I arrived from Amsterdam into Bristol after an hour long delay to my flight. I was processed through customs and greeted by two very jet-lagged (but very happy) travelers who I was delighted to hug (the travelers being my sister Emily and my Mom). We gathered up our baggage (sadly, one of mom’s bags was late in arriving), trundled off to the bus, and began our trek to their hotel. We checked them in and made plans to meet up later that evening at one of my favorite burger places for dinner. I went back to my dorm, peeled off my grungy clothes, and put on my cozy sweatshirt and fuzzy pajama pants. After we had all rested for a few hours we went out to dinner to a place called “The Burger Joint” (if you are ever in Bristol, this place is DELICIOUS! Their sweet potato wedge fries are both crispy on the outside and moist on the inside). Laughing, chatting, catching up, it was so good to have them there, but also an odd conjunction of two worlds colliding. My, how small the world has become.
The next morning we awoke early and went to the airport to catch our flight to Dublin. Upon arrival we picked up our rental car and began our journey. Mom and Emily were champion drivers throughout the trip, reorienting themselves to tiny roads, different rules, and a completely different side of the road. Granted, while we had a few hiccups along the way (hidden ditches, and cramped roadways) they drove smashingly well.
Our first night we stayed at a delightful B&B. The home was set amidst rolling green hills, hazy in the mist, and dotted with sheep whose fleeces were matted with mud and moisture. The roads were running with muddy rills, and after walking a bit in the rain (since we accidentally drove into a hidden ditch and needed help getting out) going into the home was like slipping into a cozy fur lined parka, insulated against the chill and impervious to the moisture. Thankfully, the “running into a ditch” thing was a common occurrence They had a tow truck all set and had us three go inside while the owner and his son took care of our car. The woman and her husband who ran the B&B, were such kind company; their Irish accents went cheerily with the honeyed wood and roaring fireplace that accentuated their home. There was also a couple from Minnesota that were staying there and, funnily enough, after not having heard the minnesotan “eh” for awhile, I found myself wondering what country they were from. I can now moderately place British accents, but I guess I’ll have to brush up on my American when I get back.
Let me tell you, transitioning from traveling on a student’s budget to a working adult’s budget is one of the BEST experiences. Rather than staying in crowded hostels (sharing a room with 10 other people which generally smells like morning breath), we stayed in luxurious, comfortable, and private rooms, a transition I call divine. And, wow, did we eat well. No more cheese, bread, and meat; no more warm yogurt with stale cereal; no more questionable creations (swiss cheese, jam, granola and bread sandwich); this was the real deal, culinary delight. Dinners at this B&B were three course occasions. We had the option of drinking red or white wine, and, on both nights, were fed some of the most delicious food. One night in particular we were treated to seafood sausages. I think she had minced lobster, crab, and shrimp, seasoned them delicately and then placed them in a sausage sheath and fried them. They had a lovely seafood taste with the savoriness of a typical sausage mixed in; sublime.
That evening Emily and I went on a walk. The world was misty, green, dripping, and lit by the muted twilight of a cloudy sky. As we went on our merry way, we would frequently get separated as Emily would stop to study the different plants or rocks around us (living out the consequences of having a geologist for a husband). Living, growing, green things abounded, and I was glad for Emily’s commentary about the flora as we walked along. After about an hour and a half, we made our way back to our quaint B&B, and snuggled up in our cozy beds.
The next day I had a pleasant breakfast, porridge with honey and cream, and the three of us set off for our adventure to a monastery nearby. While the graves were ornately done and adorn by many celtic knots and other such fascinating twirls and spins, the thing that I most enjoyed about the day was wandering through the woods. The forest was the stuff of celtic folktales narrating of sprites and leprechauns hiding amidst the moss and brush. It was an invigorating way to spend a day nestled in the forest shrouded by mist and rain.
The next day we checked out and drove across the island to our next destination, the Dingle Peninsula. Dingle was gorgeous. I couldn’t stop taking photos of the things I got to see. The mountains and hills were covered in green and heather, the sheep were everywhere, and the water was a crisp and chilling blue. Our time in Dingle was spent driving around the coast, lounging in our cabin, reading books, walking along the beach, and one night going to hear live music in a pub. The pub was small, yet not ill formatted for the occasion with enough seating for 3/4 of the audience there. They sang Irish folk songs, celtic medleys, and even some Bob Dylan, and Johnny Cash. While our seats in the back room were not ideal, I would occasionally inch my way forward through the crowd, lean against a beam across from the musicians, and relish the atmosphere of music, warmth, and camaraderie that enveloped the evening.
The day before our departure I decided to hike up a hill that was a bit of a ways behind our cabin, beyond the gravel road that ran parallel to us. A gate at the end blocked my way, and after looking back and forth for a bit, wondering what the trespassing laws were in Ireland, I tentatively lifted the latch and walked into the sheep pasture. The pasture was a bog. No, scratch that, this was more deceptive than a bog. You see, the ground looked sturdy enough from a distance, until you were right on top of it. Then you noticed that there were in fact little streams and puddles all along the way, and the “grass” was actually a suction mat that both swallowed your shoe into its belly and deposited its water load into your sole. Undaunted by the sludge accumulating in my socks and I trudged my way through the turd infested pasture, and came to the base of the hill. The hill was little better than the pasture with terra firma being naught but the rocks upon which I jumped from one to the other. With the moisture and the moss, it seemed as though I was walking along the desiccated remains of a once thriving ocean floor. The dried out heather, brackish and gnarled, reminded me of old brain coral while the scrubby moss looked like shriveled algae. To add to the tempestuous atmosphere, the wind was blowing fiercely against the hill face. It was blowing at such a speed, that when I reached the top, I had to sit with my arms and legs wrapped around a boulder because I feared I might be blown off the peak. My ears were filled with the speed of the wind and my eyes were streaming as they squinted against the windy blows. The cliffs behind me rose above the cloud-line and were dotted with tumbling streams appearing suddenly from the mist. But, it was the scene before me, the patchwork quilt of pastures, the grey shimmering water, the hills surrounding, seemingly massaged from clay by God’s thumb, their ascents so smooth and their drop-offs so steep, and the smell of peat in the air, that made me want to stay on top of that hill, pause the moment, and tuck it away in my pocket.
Moments cannot be relived though, they cannot be captured, but only remembered. And right after my musings the wind decided to pick up even more, causing me to realize it was time to get down before the storm came. The way down was steep, and boggy, and a wee bit treacherous. The wind was like a current blowing up the hill, and I found myself employing tactics I had learned from scuba diving, don’t swim against the current but swim across it. So, instead of going straight down I went a bit crookwards, zig-zagging down the hill. On my way down I found the bare-picked remains of a ram’s skeleton. After a few photos, I decided it would be best to keep moving so as not to be stranded with the carnivorous creatures that had offed the ram.
That evening we made our last dinner in Ireland, went to bed, and slept soundly in our warm rooms. The next day we packed ourselves up, said our final goodbyes to our kind hosts, and began our 4hr journey across Ireland to Dublin. Arriving in the airport, we boarded our plane after a long long wait (seriously Ryanair) and were squished into our minuscule seats (again, Ryanair sucks) and made it back to Bristol. The next morning, Emily, Mom and I met up at a local coffee joint called the Boston Tea Party (believe me, it is hilarious that one of the most popular coffee shops in Bristol commemorates American Independence from England) and had a lovely breakfast (I had a smooth latte, with hot scottish pancakes, creamy greek yogurt, and tart raspberry jam). I walked them back to their hotel, where they were going to catch their taxi to the airport, and said goodbye. And off they flew back home. What a privilege it was to have them come and visit me, I felt honored that they took so much time out of their busy schedules to come and spend a week with me. I am dearly dearly loved.
Right now I am in the midst of my last few weeks in Bristol. I have three 4,000 word papers due next week on the 16th and fly out on the 23rd. It’s odd to think of it ending soon, but, my strong resolve against homesickness was a bit cracked after I saw my mom and sister, and right now I am feeling more excited about getting back home. Cheers!