Wednesday, January 3, 2018


My dad's family is Irish Catholic and very proud of that heritage, so I was excited to finally see the "homeland," so to speak. As it turns out, the Irish are very proud of their Irish heritage, too. Upon arriving to the airport, most of the signs were bilingual: Irish Gaelic was written first, and much larger, and English slumped along behind.

On the late-night shuttle from the airport to downtown, I naively assumed that the driver would stop at the indicated stops on the map. I'm not sure why I neglected to state my stop when I got on the bus. One of the few other passengers, who was going to the same stop, made the same assumption, only he realized his mistake quicker and asked the driver to stop after the bus sped past. The driver was pretty rude about it, so once we stepped off, I thanked the other passenger for taking the brunt of criticism. We started chatting, and as it turns out, Justin is a Colorado native taking a gap year after high school. We exchanged contact information and agreed to meet up later in the trip. I love quickly-formed travel relationships!

I only spent one day in Dublin, since I was eager to get into the countryside. The tour guide on the walking tour spoke a bit of Gaelic, and it was super neat to hear the language spoken out loud - it almost sounds like Elvish from Lord of the Rings. I was interested to learn that the Irish government strongly (and fiscally) supports regions where Gaelic is the primary language spoken. It makes sense that the Irish are so eager to protect their heritage when you consider that they were ruled by (and many argue, oppressed by) the British for so many centuries.

The building where U2 was founded
My hostel friend Steffano and I visited the Kilmainham Gaol, or the prison which held many of the rebels who led the Irish Revolution. It was a solemn tour.

"Beware of the Risen People"

That evening, we met up with Justin for dinner and a drink. We accidentally showed up to the wrong restaurant, which is a bit complicated when no one has cell phone service, but we eventually figured it out. Dublin, and in particular the neighborhood of Temple Bar, is a great place to hear traditional live music.

Low-quality photos, but they catch the mood
The following morning, I had to get out to the airport to pick up my rental car, for I was bound and determined to drive across the country to . I went to the stop to catch the airport bus, only to watch it drive right past me. Baffled, I asked a man standing nearby, "Wasn't that bus supposed to stop?" He responded, "Well, did you flag it down?" Embarrassed, I shook my head. Apparently, bus etiquette is a bit different in Ireland than in the US. As it would turn out, he was a bus driver waiting to begin his shift, meaning that the previous driver was going to drop off the bus. He would then drive to the airport to begin accepting passengers. He very kindly offered to give me a lift over to the airport, free of charge, and of course I accepted.

Once at the airport, I discovered that the rental car company I had selected would not rent me a car because I was underage. I thought I had indicated my date of birth on the booking site and would just have to pay an extra "young driver" fee, but instead I was just too young to rent a car. They told me there was just one company that would rent me a car, so I walked up to their desk and found out that yes, they would rent me a car, but that it would be more expensive than planned, by a significant amount, with the young driver surcharge. Worse, because I was underage, I was not eligible to purchase insurance, and I knew for a fact that my own car insurance would not cover me outside the continental US, leaving me open to a $1,000 fine should anything happen to my rental car. In a foreign country, where I was driving on the opposite side of the road, through narrow and curvy country roads bordered by stone walls, with my own less-than-perfect driving record. A rational person might have decided to just take a bus instead, but that would put me behind schedule and the end of my trip was drawing near. Who knew if I would get this opportunity again? So, thinking to myself that my father would kill me if he knew I was doing this, I threw down my credit card.

I only screamed and swore a few times as I pulled out of the airport and hit my first roundabout, on the left side of the road. With a bit of practice, I found it wasn't too difficult, and I hit the highway bound for Killarney, a small town on the southwestern coast which was a three and a half hour drive away. Upon arriving to town, I visited the Tesco to pick up lunch, and its Super-Walmart size made me feel right at home, as did their entire aisle dedicated to gluten free products. I then booked it for the Muckross Estate in Killarney National Park, to explore a bit before nightfall, which comes early at northern latitudes in early December. The landscape reminded me a bit of home. I found some excellent gluten free fish and chips for dinner, and went to go settle in at one of the coziest and homiest hostels I've ever stayed in.

I could photoshop in a leprechaun and it wouldn't even look photoshopped

Muckross Estate

Torc Waterfall
The other young people staying in my hostel were so fun, and instantly convinced me that I should go out with them that night. So I threw on a cozy sweater to combat the chill and we headed over to the local pub. I was expecting relaxed live music like there was in Dublin, but instead there was a local punk cover band playing. They were really good, and the group I was with were heavy drinkers, so after a few pints of delicious Irish cider (beer for the rest of the group) we were all dancing. Small pub + lots of people + dancing + turtleneck sweater = copious amounts of sweat. Seeing the rivers pouring down my face, my young Czech friend Martin shouted, "Take off your jumper!" I shouted back, "But I don't have anything on underneath it!" He even more insistently replied, "TAKE OFF YOUR JUMPER!" and kept repeating it the whole night. To be honest, his accent was quite good - he had moved to Killarney to learn English, and at least in my opinion could have passed for a local. I hadn't lost all my morals, of course, so used the turtleneck to periodically wipe my face off and continued to enjoy the evening. Megan, one of the girls from our crew, had heard that I'd rented a car and asked if she could drive the Ring of Kerry with me the following day. Happy to have the company, I agreed, and we were off to bed.

Another anecdote which only I might find amusing, but which I want to remember in my old age, which is the only reason I'm writing this blog anyway. The following morning my Kiwi friend Tim apologized that his friends had roasted me so thoroughly on Facebook - you see, his buddies saw whenever he made a female friend on Facebook and then proceeded to publicly make jokes about Tim and she (in this case, me). His privacy settings were such that I couldn't see any of the jokes, but he showed me what they had written and it was pretty funny.

I hugged Tim and friends goodbye, and then Megan and I took off to drive the Ring of Kerry. I confessed to her that I didn't have insurance on the rental, and she pointed out that I would be liable for damages, not her, but I agreed that we could switch off driving anyway. One benefit of driving is that we got to stop where we pleased and take as long as we pleased, as opposed to doing a bus tour where the pace would have been dictated by others.

Another benefit is that I got to know Megan pretty well. I can't imagine many non-traveling scenarios where I would agree to jump in the car for a day with a virtual stranger, but she was pretty nice and easy to talk to so we had a great time. The views were beautiful and serene, and as the sun dipped over the horizon, we were bathed in soft colors.

Once it was too dark to see much, we drove back into town. I dropped Megan back off at the hostel, consumed a lot of caffeine, and started the long drive back to Dublin, where I would drop off the rental car at the airport, catch a bus to a hostel, crash for a few hours, and then wake up again a few hours later to catch another bus back to the airport and get on a plane bound for Scotland. Thankfully, I had downloaded two epic road trip playlists before the trip, so I had the music to keep me company - one of classic rock hits, the other of Irish pub songs. My cell phone died just as I was getting in to Dublin, and I didn't realize until I had already pulled into the car return line that I had neglected to re-fill the tank, meaning I had to loop back to a gas station, return the car, and wander the airport searching for an outlet so I could charge my phone enough to pull up instructions on how to get to the hostel. By the time I finally got there, I was a zombie, and the staff took great pity on me when they realized they'd be checking me out again in just a few hours. I took a shower, passed out, and somehow managed to be back at the airport just a few hours later.

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