What I Learned While Traveling Alone in Ireland for Two Weeks…

by Lisa Dinsmore

irelandviewSo I had some time to kill in Europe before my boyfriend (now husband) was to join me on our first international adventure. While I "knew" French from high school and college, I was not proficient or confident enough to spend two weeks by myself in a country where I could not really understand or be understood. I could kick my wine-loving self now, but c'est la vie. England was too expensive as a solo traveler, so I decided to go to Ireland.

I didn't know much about Ireland, but it looked beautiful, the people had a friendly reputation, the food wasn't too weird (I was a picky eater back then) and most of all they spoke English. Plus the train system was so extensive and affordable I could see the sights without having to drive on the wrong side of the road - though I would consistently try to get in the passenger / driver side when I was over there, much to the cabbies irritation and my embarrassment.

While this was many years ago, these are a few things that have stuck with me from that trip.

1) Nature can't reach that distinct color of green - and it is unparalleled - without it raining…a lot. Like everyday. Not ALL DAY, every day, but for some time every day. It was nice coming from a place where it rains maybe 15 days a year. You don't see that color in Southern California EVER. On the flip side of that, 70 degrees is a perfectly acceptable temperature to sunbath as long as it's sunny. I was wearing a jacket, the Dubliners were as naked as they could get away with in a public park. I guess you have to take your sun worshipping when you can get it.

2) Apparently I have an accent. An "American" accent. Who knew? While I hail from Massachusetts (not Boston, there is a big difference) I can honestly say most people would be hard pressed to guess where I grew up. So it was quite a shock each time I opened my mouth that I was pegged as a foreigner. Clearly they were the ones who talked funny. It did help start the conversation, which was nice because I'm not the most outgoing person on the planet. Little did I know their accents had variations much like ours. The further west I went the harder it became for me to understand. It wasn't gaelic, but it was so thick it might as well have been. Ordering tea was never so difficult. I'm sure the feeling was mutual…

irish-breakfast edited-1-1024x7163) The Irish Breakfast will kill you….if you eat it everyday. It was included in my room and board at all of the BnB's I stayed at, which is a wonderful touch that helps save money, right? Except no one can or should eat that every morning. Eggs, bacon, bangers, grilled tomatoes, toast (or if you're lucky homemade soda bread), potatoes, baked beans and maybe a pudding.

I can tell you the little old lady who made it for me was so thin she was clearly a tea and toast woman, however, she was offended / confused when I asked for just tea and toast the 4th morning of my stay. Clearly no other traveller has ever refused the full breakfast. After all it was included… I wasn't the healthiest of eaters at the time, but I just couldn't do it. She didn't know what to make of me after that and I know she was glad to see me leave. I can still feel her consternation.

4) Irish tea is strong. Like controlled substance strong. Forget what you know about "tea" here in the States. Irish Tea seems harmless and tastes the same, but I swear a cup has as much caffeine as a whole pot of coffee. Drink the small pot they bring with your breakfast and you'll be up for a week. We have friends who have their tea shipped over because it's just not the same. Indeed.

5) Potatoes come with everything. It's not a joke. In one pub, my fish and chips came with a side of boiled potatoes. This has probably changed in the decades since this trip, but I laughed to myself every time I ordered. Thankfully, I could live on potatoes so this was not a problem for me.

Cliffs of Moher6) Sometimes you can only get places by bus. Not the best way to travel. I knew this already, but that didn't change the fact that if I wanted to see the famed Cliffs of Moher this was my only option. That it took me three trips to see them clearly, leads back to #1. The rain was my nemesis, but persistence pays off.  Also, knowing how to read a map is a handy skill that can help you get where you want to go.

7) Hollywood reigns supreme. I initially moved to Los Angeles to work in "the business" so I knew that people were enamored of my adopted home town. However, it was one thing to say you lived in America, another to say California (that perked people up some), but mention Los Angeles and you were golden. Of course, everyone I talked to - even though it's a town of 10 million people, almost twice the population of their whole country - that I must know someone famous…usually their favorite actor or actress. I felt sad when I disappointed them, which was a given, but it was hard to crush their hopes every time.

8) Beware of the Bank Holiday. It's only good for the locals. Everything shuts down, except restaurants, on a bank holiday. EVERYTHING. Including some shops and all tourist attractions. Consider yourself warned unless you're in a seaside town. At least then you can enjoy the view.

irishcastle9) America is young. Really, really, really young. I lived in Boston for a time which is about as old as it gets in the States. LA is a blip on the radar of history. I knew a lot about world history, it was my favorite subject, but walking through buildings, castles(!) and ruins that were not merely centuries old, but a millennium, well, that was awesome in the truest sense of the word. It just never got old (bad pun I know). The locals were unfazed, but I felt like a part of history in a whole new way…and more insignificant at the same time. The juxtaposition of eons of history and the raw beauty of the natural settings around every corner helped make this on of my favorite trips of all time.

10) The Pub closes at 10pm…unless you're a local. I know this because I, and a few of my fellow BnB guests, were suckered into going back by my host who wanted company. We only wish he had told us that men and women generally don't socialize together in the pub. He talked to his friends at the bar while we hung out at a nearby table, left to amuse ourselves. Not the fun evening out we had been promised. Though the drive to the pub via a "shortcut" though a cornfield - "please let there be no one coming back this way" - is one I will always remember. I guess it was better than sitting in my room reading by my lonesome. By the way, Guinness tastes completely different in Ireland and can be used as a substitute for a meal in a pinch. I loved it over there and when your other choice was a cold Bud (Why Ireland? Why?) it was a no-brainer.

11) Shirley McLaine has a doppelgänger…and she's a school teacher from Minnesota. OK this has nothing to do with Ireland per se, but she was also a guest at the BnB I was staying at in Doolin, the tiniest town I had ever been to in my life. This was the closest place near the Cliffs of Moher and the reason for the 5-hour bus trip and the stay at the Island View Inn (a complete misnomer and naming convention clearly not unique to America). Her name was not Shirley and she was a good 20 years younger than the original at the time, but I will always remember her. It was sort of creepy and comforting at the same time. Her mannerisms, looks and voice a dead-on ringer. I never brought it up, because either she'd think I was crazy or she'd heard it all the time and would be annoyed. She was the only "friend" I had in that outpost and I was just happy to be with another American at that point - 9 days in. Perhaps I was seeing what I wanted to see, but I assure you I am not exaggerating. Minnesota Shirley exists.


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