Generally when I am traveling, I try to write about my journey every day during the trip, but my time in Ireland was so full of all day (and often late into the night) experiences that I was left to store them in little nooks and crannies of memory until a future time. That time is now, and so I am catching up on sharing the bits and pieces that fit together to create the incredible image of my time in Ireland.
My yoga teacher friend and I traveled to Ireland together at the very beginning of summer. We left on the 22nd of June and returned the day before the United States celebrates its independence with fireworks and barbeque.
I was under strict instructions from my husband to relax, but it took me nearly half of the trip to stop worrying and feeling guilty about his having to stay home to watch the dog while I was away gallivanting around with the leprechauns and fairies of the emerald isle.
The trip seemed surreal before and even during our travels.
I can’t believe we are in Ireland, we kept saying, looking around in wonder and incredulity time and again for most of our journey.
In my adult life, I have never really gone on a true vacation like this or a yoga retreat. It was really exciting and very good practice for my attempts to let go and enjoy life.
Belgium was in full World Cup regalia, and I took photos on my way to the airport. I was traveling from Boitsfort and my friend from Gent, so we met at the terminal. I had set up a little office on a coach and was listening to various people make a variety of sounds on the baby grand piano nearby. One young man was quite skilled, and I admired his ability to actually remember enough of a song to play it.
When I was growing up, I studied classical piano quite intensely, and I would memorize 15-page pieces by Chopin, Mozart, Prokofiev, Beethoven. Just like cramming for a test, however, once the performance was over the songs would disappear from my memory. Sure, I can remember important things like the lyrics to “Baby got back,” but I cannot recall any of these beautiful works of art when I sit down at a piano. Without sheet music, I am as useless as a birder without binoculars (though at least with many birds I can identify them by ear). Being able to identify a piece of classical music by ear does not equal being able to play it.
One of my greatest sources of stress and anxiety in my life in Belgium has been public transit. I know it seems pretty ridiculous, but I already panic when I know I have to get somewhere I have never been before. I have had several experiences unexpected, challenging experiences that have instilled some trauma into my memory. Like when my dad was coming to visit for the first time. I carefully mapped out my route to the airport, only to find an entire area under construction where several buses were supposed to be running. That was a special moment, which involved loud shouting of expletives on my part, along with tears. I eventually got my wits together and found a metro close by, but I was super late to the airport and stressing out the entire way because my dad wasn’t responding to my text updates (he hadn’t been able to connect to Wifi at the airport, had gone out of the entrance/exit doors, and security would not let him back in to find me when I arrived…good times).
Transit is my path to enlightenment, as my husband likes to remind me. I have no control over the routes, the timing, or the behavior of the other people sharing every leg of the journey with me (and there are some special interpretations of acceptable public space etiquette pretty much every I get on the bus).
I have spent most of my adult life in remote wilderness areas, the opposite extreme. In those places, I struggled with loneliness from being so significantly separated from humanity. I recently suggested to my husband that the next place we live might offer a happier, more balanced, medium. He is in love with Belgium, so he pretends that he did not promise me that my dream and geographic preference could inform our next move.
Speaking of loving Belgium (or otherwise), I have mixed emotions when it comes to this European country). So when I was passing the attendant at the gate to the board the plane and one staff person told me I would need to fix my ticket for the return trip because I had checked that I had a Belgian ID but my titre de séjour (visa) was not the same so I might get waylaid for hours coming back into the country, I experienced a momentary pause.
Huh, I thought. Does that mean I really could potentially stay in Ireland?
My husband and I had joked about this possibility before I left, but it was mostly in reference to my being absconded by the fée and getting stuck in fairy. This administrative blip presented a real opportunity, though I supposed I would really just get stuck in airport limbo. I definitely had no desire to spend any more time at the airport than necessary.
After waiting for a small eternity along the winding path to the jetway and then on the jetway (RyanAir has one of the strangest, least efficient boarding protocol that I have experience in all of my travels). Then, we were off.
At the airport in Dublin, my friend and I walked along the route to baggage claim with wonder (after finally understanding that we had to go there to get her bag, which had been gate checked). First, we waited on the runway because we had deplaned by walking down a set of mobile stairs that was rolled up to the side of the plane. Usually, when bags are gate checked, they are set out for passengers to pick up on their way off the plane. So, after we loitered for a few minutes, scratching our heads, we walked inside the airport. Then, we walked back, continuing to scratch our heads until the pilots came off the plane and explained how and where we could find the bag in question.
It was definitely an odd feeling to be standing on the tarmac, and I snapped a photo of an equally odd phrase written on the face of the building across from the plane. Foreign countries always have hilarious signage, especially countries where the messages have been translated into English. Ireland was no exception. My favorite sign was on the highway when we were driving back with a friend who had taken us to a yoga workshop. The sign read, “Breast check here” just below the explanations of how the road diverged as you grew closer to downtown Dublin.
Sitting in the car, I cupped my own breasts and noted, “Still here. All good. Proceed” (or something to that extent).
But I digress.
We walked along the moving sidewalk, mouths somewhat agape as we looked around at the advertisements on our way to baggage claim. I can’t believe we are in Ireland, we said, again and again. At baggage claim, my friend pointed out the signs in English and Gaelic with instructions for making sure you did not take someone else’s bag by accident (since all black bags look the same) and reminders for which side of the road to drive on after leaving the airport.
I reviewed the somewhat vague directions from our Airbnb host, we headed outside, and found a bus we thought might get us there. When we boarded, my friend asked the driver if he was going in the direction we needed to travel. He did not respond, demanded money, and then yelled at her to take the two tickets that had been printed from the little machine by the ticket window.
Where are your tickets? He barked.
She looked nonplussed and then turned around to take them from the machine.
Was he joking? I asked as we headed up the stairs to the second level to find seats. When we got to the next stop at another airport terminal and the driver came upstairs and proceeded to harangue other passengers, we realized that the driver did not have much of a sense of humor.
Is this your bag? He yelled at a passenger, who had placed her bag in the aisle beside her. She nodded. He picked it up and threw it at her, directing her to hold it in her lap. He then moved on and yelled at other passengers to move over to make space for people getting on.
After the yelling, he turned around and went downstairs.
Ok, I guess he was serious, I said. We laughed, replaying his actions in our own dramatic theater and breaking into hysterics.
We drove by many different buildings, some old but mostly very new and modern, and areas of construction. The views were nothing like my imaginings of Dublin from the book about fairies my husband and I had been reading aloud. I clicked photos of Dublin Pride 2018 decorations and Temple Bar signs to send to my sibling and my husband.
At our stop, we descended and quickly got off the bus before the driver could raise his voice again and followed the questionable directions to our Airbnb. We found the place with a gate on the outside that made it look like a prison painted white. Once inside, the signage tipped the scales toward threatening more than inviting, but it was a relief to have found the place and to be able to set out stuff down and take a break.
In all of my zen transit practice, I realized with joy that I had maintained my equanimity remarkably well in figuring out how to get from the airport to our lodgings. Generally when we travel, my husband takes over way finding. When we were in Rome for a conference was presenting at the summer before, I had only visited the parts of the city I could walk to, my desire to avoid figuring out transit was so great. When we left and I realized I had missed beautiful statues at a museum that I could have gotten to by tram, I experienced some disappointment, but I suppose there is always next time. I had been perfectly content to wander on foot, refilling my water bottle and splashing water on my face at each of the many fountains around the city.
I wondered if some of my ease had to do with the fact that any questions I had I could ask in English? Over the week and a half I spent in Ireland, I found great relief in being able to speak my native tongue. There was no stressful buildup to any confusing situation because I could simply walk up to someone and easily ask for help.
Of course, Irish English expressions, accent, and inflections are quite different than US American ones, but that is a great part of the charm. I will write all about my adventures in learning Irish sayings in another post.
I love traveling to places where I have friends who can recommend places to visit and places to eat. This significantly eases the stress of figuring out what to do and how to fill my belly. My friend and I knew a fellow we had met at a yoga training where we did our YTT in Belgium, and he sent us a recommendation for fish and chips that was right near us.
We headed that way and ate the most food I can remember ingesting in a long time. The amount of food was shocking, and we were even more surprised when we ate nearly all of it. The final few chips I doled out in bits to the city pigeons we met as we walked lethargically in a meandering path around Temple Bar and the River Liffey on our way back to the Airbnb. One of my favorite sites was a hotel with murals painted of characters from James Joyce’s Ulysses. It is a tradition for my dad and I to wish each other a happy bloom’s day every day on June 16. I took a bunch of photos and sent them to my dad.
In addition to tasting the local foods, something I love about traveling is taking photos of the signs, and Dublin had some fantastic signs. In the vicinity of our Airbnb, there were several hilarious and terrifying signs about why people should pick up their dog’s poop, one of which warned about blindness in children. Seriously terrifying! I sent these photos to my dad as well, as he is a retired pathologist. I always ask him health questions, and I was definitely curious about the threat of blindness from dog poop.
Our tummies sated and exhausted from the day’s travel, we vegged out and prepared for the next day’s adventure. Our local yoga friend had decided last minute to attend a workshop our favorite yoga teacher (and the inspiration for our Ireland excursion) was leading in Waterford and offered to drive us down. In my book, even better than recommendations from locals is the chance to see the lay of the land and hear their stories. I set my alarm and headed to bed, though it was ages before I was able to fall asleep.