Farewell, Ireland. We will most certainly meet again.
And now I’m here: in England. As I write, I’m on a bus from London to Brighton, where I’ll meet Cora and stay with her friend for the night, and then tomorrow morning it’s an early train back to London to meet Mary and finally, the trio is Oxford-bound. How can it have been five weeks since I landed in the Heathrow airport, frantically trying to calm my nerves by taking deep breaths, sure that I’d made a huge mistake in doing all of this alone?
I’ve got to say, as I processed my adventures today in a marathon journaling session, I was proud of myself. I’ve found that I’m more tenacious and resourceful than I thought, and I’m proud that I faced my fears and dove in. And there certainly were fears. What I felt on my flight from Charlotte to London was dread and anxiety. Now, traveling is like second nature. New city? Find a map, consult the Lonely Planet book, get to the nearest metro station; ready, set, GO! Before, I was sure everything would go wrong and I would find myself stranded in a foreign city at night, all alone, with no one to help and nowhere to stay. Now, I know I’m capable of handling situations, and I’m travel-savvy enough to figure out what to do. It’s incredibly empowering, traveling alone.
And there are some major perks. For one, I can do whatever I want without consulting anyone or causing conflict. Last night in Dublin, I decided on a whim to buy a ticket to Heartbreak House by George Bernard Shaw at the historic Abbey Theatre in the city center. I arrived two minutes before opening, paid the 20 euro for a student ticket, and scurried in. I don’t have to worry about inconveniencing people by making them go to 8 museums a day, and I don’t have to compromise and then do things I’d rather not do. I can see everything I want to see. Traveling alone also suits me because it gives me so much time to think and process everything I’m seeing, and to write about it. I’ve filled half a journal in five weeks with all of my thoughts.
On the flipside, there are drawbacks too. On Sunday, I went to the Giant’s Causeway, a geological wonder situated on the tip of Northern Ireland. Thousands of rock columns, caused by the lava from a volcano that was active millions of years ago. I spent the day hiking the amazing cliffs of the Giant’s Causeway, gazing into the sea. The colors were so vibrant: the blue of the ocean, the bright green of the vegetation on the hillside, the dusky brown of the cliffs, and the pure black of the basalt columns. It was so spectacular, and I found myself thinking, I wish I was sharing this with someone. I was filled with such wonder, such awe at the beauty of creation, and I wanted to revel in it with other people. But there was just me, and so I pondered instead. Traveling alone is good for pondering, but I don’t know if you can revel alone.
This past week in Ireland was a dream come true. Every morning, I fed the animals and helped Cressida clean the hostel, and in the afternoons, I worked in the vegetable garden. Donegal is such a peaceful place; a short walk into town, and I could see the ocean. And the hostel/farm is magical in its own right – it’s absolutely beautiful, with the stone bridge crossing the stream, and the eco hub full of flowers and different plants, with goats and geese and rabbits roaming. My first WWOOFing experience was truly wonderful. One night last week, we went to an open mic night at Kealy’s bar, and we went to Rosato’s pub to hear the archaeologists present on their work in the area. I visited Cooley Cross Graveyard, the excavation site, where you can see the stone cross marking the entrance to the sixth-century monastery and the remains of stone walls, as well as an old stone structure that probably once held relics of saints. It was amazing to imagine 1500 years of time between then and now. I’m amazed at the way that time moves and leaves hints of the past.
On Wednesday morning, I arose early and caught the bus back to Dublin to spend a few days in the city before my flight to England. I did a ridiculous amount of sightseeing in a mere 27 hours in the city. Arriving at 1 p.m. on Wednesday, and leaving for the airport at 4 p.m. on Thursday, I managed to accomplish the following in between: tour of Trinity College, a visit to the Old Library and the Book of Kells, Dublin Castle and a tour of the old Norman city walls (now underground), a rest in the castle gardens, a stroll through St. Stephen’s Green (the gorgeous main park in Dublin), Heartbreak House at the Abbey Theatre, a tour of Christ Church Cathedral (I even got to ring the bells!!!), a visit to the Dublin Writers Museum (I was in heaven: Joyce, Yeats, Wilde, Beckett, Heaney, Swift…), and a reading of poetry and theater excerpts from Dublin’s literary luminaries. Like I said, traveling alone, I can do whatever I want to do, and for me, that involves doing EVERYTHING. I love Dublin. A highlight of the trip was seeing the Book of Kells, a spellbindingly intricate manuscript of the Gospels dating back to the eighth century. On vellum, with gorgeous lettering and illustrations, and it has survived all this time. It looked like a fairy-tale book, but more incredible, more enchanting.
I’ll leave you with this hilarious anecdote: the following lines of verse were found inscribed in the margins of a Gospel manuscript dating from the ninth century. Don’t believe me? Look it up. It’s 100% authentic (of course translated from Old Irish Gaelic). And we think monks were austere and boring…
I and Pangur Bán my cat –
‘Tis a like task we are at.
Hunting mice is his delight,
Hunting words I sit all night.
Better far than praise of men
‘Tis to sit with book and pen.
Pangur bears me no ill will;
He too plies his simple skill.
Oftentimes a mouse will stray
In the hero Pangur’s way.
Oftentimes my keen thought set
Takes a meaning in its net.
‘Gainst the wall he sets his eye
Full and fierce and sharp and sly;
‘Gainst the wall of knowledge I
All my little wisdom try.
Practice every day has made
Pangur perfect in his trade;
I get wisdom day and night
Turning darkness into light.