wanted to run through darkened city streets at 5 AM I would have just stayed home and worked. I finally find the bus line-up and realize almost none of the buses are marked. So I tigger-hop my way down the line trying to read the 8 1/2″ by 11″ print-out signs identifying their destination placed precariously in the windshield. Finally, I arrive at my bus and fall into the mass of other bleary-eyed passengers. A at 6:15 a cheery gentleman throws open the doors and loudly announces “GOOD MORNING! Cliffs of Moher step right up here!” We all shuffle into a line and begin to board the bus as the driver warmly welcomes each of us aboard while checking our names off on the list. I stumble aboard the bus, stash my things and slump back to sleep as the bus pulls out.
The Road to Clare, Ireland
As the sun begins to cut its warm rays across the rolling green hills I drift in and out of consciousness as the bus rumbles down the highway.
At about 8 AM after we’ve made a stop for coffee and a bit of breakfast, the bus driver’s voice crackles over the PA system as he begins his soliloquies about the history of Ireland, the struggle for independence, and even the mythologies deeply embedded in the culture. He’s charming and deeply knowledgable and his voice is pleasant to listen to through the remaining two hours or so of the drive out to the cliffs.
10:30 AM IST
The Cliffs of Moher, Clare, Ireland
Our bus rambles into the parking lot and we all disembark with haste. Once off the bus we begin cracking tight limbs and un-capping our cameras in preparation for the cliffs. As we disembark, the bus driver remarks “You’re all very lucky, today it’s so clear out, I may even get out myself to take a look at them. And I’ve driven to them hundreds of times”. This endorsement excites me as I take off for the path to the cliffs, camera in hand.
I take the path up the hill and then must choose, left or right as it forks to two viewing areas. The one to the right is much shorter and easier, so I decide to take that one first to behold my first glance. Finally, as I reach the top of the hill, I turn around to see them, caught in the morning sun.
Rugged, massive, and stunning. The whole of the island just ending in a sheer drop. I do take a moment for a selfie in front of them, wanting to place myself in this incredible place.
I quickly begin my ascent to the second viewing area. This path is narrow, muddy, and lacks any kind of specific guard rail system, which makes the climb just a bit more exciting. There at the top, I am greeted with another spectacular view of these massive structures.
My toes pursue the beauty right up to the edge of the cliff. Yes, that’s right, you can walk right to the edge of these sheer drops and no one bats an eye. It’s a system of common sense implemented, if one walks to close to the edge of a tall thing, one may fall off. Quite the concept. I then turn my back to the cliffs to behold another great beauty unfolding before me, the rolling green hills that find their way into more folk songs than one could count.
This is just a beautiful place. Too soon it is time for us to load back onto the bus and continue on our way.
12:30 PM IST
Fitzpatrick’s Bar, Doolin, Ireland
Our bus squeezes through tiny, winding streets with what I can only imagine was some Harry Potter-level shape morphing until we arrive with a jolt at our lunch destination, a cute pub and eatery attached to a hotel.
At this point I’m absolutely starving and to my delight, Irish beef stew is on the menu. The great stew which now holds my heart has returned to me like a long-lost lover. I watch the man scoop the delicious broth out of the vat and I follow it to the plate with puppy-like eyes. That and a rich Guinness rounds out my lunch and I slip out to the patio to enjoy the unseasonably warm(ish) and sunny afternoon. The side of the bar is emblazoned with hand painted murals depicting the attractive features of Doolin strung along a melody of what I can only gather as a folk song.
Across the way is an adorable bed and breakfast that truly belongs on a postcard.
This lunch is a wonderful time to breathe, to think. I wander about, taking my photos and waiting for the driver to call us back to the bus. I breathe in the absolutely crisp air and feel my over-worked muscles begin to release just a tiny bit as I settle into this touristing lifestyle.
1:30 PM IST
The Burren National Park, Ireland
The bus really gets a good clip going as it’s freed from the tiny streets of Doolin and heads back out to the winding road that runs right along the wild Atlantic Coast. Farms with low stone walls and sheep painted with florescent colors zip by us on the right, while a churning ocean pounds against a rocky beach on our left. Soon the sheep are replaced with sheer rock mounds that rise up into the hills around us. We’ve found ourselves in the Burren. The land is limestone as far as I can see and the bus pulls over so we can look out over the wild.
I head for the ocean side, where many of us pose for pictures in front of the sheer rocky drop-off. I go for a slightly different picture, one of my toes just about to touch the edge of the drop. Now, having been a photographer in some precarious situations, I know exactly how close I can get to an edge without falling. I did not, however, factor in another tourist, startled by my precarious photo, SCREAMING behind me “LOOK OUT! DON’T GET ANY CLOSER!”. Loud, abrupt sounds are typically not something you want to project at someone standing less than a foot from a cliff. Thankfully, the sudden jerk of my head was not enough to send me plummeting into the angry ocean below, or else I wouldn’t be able to recall these stories for you now. I did, however, emphatically respond to my concerned travel mate that she simply needed to remain calm and I would be ok. And I did get the shot. So there.
3:00 PM IST
Corcomroe Abbey, Clare, Ireland
Because it’s winter, the afternoon sun is quickly fading as we come across the ruins of Corcomroe Abbey. It crouches in a fertile creche in the middle of the rocky Burren. It’s ancient and sacred, a precious relic of a time long past. It’s crumbling walls, which I can literally reach out and touch, have seen Ireland from it’s early medieval times, through the English rule, and back into independence. It catches my breath in my throat a bit as I absorb this thought.
As I pass through a gothic archway into the main hall of the church, graves older than the country I come from are patchworked across the ground. Inscribed with old Gaelic, the dates are unmistakable. 1523, 1652, 1386. To my eyes, ancient. The floor around them is filled with modern gravel, to keep the weeds out I suspect. I turn my eyes to the ceiling and squint, trying to imagine the great vaulted roof that these arches once held. Out here in the middle of the fields, this abbey must have been quite an impressive sight to behold, meticulously tended by the monks in its service. And I’m breathing the dust of these walls, walls that have stood through dozens of generations of humans that have rapidly changed themselves into an unrecognizable form of technology enhanced, DSLR snapping tourists passing through its once consecrated walls.
As the sun begins to set, it illuminates the crumbling stable just outside the abbey, highlighting its worn curves.
And with the sinking of the sun, it’s time to load back into the bus and finish our trip back to Dublin. Along the way we stop in the cute fishing town of Limerick for drinks, restrooms, and a touch of shopping. I simply wander out to the water and snap a final few photos of the harbor before we all hop back on the bus and begin the long, dark journey back to Dublin.
7:00 PM IST
Isaac’s Hostel, Dublin, Ireland
Exhausted and with a delicious take-out container of €4 noodles, I huddle in the WiFi lounge to plan my next move. I had been talking a bit to Ethan, a couchsurfer I hosted in Baltimore. He lives in Belfast, so I decided to alert him to the fact that I was indeed on the same continent again. I told him I would be interested in checking out Northern Ireland before I head to Scotland for a bit. Generously, his family offers to let me stay in their home so I can check out the city and visit with Ethan again. I’m thrilled and begin to plan a bus for the next day. However, now that I’ve touched base with Ethan again, he tells me no need, he’s in Kilkenny and would be happy to pick me up on his way back home. I’m incredibly excited to see him again and continue on my journey. So with that, I begin to pack my things and prepare my heart for the first goodbye of the trip, the bittersweet goodbye to Dublin.
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