Doolin & Lisdoonvarna: Icelandic Men & Matchmaking Madness!


I wish I knew how to describe the past 48 hours to you. They have been some of the best hours of my entire life. I have laughed harder than I thought I could, danced like my life depended on dancing, been violated more times than I can count, and all the while felt like it all had to be a crazy dream.

With respect for the greatness of the man, I am going to save my experience with John ODonohue for another entry, all to itself. He doesn’t belong in my update; he belongs in a beautiful memoir of my time spent by his graveside. For now, let it suffice that my life is more fulfilled for having spent time by his side.

While sitting in a random woman’s kitchen eating ham and cheese sandwiches and drinking tea, we were informed of a hostel down the road in Doolin. The hostel in Lisdoonvarna was completely booked due to the Matchmaking Festival, so we needed to find new accommodations. It was wonderful of the man who informed us to point us in the right direction, because we never would have known where to sleep otherwise.  Even though, I would just like to point out that the last two hostels that Kara and I have checked into, only ONE Kara has slept in. And just to clarify: that Kara was ME.  😛

So we drove down the coast road towards Doolin, and right away spotted Flanagan’s Hostel. It was a cute little house, and as we’re heading towards the door, the person in charge at the time walked over from next door (where there was a yard sale) and greeted us.

This moment was the turning point for our entire day.

It was the point where utter ridiculousness and hilarity ensued.

His name is Povry. But it sounds more like “sorry” with a lisp. He is from Iceland. Which would make him Icelandic, yes. And I have never laughed more in my life. I could have died from not being able to handle the hilarity of the following hours.

There is honestly no way to describe what was so funny. Povry was just so ridiculous, and his comic timing was enough to slay a strong cynic. All I know is that the next couple hours involved an Icelandic guy with a funny mustache telling us ridiculous Kerry jokes, scaring away people who wanted a room, singing songs on his guitar, folding and complaining about folding laundry, and basically making us die with laughter. We both felt as though we had walked into a movie – the whole scene was just that ridiculous. At one point, two other girls (who we had seen the previous night) were staying there, as well, and they were so weirded out by the whole situation that they left the room about as quickly as they came into it.

I’m actually not even going to try and explain how incredible this young man is- you just need to meet Povry yourself. ☺ But I honestly don’t think I will ever be able to think about those couple hours and not virtually laugh out loud.

After we all made dinner and sat down to eat, we got ready to head back out to the great ol’ town of Lisdoonvarna and the chaos, calamity, and craziness that is the Lisdoonvarna Matchmaking Festival.

You wouldn’t believe this stuff if I described it to you explicitly in interpretative dance and various other mediums of artistic expression. This festival is literally a place where people go to be matched up – for marriage… or at least for the night. I have never before been, and will never again in my entire life, be hit on as many times as in the past 48 hours. At one point, Kara’s hair even got bitten.

Galway & Lisdoonvarna, Ireland

Man oh man. Well, this has certainly been an interesting day. Not really sure where to start. Guess I need to backtrack a couple days for it all to make sense.

Picked up our car yesterday, and drove the three hours over to Galway. I really enjoyed being there, and spent my first afternoon tooling around town in the various shops while Kara took a nap. Afterwards, we went out on the town. We went to the King’s Head, which ended up being a fantastic pub, and to our sweet surprise (haha) there just happened to be a huge Oyster Festival going on in Galway this weekend. So everywhere you turned were oysters, Guinness, and drunk, happy people.  However, for myself, it was the incredible band that was playing – No Banjo – that made the night fantastic for me. They were really quite impressive, and I recommend them to anyone in the Galway area, if they haven’t heard of them before. Probably one of the best live bands I’ve ever heard.

This morning, Kara and I got lost, and then a kind girl named Rita helped us find our way to the ocean, where we walked along the boardwalk, then through a bit of Galway Center. Then we headed out over to Lisdoonvarna, where we’ve been since about three o’clock or so.

It’s been quite a trip. Sitting here now, in my bunk, at 2:30 in the morning, I really don’t know what to think of it all. All I know is that I’m alone in this ten-person dorm room, and it’s almost three in the morning. People are out and about this one-horse town, coupling up like mosquitoes. It’s a bit strange, I’ll admit. I definitely felt like I had entered the twilight zone for most of the night. However, I truly did have a great time, so I can’t complain too much. We met some great people, even if they did end up scaring me away at the end. I’m just not very good at awkward moments. I sort of just… run away. Yes, much like Sir Robbin. Just with less pomp and circumstance.

However, before my awkward moments, I had tons of incredible ones. Kara and I danced around like headless chickens and had an absolute blast, while also talking to a few great guys, and trying to avoid the many, many not-so-great guys. Indeed, I felt violated more than once this evening, that’s for sure. But I suppose I wouldn’t recommend a matchmaking festival for feeling like your personal space matters.

So yes, lots of dancing, a little bit of drinking, and plenty of laughs. So hurrah for that. I also was lucky enough to have some real conversation this evening, oddly enough with the bouncers. Bouncers always seem to be the coolest people at any place, haha (props to Joel). In this case, Jonathan with five names and his buddy were both fantastic people, and honored me with some much-needed conversation. And I mean real conversation, not the standard fluff. I wanted to steal Jonathan and make him talk to me for a couple more hours, haha – release this pent-up need for authentic and perhaps profound conversation. In the end, I got a walk back to my hostel, and I stole a silly kiss.

I’m really too ridiculous for any description.

And Lisdoonvarna is a twilight zone.

In the end, I’m sitting here with my feet hurting and the random desire for comfy blankets, hot cocoa, and poetry.

Dublin, Ireland: beer, boys & bulmers

Our first full day in Ireland turned out wonderfully well. It was a pretty relaxed day. We got up at the late hour of 9:30, which was amazing in and of itself. We chummed about for a while and booked our next couple hostels, and then headed out on the town.

Naturally, we decided to do what needed to be done when in Dublin: head to the Guinness factory!

It was actually called the Guinness Storehouse, and it was a really interesting place, with seven levels of brewery fun-ness, and a taste test here and a free pint there – and even though the last taste I wanted in my mouth in the middle of the afternoon was a Guinness, it was still a great time. We learned a lot about… Guinness.

Afterward, we headed back towards the hostel for lunch, but then decided to stop in at a little pub along the way. The special of Seafood Chowder and brown bread caught my eye, and before we knew it we were tucked in a corner drinking Bulmer’s and eating delicious food. It was really nice, and Kara had a huge crush on the bartender, who sadly left mid-meal.  Boo to that.

We grabbed a quick nap before heading out to pubs – over to the hotspot which is the Temple Bar area. The first bar had fantastic, authentic Irish folk music, but also had a sketchy old, old guy who kept following me around and spitting in my eye. The next bar was a bit more rowdy, with less authentic music, but we stayed there the longest. It was an interesting people-watching bar, and I made the mistake of singling out the biggest bum in the bar – I just know how to pick ‘em! Honestly, he might have been homeless.

On to the next bar. Finally, we ended up in The Temple Bar itself, where we were instantly greeted by a middle-aged man with no sense of personal space and plenty of alcohol already in his system. I simply had no tolerance and walked away, which I’m learning is less rude and more self-preserving than I once thought. As we walk away, however, Kara and I got stopped by this group of guys who we inevitably ended up talking to for the rest of the night. It was innocent, it was interesting, and I let them know that they were the nicest group of men we’ve met on this entire trip, which is absolutely true. We really haven’t had much luck meeting nice people, especially nice people of the opposite sex. So it was very refreshing, and definitely a nice start to our two weeks in this beautiful country. ☺ I’m looking forward, as I believe Kara is, as well, to the more rural places in West Ireland, and the sense of peace and poetry that such places bring with them.

Tomorrow we pick up our car from the airport, which we will have for the rest of the trip, so that’s fantastic. It’s nice to have a place to put our stuff, and… if necessary, a place to crash. Haha. Need to consider all our options. ☺

On the way back from the bars, Kara and I talked about relationships, and all that comes along with them. It’s always a tough subject for me, which is hard for me to accept since love and relationships have always meant the world to me. But now… things are different. I get very anxious talking about past hurts and pain, and even though I have a good handle on everything that has happened to me in the past four years, it is also a conflicting thing for me. I understand, though, that I need to place a bit more faith in God and the plans he has for me. If I am meant to love again, he will ensure my safety and my strength.

I just can’t imagine a world without love.

Dublin: Dreams & Deliberations

Tonight is definitely one of those nights when the only place I want to be is: HOME. It’s just been a really long day, and Kara and I are back to having absolutely nothing planned. So we’re left to stumble into random, smelly hostels and try to find a place to stay. I definitely had these days while on my Americana trip, as well, and they were never fun. Those were the days I ended up being hungry and tired and sleeping in my car. Here, however, in another country, and with another person, it’s a different story.

Yet here we are, at Paddy Wagon Hostel, in Dublin, Ireland. I may be hungry and tired, but at least I’m clean and safe. Of course, all I wanted was a hot shower, but instead I got the type of shower that you have to press down on a button for water to run, so it’s more of a battle of wit and skill rather than a relaxing time to unwind.

And I miss Bill and Katie- I’m not going to lie. I even miss our sketchy little cabin in the woods, because we were all together, and we were happy. I don’t know whether I have ever known such camaraderie and kindness.

I guess now all I really want is a week straight in a lovely cottage in County Clare. For some reason, Kara gets really annoyed when I mention John O’Donohue, but I have to admit, he is definitely one of the reasons I am still believing in anything beautiful in this world. And the thought of being in the land he loved… it means the world to me. If I really get to visit his grave site (we found the location), I will be beyond honored. However, simply to be in County Clare and West Ireland – it will mean so very much to me, and I am anxious to be on its soil. A place that cultivated such a soul, heart, and mind as that man – is undoubtedly a place of palpable power and purity.

Even though he has passed, the fact that John O’Donohue even lived gives me hope. The idea that there are people out there who understand and revere the concepts I have secretly clung to – is so beautiful to me. To find someone, perhaps one day – even one person – who can speak of the landscape and the language of a place, and pull poetry out of the earth – oh… it makes the trek worth trekking.

I can’t imagine returning home. It’s very hard for me to accept, even while simultaneously I am eager for it. It is quite the contradiction.

And I miss love. At the same time, I am terrified and desensitized by it.  I suppose it is O’Donohue’s talk of the ‘anam cara’ that calls to me – that person whose presence in one’s life breaks boundaries and conventions, and transcends this world. I know it is possible – and I have certainly tasted it briefly before; however, in a world so numb and devoid of passion, it is hard to still believe in.

Writing this has made me feel a bit better. Perhaps I can sleep now. I will talk to God for a while, since I have been very silent with Him this past month. And then I will clutch Panda to my side and fall into the world of recovery and Dreams.

Glencoe, Scotland: happiness & hiking

Katie and Bill just dropped us off at the port, and Kara and I are currently at sea, traveling from Stranraer, Scotland over to Belfast, Ireland. We are currently in-between countries, and somewhere on the Atlantic. The ship we’re on is pretty incredible, and I’m feeling a bit of Titanic-like tension, but I think we’ll be okay. ☺

Bill and Katie were just wonderful – Kara cried a little when we were on the shuttle bus to the ship, and I can’t blame her. Her brother is such an incredible guy, and get along so well as brother and sister. I really bonded with Katie myself, and I look forward to perhaps having a good person as a friend when I get back home to Sturbridge. They literally live down the road from me, over the Brookfield line. If I find myself attached to Massachusetts for any length of time, I at least want to surround myself with good people and a little bit of joy.

And joy is definitely what I have felt this past week. The four of us had such a blast- our humors all fit together wonderfully, and I can’t really remember the last time I was that happy with a  group of people. Like I said, I can’t blame Kara for crying – but she is very lucky to have such wonderful people in her life. As now, am I.

Today marks our two weeks into the trip – the halfway point. Honestly, I actually feel like it has been much longer, and that I have been away from home for months. Perhaps it’s all the many feelings I’ve experiences, and the mind-expanding thoughts and experiences we’ve had. Many of my preconceived notions of traveling and the world and the people in it have been blown apart, and I am left to redefine myself, my life, and the world around me.

Yesterday was quite the day – a day that completely revolved around hiking up a mountain. We hiked up to the Pap of Glencoe, which was a big boulder thing on top of a mountain. It took approximately three and a half hours to reach the top, and a little over two hours to get back down. I think I possibly died halfway through.  We started off on a trail we designed ourselves rather than at the trailhead, which was the start of an entire adventure. I got my legs scratched and bleeding from heather and bushes, climbed through barbed-wire fences, fell into lots of mud, and bitched as much as possible. However, I also got a great workout, beautiful pictures, and lots of fresh Scottish air. So let’s focus on the positives. It was pretty amazing.

Glencoe, Scotland: hopefully still alive

If you’re reading this now, it means I lived long enough to post this.

The day started off well. We woke up in Skye, the day full with promise and anticipation. After a quick breakfast at the hostel, we packed up the car and checked out. Before we drove away, however, we took a quick walk over to some castle ruins, which ended up being more of an adventure than we anticipated. Making a random decision, I headed up the muddy path through the fields of heather and fern, while Kara, Bill, and Katie took the more precarious route along the water bank. Needless to say, they made it to the castle ruins, and I merely made it atop a hill where I viewed the castle ruins from afar. Yes, go me. However, it was quite an adventure, especially when at the top of my perch I met up with two guys – one from Wales, the other Scotland, who were traveling across the dunes to meet some random guy who is renowned for being the most tattooed guy in the world. Which was… almost enough to lure me away from the group, but then the two guys told me I shouldn’t be up there in sandals (which I had already figured out). They proceeded to warn me about the abers – which are poisonous snakes that lurk in the wet fields. Needless to say, I spent the rest of my hike back in a anxiety-ridden panic, thinking I was going to die and nobody would find me up there in the hills of Scotland. Luckily, I made it safely to the ground, where I took a lovely picture of a spider web. The end.

But not the end of the day – just the end of that adventure. Afterwards, we got in the car and drove to… wherever we are.

Where are we? That is a really good question.

Anyhow, we are in the middle of nowhere, Scotland. We drove through one-way hills and road and valleys to get here. And then we were suddenly in this odd little town, and then we crossed a bridge that brought us into the woods on a single-lane road, and then we were driving a couple miles down this road, and then we were pulling in to this sketchy little hostel in the middle of nowhere. Then we were getting out of the car, and a random guy came out of a random little house and started asking us who we were, almost as if he wasn’t sure if he should be expecting us.

I’m not going to lie – I got the weirdest feeling from this place. Naturally, it doesn’t help that I’ve been reading a book entitled “Scottish Murders” but seriously – this place is creepy.

I remember now – we’re in Glencoe. About a half hour north of Fort William. In a creepy little hostel.

I’ve never laughed so much in my life. The past few hours have probably been some of the most ridiculous and enjoyable ones of my life, which I never would have antipicated when we first arrived here. I felt terribly odd, and this threw me off. In fact, I had even told myself that I was going to stop talking and sort of withdraw for a day or so, because I didn’t want to be too annoying, and I felt so strange. However, none of that was necessary, and luckily I was able to loosen up, because the four of us have basically spent the last five hours laughing hysterically at everything and nothing, and it’s been fantastic.

Scotland: from the sea to the sky

The last couple days have been spent in Drumnadrochit, in the highlands of Scotland. We stayed at a cute hostel, a walk’s distance from the shores of Loch Ness. After dreaming by the fireside of ways to find Nessie, we headed out after dark to storm the castle. In fact, Castle Urquhart was simply too expensive, so instead we snuck onto the grounds after nightfall. In a cloak of moonlight, we were able to walk among the ruins of the castle, which we later found out had been destroyed with explosives from the inside. Its location was beautiful, right on the shores of Loch Ness, but it was sad to see what little remained of what must have been a glorious castle. It’s madly fascinating to imagine the lives that were led there in days gone by.

Friday, we took a boat tour around the Loch. The day was beautiful, the water relatively calm, and our guide kindly and knowledgeable, so it was definitely time well spent. Alas, there were no Nessie sightings, but we were content with the knowledge that she was out there. ☺

Yesterday was a travel day – heading up from Loch Ness to the Isle of Skye. It truly is another world up here – like being in the sky. ☺ It was very windy and rainy yesterday, which ruined some of the effect for me, but one has to remember that I am in Scotland. It’s rainy and windy. And wet. And cold. But I’m not going to lie – it’s beautiful. Driving up the east coast of the Isle yesterday was breathtaking – traveling down this little windy roads through the mountains and hills and streams and waterfalls. At certain moments, I almost soaked it in too much, and couldn’t breathe.

On our way up to Skye, we stopped at Eilean Donan Castle, which was a perfect stop. When we arrived, it was blustery and windy, but then as soon as we purchased our tickets and started crossing the bridge, this incredible rainbow appeared – the most beautiful rainbow I’ve ever seen. ☺ And it was fantastic walking through the castle – with all its nooks and crannies and window seats. I could have picked up a notebook and stay forever.

We checked in to Skye Backpackers, which is a fantastic place, and later on we went and checked out the nightlife. Hahaha. It consisted of three bars in one courtyard – and I felt like the three bears in goldilocks, because the first one was terrifying, the second one smelled and was sketchy, and finally the third one was like a haven. There was a live band, who happened to be playing Johnny Cash as we walked in, and it just got better from there. At one point, I went up to watch the band (delicious Bulmer’s cider in hand) and these two women started dancing. Next thing I knew, they had grabbed me and forced me to dance with them. I tried to get away twice, but they would clutch my arm and keep me dancing. So after a bit, I just went with it. There was this awesome Scottish song playing, so I quickly learned myself the words, and danced around with them. After the song, I got hugs, and she asked where I was from, and was surprised to hear the States. So she goes “I’m from Skye!!” It was a cute moment.

I’d mention the really cute guy, Anthony, but he might read this… so I won’t. ☺

Today we’re heading to Glencoe. This is quite the trip. And I adore Bill and Katie. I’m really going to miss them when they’re gone.

What a life. I hope I never cease to be this alive.

Edinburgh, Scotland: Picnics & Perambulations

In the spirit of saving precious time and energy, the following paragraph is taken directly from my dear friend Kara Simpson’s notes:

“One week into our trip, Kara and I (me) spent the morning in the Smart City hostel cafe, writing postcards, checking our email, having tea and playing pool. It was very very nice and relaxing. Once 2 o’clock arrived we went and checked into our new hostel (right next door to the Smart City Hostel), the High Street Hostel. It was a little bit of a downgrade, but for the price, could not be beat.

After a little rest, I (Kara S) headed to the airport to pick up Bill and Katie. They arrived without problems and after getting settled into the hostel we headed out for dinner. We were recommended a pub that had a backpackers menu called Castle Arms. Bill got Haggy, Tatties, and Nips (basically Shepherds Pie with haggis, turnips and potatoes) and I (Kara S) got the Yorkshire Pudding (sausage and potato in this pastry type bowl). Yum Yum. To fully embody the Scottish way, Bill ordered a whiskey. I must say, I don’t think I will ever come around to the stuff. It’s an explosion of burning alcohol in my mouth, and I don’t find that so pleasant. Strongbow suits me just fine! For dessert we ordered cranachan – an oats, cream and raspberry parfait thing. I think I prefer chocolate in my dessert.

That was much easier for me to copy and paste than to write altogether again. Plus, I’m being extra lazy today. I slept most of the drive up to our hostel, Loch Ness Hostel (http://www.lochness-backpackers.com). We are currently situated in the village of Lewiston near Drumnadrochit, and just a few minutes walk from Loch Ness and Urquhart Castle. But the weather is terribly dreary today, which is appropriate, I suppose – sort of how I anticipated the Loch Ness area to be.

Yesterday we met up with a friend of Katie’s and her two children, had lunch in the Edinburgh gardens,  and checked out the Edinburgh National Gallery, where we saw a couple of beautiful Rembrandt’s, and a Rubens. Afterwards, I was also able to find REAL soft serve ice cream (!!!) which made up for the crazy fake stuff I’d been falling for repeatedly and being disappointed by. After saying adieu to Jackie (Katie’s friend), everyone returned to the hostel, while I walked around the many tourist gift shops and purchased some random pieces of Scottishness, and a couple gifts. Money is deteriorating fast here, however, what with the pound being worth so much, and our dollar being worth so little. Sad face. 😦

For dinner, we went out to Biddy Malone’s, which was the same Irish pub that Kara and I had been stalked at only two nights earlier by some drunk Irish guy. This time, however, was much more enjoyable for we had dinner at a discounted backpacker’s rate, and were able to finally try Sticky Toffee Pudding.

My favorite part of the evening was after dinner when the band started setting up. While they got ready, a group of Irish step dancers performed a couple songs, and there was a great feeling to the pub. In fact, the pub was having a St. Patrick’s Day Party since it was 6 months til the actual day. So we hung around, and enjoyed the dancing adn the music. I was totally infatuated with the band, for they were so authentic and fun, and the Irish music was terrific. Makes me excited to hear all the live music in the pubs Kara and I will go to in Ireland. 🙂

Enough of this updating crap. I’m going to enjoy the fireside and the Scottish air. 🙂


Edinburgh, Scotland: ghosts, torture & pubs

Edinburgh (pronounced… Ed-in-bur-rah…??) is a fascinating city. Everything is so old and palpable with history… it’s very exciting. Probably my favorite city so far. Last night, Kara and I went on the “Ghost & Torture Walking Tour” which was surprisingly well done. I was wary, since my experience of the ghost tour in New Orleans a couple months ago was so lame, but our guide was fantastic. She could tell a story in such a way that you were there, and you were caught up in sensory details and experience. I was really impressed.

Anyhow, she talked about the city’s history, and most of it was quite disgusting. I can’t imagine living in ANY city back in the 17th and 18th centuries, but Edinburgh was poor and unsanitary and unhealthy… and we were basically walking on a mass burial ground for the people that had lived (and died) in that time period. Which was pretty morbid. I can certainly understand why the city is considered to be one of the most haunted.

We stayed at SmartCity Hostel last night, which is actually directly next door to the one we’re staying in tonight. So we literally had to pack our bags, check out, walk next door, and check in. It was a little ridiculous. 🙂 Anyways, at SmartCity (which is more like a hotel than a hostel) we were in a completely male dorm room, so we shared the space with six testosterone-filled guys, which was certainly a switch-up from the predominately female dorms we’ve had this past week. A couple of the guys were from Persia, and preparing for their graduate studies in England – we ended up spending some time with them at an atmospheric pub, Whistle Binkies, and then playing pool with them this morning as they waited to leave for their train.

What else. We went to a great pub for dinner – Maggie Dickinson’s – where I had a steak and ale pie (yummmm) and we downed a pint of Strongbow. We walked around the Grassmarket area, which was once a marketplace, and then predominately used for hangings and such, due to its location directly below Edinburge Castle, which was an impressive thing to see. It’s not worth the money to tour the castle, but I almost wish we could, since it’s the first castle I’ve been so near, and it’s unbelievably impressive. It may be dorky, but so many of the places we’ve been have brought me back to so many of the books (but classical and romantic) that I have read ever since I was a girl. It thrills my little heartstrings in ways almost long-forgotten. 🙂

Bill (Kara’s brother) and his wife, Katie (and the baby in her belly) arrive in a few hours, and we’re to meet them at the airport. For the moment, however, we’re chilling in the SmartCity Cafe, reading and writing and drinking tea.


England: Ambleside & the Lake District

Well, to be sure, the next day was more promising. However, it was in a much different way than we expected. We had been hoping to relax a little and breathe in the Lake District… and I suppose that’s what we got.

Kara and I decided to take a ‘little walk’ around the Ambleside area, so I picked up a map for 20 pence, and we started out on our casual…brief… 6-mile… hike… through the mountains.

Yeah, not really what we expected. BUT… but… it was pretty awesome, I have to admit, even if by the time we returned to town we were in more pain than we could have imagined from our ‘little walk’.  The trail took us through woods with steep trails, across farmland, and up mountainsides that seemed determined to ascend straight towards the sky. I swear, if I never walked the slightest incline again for the rest of my life, I’d be content. Not to disregard the downhill slope we had to manage on our way back down to town – I think our shins started to spasm about halfway down.

The worst part of it all? There were 75-year-old couples accomplishing all of this with barely a grunt of moan. They were moving slowly, and probably had to check their heartrates a few times, but it was pretty incredible to see. And these footpaths took us up these luscious green hills overlooking Lake Windermere, sparking there in the distance. Photographs did nothing to capture the loveliness of the numinous landscape surrounding us – it whispered of history and earthen patches of pale light.

Having survived our journey, we purchased a few goods from the local Co-op and returned to the hostel, where Kara took a nap and I moseyed about. I was able to hand-wash all the clothes I’ve worn so far, and hang them in the drying room., which was a great thing, for now I feel like everything is new and refreshed. Kara and I have definitely had some rough patches in this brief and tumultuous week of traveling, but I fervently believe that things will settle down now, and we can start to really enjoy ourselves, and each other, a bit more. Needless to say, if our trip had only been a week long, we wouldn’t have had the most fantastic time! It’s definitely been an experience, and we’re both further learning how vast this world is, and how truly accessible it is to the willing traveler. As Kara said to me at the last train stop, she never wants to forget this feeling of freedom and possibility – to always remember how possible it is to travel the world.

Currently on the train to Edinburgh, which is in Scotland and therefore in another country! Very exciting. We have a hostel reserved directly in the center of the city, so that should be interesting, and it certainly means that we’ll have to hit the town tonight. ☺ Tomorrow we meet up with Bill (Kara’s brother) and Katie (and the baby in her belly) and spend the following week traveling with them. I’m not too nervous about the prospect of traveling with them, but it’s true that I’m not part of the family, so I hope I can fit in well enough. The Simpsons definitely have their own way about things. ☺

Kara and I met a young man at the travel center in Windermere when we were desperately trying to book a place to stay Saturday night. Unfortunately for him, he was unable to find accommodations and had to camp it that night. However, the next day I saw him in town while in Ambleside, and then again that evening. Come to find out that he not only found a room the following day, but also a job! He will be working at the YHA in Ambleside, working for minimum wage plus room and board. It’s actually pretty incredible, and I’m not going to lie – if I were alone right now, I probably would have arranged for a job myself and stayed in the beautiful Lake District of England. But it’s exciting to know that such things are possible – and I wouldn’t be surprised if the lure of such an opportunity would bring me back to Europe. I also thought of my brother, Joel, and how cool it would be if he were to find the sense of adventure and motivation to go off like that – all this kid had was his pack and his guitar – and create a life for himself somewhere, anywhere, and see the world. It would be thrilling, methinks. ☺  Makes me wish I had thought of it earlier, not at the ripe old age of 24! Haha – I know it’s never too late, but there are still limits to ridiculousness.

Kara and I ended our night cooking our own pasta dinner, then sitting at the hostel café, drinking some hot cocoa (tea for her) and playing Uno until late into the night (okay fine, 10 o’clock).  Then we passed out.

England: Barely Surviven’

So… we made it here alive. Where, you ask? I don’t know – I’ll ask Kara once more. Okay. We are at Ambleside YHA Hostel, situated on a lovely body of water in the Lake District of England. This day was… long. Probably one of the longest days of my life. And the Friendship of the Karas was tested in a million different ways, so… the fact that we still love each other is both a miracle and a blessing. Anyone walking into a month traveling with a friend knows that there are going to be some rough times, and with some of the friendships I’ve had in the past, there’s always the fear that something will be the end of a relationship. But Kara and I have always been different, and so far our trip has been proving that. It’s tough – but travel can be tough, especially when you’re young, a bit ignorant, and more than a little frugal. We’re not broke, but we certainly don’t have the money necessary to make this entire trip enjoyable – and England is the most expensive place I’ve ever been. A can of soda costs two dollars, a plate of pasta $20, and tonight we had a pint of cider that was about $6. So nothing is cheap, and everything is a splurge, so we’re definitely looking forward to moving on the more rural areas of Scotland and Ireland. I love England and think it’s beautiful, and I find the people to be terribly friendly, but we can just not afford this much longer, especially with us both being very, very frugal people. And traveling is very expensive, especially when we’re playing it off the cuff like we have been this past week.

But we’re alive, and we’re comfortable, and we’re safe, and we’re… not raped or murdered. So with a little bit of perspective, I guess you could say that we’re okay. ☺

But, my God, what a day.

Tomorrow looks much more promising. We plan on going for a little 6-mile jaunt around the area, where there are waterfalls and much beautiful scenery, and then hopefully cooking ourselves up a little dinner and having a couple Strongbows. ☺

AND NOT TRAVELING ANYWHERE.

Birmingham to Windermere, England

The Karas are currently on a train to Windermere, England. The bus to Keswick was, of course, sold out, so we had to purchase a train ticket to another part of the Lake District. However, I hear Windermere is a beautiful place, and it’s the location of the largest lake in the Lake District, so… cool. The train is really quite fantastic, since you get to see all the beautiful landscapes, even if it did cost us about $70. It’s certainly not cheap to get around Europe, even if it may be easy.

I’ve been sitting here reading John O’Donohue’s Anam Cara: a book of Celtic wisdom, which is naturally beautiful and awe-inspiring. This man was a genius unlike any I have read before him. I only have to read a couple sentences of his work, and be absolutely transported.  He embodies the landscape of the earth, and of my soul, in a way previously unknown. I feel as though all the secret thoughts of my soul are placed into the words of his work. A part of me is jealous, for he has written things I have dreamed of putting to paper myself, but on the other hand I am honored to be in the presence of his words, for what he has given to the world is precious. I am saddened that I will never meet him, never have the opportunity to thank him; however, I can meet with him silently in the secret spaces of my heart.

We are not booked for a place to stay tonight, so hopefully we can find a hostel with a couple beds open. The train moves along pretty quickly, so hopefully we’ll get there with plenty of light left to the day. I am looking forward to the Lake District, for it is said to be so beautiful and peaceful. I’m hoping to put some poetry to paper, for it has been building inside me.

London, England: Stops & Gos

The last couple days have certainly been interesting.

Yesterday was delightful, and filled to the brim. We slept our first night at the hostel, which was noisy and quite a bit sketchy, but at least we had a cheap place to sleep. The next morning we had a breakfast of corn flakes and toast in the bar, gazed around at all the colorful characters sharing the hostel with us, and headed off to explore London… in the rain. Luckily I had the poncho Grandpa gave me, and the rain eventually tapered off.

First… we got lost. Then we got back on track and walked over to the Thames River, where we walked the Bank Side, and found Shakespeare’s Globe Theatre. We were able to buy standing seats in the Galley for only five pounds for the Globe’s performance of A Midsummer’s Night Dream! While we waited, we walked along the Thames and split a lunch at a little sandwich shop, then purchased some ice cream from the ice cream truck. I got a Mr. Softee (yes, a Mr. Softee) which was the equivalent to the soft serve ice cream back home, only it had a fluffier, creamier taste – almost like you were eating homemade cool whip in a cone.

A Midsummer’s Night Dream was wonderfully done, and I know my mom is going to be incredibly jealous of me (she teaches AMND every year to her students, and takes them to a local show).  It was so great to watch these trained actors, who actually understood their Shakespeare in and out; their diction was superb, and it brought a whole new meaning and connotation to their lines.

Afterwards, we took the Tube over to Westminster and pretended to have even a semblance of understanding of anything British. After coming to terms with our complete dim-wittedness, especially concerning London architecture and landmarks, we took some touristy-like pictures, and headed back to the hostel.

Once there, we got ready to make our way over to Kingston to see the Pipettes. We had been certain we were ridiculously late, since it was about an hour trip on the train, but in fact we were far too early, and had plenty of time to go and get a nice dinner. Our “nice” dinner consisted of a $15 hamburger (!!) at a restaurant named Byron. However, the meal was delicious, and if I ever paid that much for a hamburger again, I would certainly want it to taste that good. I got the Byron Burger, and it had this delicious “Byron” sauce made out of relish and mustard and mayonnaise. What reeled us in to the restaurant, however, was partly the big cow statue in front, and partly the tag-line of the place, which was “proper hamburgers.” I mean, really, if I was going to have a hamburger in England, I wanted it to be proper, for sure. ☺

The Pipettes were great – they’re adorable the watch, and just so funky and fun. The scene was young; I had forgotten that anyone over 18 could drink, so we felt terribly old. I felt like I was watching a bunch of kids have fun and partake in underage drinking. At the same time, I was jealous that they had such an amazing scene to go to – it was a great nightclub/bar, and the music was fantastic. And I basically wanted the outfit of every girl in that room – everyone is so stylish in London! Plus, everyone there was going for the “Pipette” sort of look, which is one of my favorites, with the polka dots and such. It’s like… the emo look, but more stylish and happy.

Getting home was quite the trip. We left the club at 11:30, hoping to catch the last trains. We got the first one fine, but our connection had already stopped running. Some cute elderly gent instructed us what to do, and we made it one more stop before everything was completely done running for the night. We vainly attempted to figure out the night bus system, but, in the end, we ended up walking all the way back to our hostel. Don’t ask us how we did it, but we did it! No map, no clue, and yet… suddenly (or, miles later) we were near Burough station, heading towards sketchy people and bed.

Today was a bit less exciting, and definitely less awesome. It started with everything not going our way, and got worse as the day went on, haha. We missed our bus to Keswick, by about 5 minutes, and then had to figure out what to do. We sat on the steps outside Victoria Station, tried not to freak out, and eventually figured out our next step. After missing our first bus to Birmingham (!!!!) we eventually got sat in a seat, and both of us passed out for the entire 4-hour ride. A well-needed nap, if you ask me. Once in Birmingham, we walked down the road in the pouring, drenching rain and found the Birmingham Backpacker’s hostel, but, of course, they were full up. So we continued down the road to the corner pub, which seconds as a bed and breakfast. Sean, the “man in charge” was a complete space cadet, but he was adorable and set us up in a lovely little room for only 20 pounds a piece. After settling in and taking a nice hot shower, I got dressed again and we went downstairs to the pub where we had the most delicious meal of possibly my entire life. Both Kara and I had beef stew with buttered bread and a pint of Strongbow cider. I was literally in heaven; it was just the most perfect evening, with Sean’s occasional company, great music, and the chillest atmosphere ever. It was exactly what Kara and I had both dreamed of when we discussed going over to Europe – a pub and a pint and great people.

So although most of the moments involved in today were terrible, the day in its entirety was a success, and it just goes to show how everything happens for a reason, and one needs to just live in the flow of the stream.

London, England: a swashbuckling good time

Kara and I landed in Heathrow airport this morning and met up around 9 AM. Sadly, I was without a bag, since they forgot to transfer the bags along with the passengers. However, it was only sitting in Dublin about an hour away, so we were only held up a couple hours. We traveled on the Tube easily, and reached our hostel, The Dover Castle, just in time to pass out. After napping for a couple hours, we showered and headed out to town – headed over to the Picadilly area, purchased tickets for a show, and got fish and chips at a pub. So far, we were managing to be very British (which partly made up for the breakfast we had at the French restaurant!).

Honestly, it is quite a trip to hear everyone speaking with the British accent. It’s one thing to hear the occasional person back home, or to watch an English movie, but to have everyone walking around with a British accent is a whole new bag of beans. I feel almost… foreign, even though we speak the same language. I’m like an alien trying to speak whenever I say something. And I can’t quite figure out what they think of me when I do speak – I’m sure people everywhere have very mixed feelings about Americans right now.

Our evening was filled with SWASHBUCKLING fun, since the play we decided to see was Zorro: The Musical. I could barely believe it when Kara said she was cool with seeing it, but we figure why not – let’s be ridiculous. And it was definitely ridiculous. The acting wasn’t incredible, but it was certainly entertaining, and had some really artistic/intense moments that made up for the… less than “artistic” ones. Plus, I managed to use the word “swashbuckling” at least 20 times today, so I honestly think it was a day well lived.


My Birthday

Today is my 24th birthday. I got drunk last night, thanks to friends who were more than willing to ply me with drinks and then kindly deposit me at home (and yes I mean you, Jessica). 🙂 Of course, today involved the second hangover of my life (yes, I’ve only been drunk twice) and I feel like I’ve been slowly dying, lost in some alter-reality the entire day.

Mom and I went to Clinton Old Home Day, which is a trip in itself, and the humidity mixed with the lameness mixed with my hangover all resulted in me being quite miserable. The only thing that kept me going was the thought of going out with Jenn tonight in Boston, but the torrential downpours have dismissed that idea for me, so now it’s before 8 PM and I’m in my polka-dot pajamas, waiting to watch a movie with my mommy. And yes, I am now 24 years of age.

Which makes me feel quite old. Not in that “i’m old and life has no meaning” kind of way, but in that “wow I can’t believe life is so swift and ruthless.” Time goes by, whether we do anything about it or not, so we might as well live amazing lives along the way.

My cousin Lisa was delightful enough to point out to me today that I share this birthday day with someone very special – Mei Lan, who just celebrated her second birthday at Zoo Atlanta. In fact, ALL of the Zoo Atlanta pandas are Virgos, which is only appropriate.

So I’ve decided to disguise myself as a panda and live happily ever after in the Atlanta zoo.


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