The Island of Sin and Scars

I have never been one to go sit in a restaurant and eat by myself, or go to a bar alone to meet people. Unless I’ve had a couple glasses of wine or a stiff drink, chances of getting me to open up and be a Chatty Cathy are quite slim. But I want to change all that. I need to change all that. I want to be more personable and outgoing. I don’t want to spend the next 40 years of my life deciding what I am doing that day or evening, based on what others’ availability looks like. Or feeling like I need a guy in my life in order to enjoy special moments with. I also cannot continue to go through life closed in and shut off from the world because of my emotions and fears. After a traumatic and dramatic breakup last February, and the year that followed, I decided to go all in on my journey to self-improve and grow. I’ve certainly never been one for baby steps, so why should this be any different. I had a thought, which quickly turned into me purchasing a plane ticket, then booking hotels and making arrangements at home for my kids. Within a couple weeks of that one thought, I was sitting in a window seat on the tarmac, taxiing down the runway with tears in my eyes. I was on my way halfway across the world for a week alone traveling around Ireland. Some thought I was crazy, while others complimented me on my courage and boldness. Here I was, a single woman who has never been outside the United States, and I was dropping everything and traveling around a foreign country alone. Sure, it was a little nerve wracking at first. Especially, with not knowing anything about their cities or transit systems. But like everything else in life, I figured it out.

My first destination was Dublin. After making my way through customs and out the airport doors, I stood outside, looked around, and just exhaled. I was standing in a country that I had dreamt of going to since I was a kid. I was doing what many want to do, but can’t or won’t. I was doing something that just five years ago, seemed like a pipe dream. You see, just five years ago or so, I was barely scraping by as a single mom and often had no idea how the bills were going to get paid. But through my faith, God had truly blessed me over this time and given me and the kids many opportunities that we never thought we would get. And there I was, now in Ireland finding me. My best friend titled my journey: Eat, Pray, Cole, which was pretty fitting. I didn’t know what I was hoping to find or truly accomplish on this trip, but I knew I had to make the most of this week and to do things I’d never do back home. I had no choice but to talk to strangers, eat in restaurants alone, and even sit at a bar by myself. This trip was about finding me and who I wanted to be from here on out. I stepped off that curb and into a cab that whisked me away to the train station. From there, I boarded the train to go off and be a Galway Girl for the next few days.

After about two hours on the train and miles upon miles of beautiful countryside passing by out the train window, I arrived in Galway. A calm came over me as I stepped off the train. I was no longer nervous or anxious about what was to come that week or finding my way around. I ordered a taxi to take me to my super cute boutique hotel in Latin Quarter, and got myself settled in. After a quick change, I went out to explore. Latin Quarter to me was like a small village within the city. The streets were limited on vehicle access, so people walked everywhere along the stone and brick roads. The buildings were old and had so much character. Everywhere you turned there were pubs, restaurants, churches and shops. It was amazing! I went to Thomas Dillon first and purchased myself an authentic Claddagh ring. Something I had wanted forever. From there I ventured down to the bay and to walk through the Spanish Arch. The buildings surrounding the bay were so colorful and a beautiful backdrop for the dark blue water that was rushing by. Everyone was so friendly and didn’t mind answering my tourist questions. I even created a profile on a dating app when I got there and in the “About Me” section of my profile, I let them know I was traveling through for the week and looking for locals to hang out with. That actually proved to be successful. Instead of guys reaching out looking for a hook-up like back home, they were all messaging me to give me advice on where to go to see the sights or bars to visit. I even had offers to show me around. I kept to myself that evening though and just got acquainted with the area and my surroundings. For dinner I stopped into one of the fish n’ chip spots near my hotel. I have to say it was fantastic. From there I decided to shop a little, and then it was time to do what I had never done before. I moseyed into a pub, claimed a spot at the bar, and ordered a pint of hard cider. The place was so cozy with the fireplace going behind me and people drinking their pints as they watched the rugby games on the surrounding tv’s. I never got brave enough to strike a conversation with any of the guys sitting nearby, but I made it through two drinks without bailing and hiding in my hotel room alone.

Day 2 was my day for adventure and travel down the West coast of Ireland. I boarded a tour bus in Galway and headed out to see the Cliffs of Moher, the Burrens, the Wild Atlantic Highway, and through the towns of Doolin, Kinvarra, Kilcorney, Lisdoonvarna, and Clare. We stopped for lunch at an old pub in Doolin and I had the best vegetable soup I’ve ever had in my life, and my first experience with Irish soda bread. Yummy! As we passed through Lisdoonvarna, we saw the posted signs for the Matchmaker Festival, which is supposedly Europe’s largest singles event each year. Based on all the matchmaking stories I was told about that day, this is something that I am definitely going to have to travel back for one year. We then went on to The Cliffs of Moher, which were amazing to see and walk. It was also profound to stand there and think about home and how I live near the Atlantic Ocean, and now there I was a day later seeing where that same ocean crashes into on the opposite side. The view was fogged over, but it was still breathtaking. This bus tour was the perfect way for me to see so many things I read up on and spend time on my own taking things in and getting lost in my own thoughts.

Once back in Galway, I decided to go next door of my hotel to Busker Browns for dinner and drinks. I sat at the bar and ordered a vodka-cran as I perused the menu and tried not to look like a lonely tourist. I ordered my dinner and just sat and people-watched a bit. The server eventually brought me the most amazing tortellini that was dressed with a sundried tomato cream sauce and mixed with spinach, bacon and parmesan, and topped with a Cajun like spiced chicken breast. Ya’ll, I couldn’t get enough and ate way past the point of being full. To say it was delicious doesn’t give it justice. From there I went around the corner to a bar that was just getting going for the night. The performer had just taken the stage with his guitar, as I located a spot near the bar to stand and sip my drink. To my surprise, Shane, one of the guys I had been chatting with on the dating app, messaged me to ask how I was making out on my adventure. I replied and told him about my day and that I was out enjoying some music. I further explained that having spent the last two days alone, it would be more fun to enjoy an evening socializing. He immediately offered to come out and keep me company and show me around…to which I took him up on. Within 20 minutes he met me there and we hit it off immediately. The conversation and drinks flowed all night. We went from there to Quay Bar across the street and took in more live music. The locals were so much fun to watch with their singing aloud and dancing around. Quay was two floors of entertainment, and we eventually found ourselves upstairs where they had another band playing. They too were outstanding. We danced, drank and had so much fun. When it was last call, Shane planted an amazing kiss on me. I was taken back and intrigued. He asked me if I’d still like to hang out and I absolutely wanted to. We walked down the street to Supermac’s where a line of drunk people needing a 2am snack, extended around the block. To describe this place for those that are not familiar with it, it is like a one stop shop for all your favorite fast-food restaurants in one. And their go to menu item for the locals seemed to be their smothered fries. We sat in line and chatted with locals and met some great people. I even met a couple ladies that had moved there from the U.S. on a whim in hopes of finding themselves too. Shane ordered me the garlic cream and cheddar smothered fries, and the curry fries for himself. We took the fries back to Shane’s apartment, which was just a few minutes away, and enjoyed them with a pint of Guinness, great conversation and a lot of laughter. Do as the locals do, right? I really couldn’t have asked for a better Galway night.

Day 3 was spent recovering from the night before. I ventured out to the nearby square and also visited St. Nicholas’ market that they set up on Saturday mornings outside the Cathedral. The locals were all out picking up their fresh vegetables, cheeses and breads, and people were even shucking oysters and sucking them down as a morning snack. The flowers being sold there were so vibrant in color. Truly the most beautiful tulips I have ever seen. I picked up a few things for my kids and myself, and then walked around and listened to all the different street performers that were out. There were people playing flutes and accordions in the alley ways, and troubadours playing their guitars and singing on the street corners. This music lover was in heaven. I couldn’t get enough. I walked aimlessly around hoping to find the next one. I eventually stopped to have lunch at a little Asian spot that I was told was fantastic. It was. That was the best chicken and prawn Pad Thai I’d ever had. I decided to spend the afternoon in my room just relaxing and enjoying the quiet time alone. Time, I needed in order to decompress and really think about my life. Something I rarely got to do at home. For dinner I decided to go out and ended up at a nearby restaurant called Sliders. They had delicious burgers and again…loaded fries. I sipped my prosecco and ate my sliders at a back table that was illuminated by a neon pink light on the wall that said Bad Bitch. It was a fitting end to my time in Galway.

On day 4, I woke up and made my way to the train station for my journey back to Dublin. Once back in Dublin, I got in the cab and arrived at my hotel where I was staying along the river. This was a night I was looking forward to. I ordered in room service and got myself dolled up, before heading off to the 3Arena for the best concert I’ve seen yet. I had floor tickets and was nearly front row all night watching The Lumineers perform. The first hour or so was uncomfortable as I stood there alone claiming my spot next to the stage, and surrounded by mostly drunken strangers spilling their beer down my back. But once the concert started and the drummer came up out of the stage floor directly in front of me, all that awkwardness faded away and I was mesmerized. The songs encompassed many of the emotions I had been feeling for so long. The crowd around me sang along loudly and became one large group of Irish friends instantly. Truly an amazing experience. I was so hyped up after that, that I didn’t even bother with a cab back to the hotel. I just walked along the river the whole way back and took in the lights that adorned the bridge-ways and bars across the river. As I walked, I thought about what the last year taught me. What I deserve in life and what I will never settle for again. You see, this day was more than just travel and an amazing concert. This day marked the one-year anniversary of my break-up with the person I thought I was going to share the rest of my life with. Despite knowing how bad we were for each other and despite the turmoil, he was who I thought I loved and couldn’t be without. This day is a day I never thought I would get to. A day where I was no longer sad and longing for him. A day where I finally felt free of all those emotions. It was the first day where I felt like I was healing. This day marked the first day of the rest of my life.

On day 5, I went out to explore Dublin. I had booked tour times at St. Patrick’s Cathedral, Christ’s Church, Guinness, and the Dublin Castle. I also stopped and saw everything in between along the way. St. Patrick’s Cathedral was breathtaking and emotional to be in. To see that history and pray inside was truly humbling for me. I even wrote in the prayer book at the altar. Although it was beautiful and memorable too, I didn’t have the same emotions while in Christ’s Church. It was more like a museum and just didn’t feel as spiritual to me. The Dublin Castle was awesome to walk through and see all the art and history. But, my time at Guinness was top notch. After all, I wouldn’t be a true Irish if that wasn’t my “church” of the day. They have a place in there where you can go and take a selfie and they will imprint it into the head of your beer. It was really cool getting that done, yet kind of weird sipping my beer off my face. I decided to have lunch while at Guinness and let me tell you…fantastic! Especially the chocolate mousse desert. I am still craving more of that. After walking over 7 miles around the city, I returned to my hotel where I sat in the restaurant downstairs and relaxed over several glasses of wine and dinner. One of the guys I had been talking to since being in Dublin had text me and asked me out. So, I decided to pay my check and walk back to the city center to a bar where he was sitting with a glass of wine poured for me on the table. He was an Irish lad, who traveled a lot and taught around the world. We enjoyed some live music and great conversation. We closed down the bar and in true gentleman fashion, he walked me the couple blocks needed to hail a cab. I had to rush into the cab, as not to hold up traffic behind it, and quickly gave him a hug. He went for the kiss, but I had to rush off and I could tell he was let down a bit. I text him when back in the room and apologized for the abrupt goodbye, thanked him for a wonderful evening, and invited him to meet up again.

My last full day in Ireland was spent on a bus tour down the East coast. From Dublin we ventured through Wicklow Mountains, stopping at a sheep farm where I got to hold the most precious lamb. Then we were off to the Monastic Ruins, where I saw some of the most breathtaking views along the hiking trail and gazing out at the lower and upper lakes. We stopped along the way in Wicklow National Park and got off the bus to look out at the pristine mountain and valleys that surrounded us. If you have never been to this region of Ireland, you have got to go. I can only imagine how much more beautiful it will be in just a couple more months when it warms up and the full green foliage returns. This was a big deal for me too to visit Wicklow. You see, as a hopeless romantic, I have always been a huge fan of the movie P.S. I Love You. That movie makes me cry and gives me so much hope on true love…despite the death and all. In that movie, they met in Wicklow National Park and walked along the same road I did, and they crossed over the same bridge I got to cross over. I know it’s a silly chick thing, but it made me so happy to do these things on that day and to just fan girl it all. After that excitement, we went to Kilkenny to walk around the city and castle and learned about the history. I ate lunch alone in a quaint café that did not disappoint with the potato leak soup and brown bread, and then did some final shopping for souvenirs. Once back in Dublin I returned to my hotel room where I sat in the chair and stared out the hotel window. As I watched the people walking along the river and going in and out of bars and restaurants across the river, I felt at peace for once. I just reflected and absorbed everything I had experienced and learned the past week. Things like the history of Christianity in Ireland and how St. Patrick used the shamrock to represent the Father, Son and Holy Ghost in his teachings. Or what each part of a Celtic cross represents. But the one fact that stood out to me was when the tour guide said that Ireland was known as the Island of Sin and Scars. That statement was just profound to me.

On a personal level, this trip was life changing for me. I learned how brave I could be and how vulnerable I could be too. I came out of my shell a little bit and took a chance on me. I found that there is so much more to this world and to me, and I cannot wait to explore more of both. Sometimes we just have to let our guard down and go for it. All or nothing. As much as I wanted to get back home to my family and friends, I never wanted to leave Ireland and who I was when I was there.

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