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Left my heart back in Killarney… and my damn neck pillow. 

The moment I got off the bus and started walking in Killarney, I knew I found my favorite place. The narrow streets, colorful buildings, shops and pubs every which way – it was picturesque. The entrance to Killarney National Park was a close distance from my hostel and once I had settled in, I went off to explore a bit on my own. I walked in to be greeted by a small cottage and a horse-driven carriage, trotting towards me. I chose the path on the river walk at first, before exploring further and further until I reached a lake itself. I found myself encompassed by the greenest of trees and mountains in the distance. 
That evening, as I was about to walk out of my hostel to grab a coffee, I ran into the girl from my previous hostel and a girl from my hostel chatting. We decided to get dinner together before heading out for the evening. After a recommendation from the girl at my last hostel, we landed at the Killarney Grand, a bustling bar that was packed for only a Wednesday night. Beyond the first room was a door labeled “Night Club” where traditional Irish music played and people swung around to the music. With a pint of Guinness in hand, I knew that I was where I needed to be.

The following day I was up early for a tour of the Dingle Peninsula. When I walked onto the tour bus, I realized I was surrounded by people who were at least in their mid-fifties or higher, except for one girl. It took me until our first stop to actually find out where she was from, but it turns out she had been traveling for quite some time and originated from Australia. She pumped me up for my next destinations in Portugal, as the country itself was one of her favorite places. We ended up chatting most of the day and we found ourselves faced with a huge amount of Fish and Chips in the town of Dingle at the end of our tour. 

The tour itself was beyond what I had expected. Our first stop was a quiet, wavy beach with a vast amount of room for walking. It was cold and windy, and absolutely surrounded by hills and mountains. It was hard to get pictures of the waves themselves without getting soaked, but the sight was beautiful nonetheless. 

Our second stop was only a few minutes, at a beautiful area to pull in and take pictures of the rolling hills. The sun shone between the hills where the sky opened up and you could see the mountains clearly. My only thought in this moment was, “this is the Ireland I have been waiting for.”

Don’t get me wrong, Ireland is a seriously beautiful place, but some parts I passed weren’t like the pictures you’re shown. It seemed like any other place. In Dun Laoghaire, I felt as though I were back in Tarrytown, New York, walking toward the Hudson River. It was during this tour that I understood the magic of this country, this green, misty country.

Our next stops were all along the Dingle Peninsula itself, from varying distances from its most Western peak. The driver told us that the pictures would only get better as time went on, and he was definitely right. From peering over the cliffs into the dark blue waters, to seeing blue-green waves and the sight of the most recent Star Wars (the one that isn’t out yet, apparently), the Dingle Peninsula was remarkable. 

That night in an attempt to save money, my friend whom I met in Cork, Maryssa, and I shared a 5euro bottle of wine before heading out for the night. The Grand didn’t have the same Irish dancing, which was a disappointment, as most of the kids in the “night club” looked like prepubescent boys and teenage girls who overdressed and didn’t understand the concept of “less is more” when it comes to makeup. High heels and tight, tight, tight dresses – I was uncomfortable just looking at them, but that’s because I look like a disabled ostrich when I walk in heels. 

Today, Friday, is my last full day in Killarney. I woke up early and met up with Maryssa for breakfast at our hostel before heading out to rent a bike. Our goal for the day was cheese and crackers, a low budget, and Torc Waterfall. We biked… a lot. At first, I really was not comfortable riding a bike on the main road. I hate bikers when I drive, so I figured people hated me too, but who cares. I actually haven’t ridden a bike in years and years, and my legs totally knew – they were pissed. My quads actually screamed at one point while biking up a hill, or maybe that was just me. Either way, we biked around the entire lake, or something. It was exhausting but the views were well worth it. Once we got to Torc Waterfall, we broke out the cheese, crackers, and grapes and happily ate over a cliff before being eaten alive by bugs. The Torc Waterfall was beautiful and well worth the trip and the distance. 

Last night in Killarney:

Maryssa and I wound up grabbing a quick bite at a local cafe for dinner to regain our energy sources for the night. I got a delicious Brie bruschetta; toasted bread with caramelized onions and some sort of cranberry concoction and then covered in warm, sliced Brie. We strolled Killarney and shopped for a bit at some local stores before grabbing a bottle of wine and heading back to the hostel. I stumbled into my room to be greeted by my new “roommate” for the night: a 33 year old man from Lisbon, Portugal. Now, I chose a 4-bed mixed dorm, so I was prepared for the likeliness of being with a man at some point. As this wasn’t a youth hostel, I’m just glad it wasn’t some weird 60 year old man who snored. 

Rather than going to the Grand that evening, we decided to take a chance on Murphy’s Bar. There was a rugby game playing and the bar was packed with locals and live traditional Irish music was playing. We sat and chatted while debating on whether or not to go up and buy a drink when a man named Robert came and sat beside me. He asked if we were Americans. I thought he was just shamelessly hitting on us, but he was friendly and conversational and ended up being a lot younger than expected. I sighed and exclaimed that I needed a drink, to where he offered to buy us each one. Score. He told us he and a lot of his work buddies were out celebrating a coworkers departure to a different job, and each of them slowly made their way over to us to introduce themselves. They invited us to go to a whiskey bar with them, and we thought, why the hell not. 

We left and went to another bar, which was very, very crowded. So we left immediately. We went to another bar, only to have a girl insist on going back to the other bar because there was “no one there.” We fought our way through the crowd and we were offered another drink. But apparently “no one being there” means you can shove yourself through if you try hard enough. 

The night carried on with conversation and drink until I met up with another friend before turning in for the night.

I’m now on the bus on my way back to Dublin, and I wish I could have stayed in Killarney for even longer. I felt as though I was given all of Ireland in one place and I couldn’t have asked for a better experience or time, and my last night in Killarney certainly ended with a bang. I knew leaving certain places would be more difficult than others, but I didn’t think it would be this hard.

4 nights in Dublin, then off to Portugal!!! Ready to ditch these long sleeves and jeans and soak up the warmth and sunshine. 

Cheers. 

Cork, Kinsale, and a lot of beer. 

Monday evening arrival in Cork: 

I have arrived at my first hostel and I think what I didn’t want to happen has happened, but it being my first day / evening / night alone, it is not all bad. I found my hostel quickly, as it was literally just a few minutes from where my bus dropped me. I checked in with reception, got my key, only to open the door to an empty room. The lady at reception assured me my room would be full, and it is a female-only dorm, but I can’t help but wonder when whoever else is coming might be arriving. So for now, I am just sitting here at a little desk in front of a mirror, typing away on my iPad. 

Anyone who knows me knows that my social abilities are almost aggressively bad, and that I am mostly too introverted for my own good. I enjoy being alone, though I don’t necessarily want to be right now. So it’s not exactly easy to “get out there” at barely 5:00 on a Monday night, especially when it’s raining and I have only just arrived. There is a bar downstairs, though, and I think that will be a good way for me to interact with others, even if I am just sitting there with a beer and waiting for someone to talk to the girl with a horrible case of resting bitch face. I’m sorry, I can’t help that I look so mean, it’s really just my face, even if I am kind of an asshole. 

In this moment, I am also really glad that I have locks that fit my backpack as well as a cable lock. The lockers at this place don’t fit my lock, and though someone could easily just cut the cable, it is at least locked, as are the main two compartments on my backpack. Logistics, logistics, blah blah blah. 

 —

That night, I met up with a guy from tinder who was actually an Italian living in Ireland. I really just wanted someone to show me around who knew the area because I was there for such a limited amount of time. And that’s exactly what I got. The first pub we went to is where I first tried the Cork version of Guinness called Beamish, I think. He ended up showing me the oldest pub in the city and it was warm and cozy in comparison to the cold, rainy night in Cork. 

The next day I woke up at an early hour, took a shower, and headed down to breakfast with the girl in my hostel room who I had met the evening before I went out. She is from Germany and has been working on farms in Ireland since March. Pretty badass if you ask me. It made me think about the other ways I could do this kind of trip one day. After breakfast, she was off to do her own thing and I was off to Kinsale for the day. It was a pretty town that I had heard a lot of good things about. I ended up meeting a girl on the bus who I recognized from the hostel, and she and two other girls were headed to Kinsale to explore as well. We ended up exploring the town together, starting our afternoon at supposedly the most recognized restaurant in Ireland called “Fishy Fishy.” I splurged on a salmon dish in a chili sauce over basmati rice and tempura onion and it was easily the best salmon I have ever had. 

We made our way to Charles Fort, about a 30 minute walk from where we were, and the views were absolutely worth the walk. It was a stunning fort, with buttercups lining the tops of the walls. I really couldn’t have asked for a more beautiful way to spend the day, and I was so happy to have met other people to spend the day with. 

Two of the girls I met were from the states, one from Washington and another from Jersey, while the other was from Canada. They were all there for different reasons. One planned to move to Ireland but after the time she had spent there decided against it, another was just on a 9 day journey to explore, and another planned to visit the UK after Ireland. I think no matter what the reason, being able to travel at any age is so important, and it is so cool how many people are just deciding to up and leave to explore a different place. No matter what, getting out there is more than some people can do. 

It’s interesting to see how many solo female travelers there are, and not only that, what they’re actually doing with their travels. I thought more people would be like me, where they were exploring all over Europe, but in Ireland, many people are just staying in Ireland. I can understand why, especially as a person traveling alone, because Ireland is English speaking and relatively safe. 

I consider myself lucky to be so content in my solitude, to enjoy it, to crave it. I don’t think many people are comfortable being completely alone at times, or have trouble seeing beyond what they miss and can’t look forward to the life ahead. I am lucky to have overcome what I have, to have learned from my own mistakes the first times, and to have learned from the mistakes that others have made in their lives. In all aspects of life, I know what I want, and I know that I will get what I want, but I’m not naive enough to believe that there won’t be struggle, hardship, and serious bumps in the road. Success comes in many forms but you don’t have success without an open mind and hard work. When life throws you a curve ball, use everything in your power to catch it, and if you don’t, then just move on. 

The biggest reason why I know I will be ok throughout this journey, and really in everything that I do, is because I know that no matter how bad things might get, they will get better. A missed bus, a canceled flight, a fuck up with the hostel accommodation, no matter what happens, everything will be okay, everything will sort itself out. Worry is a waste of imagination.

I found this quote on my Facebook memories just today, from 4 years ago: “Whatever you desire is already connected in some way to who you are and what you now have. Find that way, follow that connection.”

4 years ago, this trip was only a distant, wishful dream… and now here I am. On a bus in Ireland. Babbling.

Not quite on my own, yet…

While I certainly didn’t expect Florida weather in Ireland, I definitely didn’t imagine it to be as cold as it is. I packed mainly for the other countries I’m going to, because the weather there will be at least 70 degrees, and will probably reach over 100 in certain parts. I certainly do not take the warmth of the sunshine for granted after being here for only a few days. 
I landed on a bright and sunny Thursday. With only really two hours of sleep, not even that, I was exhausted as soon as I got to my cousin’s house from the airport. I showered and napped for only twenty minutes before heading back out for a walk with my cousin’s wife and two grandkids of theirs. We walked down to the water, the kids played on the rocks, and we strolled over to the James Joyce Tower/Museum and walked along some narrow stairs up to the top. 
After that, we headed for ice cream from the famous Teddy’s before I finally got an Irish SIM card and connected to some real data. That night we had steak, potatoes, vegetables for dinner, and finished off with wine and cheese later in the evening. 
The next day we went to Longford after I strolled to town for a flat white and a little muffin cake thing; my cousin and I stopped for lunch on the way there before meeting my third-ish cousins. And then more third-ish cousins. And then some more. It was a long day of jet lag and exhaustion, and way too much food and tea. I had no idea tea was so popular in Ireland, and I also had no idea how much it makes me have to use the bathroom…every single hour. Now I understand the man who once handed me the mug where I work (as I’m a waitress) and said, “tea makes me potty every place.” I thought he was just being weird and old, but seriously, it does. Every evening ends with wine and cheese, and those are two of my favorite things. 
The following day was a day for Guinness, but only after a flat white and a chocolate croissant. You’re probably wondering what a flat white is; it’s basically a cappuccino. A shot of espresso with milk. We took the Dart into the city center of Dublin and walked our way through Temple and Temple Bar. The campus is absolutely beautiful and I love the streets of Temple Bar. I walked nearly 10 miles that day. Guinness was definitely a tourist attraction; when we first walked in on the first floor, the line was moving at a glacial pace. We went up each level and ended in the Gravity Bar floor, where we saw a seriously stunning view of the city and mountains. 
The evening carried on to a restaurant / bar / wine cellar that I cannot remember the name of, and lunch ended with a flat white before heading back to Dun Laoghaire. My cousins were headed to see an opera so I was on my own for the evening, I found a nice “gourmet food parlour” down by the water and had some sliders, a glass of wine, and a large piece of fudge cake that even I couldn’t finish. 
Of course, I have been on Tinder as a 22 year old traveling female in hopes for recommendations and things of that nature, but none of my conversations have amounted to anything beyond wondering what the hell some of the phrases mean. Later on, when I’m really exploring “alone” I hope it will amount to good recommendations and conversation. Either way, here is my Irish-English slang dictionary. 

Class = cool. That’s class. 

Bad means good. 

Craic. Pronounced crack. People ask, what’s the craic? Or, that’s good craic. Apparently, it means fun. I thought people were asking for crack. Sorry, I don’t have any. 

Another guy said, if you’re free, lets grab a scoop. I said, a scoop of ice cream? Sure! Apparently, it means, let’s grab a drink. Sorry, what? Can you still buy me ice cream though? 

Grand. Everything is grand. That’s grand. 

Cheers. Here, I am paying for my meal. They say cheers. Cheers cheers cheers. But you don’t say cheers when you clink your drinks together. So. 

Do you fancy an ice cream? That’s a little more obvious.

Today, a Sunday, the day before I leave Dun Laoghaire and carry on to Cork alone, I fell in love with Ireland under the sun. It finally warmed up, to a measly 60 degrees when you’re in the sun, but I finally was able to take off my rain coat and only wear a shirt and a sweater. My cousin took me to a beautiful nature path and we explored by the water as well. The ocean looked stunningly blue green. I had never really seen the ocean from such a high point, and it was hard to not fall in love. 

And tomorrow, as mentioned, I am off to Cork for two nights. I will be visiting Kinsale for an afternoon, but beyond that, I just want to accustom myself to the hostel life. It will be my first hostel I will have ever stayed at, and I can’t say I’m not a little nervous for it. I just hope there’s hot water. At the same time, I’m ready for it more than anything else. The real part of my trip is now about to begin. No obligations. No schedule. Each day will be totally up to me, not that it wasn’t these last few, but I can only rely on myself. 
Cheers. 

waiting is the hard part

I’m sitting in bed, watching The Office, in my last hour of being home. I wasn’t really sure how I would feel in these final moments.

I’ve never been away from my family for an extended period of time like this. I’ve never been that far from the comfort of my own home. I think this is the hard part – being here, knowing what’s about to come, but not being there quite yet. This small waiting period counting down the actual beginning of my trip is grueling. Making sure I have everything, worrying about forgetting something. Goodbyes are weird. It’s not that long of a time, but it’s the longest amount of time for me.

I feel overall excited, blanketed with a sheet of nervousness and topped with a small combination of fear and sadness, but even with all of that, my mind can only focus on the future and what I have to look forward to. I have been planning this trip for over six months, and now it’s just a matter of living out all that I have planned. Getting from place to place. No expectations. Just living each day. I am yearning to be there, to start. Waiting is the hard part.

One Month Countdown

The one-month countdown has finally begun. I still can’t believe I’m doing this – and it doesn’t seem like all that many other people can believe it either. I can sense the doubts of others as I tell them my plan, I see their reactions when I say the word “hostel,” and I can feel their concerns when I say I’m doing this alone.

I have had my doubts, though very few. As time keeps passing and the day of my departure comes closer, my excitement churns to nervousness and sometimes even I wonder if I’ll really be comfortable being completely alone all of the time.

But then I remember who I am. I remember what I’ve been through. The hardest moments of my life I have lived through alone. There have been so many times in my life where I thought, “How am I going to be able to move on from this?” or, “How am I ever going to be okay again?” and I remember what is most important: the idea that everything in life is temporary. Fear, pain, confusion, yearning, joy, illness – everything is temporary. Feelings, both good and bad, rise and fall, and that is what life is all about.

This is what I have wanted to do for as long as I can remember and I have always imagined myself being completely alone during the journey. Maybe not completely, but at least without the company of someone I actually know. If everything I have ever experienced has led me to anything – it is this summer.

I’ve got it all figured out. I have my support systems. I have my friends, my family, my penpals in multiple countries of the world to reach out to if I’m in a bind, or just need someone to talk to that’s somewhat close by. And to be honest, I’ve planned this trip rather strategically, though of course, I know that nothing ever goes as planned, and I’m ok with that. I know that the stress will only be temporary, too. The scary moments will dissipate. Every moment of my journey will be fleeting – and that’s why I have to appreciate every single moment. Every landscape. Even though I’m traveling often, I have to allow myself to soak it all in, no matter where I am.

I start my trip with family in Ireland. I’ll be in Ireland for two weeks before heading to Portugal, and then Spain, each for about a week. I have no doubt I will be able to get through my trip. I have so much to look forward to, every day, every night. Once my first month has passed, I get a two-week break with my Contiki tour, so I’ll have some time to breathe and not have to worry about getting from place to place.

Time is ticking… and I’m ready.

Narrowing it all down

With only 74 days (!!!!!!!!!!) before I leave, I have a LOT of work to do. Working on the last six weeks of my trip is a lot more difficult than the first six.

Booking Ireland, Portugal, and Spain was fairly easy. Though Spain has a lot to offer, I knew more or less what I wanted to see and where I wanted to go (Sevilla, Madrid, Barcelona). The last six weeks of my trip have a lot more countries to book, the countries themselves are a lot bigger and offer a lot more, and I generally know very little about them all.

My Contiki tour ends in Rome, and from there is where I pick up my final 6 weeks. In my last six weeks I will be roaming around France, Italy, Austria, Czech, Denmark, the Netherlands, and the U.K.

France is posing a lot more difficulty than I originally intended. I am beyond excited for Paris, but it is so far up North and generally isolates me from the rest of France that I want to explore. I’ve made the decision to let Paris be my final destination before I head to the U.K. in the beginning of August, while touring the south of France after my Contiki tour.

From Rome, I’m thinking I’ll fly into Marseille, travel to Aix-En-Provence, then head over to Nice for a bit before I head back to Italy for some solo-exploration. I have been using Rome2Rio.com to sort out the vast majority of where I’m going and how I’m getting there and it’s proven itself to be highly beneficial, as it displays every possible way of getting there and its cost.

Here is where I’m having trouble. Contiki already takes me through a great bit of Italy, including: Florence, Venice, Rome, Bari (barely), Salerno, and Pompeii. From Nice, I’m thinking about traveling to Genoa, then Milan, then Verona, before I head up to Innsbruck, Austria. It’s difficult to say I want to go to all of these places prior to looking into accommodation, because a lot of where I decide to go depends on the safety of where I am able to stay during my time. Peak-season will be apparently over in Austria and Czech in the summertime, though I’m sure there will still be plenty of traffic all over. In Austria, after Innsbruck, I will probably go to Salzburg, Vienna, and then head up to Czech where I will go to Brno, Prague, and other places that I still have to figure out.

Now, it’s just a matter of taking the plunge and getting things booked. I take a lot of time looking into each city. I compare every hostel and I always have to take into consideration the times at which I can fly/bus into certain areas. I avoid, at all costs, arriving anywhere at night. Booking does provide a lot of anxious excitement. I know that I can cancel without penalty, but saying “this is where I’m going for sure” gives a very strange feeling. I wanted to go into this trip with a lot of my decisions ‘up in the air’ but it just isn’t realistic for someone my age, doing what I’m doing. If I had been to Europe before, I think I could have more confidence in “winging it.” Everything I do, I do for a reason, and I just have to keep reminding myself of that.

Thanks for reading! And please, if you have ANY recommendations or tips for France, Italy, Austria, Czech, throw them my way – I love and appreciate any and all input.