An Ode to Ireland: Why Travel is Vital

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Those who know me well – heck, even those who don’t know me all that well – are aware that I am slightly obsessed with the British Isles and the history, legends, and lore that surround them. I don’t really remember a time when I didn’t love British and Irish culture: I was raised listening to the Beatles and Thistle and Shamrock on NPR, the King Arthur legends have always been my favorite stories, and I’ve loved Monty Python since before high school.

I’d been to the UK a couple of times before, once during a whirlwind tour of Europe with my high school French Club, and once for a summer-long internship and study program during my senior year in college. Since then, my obsession has been solidified: to this day, more than nine years later, every memory is still vivid in my mind, and I eat up as much British culture as I can get on this side of the pond – thankfully, that’s a feat that’s much easier these days, thanks to the popularity of Doctor Who, Sherlock, and Downton Abbey.

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I know my husband, Rob, thought I was a bit silly for my constant longing for the British Isles – but I also know he wanted to understand for himself.

Although I’d been able to travel pretty extensively around England and Scotland that summer, one thing I hadn’t had the chance to do was hop over to Ireland. And since Rob and I hadn’t been able to take a real honeymoon due to my work schedule at the time we got married, when we found a great deal on a seven-night trip to Dublin a few months before our second anniversary last fall, we decided to jump on it.

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If you haven’t had the opportunity to travel much, I’m going to offer you a piece of advice: when the opportunity arises, TAKE IT – even if it seems spontaneous. Don’t worry about the money. Don’t worry about putting yourself outside your comfort zone. Don’t be afraid. The biggest risks often lead to the biggest rewards, and I firmly believe that is absolutely the case when it comes to traveling. Sure, traveling requires some advance planning, especially if you’re traveling abroad. You’ll need a passport, for one thing; you’ll also need a way to get there, a way to get around once you’re there, a place to stay, and money to eat, explore, and shop. But sometimes, half the fun is figuring it all out.

 

That was what we found. Sure, traveling, especially with another person, can bring some frustration with it: Rob got pretty irritated with me when, after landing and feeling pretty jet-lagged, I got overly confident in my ability to get us to our hotel and ended up getting us hopelessly lost instead. But it made for a good story, and after a couple of fresh pints of Guinness and a long nap, all was well. It was fun for me to see his excitement growing as he started to realize that we were actually, finally there, that all of this was real. That we had a full week to see and do as much as we could.

About 3:00 in the morning on our first night there, I woke up to find him intently tapping on his iPad, and asked him what he was doing. Turned out, he’d found a pretty highly-reviewed tour bus company called Paddywagon that offered day trips around the country. Since we didn’t have a rental car, these tours seemed like the best way to see as much of Ireland as possible. After going through all the options, we settled on three trips.

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The first would take us west, where we would get to visit the Cliffs of Moher, see Galway Bay, visit an abandoned medieval abbey, and stop in a beautiful little musical town called Doolin for a pub lunch. There’s something about visiting a country with an ancient legacy that makes you feel like you’ve stepped back in time: I could almost see the Celts wandering the countryside, and see the potato farmers working the land outside their tiny huts along the coast.

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The second took us into Northern Ireland, through Belfast and on up to the northernmost tip for a stop at the Carrick-a-Rede rope bridge, where you get to cross to a tiny, rocky island. We also stopped at the Giants Causeway – let me tell you, photos don’t do it justice. Perhaps even more stunning than the basalt columns that make up the Causeway are the mountains that rise behind it. The trip wouldn’t have been complete without a photo stop at Dunluce Castle, a creepy, cliffside fortress crumbling into the sea.

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Finally, we headed south to Cork, a beautiful coastal town that looks more Continental European than Irish. From there, we climbed the harrowing staircase of Blarney Castle to reach its famous stone (Rob took the challenge of kissing the stone; I didn’t have the courage), and stopped in the port town of Cobh, the final port of the Titanic, where we visited the local cathedral and had a delicious lunch at a seaside pub. In between these trips we did plenty of exploring around Dublin, including the Guinness storehouse, the Temple Bar neighborhood, and Trinity College’s famous library.

 

It’s amazing how fast a week can go by, but it’s also incredible how much even such a short trip can change your life. Rob definitely gets it now, and we are just contemplating the next time we can take another amazing trip together. If your own opportunity presents itself, trust me when I say don’t miss it. Go. You won’t ever regret it.

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