Wednesday, June 26, 2019

Ireland!

You knew this was coming, didn’t you? Oh my gosh, my dream trip to Ireland was beyond anything I even imagined. It checked off every box. Here’s my biggest takeaway – if you have a dream trip and you have the chance to take it, please do it. Just please do it if you can. And having said that, I will also say, I’ll try not to be too sappy with this post, but I’m not sure I can do it. I am even more in love with Ireland now, and I’m already thinking about my next trip there.

I should probably tell you the background as to why visiting Ireland was #1 on my bucket list. But first of all, this always makes me chuckle. When I told my mom years ago that I wanted to visit Ireland, she said, “But they drink in Ireland.” She clearly had blocked out all the years I worked in a bar, and that I had already been exposed to drinking because I was an adult...  Oh, that lovely woman still makes me smile every day, and this one is definitely a keeper. One of the things I had dreamed about was sitting in an Irish pub (yes, they just call them “pubs” there) and listening to Irish music and watching Irish dancers, but I decided Mom probably didn’t need all those pub details. I didn’t want to scar her.

Years ago, I started reading books by Maeve Binchy, an Irish author who wrote stories I just loved. I called them my comfort food because I felt so good after reading them. All her stories took place in Ireland, and she made Ireland sound so wonderful that I knew I had to visit someday. Ms. Binchy passed away in 2012, and I was so saddened by her loss that I decided to hold off reading her last book (which she finished three weeks before her death), because if I read it, I wouldn’t have another book of hers to look forward to.

Then when the opportunity for this trip came up, I thought two things: (1) Hell yes, I’m going; and (2) I think it’s time to read that book. So I signed on for the trip, and I bought what would actually be two books because her husband had found enough notes in her desk that her editors could put it into one more book (and how funny is this, it’s called Chestnut Street). Anyway, there’s my love story for Maeve Binchy and my dream to see Ireland.

Here’s the nutshell version of my trip: I saw so many shades of green; the cliffs and the castles are beyond amazing; I didn’t meet one grumpy Irish person; the food was delicious; and as is always the case when I travel, I learned I have a lot more to learn. I will spare you every detail (you’re welcome), but here are some of the highlights:

The lovely couple I sat next to on the plane insisted I look out their window when we were flying in. I gasped because I was so surprised to see what I had always heard about – the many, many shades of green. There they were! They were not kidding about it! So, my first impression of Ireland was a great one.

Then when we got there, we did a lot of touring, and we really did live out of our suitcases. I think we stayed in maybe eight hotels in twelve days. But I knew we had no choice so even Andee was up every morning on time and ready to face the day. Those of you who know me personally know what an accomplishment that is, and really, I just wrote this part to give myself a little shout out, because, well, it’s my blog, and I can.

I had heard from several people that the food would be bland. Well, fortunately and unfortunately, the food was delicious. Every bite … for twelve days … every soup, every salad, every stew, every side dish, every dessert, every bite of someone else’s dessert. We did a lot of eating, and I don’t regret a single bite. I’m having to deal with that now, but I still don’t regret it.

We went to a show one night with Irish musicians and Irish dancers, and I could tell I smiled the entire time because my face hurt. As we were leaving, the performers came out to thank us, and when I told them how much I loved it, I got all choked up because it was the pure joy moment I had dreamed of, so I thanked them and hustled out of there before I started blubbering. When my friends came out, they said, “What did you say back there that made them cry?” (Ugh, it was really not my intention, but then I was moved that they were moved, and so … well, okay, that could go on forever.)

A few randoms:
Pictures do not capture the beauty we saw. They don’t even come close.
Irish sheep out in the fields are really adorable. As hard as I tried, I could get not one decent picture of them.
Guinness is not my favorite drink, but I did drink a pint; I learned all those years I had poured it, we were doing it wrong; and the Irish tip of asking for a little black currant in the bottom of the glass was a lovely way of taking out “the bitter.”
Driving on the left side of the road may be more than I'll choose to undertake.

As I said, I did not meet one grumpy Irish person. And yes, I know they want to sell things to tourists. I know what working the crowd is, and I have a pretty good bullshit meter, but I felt with everyone I met, that they were genuine. They were funny and kind and happy to welcome us, and they’re working people and parents and grandparents just like we are, and I enjoyed them all very much. A shop owner and I had a fun conversation about spoiling grandchildren, which of course, neither one of us did. Another shop owner laughed with joy when I returned for the package I had left behind. He then put my items in a large, bright green bag so I would not lose them again, and he told my two (older) friends (insert Irish accent), “Ladies, you just can’t take these old people around with you, can you?”

We visited Northern Ireland as well, and that’s where I really learned how much I didn’t know. All I knew was there had been fighting there in the 70s & 80s, and Belfast was mentioned on the news a lot. They all refer to that time as “the troubles,” and they’re very happy there’s peace in their world. More than once we heard how grateful they were that their children were growing up seeing American visitors instead of soldiers with guns. They’re worried about Brexit and how it might affect them. Like nearly every parent I’ve ever known, they just want a better world for their children.

I was very touched by their sincerity. In one of our walking tours, we had to go down a stairway. There was another one nearby, and our guide said, yes, we could use that one too. He joked and said the Catholics could go down one, and the Protestants could go down the other. I asked, “Where do the Jews go?” We laughed, and he said I could go down one, and his Hindu-Irish self would go down the other. As we met at the bottom, he held out his hand to me, and we walked off together. You may call it corny, and okay, it was corny, but I also felt the beauty of the moment, and that’s how I will remember it.

As I said, I will spare you all the details of my trip, but again I want to say this. If you have the chance to do something you really, really want to do, please do it. I want everyone to experience those “Oh my God, I’m in Ireland!” moments.

Now that I’m home, I will say this. I have had three experiences in my life where I had the privilege of visiting another country outside North America. Each one was unique, each was a learning experience, and each made me more appreciative of other cultures. And as this trip ended, I got to experience another one of my true joys that never, ever gets old – touching down on American soil and hearing the words, “Welcome to the United States.” There truly is no place like home, and for better or worse, I never forget how lucky I am that this is mine. 🇺🇸