Backpacking Europe 2015-Northern Ireland Part 1

Bangor, Northern Ireland

Couchsurfing, Family, and Wine

January 3rd, 2015

10:00 AM IST

Isaacs Hostel, Dublin, Ireland

The final bag zip is pulled, the keycard left at the front desk, and soon I’m stepping off of the streets of Dublin for the last time. This is where the journey really feels like a beginning. Before, it could have just been a holiday, a few experiences in a new city and then back home. But now, I’m beginning to move forward with only skeletons of a plan and allowing myself to be comfortable with that. I board a bus to the airport where Ethan will swing by and pick me up on his way back home.

12:00 PM IST

Now, here comes the tricky part. I’m in Dublin airport with a spotty wifi connection that only works inside. Ethan is from the north and has no cell reception in the south. Thus begins an epic game of airport hide-and-seek through delayed text messages in-between peeking outside looking for a familiar face. As I begin to get frustrated and after well over an hour of running in and out, sick of my heavy pack, I bolt for the escalator leading up towards the “Departures” terminal. As my feet hit the stairs, I look up to see Ethan riding down the opposing escalator. I laugh as he runs back up the escalator to meet me at the top and we finally head towards the car to begin our two hour journey north.

1:30 PM IST

Somewhere along the M1, Ireland

My pack in the trunk and the music on, the thrill of being in a car for the first time in over a week puts a smile on my face. Riding shotgun is Ethan’s friend Conor and no doubt his accomplice in the previous night’s events, given the hangovers they’re both trying to hide. As we chat away while speeding down the highway, familiarity envelops me. When Ethan exclaims “I can’t believe you’re here right now!”, I laugh and it takes me right back into the wildness of how that has even come to pass. Ten months ago, Ethan and his traveling friend Jakob were total strangers whose pictures appeared in my Couchsurfing inbox one day in Baltimore. Two weeks later, they were on my doorstep, bags in hand as our first real introductions were made. Twelve hours after that, we’re drinking margaritas out of hubcaps with my close friends and drunkenly fumbling through the streets of Canton, laughing all the way. Upon goodbye, there was no way of knowing we would ever see each other again. And now, almost a year later, I’m in the backseat of his car, all the way across the Atlantic, and about to sleep in his parents house. Life is infinitely bizarre and wonderful when you allow it to be so.

4:00 PM IST

Ethan’s family home, Bangor, Northern Ireland

After dropping Conor off at home in Belfast, we head 30 min north into the little seaside town of Bangor. We pull in down a neighborhood street lined in beautiful homes. Towards the end of the street, we arrive at the Smyth home. It’s a lovely two-story home with ample windows and a heavy door. As we enter, Ethan hollers a hello and from the back pops out Ethan’s beautiful mom Jane. She’s blonde with happy eyes and a stunning smile as she welcomes me warmly, her own accent even thicker than Ethan’s. After I’ve put my bags down, we settle into the kitchen for coffees and a chat. Jane is a school teacher on the brink of another semester and we talk about travel, how Ethan and I met, and the United States.

6:00 PM IST

Ethan’s family home, Bangor, Northern Ireland

Soon, Ethan’s dad Tim gets home. He’s tall and broad with a smart, grey goatee which is meticulously maintained. He’s a hairdresser by trade, trained in France and counts some of Northern Ireland’s own celebrities as his clients. Jane is now bustling around the kitchen preparing dinner and Tim offers up a bottle of wine. Ethan slightly rolls his eyes, which should be a bit of a warning, but good wine is something I never can say no to. Then dinner comes out and we all four sit around the table, talking about work and family as my wine glass mysteriously keeps refilling. Tim then explains that wine is so often a gift given by his clients that the house is stuffed with bottles of it, and upon that note, he tips another splash into my glass. The food is delicious and the conversation delightful, a family meal so very far away from my own home. After dinner I’m stuffed and a touch tipsy, and Ethan and I head out to the pub for a beer.

10:00 PM IST

The Jamaica Inn, Bangor, Northern Ireland

A crisp ale in hand, I listen to one of the more entertaining versions of “Wonderwall” I’ve ever heard performed by a lone guitarist with a harmonica slung around his neck as he crones away in the center of the packed pub. Conor is back, and we chat and drink the night away. The pace is slow and the conversation wandering, and it’s the perfect nightcap to the warm welcome I’ve received thus far.

Thanks for reading! More pictures to come as we finally get to the Titanic and that breakfast!

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