Alone in Ireland: Discovering Galway, Doolin, and Belfast

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So much art in Ireland. Even in the hostels.

I have a real fear of buses. Not of riding them, just of figuring them out. Bus schedules are nightmare inducing. Luckily, the bus from Dublin to Galway is common knowledge and I was able to find and board it without difficulty.

I knew the worst part about the lack of trains in Ireland would be the bathroom situation. Over two hours on a bus and I was bursting by the time I got to Galway. There was an “emergency” toilet on the bus, and I’d rather have peed in my pants than made a spectacle of myself by using it.

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Beer, Bravery, and Backpacking in Cardiff and Dublin

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My five hour train to Cardiff got me here just after noon. I’ve brought only the small backpack I used for my hike. I’m wearing jeans, a long sleeved burgundy shirt, and sneakers. I plan to wear the same thing every day. In my backpack I have only the essentials: chargers, toothbrush, and a few pairs of underwear. I rolled up a couple shirts to layer in case it gets cold in Ireland, which Mischi aggressively insisted it will. I feel like a true backpacker. This is the meaning of adventure!

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No Net Ensnares Me: My Brontë Pilgrimage to Haworth

 

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I couldn’t get over the street names in Haworth! Others included Branwell and Brontë.

 

I began to dream of visiting Haworth the year I started studying the Brontës in college. When I read Villette by Charlotte Brontë, I was taken aback by the artistry of the writing style. I fell in love with the poetic flow of her words, and I adored her character, Lucy Snowe. I saw so much of myself in Lucy and was amazed that I felt such a connection to a fictional woman created in the 1850s.

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The Devil and the Downhill: Days 8 and 9 on the West Highland Way

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Day 8

My determination to finish this thing renewed as the sun rose. I had come too far to give up on the last 23 miles. Today I only had to do 8 miles, from Kingshouse to Kinlochleven. I’m glad that, when I set out, I didn’t know that it was 4 miles uphill and 4 miles downhill. That might have dampened my spirits even more than the rain.

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Pain and Moor Pain: Day 7 on the West Highland Way

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Ha! Look how fresh and hopeful I was at the start of the day!

I have never in my life pushed my body as hard as I did on this day. Before the hike, I had no concept of what walking 10 miles felt like, let alone 20 miles. The way I looked at it, it had to be done and I would just get up and do it. I would see beautiful sights as I hiked farther into the highlands. I would ignore the extreme pain in my feet.

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Rain and Raspberries: Days 5 and 6 on the West Highland Way

Day 5

On this day, I suffered a painful loss. Let’s start at the beginning. It was raining from the moment I woke up. I had some delicious porridge at the inn and then struggled to put on my poncho and head to the trail. I felt a bit deceived. It hadn’t rained like this for the first four days. Standing there on Day 5, I had no idea that this would be the weather for the rest of the week.

I set off for the last time with my group of four new friends. This was one of the easiest days in terms of distance and terrain. Only about 7 miles to walk and no crazy climbing or scrambling. So I got confident. I walked quickly. And then it happened. My beloved stick, now with a sock taped around the top, got very waterlogged with all the rain. It bounced off a rock as I was walking. It very calmly split in two.

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Sunshine and Swimming: Days 3 and 4 on the West Highland Way

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Looking like I’m on a damn quest.

Day 3

This day was an absolute dream, and probably my favorite day of the whole hike. I only had to do about 6 or 7 miles from Balmaha to Rowardennan. Nearly the whole section of the trail hugged the shores of Loch Lomond. When I first got to walk onto the sandy banks, I felt close to tears. I had never seen anything so beautiful. I sat down by the water and felt overcome with emotion and gratitude. I couldn’t believe where I was, that I had gotten myself there, and that I was still alive and functioning after what I’d been through a couple months ago. I felt more grounded and connected than I had in weeks. This was real. It was unreal, but it was real.

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Blisters and Bathroom Breaks: Days 1 and 2 on the West Highland Way

This has not been an easy year. After the world threw me two massive curveballs in the space of a single day, I found my life transformed into something unrecognizable, but overwhelmingly exciting. Suddenly I was free to do whatever my heart desired, follow whatever whim I had. So I decided to hike. And not just a little four hour day hike like the ones I do every year in North Carolina. I casually chose to take on the 96 mile West Highland Way in Scotland, which begins in Milngavie just outside Glasgow and ends in Ft. William.

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Feeling hopeful at the start of the trail!

I allowed myself nine days to complete it and booked accommodations and baggage transfer through a company called AMS. When they sent my itinerary, I noticed something that must have been a mistake (but I was assured it wasn’t). They had set my mileage every day to be under 10 miles for most of the hike, but then they’d given me a 14 mile day, a 15 mile day, and…a 20 mile day. Walking 20 miles in a single day was something my brain could not even comprehend, but I thought, hey, I’ve handled so much this year, what’s a little walking? Keep up with my posts about the trail and when you get to Day 7, you’ll find out how I dealt with that 20 mile hike.

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Lean into the Bloodshed: Macbeth at the Globe

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“Will these hands ne’er be clean?”

In this one question, Lady Macbeth phrases our desperate concern about the state of the world. As our land daily soaks in the blood of innocents, we sometimes cover our ears and shut our eyes and turn our backs. Sometimes we’re overwhelmed, but mostly we’re just desensitized. Are our lives too bombarded with violence to see it for what it is? Do we use fictional and historical violence as an outlet for our inward fear, frustration, and fascination with the real thing? Is this blood on the collective hands of humanity our fault, and can we ever wash it off?

While I watched Macbeth at Shakespeare’s Globe in London, I couldn’t help but notice a strange phenomenon toward the end of the play. As Macbeth and Macduff fought their final battle and the audience knew only one of them would make it out alive, everyone sat up straighter, leaned in closer to the stage, opened their eyes wider, and focused. I did the same. I felt thrilled by an animalistic sense of anticipation for revenge in the form of bloodshed. While we cringe and turn away from real life massacres, we revel in the ability to openly devour carefully choreographed killing.

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Death and the Opera: Exploring the Catacombs of Paris and the Palais Garnier

If you haven’t yet figured out how morbid I am, I invite you to grab a cup of tea and read on. Knowing that I will ultimately die, as over 100 billion people have already done, gives me a fascination with death, how we cope with it, and the rituals and respect surrounding it. Naturally, I was intrigued by the idea of the Catacombs of Paris, so on my last day in Paris, I got off the train and stood in the rain in what turned out to be a two hour line to the entrance. Had I done my research, I would have known that I had chosen one of the highest peak times to visit. But hey, give me a break. I’m new at this whole traveling alone and pretending to be an adult thing.

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