Yesterday was my last full day in Ireland and I spent it on a bus tour all by myself – to Giant’s Causeway, the Dark Hedges, the Carrick-a-Rede rope bridge, Belfast… I’d talked about going with friends, but they were all sick. Or sleeping. Or packing. Or finishing up homework.
At the last minute, I decided to go anyway. I’m really glad I did, because all that alone time was the perfect opportunity to get some thinking done.
Mostly, I thought about all that was familiar and all that was not.
At this point, I had been in Ireland for six weeks. How fitting that, on the very last day, I should venture to somewhere brand new. Just when I had gotten used to the way things were, I decided it was the time to change things up.
For a start, traveling alone here was new to me. That’s just not something I did for any major distance – any trip outside Dublin. In Dublin, sure, but outside of it… not yet. Having so much time to sit and think quietly while on any trip was new to me.
As we drove up to Northern Ireland, this place I didn’t know, I recognized some of the names on the road signs. They were locations I had been before: Drogheda, Monasterboice. We drove through a tunnel leading out of the city that seemed oddly familiar and then I realized that I’d seen it, although not traveled through it, on my very first day in Ireland, on the way to where we were to stay on the UCD campus.
I sat on one of the basalt columns at Giant’s Causeway and gazed out at the sea breaking against the rocks, I thought about how relatively close this place was to the city. Ireland’s tiny; it doesn’t take very long to drive anywhere. I could have been spending the day in Dublin, a place I knew, with people I knew, but I wasn’t. I’d chosen to come here. I’d seen too many pictures of this location to count, but I’ve never heard of the legend our bus driver told us as we approached the site, the story of how Fionn mac Cumhaill built the causeway.
Then there was the Belfast accent! I thought by now I could understand Irish people fairly well, but the Belfast accent is a different beast altogether. To me it sounded like someone doing an exaggerated impersonation of a Chicago accent AND a New York accent AND a New Jersey accent AND a Boston accent. It did not sound Irish, not in the least bit. I could piece together what was being said, though, because we went on a mini-tour of some of the murals depicting the 1916 Easter uprising and the Trouble and I knew what those were. I’d learned about them in our classes.
And as we drove back into the city after a long day, I remembered the street we traveled on the longest. I hadn’t been there in more than a month, but I recognized it as the one we had traveled up that day we arrived in Dublin. I remembered the huge trees, of what species I don’t know. They were beautiful, though. And that park. And those soccer fields. I remembered all of it, It was both familiar and unfamiliar to me: Familiar because I recognized it, but unfamiliar because it certainly wasn’t a place I’d spent very much time in.
Until that moment, the name of that street had been unknown to me. I knew something yesterday that I didn’t know six weeks ago, though, which is that the street signs are on the buildings, not on poles at street corners as they are in the US. Now that I’ve gotten into the habit of looking at the buildings for help navigating, it was easy to learn where I was. Mystery of the beautiful, shady street I remembered from day one? SOLVED.
(It’s Drumcondra Street Lower.)
Yesterday I felt such a hodgepodge of feelings. I was proud of the city and I was proud of myself for Knowing Things about the city, even if I don’t know much. Even if there is still so much more to learn. (Which means I’ll have to go back, obviously.)
I was so happy to be here and so sad, too, because I knew I would be leaving soon and I wasn’t ready.
I was disoriented,* too, because here I was so far away from my friends and from my home for the summer, in places where it was hard to wrap my mind around the idea that this landscape is here on Earth and not on an alien planet, that this is my own first language being spoken no matter how different and sometimes incomprehensible it was, that I was having a lunchtime conversation with someone else on the tour group I’d only just met but already reminded me of my mom.
*I wrote “disorientated,” WHICH IS NOT EVEN A REAL WORD, at first, and caught the mistake just now. Guess those Irish people and their ways of speaking are rubbing off on me.
Here’s to experiencing the familiar and the unfamiliar at the same time more often. I know that when I return to Ireland (listen, friends, it’s wHEN not iF), it will feel similiarly new yet old, different yet the same, familiar yet familiar. And I know that when I land in… according to the little screen on the back of the seat in front of me, just over five hours, the country I was born in will feel new.
As if I’m experiencing it for the first time. I’m not even going to say that that’s ridiculous, that I shouldn’t feel that way. I think I should. Because I like that feeling: The one of not knowing something in a place with which I thought I was familiar. And I want to feel it again.
P.S. Since I need wifi to publish this and won’t have wifi until I’m back on the ground, I’ll have landed by the time you read this. But right now, I’m writing this from 30,000 up in the air because I have an eight-hour-long flight ahead of me and need something to keep me busy so my Anxiety Brain™ doesn’t make me dissociate from pure nerves. Anyway… super excited to land in Chicago and soak up the SUNSHINE and WARM WEATHER that I’ve missed so much during the cold Irish summer.