Wild

In honor of Saint Patrick’s Day tomorrow, I thought I’d revisit the time I went to Ireland. Like 80% of my international travel, I went to Ireland while studying abroad in London. I remember the trip clearly, because I was moved to tears, which hasn’t happened anywhere else I’ve been.

Allow me to elaborate.

Who: Me, two of my three roommates, and a bus full of tourists

What: A “Wild Wicklow” bus tour

Where: County Wicklow, Ireland

When: Valentine’s Day weekend, 2003

Why: Erin go Bragh

My roommates and I were only in Dublin for the weekend, so a condensed, somewhat far-reaching sightseeing tour was a must. Like many college students, we arrived at our hostel unprepared. For example, we were unaware of the BYOT (bring your own towel) policy and ended up using clothes to dry ourselves after we showered.

Anyway, we found a flyer/pamphlet in the hostel lobby (outfitted as most hostels are with these sorts of things) for a Wild Wicklow tour. It looked promising, so we showed up the next morning good to go.

Mind you, it was mid-February and probably 1⁰C. Overcast. Kind of damp, and just overall dreary. The tour took us through the center of Dublin, by the James Joyce Tower, and to Avoca Handweavers where we bought some authentic soda bread. Then off to the Sally Gap (aka the location of Braveheart) to marvel at all the lakes and mountains.

We ate lunch at a traditional Irish pub where I was impelled to order tea (even though I rarely drank it at the time) before stopping at Glendalough. Glendalough is a 6th Century monastery, which means it’s a super peaceful place, not to mention utterly beautiful. It was still freezing though, and very cloudy, so it was hard not to keep eyeing the warm bus while checking out the scenery.

After climbing back into the bus, the tour led us through the countryside. Our guide, a dead ringer for Jack Nicholson, finally stopped talking and put on Enya. This is when the caffeine from my afternoon beverage hit me. I may not have blinked for thirty minutes as I sat staring out the windows at sheep and hills and flowers.

To add to the splendor, the sun peaked through the clouds for the first time that day. Not booming, glaring sunshine, but bright rays of sun, casting shadows and creating depth everywhere it touched. I could almost feel the warmth through the glass.

I darted my eyes around the bus. Heads were slumped, including those of my friends. Everyone else was missing this incredible affair. I looked back outside. Enya and I had a moment since there was no one else to share it with.

I began to cry.

The world was too beautiful not to. At the risk of sounding totally cheesy, it felt like my soul was being hugged. Isn’t that a nice image? I was alive, my heart was racing (from caffeine, yes, but still), and I was in love. In love with everything. Life wasn’t just happening in front of me; I was involved and connected in a way I never allowed myself to be before.

The fact I was the only one awake witnessing this (minus the driver, obvi), made it singular. I was experiencing something unprecedented and remarkable, but transient.

By the time we arrived at our next destination, the clouds had taken over, turning everything flat again. The landscape was still breathtaking, but gone were the aspects of magic and transcendence. People shifted in their seats as the bus stopped, everyone but me none the wiser.

Here, we were all given a complimentary shot of Jameson before heading back to Dublin. The whiskey counteracted my tea and I shared in the wooziness for the last stretch of the trip. Needless to say though, I will never forget those wonderful moments, or that very sincere yet undefinable feeling of awe.

Happy Saint Patrick’s Day, Everybody! I will leave you with some words from Enya.

Who can say when the roads meet

That love might be in your heart?

-Enya, Only Time

That Time Life Was Ridiculous

For some reason my mind was back in 2003 the other day. Lately I’ve been sleep deprived, so there’s a chance my brain, at times, actually thinks it’s 2003. Whatever.

Anyway, during the first few months of that year I was studying abroad in London (thus beginning my obsession with the city). If there’s ever an opportunity to be completely free in life, it’s studying abroad in your twenties. Think: no job responsibilities, four days of classes (and by days, I mean a few hours each day), living with friends on someone else’s dime, and usually in a pretty awesome city.

What does one do on three-day weekends when living in a centrally-located European city? Travel to other awesome European cities. My roommate from college, who was “studying” in Italy, and I planned to meet up at some point during the semester, and decided to do so in Amsterdam. We booked flights to the Netherlands for Easter weekend. Good to go.

Here’s when things got ridiculous. Not in a complete shit-show kind of way, but in a totally adolescent I-Don’t-Know-How-To-Manage-My-Life-Yet kind of way. First up, I lost my cell phone the week before the trip. Perhaps it goes without saying that I misplaced it while I was out drinking – remember, the drinking age is a glorious 18 years in Europe.

Many of you can relate to that feeling of waking up from a night out, paranoid that you’re not in one piece. Well, I woke up without a phone, but otherwise unscathed. No big deal. The semester was ending in a few weeks. I could survive without my crappy, temporary, pay-as-you-go cobalt-blue phone. Besides, my roommate knew when I was arriving in Amsterdam. We had communicated all the necessary information to rendezvous at the airport.

Since it’s been over thirteen years since this happened, my memory is a little foggy, but the second hindrance came the morning of my flight. Before leaving I used a payphone to check my voice messages, and received a message from the airline to this effect: Ms. Fenton, your tickets for flight 840 from London Heathrow Airport to Amsterdam Airport Schiphol have been cancelled due to insufficient funds on the card used to make the purchase.

Note that this was the third time I had overdrawn my bank account that semester.

Immediately, I peaced out to Heathrow. I had no means to contact my roommate, who had already left Italy, so I charged a twice-as-expensive ticket on my emergency credit card for the only available flight to Amsterdam. This flight got me to the Netherlands a few hours earlier than my previous flight. I could do this.

At Schiphol, I walked up the Customer Service desk and sort of explained my situation.

“Can you page a Krista Porcelli* and tell her to meet me at this counter?” I pleaded to an English-is-my-second-language customer service rep. She ended up paging Krista twice, but Krista didn’t show. I scrounged up some change and tried her cell from a payphone (they had those back in 2003). She finally picked up after about forty-five minutes of repeat dialing and way too many Euros.

“I thought I heard my name!” she told me when we connected. “I kinda ignored it, because I wasn’t expecting you for another hour.” Fair enough.

amsterdam

We spent that night at a hotel waaaaaaay outside the city, because it was the only one we could find when we booked the trip. Apparently Amsterdam is a really popular place. The next day is comprised of walking, smoking and eating. Oh, and the celebration of the resurrection of Jesus.

“I feel I should at least walk into a church today,” a high Krista explained, remembering that it’s the holiest day in Christianity. And so, we stood in the entrance of a church for a few minutes before grabbing second breakfast at a random restaurant. Crepes (see below)!

It didn’t strike me how foolish this whole weekend was until later in life. I realized the flexibility to be so irresponsible and somewhat reckless had a very short shelf-life and the more I thought about it, the more grateful I was to have experienced it.

I would now find it appalling to be out of money, without a phone, and alone in a foreign airport. But, a clever somebody once said, “How can I be old and wise if I’m never young and crazy?” These days I’m feeling more old than young, but I’m happy to report my life’s in order. Still, I’m glad to think back to my younger years, to the ridiculousness, that I will be laughing about until the day I die.

crepes
One of the few pictures I can find from this trip.

 

*name has been changed for privacy