It is only after experiencing it first hand, that you can begin to understand why so many writers have been inspired by the beautiful landscape of Ireland.
It was an impromptu decision that brought me to Ireland. I knew I would visit one day, but before travel became a regular part of my life, I did little more than add it to my "list of places to see before you die". In desperate need of a getaway, a friend had spontaneously proposed a trip, and immediately I suggested Ireland. Coincidentally, a mutual friend was travelling around the same time and invited us to stopover, so the trip evolved across two countries. And when the available flights allowed us to fly home from a third country, it evolved yet again. In the end, we visited Spain, Ireland and France for an extended Thanksgiving trip in October of 2011.
Though parts of me fell in love with each destination in a different way, I was left most impressed with Ireland. I knew little more about the country other than the pop culture stereotypes. (Again, a time before I planned and researched). After a few sun-filled days in Barcelona, my girlfriend and I hopped on a plane to Dublin.
While waiting at the airport to board, I found myself mesmerized by a conversation between a young Irish boy and his father. Full disclosure, I have always felt a little weak in the knees upon hearing an Irish accent, but I had no defense when it came from the mouth of a child. I simply melted. They argued softly over Euros and the boy's desire to purchase chocolate before the flight home. After some teasing, the boy ran off to the store and the father and I shared a smile. This warmth set the stage for the entire visit.
The Aer Lingus flight from Spain lasted just under two hours. My friend and I sat in the very first row and played travel scrabble for the entire flight. The game prompted a conversation among the flight attendants (apparently it's rare to see people playing non-computerized games) and the Irish businessman who sat beside us eventually joined in. All were friendly and warmly welcomed us with pride to their homeland.
We landed in Dublin on a chilly October morning, just after midnight. Not dressed properly for the weather, we hopped quickly into a taxi and chatted with the charming driver all the way to The Grafton Capital Hotel. On the way, we passed the lighted Dublin Convention Centre and the amazing harp-shaped Samuel Beckett Bridge and vowed to find our way back to them on foot. The hotel and its staff welcomed us with old-world charm; it was spacious, clean and excellently located.
The next morning, with our trusty printed map in hand, we wandered down picturesque Grafton Street and peered into the many shop windows. We soon found ourselves browsing the shelves of a small bookstore, as locals lined up around the back anticipating a book signing and staff handed out chocolates to those who waited. Everything felt welcoming and warm, I didn't want to leave. I felt the same calm sitting on the patio of the Fixx Coffee shop whilst I sipped my americano and shared a delicious lemon poppy seed muffin with my friend. The October air was cool, but the sun was warm and energizing.
We walked for hours without noticing the time. We toured the majestic Dublin Castle, and walked across the many bridges (including the lovely Ha' Penny Bridge where at the foot lay a bronze plaque to James Joyce). After an impressive tour, we enjoyed a fresh pint at the Guinness Factory, stepped silently through the grand library in Trinity College and then made our way back to the heart-breaking Famine Statues. Dublin's hospitality extended into the wee hours, when we tasted the night life in the Temple Bar district. I felt more than just safe in Dublin, I felt at home.
The next day, comfortably on a large coach, we left Dublin and made our way west. Soon after our bus left the edge of the city, Ireland's beautiful landscape began to unfold. Words cannot adequately describe views; the lush green pastures, the rolling hills, the simple majesty of the trees. The writer in me was left both inspired and dumbfounded.
Knowing how we were all overwhelmed, our Dublin Tour Company Coach stopped at one point, on the side of a curved road at the top of a hill so that we could see peer down into the magnificent beauty of the foggy hills below. The large coach made its way down narrow roads, passing cozy cottages, rock fences and grazing sheep.
Within an hour, we arrived at the Cliffs of Moher (or better known as The Cliffs of Insanity if you're a Princess Bride fan). From the parking lot, the cliffs looked like nothing more than a painted backdrop. As we stepped slowly closer to the edge, the imaged opened before us and we were all left awestruck by the stark reality. The hours we spent at the cliff's edge didn't seem nearly long enough to burn it's massive jagged edges into memory.
Begrudgingly, we turned our backs to the cliffs and boarded the coach. To our surprise, our coach stopped shortly thereafter, at the side of the road so that we could walk along a rocky edge and see the cliffs from a different angle. It was this wide rocky expanse that struck me the most. With clouds rolling in above, and the wind picking up speed, I slowly walked along the edge. Waves crashed below and as I stood looking out into the ocean, letting the wind tussle my hair, a school of dolphins swam by. It was surreal.
I felt at home in Dublin, enough so that I could pack-up and live there in a heartbeat, but I left my heart in hills of the countryside. As the couch made its way back to the station, I vowed to return and rent a cottage in the hills, so that the writer in me could lose myself once again in the muse that is the Irish landscape. So many years later, I have yet to return, but it remains, with many others, on my list. Perhaps another spontaneous trip is in order.