I have walked 138 miles. I have climbed 328 floors. I have journeyed through four countries and seven cities. I have been on eight airplanes (and counting). I broke my own heart and tried to fix it twice.
I took 2,674 photos along the way.
I learned that I love red beets. Or, I learned to love red beets. I learned that my French is not nearly as good as it once was. I learned French boys don’t love me nearly as much as I love them.
But most of all, I learned how to run away from my problems. How to really and truly run away from them; not just lock myself in the bathroom and take a boiling hot bath for three hours or drive to a movie theatre and watch a few flicks until I feel better.
I ran away from a failing relationship. I ran away from a late gas bill and misplaced checkbook. I ran away from a court date, unpaid hospital bills and nightmares of being assaulted all over again.
To run away from your problems, one must simply move to Ireland. So that’s exactly what I did… Sort of.
Three weeks abroad meant no cell phone service. No connection. I was completely off the grid and I absolutely loved it. I could post to Instagram when I pleased and call my family from a pay phone, but that was about it. No one could beg me to cover their shift at work. No one could force me to go to a party that I didn’t want to go to. Maybe I’m a loner, but in Europe everyone else seemed to be one, too.
There were no massive cliques of girls strolling through Grafton Street in Dublin. No tables of eight at cafés in Paris. Definitely no, “Will you come to the bathroom with me?” in pubs in London.
So I’m sorry I left. I’m sorry I’m home. It’s not that I hate Chicago or America or the wonderful life that I’ve been lucky enough to have. It’s just that I’m not ready.
I’m not ready for any of this to be over, but it already is and it has been for hours and all I can do is hide under the covers until my room stops smelling like Generator Hostel and the macaroon crumbs in between my thighs dissolve and my cell phone stops ringing with text messages from people who only want to know how fat I got from all the baguettes I ate in France.
I have never felt more at home than I did in Europe. I have never felt such happiness. Such a desire to live. And I know that as long as I am here, in the states, I will never have that feeling again.
I’m depressed and immaturely unapologetic for the lack of photographs in this blog post.
“How many dead people are buried in the cemetery?” my mother used to always ask my sister and I as kids. When we were driving by a graveyard, that is. Not just per happenstance. We would guess some outrageous numbers before she would turn around from the passenger’s seat and grin, “All of them!” And then we would laugh, which made for a perfect segue into her next joke.
“Hold your breath!” she would say while ballooning up her cheeks. “Why?” one of us would always ask, even if we knew what she would say. “You don’t want to breathe the dead air!”
She would crack herself up.
In a sort of morbid sense, I’ve never taken cemeteries seriously. Maybe because my mother always made light of the dark. Maybe because I had a fortunate enough childhood to never need to go to the cemetery or funeral homes. Maybe, and most likely, because I don’t care.
Maybe saying I don’t care is too harsh. I guess I just don’t understand. Cemeteries are far more interesting than they are sad; I love looking at the dates of the deceased and trying to piece together what this person’s life was like before I was standing on top of their plot, squinting at the headstone, trying to make out the carved words from decades ago.
I know a lot of people who don’t share this mindset with me. That it’s inappropriate. That it’s dishonoring the deceased. That I probably wouldn’t appreciate a bunch of kids running around my coffin, either.
So when our group went to the Glasnevin Cemetery, I couldn’t help but laugh a bit. The entire cemetery has been turned into a tourist trap. Granted, it is full of rich and exciting history, but it felt a bit exploited. Now, I had no problem with this. If anything, it validated that loving cemeteries isn’t that bizarre and made me feel as though I wasn’t that weird girl who digs graveyards (Digs graveyards… Heh). Or, at least, I wasn’t the only weird girl.
With that in mind, I began my hunt. What’s the oldest tombstone I could find? 1812. And the newest? 2004. The most ornate site? With the exception of Daniel O’Connell, perhaps Michael Collins. The least ornate? I don’t think I could have found one if I tried; every gravesite was detailed and taken care of. Some with fresh flowers, some with new rosary beads draped over the engraved epitaph. So despite the tours going on and the light jokes about gravediggers and poorly designed watchtowers, it was in good taste. No one felt exploited, or at least, I can imagine so.
And that’s what I always try to keep in mind: If, in some parallel universe, this person who’s been dead for some hundred years, were actually observing me observe them, how would they feel? Honored? Annoyed? Apathetic because they’ve been dead for some hundred years? My theory is that as long as you’re not being rude, exploring and taking away as much as possible from a cemetery is apart of the reason we have cemeteries in the first place.
Rubbing Daniel O’Connell’s actual coffin was the highlight of the cemetery. I don’t care if he will bring me good luck or not, as the legend has it. I just wanted to touch something that old.
London was a dream. A blur of bizarre events that I could chalk up to some trite excuses (see: jetlag, exhaustion, and dehydration) but will instead claim were really just one strange, 62-hour dream.
I punched an actor. I kissed a Canadian. I fell asleep in an old opera theatre with Europe’s biggest disco ball reflecting the hundreds of people around me dancing to Nothing But Thieves performing live. I stole not one, but two baguettes from a European version of Whole Foods and spent 20 pounds on a hideous, presumably fake wool scarf at the Camden Market.
I kept trying to come to some logical conclusion for the reasons behind my actions, when Sam said something quite profound and positive – especially for her: “Don’t ask why, but why not.”
Granted, some of the things I did were nothing but reactionary. When a theatre student who is wearing a Hannibal Lecter mask and growling into the nape of your neck is much closer than one can make out through the excessive strobe lights, I’m sure it happens all the time. Right?
At least his face was protected.
In an effort to shield my ears from the disturbing growls from an actor in the London Bridge Experience, I pulled my arm from off the shoulders of the man in front of me (a weird rule enlisted by the company) and subconsciously made a fist. I assumed the pose of a boxer, and while pulling my fist up to my ear, I accidentally hit this poor guy under the chin, not realizing his face was so freaking close to my neck.
He looked at me like a sad puppy dog. A really creepy sad puppy dog. “Oh shit oh my God I am so sorry!!! I’m sorry that was an accident don’t sue me,” I rambled while being shuffled forward by the rest of the group and our worm-like position.
He didn’t say anything and scampered back into position for the next group of people who would come through this historical-haunted-house of sorts. I felt really guilty. But it was also a bit of an ego boost knowing how hard my feeble arms could hit in a moment of self-defense. I guess those kickboxing classes my father made me take before I moved to Chicago actually worked.
But other stuff I did I really can’t blame on anything other than myself. Just kidding. I can – and will – completely blame alcohol. The Camden Pub Crawl was easily my best and worst friend during this weekend trip to London. It was like an elementary school field trip, except the chaperons aren’t your parents. They’re cute British boys encouraging you to drink all the free shots included in the ticket.
While playing Cards Against Humanity, Maggie, Sam, Dash (Maggie’s friend who lives in London) and I realized we needed a few more people to make the game interesting.
So, naturally, Maggie asked the two kids sitting next to us if they would like to play. Harmless enough, right?
First of all, these two boys – who shall remain nameless, and from this point forward be referred to as The Canadians (plural) and Canada (singular) – were from Canada. Of all the places, we meet people from our home continent. Second of all, I learned that the Canadians were really, really boring. Sorry, Canada. It’s not you. It’s me.
For anyone who hasn’t listened to me whine and moan about this already, my partner and I broke up before I began this journey. As in, one of those “on the way to the airport via text message” break ups. This made for quite the serious blow to my already low self-esteem, and frankly, really sucked.
So, being the mature 20-year-old American girl that I am, I used the attention of other men to make myself feel better about the break up. Canada was sort of intelligent, sort of funny, sort of looked like Zac Efron. So why not, right?
Disregarding the endless list of reasons supporting why not, I hung out with Canada, taught him to dance a bit, and kissed him goodnight… As in I passed out sitting next to him while listening to the band play.
It was a moment of weakness, and I felt really bad about myself. I’ve never been the “one night stand” type of person, let alone kissing someone I just met. I felt an overwhelmingly sense of sadness. Sadness because Canada wasn’t who I wanted to be kissing. Because I wasn’t being true to myself. Because I knew what I was doing was something I would regret the next day and cringe at how immature I must have looked, but did it nonetheless.
But I realized a lot from the Camden Pub Crawl. That I shouldn’t let British accents determine how much I drink. That I knew who I wanted to be and whom I wanted to be with. That making immature mistakes at nightclubs in London is the only way to mature.
I don’t, however, regret stealing the bread. It was delicious.
“Are you a film star?” an elderly man with a thick accent asked me. I was sitting in a small, simple café in the Liberties with a kind woman giving Abbi and I a tour of the area.
“Are you a film star, he asked you,” the woman translated. I felt my cheeks go hot. “Oh, gosh, no,” I nervously chuckled. “I wish.”
He and our guide continued to chat about what beautiful American girls Abbi and I were, while we sat like embarrassed grandchildren waiting for a parent to come to the rescue. At least, that’s how I felt.
And then he said something that struck a nerve. Maybe it’s because Elliott Smith was playing in the background, or because it reminded me of what my late grandmother used to so frequently tell me.
For the first time in twenty years I have been recognized as an Italian and not just an American. For the first time my features – my bulbous nose and high cheekbones – took prevalence over my peach skin and green eyes.
In Ireland, I suppose, what makes you stand apart is your face and not your tone when everyone here is white as snow.
“It’s only 40 euro,” I said, attempting to persuade Maggie into taking a touristy tour to the Cliffs of Moher.
We sat parallel from each other on our twin-sized beds, teasing ourselves with the warmth and comfort of the hotel’s mattresses. While staving off jet lag, stay as far away from any type of sleeping-apparatus as possible. Seriously, even the worn carpet felt cozy enough to nap on.
“Yeah, but that’s 60 dollars,” she reasoned. Damn, she was right. We had been in Dublin for less than four hours and I was already forgetting the conversion.
“C’mon,” I pleaded. “What else are we going to do tomorrow?” I said with a grin. We spent the day wandering Grafton Street, starving (because it was New Year’s Day everyone was too hung-over to open) (just kidding, it’s a national holiday) and confused (because the street signs are not nearly as obnoxious as they are in Chicago). We deserved a leisurely, guided tour through some of the most beautiful views in the world.
“You’re right. Why not?” She decided.
“Plus, now we have an excuse to go to bed early,” I said.
“As if we needed one,” Maggie smirked.
Despite having to wake up at 5:00am and struggling to find the pick-up location simply titled “Old Stone Church,” it was breathtaking. I got wet. I got hurt. It was awesome.
To be clear, I’m a bit of a risk taker. My senior year high school yearbook’s quote was the beautiful Vonnegut excerpt,
“I want to stand as close to the edge as I can without going over. Out on the edge you see all the kinds of things you can’t see from the centre.”
From Player Piano. And so I do just that. I’m a bit literal, too.
Lucky for me, Maggie is too. Risky, that is. Our tour bus pulled up to The Cliffs of Moher around 11:30am and we couldn’t of gotten off faster. Mostly because I really had to use the bathroom.
Lucky for us, it was a beautiful day. No fog. No rain. Many, many photographs.
We ran up the wooden stairs soaked in the sunlight and headed toward O’Brien’s Tower, which was built in 1835 and marks the highest point of the Cliffs of Moher.
Not-so-lucky for us, it was an extra two euro to go inside.
Super-un-lucky for us, I thought he had said 20 euro at the time.
I spent the next two hours in a complete daze. The beauty of the cliffs was almost agonizing; I knew I would never be here again. Or, at the very least, not for a very long time. I took 300 photos. I’m not being dramatic, either. Maggie and I couldn’t walk more than a foot without stopping and taking pictures of the waves, the cliffs, the stairs we climbed, the people we saw. Anything and everything was worthy of a photograph in that moment.
I hiked along the muddied edge of the grass, above the designated walkway, with Penny the Dog running through puddles and splashing my legs. I should have known this was foreshadowing.
At approximately 600 feet above, a particular cliff caught my attention. It was a waterfall, minus the water. I jumped down a few feet to get to the cave of sorts, and was honest to god mesmerized. The amount of color in all of the tiny, jagged rocks drowning under puddles and critters floating in and out of the rocks was so unexpected, I spent a good 20 minutes taking photographs. Maggie said other tourists took photos of me on the cliffs taking photos of the cliffs. Pretty neat.
I wasn’t the only one impressed, either. An Italian man was standing a bit closer to the edge than I was, and was playing with the Atlantic misting up on us in his hands. “It’s like the Matrix,” he said to me, smiling. His eyes were as wide and love-struck as mine.
Maggie eventually convinced me to see the rest of the cliffs, considering we had only gotten around 40% of the site done. We found another cliff, except it was flat, dry and perfect for lying down on.
So that’s exactly what we did.
As cliché as it sounds, I felt… Alive. This feeling of rocks in my lungs sinking through my stomach and tickling my belly button is the only way I can describe it. The sort of feeling you get when you know where you are and what you’re doing is feeling you, too.
I know the cliffs felt me. They tasted me, even. I sure as hell tasted them.
A few miles away at the Burren National Park, an eight-kilometer limestone jungle (according to our tour guide, Mathieu) something spiritual happened.
Maggie and I braved climbing down the jagged rocks to the cliffs, where Mathieu swore looked just like the “I’m Flying” scene in the Titanic. I was more interested, however, in the cliff just above it: I could lie flat on my belly and photograph the foamy wave crashing against the base of the limestone.
“Oh shit,” I said out loud. In what felt like slow motion – and very well could have been because, you know, gravity – was a gigantic wave about to crash on me. It loomed towards us, getting bigger and bigger as it crept up on the cliff. It felt like a giant claw about to scoop me up and take me back under with it.
Either I have quick reflexes or it really was in slow motion. Regardless, I had enough time to shield my camera in my rain jacket and turn away from the wave, so I wouldn’t get too drenched. In theory, at least, I wouldn’t get too drenched.
It crashed over us and I shrieked. Cameras flashed, capturing the combination of fear and excitement in my eyes. I tried to stand up afterwards, except I think said combination of fear and excitement caused me to lose my balance and fall on my face.
A very scared Italian man helped me up and made sure I was okay. I felt the nostalgic burning of salt in a wound and realized my hand was cut. I like to think it was the park leaving its mark on me, although I don’t think I could forget the magnificent raw splendor of it all even if I tried.
It was our first day in Dublin. Our first day in Europe ever. And so far, things hadn’t gone exactly as planned… They went better than planned. I guess that’s what happens when you really don’t have a plan. More of a list.
My list was simple: Do not look like a dumb American.
Sounds simple, right? Not quite. After finding a confused Abbi at the airport, Maggie and I were determined to take public transportation versus a cab. We had to figure it out sooner or later. The bus driver, however, decided this was not that time.
“Hi, do you go by the Camden Court Hotel near Graft-“ I began to ask him, my hair floundering in the wind and sticking to my sweaty forehead.
“Yep,” he said, cutting me off. It was New Year’s Day; arguably the biggest holiday in Ireland second to St. Patrick’s Day was a mere eight hours in the past. I can only imagine how long his day has already been.
“Okay, great,” I replied, while Abbi and Maggie attempted to figure out how to get tickets.
Imagine three young American girls with two suitcases and a backpack each, windblown and struggling to figure out how this whole “euro” works and why Maggie’s €50 bill is getting rejected despite the label on the machine says it should and Abbi’s convinced her ticket blew away in the wind and I’m lugging fifty pound suitcases onto a bus that’s going to take off in two minutes, which the driver so frequently keeps reminding us of.
“Bags go on the racks, not the floor,” the driver scolded me.
“I’m just trying to get everything on the bus in time,” I said a bit too hotly. I felt guilty. I was already being a cliché American, and this guy has a schedule to stick to.
But c’mon. Wasn’t it clear how absolutely, absurdly confused we were? Could he not see the terrified look in my eyes?
We finally got on and plopped in the back while sheepishly smiling at the other passengers, who gave a sympathetic – or downright pathetic – understanding nod.
“I really want gravy and biscuits,” Maggie pondered aloud. “Isn’t that a Southern thing, not an Irish thing?” I asked her. “I’m pretty sure biscuits are cookies…” Abbi said.
“Whatever you do, don’t order biscuits and gravy,” a young Irish man sitting in front of us jokingly warned. Finally, someone took pity on us.
“The pudding is different too, right?” Abbi asked him.
“Oh yeah, it’s delicious,” he said. “It’s pigs blood!” his significant other (I can only assume) whispered with wide eyes.
We joked back and forth with the locals and probably laughed too loudly and asked too many silly questions before the two made sure we got off the bus at the correct stop with all our belongings.
Not being a confused American, I realized, is way easier said than done. But I think I let go of the shame I originally felt when asking questions. I should have done more research. I should have planned better. I definitely should have gotten international planning; Google Maps doesn’t work without a signal, and I (embarrassingly) don’t work without a GPS. I thought locals would scoff at my naiveté, which I realized was naïve insecurity within an hour of being in Ireland. Even thought the bus driver was irritated with me, he still smiled and said, “Cheers!” when I got off the bus.