The American Midwest is car country. Thousands of miles of asphalt blanket the nation from Ohio to Missouri like meadows and forests probably did before we came around to improve things. Naturally our idea of “getting around” is slightly if not drastically different than our Western brethren in Europe who can crisscross their respective nations by bus, train or even foot (Camino De Santiago, anyone?).
I, however, grew up without sidewalks and was thus completely reliant on cars to do anything that didn’t entail imagining I’m a teenage mutant ninja turtle in my backyard. Unfortunately the latter did not come in handy when it came to navigating or planning for European infrastructure when I traveled to Ireland for 10 days years later.
“I Just Want To Go Somewhere”
Rob, Vic and myself bought our flights to Dublin somewhat on a whim. I whined to Vic over a beer that it had been nearly three or four years since my last overseas flight.
“I just want to go somewhere. Virtually anywhere so long as my safety is somewhat guaranteed,” I complained.
“I’d be up for a trip,” he replied matter-of-factly. Just a couple of weeks later I was nervously pressing the “confirm” button on Orbitz. Simultaneously a bank alert flashed across my phone letting me know that I indeed just spent a shit-ton of money on flying to Dublin.
We all met early on to start planning the trip. January or maybe even as early as December when we bought the tickets for a late April flight. We researched recommended Irish traveling itineraries in guidebooks and online. I started sending out the CouchSurfing requests, looking for someone willing to take in three ordinary Americans for a night or two. We knew it was early, but we didn’t want to risk wasting an international trip on poor planning.
“We’ll See It All!”
First we decided to do the region’s big cities. And by region, I mean Ireland and the United Kingdom.
We were going to do Dublin, fly to London, take a train up to Glasgow and back to Dublin. Then we decided to only do Ireland, realizing we’re likely to plan a separate trip to London or Glasgow in our lifetimes. Not so much for so much for Cork or Belfast.
Now with Ireland alone in our itinerary, we were back to the drawing board trying to decide which cities, for how long, and how we would get to them. To our surprise, this tiny nation of just under 6.5 million (our home state of Ohio has 10 million) was incredibly well-connected by affordable buses and trains that actually run during daylight hours.
For the sake of context, Amtrak only runs a couple of trains through Cleveland in the middle of the night. So while you may chuckle over my amazement for daylight train service, let’s remember once again that I grew up without the infrastructure to perform the most basic mode of transportation – walking.
Now that we had options, we became greedy. I was a kid in a candy store who never knew the taste of chocolate.
“We’ll see it all!” I thought to myself in an oddly mischievous manner. “Dublin, Belfast, Cork and the entire Irish countryside will be ours!”
It was around this point in our planning that we made the foolish mistake of planning a bus ride from Dublin airport straight to Belfast to meet up with a willing CouchSurfing host. Except our host didn’t actually live in Belfast. He lived north of town in Carrickfergus. This meant a train ride after our two hour bus ride after our day of flying all the while hoisting backpacks filled with 10 days worth of clothing and toiletries.
Dumb. Dumb. Dumb.
We spent the night and the next day in Belfast, a surprisingly beautiful and impressive city especially considering its bomb-related notoriety in previous decades. Then it was off to Dublin, where we spent another day-and-a-half wandering around from pub to pub along the River Liffey and surrounding Trinity College, crashing in a fairly standard hostel.
Next we thought we’d check out Cork. We knew nothing about it, other than it sounded vaguely familiar and was on the way to Killarney. Besides, it was a relatively short and cheap bus ride. So why not see more?
Our Dublin experience was essentially replicated in the much smaller and less international Cork. Its industrial past and cloudy skies ultimately reminded me of home in Cleveland.
But there was another cheap bus coming, this time to Killarney, so we high-tailed it once again in just another 48-ish hours before we could learn anything more about Cork.
“You Have To Visit Galway!”
Killarney was a disappointment. Other than the beautiful and sprawling national park within walking distance of the town, the city seemed to be constructed in a way American tourists imagine Ireland to be. Not coincidentally, it was filled with drunken Americans slurring their way through sentences.
“I’m glad to be talking to Americans,” one human version of the this is what smoking will do to you ad told me. “I can’t understand any of these people.” She was referring to the Irish and said this in her drunken stupor without a hint of irony.
Again, the next morning, we were gone. This time on the first train out of Killarney and back to Dublin for the remainder of our trip.
But of course that wasn’t true.
“You’re not going to Galway?” different Irish men and women said to us throughout as if we were committing some grave error. “You have to visit Galway!”
And so after traveling back to Dublin, we found a bus to take us to the western coast of Ireland, see the Cliffs of Moher and spend the night in Galway. 24 hours later (I think. Time was sketchy at this point), we were on our way back to Dublin to spend the night and make our early morning flight back to the States.
In the end we saw the Giant’s Causeway, Belfast, Dublin, Cork, Killarney, Killarney National Park, the Cliffs of Moher and Galway. We also did it by zigzagging the country in the least efficient way possible using an impressively efficient system over 10 days.
In other words, Irish buses and trains kicked my American ass.