Cloud-watching on Inis Oirr.

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.

Inis Oirr.

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.

I climbed this 100′ tower – St Canice, Kilkenny.

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.

Trinity College, Dublin.

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.

  • Maggiecat says:

    Ireland is on my bucket list and I’m so glad you had a good time! Sorry about the Covid though – I’m currently on a two week river cruise through Europe (Germany as I write this) and remain concerned. But I can’t imagine not traveling, so – fingers crossed!
    Hope you feel better soon!

    • March says:

      Ooooh, that sounds lovely! I’ve not done a river cruise like that and I bet they’re really fun. Fingers crossed for you as well!

      • Maggiecat says:

        As it turns out…both my husband and I came down with Covid halfway through our trip and are currently finishing the last day of our mandatory quarantine (in a nice hotel room we can’t leave in a pleasant German spa town). We fly home tomorrow. The cruise was nice while it lasted though!

  • Musette says:

    The trip sounds like an absolutely lovely time! And I’m glad you went! And I’m sorry you got Covid. But I’m glad it waited until you got home to strike. And I’m glad you’re okay now. xoxoxo

  • Maya says:

    The pictures are absolutely lovely. I always thought that I would enjoy visiting Ireland – now I’m sure. I’m glad you had a wonderful trip and also that Covid held off until the end.

    • March says:

      I can’t imagine NOT loving Ireland — it’s pretty easy to get around, lots of lovely things to look at. Go for it!

  • Tom says:

    I’m so glad you got to take this trip and happy you didn’t fall to the dreaded Covid until you got back. Practically everybody around me has gotten it and so far (knock wood) I’ve missed it. Looking forward to hearing more.

  • Jennifer S says:

    Sounded like a wonderful, relaxing trip. Too bad you ended up getting sick but at least it was at the end of the trip and yeahhh. I would’ve done the same thing with the desserts! Hope you’re feeling better!

    • March says:

      The dessert thing was so much fun! And yes, I was hugely grateful I made it home before getting sick, that would have been rough, stuck in Ireland alone for quarantine.

  • Tara C says:

    Ireland is gorgeous, sounds like you had a wonderful time. Hope you’re feeling better very soon! Scotland is on my bucket list.

    • March says:

      I loved Scotland and would very, very much like to go back! Hopefully COVID calms down more than it is now and we can do some more traveling…

  • Dina C. says:

    Your trip to Ireland sounds wonderful! What a breath of fresh air! Loved your descriptions. The food sounded fantastic, too. So sorry you ended up getting the virus. That’s a bummer. Hope you heal up quick with no lingering effects!

  • Filomena says:

    I loved your photos. Thanks for sharing. I am glad you had a great trip but sorry you came down with COVID. I hope you will feel better soon.

    • March says:

      Thanks, it was just gorgeous, and I’m glad I went. It’s warm and lovely here so I’ve been hanging out in the back yard while I quarantine.