Belfast City Hall
I’d been in Dublin for only a few days before I started to get antsy. It isn’t that there wasn’t a lot to explore. It also isn’t that I didn’t like Dublin or enjoy my time there. I just think I started to get into a “leaving” mindset rather than a “traveling” mindset, and with more than a week left on my trip, I needed to shake that off.
So I decided to take a multi-day trip to Belfast, rather than a day tour. Ultimately, this will also save me money, as Belfast is considerably cheaper than Dublin, even with the conversion from euro to pounds.
I hopped on the short train ride to the North, and though much was closed after my evening arrival, I did make the mile+ trek to the city centre to look around. It’s beautiful here! I’m excited to explore when things are actually open, though!
It’s crazy, but sometimes when you travel, you end up in the same place as people you met days or weeks before. You don’t plan it: sometimes, when you plan it, you end up missing each other anyways.
Today I spent time with two people I met at the very beginning of my stay in Ireland, way back on July 6 (has it really almost been a month?). None of us knew each other when we arrived in Dublin. And none of us planned to be back on the same date. But the winds blew us back together, so we didn’t resist!
Given it was a bank holiday, a lot of “tourist attractions” were closed or crowded. I actually spent the bulk of the day working; it was only later that I hung out with my friends (and ended up debating politics and world culture until 4AM… WHY).
Thus, your picture of the day is the boots-turned-planters I saw in a staircase at a restaurant!
at Trinity College
After staying up way too late to buy Harry Potter and the Cursed Child (the book, not play tickets – alas), I got a slow start to my Sunday.
So, when a fellow hostel resident suggested doing a Hop on, Hop off bus tour, I decided that was the perfect way to keep exploring Dublin… while also staying firmly planted in one place.
We used the Dublin Bus Tour, though the city had options from companies I’ve seen in other cites. The live commentary was informative and entertaining, and the views were spectacular. Dublin’s history is recent: after all, the 1916 Easter Rising was a mere 100 years ago.
In the evening I went on a literary pub crawl with a different friend from the hostel. It was good fun! The actors knew their history, and they performed the selected pieces incredibly well. I learned more from watching their 7 minute excerpt from Waiting for Godot than I did reading the text years ago.
After the crawl my friend and I were joined by another American for a late dinner of good Irish food. It was the perfect meal to share before heading straight to sleep.
The 30th flew by: I explored the Guinness Storehouse in the early afternoon, worked in the evening, and made my way to a Harry Potter book release party at night. By the time I made it home (around 2am, curse those long lines), I didn’t even have the energy to read my new book. Fourteen-year-old Sarah was incredibly disappointed in the twenty-four-year-old version.
Occasionally I just don’t want to spend money. This is kind of hard, since I’m in a foreign country, I have no permanent address, and my hostel cooking skills are close to nil.
But foreign or no, most cities have parks you can wander. St. Stephen’s Green wasn’t my intended destination, but I found it after grabbing a cheap lunch at the nearby mall (do they call them malls over here?).
It was actually a spot of good luck, as St. Stephen’s was the site of a significant battle during the 1916 Easter Rising. The park had helpful signposts throughout describing the battle. There was also a bust of James Joyce, so I got my literary fix as well!
I also made up the difference in not spending money by patronizing a pub with live Irish music and dance later in the evening, but I guess that’s just what happens when abroad.
Today I swam in the Irish Sea.
It’s a bit hard to explain how I felt; it was like everything was open and clean and I could breathe easily. It was also very cold.
I was surrounded by children and friends and older adults and other foreign travelers. Everyone laughed and shivered and stayed in as long as they could.
I think travel is a way of changing our environment so we can become more familiar with ourselves; I think Ireland is my way of remembering I have choices outside of the ones I see directly in front of me. Look a little left. Look a little right. The opportunities are neverending.
gin and black currant. yum.
Hostels make it incredibly easy to make new friends.
It helps that the kind of person who stays in a hostel is probably interested in socializing. Sure, you might just be there because you’re a cheapskate and not interested in shelling out the extra 10-20 euros an AirBnB might cost you. You might hate people and ignore everyone else in the lounge. But you’ll probably have a hard time getting the rest of the lounge to ignore you back.
I’ve stayed in a few hostels in the UK and Ireland at this point, and while each have distinct characteristics, all have made a point of fostering interactions between residents. Some are better than others, yes. One particular hostel that shines on creating friends is Sky Backpackers in Dublin.
The hostel has a huge lounge and kitchen area, which facilitates hanging out. It also has nightly specials, like nachos on Wednesday and ice cream come Monday.
I love it here. It was nice to get back after a half-day in airports and on airplanes. I miss Edinburgh – like, a lot – but I love Dublin, too.
After all, it only took me a few moments to find a friend to hunt down Murphy’s ice cream with me. And after that, it barely took a second before I had plans to go to the beach with an Australian-American family the next day.
Plus, this place has the best bunk beds.
old boathouse on Loch Ness
If we’re all honest, the primary reason Americans go to Scotland is to see the Loch Ness Monster.
She’s real, guys. I can verify this. Not because I saw her, but because I believe in keeping hope alive.
I did see the famous Loch Ness, however. It’s the largest lake in Scotland, and apparently is wide and deep enough to hold every other lake in the entirety of the UK. We only saw a small portion of the water. The main reason we stopped in the lake town of Fort Augustus was for lunch, which was provided by an all-cultures-style restaurant. Hooray for burgers and pizza and Scottish food, all at one table!
Overall, it was a bit heartbreaking driving out of the Highlands. I watched the land flatten and turn to fields from the bus window, too tired to read, but too awed to sleep. Though I’m not sure I’m brave enough to come back with a rental car, I know I need to travel the Highlands again. Maybe I’ll take to the hills like one of my new friends, who hiked hundreds of miles over the storied lands in the last week.
Maybe. One day.
Today was the first day I actually felt cold in the UK.
Of course, cold wasn’t the most important or even most salient feeling I had today. I’m on the Isle of Skye, an island on the same line of latitude as Alaska. It’s a popular island for tourists and travelers, as it features breathtaking landscapes and quaint but modern villages to explore.
I felt rapture while I wandered along the coast. I felt safe as I walked through Portree to my bed and breakfast (shout out to Rosebank!). I felt fear when I leaned over cliffs, and also that moment when a black cat darted straight across my path (she came back to let me pet her, so I think I’m safe from bad luck). And I especially felt joy as I spent time with new friends I had made on the tour.
If you go to Scotland, do your best to travel to the Highlands, and make an effort to reach the Isle of Skye. I felt more at peace there than I have in years.
three sisters – mountains in the highlands
Even though I’m on a “backpacking” trip, I decided I wanted to give up the vagrant lifestyle for a day or two and go on a proper tour. I had seen Timberbush Tours advertised throughout Edinburgh, and quickly became interested in their three day trip through the Highlands and to the Isle of Skye.
Today was the first day of that journey.