The next stop from my trip to Ireland over a year ago was the famous Blarney Castle. No one warned me that kissing the Blarney Stone required some gymnastics. I wasn’t expecting to be held as I bent backwards into a space between walls with no net to catch me if I slipped through. So here’s a fair warning for fellow travelers who might have a bit of a fear of falling from high places.
I’m also bad at climbing steep, narrow stairs of old, which are prevalent in Europe I’m finding. It takes a bit of leg muscle to make the trek up the stairs, but it’s well worth it, if nothing else than just to say you climbed up to the top of a castle. But I thought the views were pretty stellar from so high up.
I felt a great deal of fear, especially since the steps were so slippery with rain and moss. All that kept passing through my mind were images of falling to my death, thinking, This is where they’ll find my body. In an old castle, in Ireland. There were moments I thought of giving up and turning around, but I hadn’t made it that far just to give up before kissing the damn stone.
Besides that, there’s something about fighting against your own pounding heart and gasping breaths in damp, cold stone walls that makes you feel like a heroine out of a novel.
It wasn’t just the castle though that was beautiful. The surrounding grounds with gardens filled with deadly plants made for quite the sight as well. It felt like walking through magic.
With nothing but green and brown as far as the eye could see any which way I turned, I half expected fairies to come greet me at any moment, and wisk me away to a revel I’d never return from.
Or perhaps I just felt the call of the Emerald Isles inviting me to stay a bit longer. I admit, the thought had crossed my mind several times throughout this journey.
This is part 2 of a mini series I’m writing for my trip to Ireland in March 2017. See the first post here.
One of the three days spent in Dublin consisted of a day trip to Glendalough, famous for being featured in P.S., I Love You (which yes, we did watch on the bus ride over; delighful movie). It was just such a beautiful, scenic drive through Ireland’s countryside. The views were postcard picture perfect, with drying greens and soft browns surrounding us and calm, black waters in the distance. The cool grey sky added to the cozy atmosphere of a day of 40 degrees Fahrenheit. As we drove into the area, we saw sheep scattered all over the land, their wool (is it wool when it’s still on the sheep and not spun into fabric?) dyed so that farmers knew which were which.
The walk along the path was peaceful and quiet save for our group’s chatter. Nothing spectacular or extraordinary happened that day, except for walking through Ireland’s natural wonders with a bunch of strangers, and I found something beautiful in that simplicity.
We walked for what felt like miles to finish at the lake’s restaurant, where we encountered a pretty bridge over the water. Like I said, postcard picture perfect.
A day is not enough to take in the wonderful feeling of walking the trails of another land. I wish I’d been able to stay just a little longer, to sit at the lake’s edge for an hour or two, breathing in the crisp air with pen and paper in hand as I valiantly struggled to put into words what was right before my eyes. It’s just a lake after all. The land of two lakes in fact. So why is it that I just felt so struck by the calm waters and quiet surrounding trees and brush? Why did I bask in this experience with strangers I’d just met the day before but already felt like we were sharing a moment of creation? I think this is really what I love about traveling. It’s sharing in the mundane with new people and the ordinary becoming incredible.
Stay tuned for part 3/? of the Wanderlust Ireland series. In the meantime, check out more travel posts here. And if you’ve ever been to Ireland, let me know in the comments what you thought. What was your impression of the country?
Blue to the front
and green to the back.
Nothing but mountain and sky
for miles above and below.
Sitting in a plastic box, miles
above the surface, life stands
still. It’s just an expanse all around
and nothing else matters.
I don’t feel small or insignificant
or afraid. I just feel a part of it
forever expanding, my lungs
feebly mimicking the experience
in a way the human mind
comprehends. I see the top
where sky meets earth, still
unable to see where one begins
and the other ends. The lines
just bleed and my veins try
to mirror the phenomenon.
But we can’t.
Over a year and a half ago I finally got to visit Ireland, a country I’d been dying to see for as long as I can remember. There’s always been something about the Emerald Isles that called out to me. Maybe it was the myths and folklore. Maybe it was the haunting Celtic music. Maybe it was just the origins of my name. Whatever it may be, I wanted to see it, and so I did.
I went on a 5-day trip through EF College Break (technically 7, but 2 days were travel). We hit the ground running, as we immediately set off to explore Dublin soon after getting off the plane and leaving our luggage at the hotel (we couldn’t check in yet). Our tour guide Fab, who was amazing, helped us get our bearings so that we could wander off solo but still find our way back to our accommodations.
That first day we stuck together, a group of strangers who had just met but needed one another to make sure we didn’t get lost and left behind. Walking the brick alleys and making our way into Temple Bar to warm up with a pint, I soon felt clicking submit on that online trip application was the best decision I’d ever made.
By the next day, we all felt pretty confident in our abilities to navigate this foreign city, and all went our separate ways or in smaller groups. I started out the day with a roommate to explore Dublin Castle, and from there wandered the Irish city on my own, looking for the Writer’s Museum. I got lost along the way a few times, but I felt so sure of myself that I had no problem consulting the map and asking complete strangers which way to go. I definitely wandered into a suspect neighborhood and was quickly told to get out immediately, but no harm came to me.
I finally found the museum and spent a couple of hours there before making my way back to see a popular library as well. Yes, I’m that nerd who goes abroad to look at other countries book spaces. Truthfully though, none of it was about the destinations. Though I had a great time seeing castles, museums, and libraries, I felt more excited by the walking. It was just a city after all, not much different from New York in fact. Dublin also had construction sites blocking the walkways and smelly alleyways.
That’s really my favorite thing about traveling. It’s just walking among the locals, observing the natives of the land, listening to their voices and stories as they walk around me, ignoring my existence. I bask in the normalcy of life when I’m in a completely different country.
During one of my many bouts of getting lost, I realized it was time for lunch and stopped in at the first cafe I found. I didn’t try to act like a local, because I knew how obvious it was that I was American (the accent kind of gives it away). Instead I asked, “What do you recommend?” The woman behind the register named the soup of the day (leek and potato, which I’d never had and thought only existed in Neopets) with brown bread (again, something new to me). It sounded good though, and it was cold outside, so soup wasn’t a bad choice. She served me and I sat down to charge my phone and get Wi-Fi while I ate.
For the record, leek and potato soup is delicious. And with a side of brown bread with Irish butter, absolutely divine. Such simple fare, but so damn good. I took my time with my lunch and happily ate while looking around the restaurant and out the window. Everyone was so normal, and I was enthralled.
I finally started making my way back at the time I figured the sun would be going down. I couldn’t really tell, as it’s always grey in Ireland. But as confident as I was in my newfound ability to travel a foreign country on my own, and as friendly as the people had been thus far, I didn’t want to get stuck on my own at night in the city. When I finally arrived back at the hotel, my feet aching and sore, and my body on the verge of collapse, I consulted my phone to see how much I’d walked that day. Five miles to and five miles from (not including the rerouting that took place from getting lost). So approximately 10 miles total. I’d never walked so much in my life. I was exhausted but it was well worth it.
I’ve decided to break this post up into multiple parts, as I feel I can talk for days about the trip I had over a year ago. Stay tuned for more! In the meantime, have you been to Dublin, Ireland? If so, what was your favorite thing? Let me know in the comments!
I’m not entirely sure why I chose Spain as the first European country I visited, but that’s where my parents and I went in the summer of 2015. It was more of a whim really, or maybe my brain though it’d be best to start somewhere where at least I speak the language (other than English, of course).
This trip was a truly spectacular adventure, as for the first time, instead of depending on friends or family to help us out, we traversed the land all on our own, renting a car and everything. In Madrid, we used public transportation to get around the city, visiting museums, gardens, and castles. We got to spend one day hitting up Barrio de las Letras, which is a neighborhood where famous writers of the past, like Miguel de Cervantes and Lope de Vega, resided when they lived. The storyteller in me couldn’t resist the call of those narrow alleys and old apartments, seeing how my ancestors once lived.
Night 2 in Madrid was spent being sent to a speak easy performance of a flamenco show. We didn’t know it was a speak easy/secret until we got there. We’d been sent tickets by a local restaurant owner who’d taken a liking to us as we patroned his place the first 2 nights in the country because it was right around the corner from our hotel. Going up to the hidden vendor inside the venue to be shown a secret entrance made me feel like I’d gone back in time to the prohibition era. The show was spectacular, as we all sat together in the dark, the only light coming from the halo around the dancer.
On day 3 we packed up our suitcases and took our rental out to the Spain highways, where we couldn’t quite read all the signs and made a bit of an error getting off our exit. Thankfully traffic in the area was nothing like it is here in Miami, and my dad had the chance to hit reverse and go the right way.
The next stop was Segovia, where we marveled at the aqueducts the people living there had made so long ago still holding up. We didn’t do anything to touristy here, as it was a pause on our way to visit an old friend of my dad’s who lived in Jaen. But that didn’t stop us from taking in the scenery and just walking the city’s streets, playing the part of the local even though we were foreigners.
We then doubled back to Toledo, where my alma mater followed me, as there were knights galore. Suits of armor decorated almost every establishment we entered. My favorite though was the cobbled streets and box alleys. Everything about Spain’s architecture and infrastructure was narrow and confined, but we never felt imprisoned (though we did nearly crash with a local driver later on). My dad and I took a ghost tour of the streets of Toledo, hearing the legends and lore that are the lifeblood of any town.
I can’t even count how many times we got lost on our adventures in Spain, but each wrong turn took us to new wonders. We found an old monastery up a hill that looked like we’d drop over the edge at any moment before finally leveling out. I picked grapes from the building’s vines, hoping no one was around to see my minor sin of theft.
In need of a place to stay the night during one of our lost moments, we found a beautiful hideaway, called La Casa de los Siete Cielos (The House of 7 Skies). Set inside a mountain cavern system and with a rooftop pool and garden, we truly couldn’t have asked for a better place to get lost.
In our search for the famous windmills of Campo de Criptana we accidentally wandered into La Mancha instead, a land best known from Cervante’s work of Don Quixote. We visited the Don’s windmills and then wound our way through the tiny streets of the town below to spend the night among the author’s people. Winding down on our last days, we found a museum dedicated to Dulcinea, Don Quixote’s love interest in the story.
Truth be told, it’s hard to remember every single thing that happened, because Spain was not a followed itinerary adventure. It was truly a trip filled with unexpected findings and wandering an unknown land, discovering it without constraints.
Where have you all traveled unplanned? Let me know in the comments!
My first time in Washington, D.C. was in the summer. I can’t quite remember what year it was. Possibly 2012, just before I graduated from UCF. Regardless, my best friend joined me on another adventure to go to an audition, and my cousin graciously hosted us for 48 hours. I was up and awake for 23 of those.
Upon arriving at the airport, the first thing Cat and I did was get lost and come out of the wrong exit, sending my cousin’s husband on the hunt to find us for pickup. Once we were finally found though, I enjoyed the scenic drive to their apartment. I immediately noticed the separate bike paths that followed the same path as the roads for the cars, and thought, “That’s so smart! Why can’t Florida do that?”
Of course, being in such a historic city, we couldn’t just sit back and relax that first night. My cousin took us to Arlington Cemetery, where we went on a sweaty, 2-hour walk the night before I had to be up early for my audition. No regrets though, because seeing those graves of so many fallen soldiers and the results of war was a sobering experience. I still can’t imagine what it’s like to have such convictions, that you’d be willing to die for something you believe in. That’s not necessarily everyone’s mindset who goes to war, but there’s enough belief in some to make that kind of choice. I saw so many gravestones demarking the ground where kids my own age now lay buried beneath, while I walked the path to see where their beliefs brought them.
The next day started for me at 3 in the morning, as my cousin and best friend escorted me to the venue for my audition. Cat, being truly the most ride or die friend that any girl could ask for, went on the hunt for an open breakfast spot and found me a delicious chocolate almond croissant before leaving me to wait all day for 5 minutes of time with an audition judge.
Once I left the venue, I called up Cat to find out where she was so I could meet her. As always, it’s not a trip without getting lost at least once. I hopped on the right metro rail, but going in the wrong direction. Thankfully, I realized my mistake only one stop into the ride, so I immediatley hopped off, walked to the other side of the platform and got on the right train going in the right direction.
I met up with Cat just in time to go to the Library of Congress, because of course the history buff and writing nerd would want to see a bunch of old books. I got to see the Gutenberg Bible display that made my writer heart swell three sizes. We also saw some art pieces depicting the arrival of the British to the Americas in a much different light than a series I’d seen in Ecuador. It’s amazing how perspective can change the same story into two totally different tales.
The real drama started as we left the Library of Congress. Just as Cat and I were leaving by the gift shop exit, I noticed a police officer walking in talking into his walkie and heard something about a code block. We were barely through the door when others ahead of us started running, being urged by another police officer just outside the exit, who kept motioning for us to hurry up. I’m not a fast runner to begin with, but add the heeled boots I was wearing the full backpack on my back, and it was all just very stressful trying to oblige the police officer and run out of harm’s way. Getting down the slope to the curb and far enough away from the commotion seemed to take an eternity, but finally, we found a place called We the Pizza and stopped to stress eat some lunch. That was where I discovered Red’s Apple Ale and found my lifelong drink of choice. Also, the barbecue chicken pizza with shoestring onions was dope.
After that, we met up with my cousin at the Smithsonian Museum of Natural History, where we saw terrifying prehistoric creatures. Seriously, how did human beings ever come to be when those monstrosities once existed? Once we’d had our fill of existential dread and scary (thankfully now-dead animals), we took a ride on the metro where a group of girls really wanted to let everyone know where they were going. We headed to Ben’s Chili Bowl for dinner, as when Cat and I kept looking up food to have in D.C., this place showed up on every list. We took it to go though, as I was so tired that by the time Daniel came around with the car to pick us up, I was falling asleep standing up and wobbling like a Mortal Kombat character who was about to get K.O’d. I barely remember getting back to my cousin’s apartment and eating my chili. I just know that right before I hit the guest bed and knocked out, my phone’s clock read 2:00, and my first thought was, “Dear God, I’ve been awake a whole day.”
The next day, my cousin and her husband took us to brunch in Alexandria at a place called Bilbo Baggins, which of course was Hobbit-themed. I had the richest french toast ever in my life, and no other french toast has ever compared since. Made from two thick slices of raisin bread and stuffed with a decadent cream cheese, that french toast was absolute heaven. I can’t wait to go back someday and have it again.
In August 2011 I visited my father’s home country of Ecuador for the first time. I remember my excitement when I booked the airplane tickets for my dad, my mom, and me. Then the day came and boarding the plane to leave the country for the first time turned my stomach in the best way possible. As we approached the green mountains of Quito and flew in between the peaks to get to the city’s airport, the rain drops drizzled down the open plane window and I stopped breathing, our aircraft tilting to fit in the middle and avoid the most turbulence.
We were picked up by an old family member whom I hadn’t seen in nearly 20 years and suddenly I remembered the way he used to make me laugh at family holiday parties. My first time in my father’s country and I felt like I’d come home, my heart recognizing right away that the air I breathed and soil I walked on flowed through my veins. My father’s first time back in his home country in over 30 years and the part of his soul he’d thought long dormant came alive once more.
As we weaved our way through rain and traffic, in and out of road lanes, up and down hills, I realized why Miami drivers act the way they do. The lanes were more like guidelines. Cars honked and motorists yelled at one another just like in any other big city. Buses and taxis ruled the roadways, knowing their public status gave them the most leeway in erratic navigation.
The first day we took the bus around the city, I watched an old man, old enough to be my grandfather, hop off the public transit as it decreased speed to a slow cruise down an asphalt hill but never stopping. I gasped as I saw him stumble and fall on his backside, but he immediately popped back up and went on his way as if nothing had happened. I was glad we were getting off at their Port Authority so that the bus would actually stop, but I’ll admit, when we’d hopped on, I literally mean we’d hopped on. The buses barely slow down enough for passengers to get on and disembark, so anyone planning on taking a trip to Quito better be ready to hit the ground running.
For those who love to travel for the food, be ready to have a healthy serving of soup before every savory meal (lunch and dinner). It’s more than enough soup to serve as a meal itself, but save room for the rice and beans, plantains, and meats. The amount of food I ate never stuffed me for long though, as I did enough walking up and down hills throughout the city and at sites on the outskirts that I was always ravenous by the time the next meal came around. Recommended: start off the day with a bowl of cereal with yogurt, not milk. My personal favorite was the guanabana (soursop) with fruit loops, as its sweet and tart mix made for a refreshing morning start.
We visited sites like Pululahua, a crater left over from a volcano that had erupted many years before, and now housed a valley with a village of locals that made their lives there. Over in Baños, in the distance stands the Tungurahua, a still-active volcano that has destroyed the village at its edge that no matter how many times it crumbles is always rebuilt and the people go on living in their home. At the Mitad del Mundo we straddled the equator and for a moment stood in two places at once.
There’s too many words and memories of my time in Ecuador, and although it’s been six years since I saw it, I still see the waterfalls and green mountains so clearly, with the view of Cotopaxi’s peak the first image that greeted me every morning. Since the moment I boarded the plane that took me back home to Florida, I’ve been dying to step back on my father’s land. I imagine the longing I have is only a fraction of what he’s felt every day since he left, and I can’t wait until the day we both return.