Hey, I’m back from Ireland!
It was lovely – a kind of last-minute opportunity to go to a place I haven’t been, although I’ve been to England, Scotland and Wales. But it’s been years since I traveled internationally, and even though I moved across the country last year, l’d started to feel like my world had gotten a bit … small during COVID. Probably a lot of people feel this way.
It was also a chance to travel in a completely different manner/mindset for me – a small group tour with everything already figured out, so I really leaned in to the fact that I wasn’t cruise-directing, sorting out all the details for myself and a bunch of kids. I went into this like a fourteen-year-old on a class trip; I didn’t do any advance reading or research, barely glanced at the itinerary, I just showed up and let it unfold each day like a surprise.
We all met up in Dublin, then bolted straight west to Galway. I loved Galway – kind of a college-town energy, and we were there on a weekend, so it was nuts, lots of hen and stag parties, tons of people out in the gorgeous may weather (we got really lucky on the weather on this trip!) I guess unsurprisingly, the street buskers in Ireland are pretty top-notch. Then we basically followed the Wild Atlantic Way, which is a designated scenic route that follows the entire west coast of Ireland; we did Galway to Cork, with small detours along the way.
Probably the trip highlight for me was a day and night on Inis Oirr, the smallest of the Aran Islands. I mean, I thought it’d be pretty enough, but I wasn’t prepared for its remote, unworldly beauty. Inis Oirr has a population of something like 250, and when the daytrippers leave mid-afternoon, it’s like you have the whole place to yourself. I walked and walked and walked up and down random roads, exploring, rarely seeing another person once I got away from the cluster of houses near the harbor. The weather was staggeringly lovely, the bluest sky and these huge, ridiculously picturesque clouds. I spent hours lying on a grassy hillock up near some ruins, in an old graveyard, featuring a sunken church that itself was likely built on some pagan worship site, watching the clouds scud across the sky overhead in fantastic shapes. The whole time there on the island felt … wild and timeless and magical. It’s one of the most beautiful places I’ve ever been.
Ireland has amazing beaches; who knew, lol. I’m used to the kind of mid-Atlantic east coast beaches I grew up with, narrow strips of decent-enough sand buffered by dunes on one side, that always feel like they’re being (and frequently are being) man-made, protected by jetties and dredging and constantly replenishing with more sand, like the beach equivalent of snow machines in ski areas, so they don’t up and vanish. In contrast, the beaches I saw in Ireland are these vast things situated in coves, with absurd cliffs and decorative rock formations nearby, and almost nobody there. Some brave souls went in the water, which is cold; I was content to flump around on the sand near the dunes, checking out all the wildflowers, of which there were a profusion.
Like a lot of Americans, I’m wowed by the sheer ancientness of things – random ruins, centuries-old churches and castles, derelict towers and whatnot, that pop up everywhere. I skipped the whole pub-crawl aspect of the tour in favor of solo evening walks around wherever we were; it doesn’t get dark until around 10:30 pm, so plenty of time to explore. I was putting some ridiculous mileage in, according to my FitBit, which was good because I ate a lot of fish and chips, and seafood stew whenever it was available, and each and every dessert I ran across that I’d seen on Great British Baking Show, which was a blast.
In terms of perfumery and smells – there were some I saw in various shops, but they were often/generally of a beachy-coastal theme, aquatic/marine, which I’m not wild about, or a soliflore theme like rose. They were nice enough in a Crabtree & Evelyn way, but nothing I had to bring home. (And probably there were some legit perfumeries along the way, but as I’ve already admitted, I didn’t do any advance planning to look for them, since my nose isn’t working very well at the moment.) The biggest smell-impression was the air, almost everywhere we went – Ireland’s windy, we passed a number of wind farms, it rains a lot there. So the air is cold and wet and so, so clean-smelling, completely different from Santa Fe with its dry, resinous, often dusty high desert smell. We’d be out somewhere – on a cliff, near a peat bog, on the beach, above a town – and I’d be there sniffing like a madwoman, trying to take it all in.
The only mar on the trip was that I caught COVID right at the end, presumably whichever Omicron variant is bouncing around these days. I was negative on the required pre-flight test in Dublin the day before departure to re-enter the US, but I was already getting sick by the time I got home; a couple of fellow travelers tested positive and got temporarily marooned in Ireland, and several of us tested positive after we got home. I’d been boosted in April (everyone on the tour was vaxxed and double-boosted) and while I can’t say I was shocked to get COVID given everywhere I’d been and all I’d done, I was … woefully unprepared for quite how sick I got, three days of abject misery, a call to my doctor, etc. I don’t have any risk factors and was hoping to be one of the many who are basically asymptomatic or feel like they have the sniffles. If that was mild COVID, I’m glad I didn’t get the extra-spicy version. I’m still quarantining and recuperating, with friends bringing groceries and whatever I need and dropping them off at the gate.
Despite that, I have no regrets. Ireland was wonderful, and just what I needed to get out of my shell a bit. I don’t have any more international travel planned, but I’m hoping to do some train travel (meetup with Musette and Patty!) later this summer, and maybe another trip as well.
Oh, and a p.s. – feeling sorry for myself a couple of days ago, I randomly clicked on “Heartstopper” on Netflix, which is a new series about a gay British grammar school boy and his crush on the school’s rugby king, based on a YA graphic novel, and it is just the sweetest, most joyful show, if you need any cheering up. I binge-watched the entire thing.