Ya I know it'd been over a month since I got back, but here, finally are my blabberings on the wonderful big trip. I highly recommend you check out some of the photos here however, as they represent the trip in a far more concise and interesting manner.
The first person I was to meet in Ireland was Leilani, the Australian gal who was the first to couch surf at my house, (and ended up soaking wet! Reread this post if you don't know what I'm talking about). She still lives in Ireland, so she came to meet me my first night in Dublin and show me a bit of the town. My flight ended up being over an hour late and, though exhausted, we began the night at midnight. We went to a bar with great live music, and I had my first Guinness ever (lame I know, but to have it on tap in the country of its birth can be the only place to start right? No really it's ruined me for life because it will never taste as good anywhere else). It was wonderful and I was so happy to be at a bar, with a buddy, and didn't feel like a creep talking to friendly locals! It was a fun time getting hit on by a sweet Irishman; even with the drink he was sincere and adorably humbled by what I do. It was quite refreshing to be hit on actually, and not in a gross or expecting way. Leilani and I wandered the city that seems to stay hilarious and drunk all night before grabbing quick pizza at around 4am. I know it was over-processed hardly passable as food food, but it was delicious at that hour, and as the sky grew lighter we returned to the hostel and I didn't even hear my head hit the pillow.
We awoke with just enough time to eat a few bites before checking out and heading to the hotel where I would meet my family. I was shaking with excitement. I didn't know the full extent of how much I missed them until I was waiting for the elevator. I knocked on the door and nearly toppled Hanna with a hug, then Mia, and Gail and my dad. I love that moment when everyone is reunited, yay! Leilani stayed for a bit and we were all chatty and dizzy with tiredness (my late night/their long flight) and then, having all kinds of different ideas of time zones, we headed to lunch.
After wonderful pesto and pizza and mushrooms and all different cheeses we came back and passed out for the afternoon, knowing there was no point in pushing ourselves to see Dublin in such tired states. I should mention here as well that by crazy chance and lots of frequent flyer miles or something, we ended up in the Princess Grace Suite at the hotel. I've never stayed somewhere so fancy. The pictures show it better, but I have to say the bathroom was most shocking. A shower head the size of my own head! A bathtub! Bathrobes! It was huge (though I must admit, after the hamam, a bathtub is seriously gross). Anyhow, we had one fine night there and then headed out the next morning for Baltimore.
Getting out of Dublin was…interesting. My dad was a champ at managing the very narrow country roads and the oddness of driving on the left side, and so was Gail at navigating. I was just happy to have a whole seat to myself! And not squished, but pleasantly buckled and seated between my two sisters. The drive was beautiful and Baltimore was more than we could have imagined. My eyes could hardly handle all the green. We stayed right on the waterfront in a wonderful house which, to my pleasure, had a fully equipped kitchen. Baltimore is a sweet little harbor village, with only a few restaurants and some great sights. Again, the pictures tell it best, but primarily we wandered around an enjoyed the weather. I should point out here just how incredibly lucky we were with the weather. We were informed over and over how rainy and muggy the past few summers have been and then we were met with only clear skies and plenty of sunshine. It drizzled maybe three times throughout our whole trip.
Since we had a whole week in Baltimore we took some day tips out. One day we took a ten minute ferry ride from the harbor to Sherkin Island for some much needed beach time! After a hike to the beautiful beach I couldn't contain myself and headed straight to the water. I have never swum in such cold water in my life, but I had no choice! The water calls me and I must obey. Everyone waded a bit but only Hanna and I were crazy enough to go under. Every dunk caused us to scream because it was so cold, there was no getting used to it, but we had a good time. When we returned that evening I made couscous! I steamed it like I do in Morocco, candied some carrots, and sautéed onions and peppers in rich Irish butter. Gail sautéed mushrooms, roasted copious amounts of broccoli (YYEESS!!) and a pork roast (haram!). Mia found a big platter and I served the couscous Moroccan style-where we all eat off the one big serving. It was delicious and fun. We also took trips out to Mizen Head (absolutely gorgeous), Blarney Castle (only Mia and I didn't kiss the stone, I think I'm fine with my lack of eloquence) and to another wonderful beach.
After the week in Baltimore we headed out to Killarney in County Kerry for a few days. The second day we went horseback riding in Killarney National Forest, which was amazing. It was so beautiful, the horses were fun, and we even saw the Kerry Cow (a nearly extinct breed that's just coming back due to the national forest being there). We also saw many deer, fawns and some huge bucks! Because we were on horses they weren't so afraid of us and we were able to pass them far closer than one could on foot. What was not so fun was how sore my arse was for the next three days; most painful was just realizing how far gone my riding muscles were, I can't wait to get back on horses more regularly in the states!
Another day we did the most kitchy touristy thing possible, and though I was skeptical, it was actually awesome-a bus tour. My dad was quite tired of driving, and we just didn't have time to make it to all the places we wanted to see. The bus tour offered us a quick look at the Ring of Kerry, narrated by a very entertaining Irish fellow. I never would have imagined myself on a bus tour, but I'm really glad it happened. It was touristy, and every stop was a money trap, but one of the stops ended up being one of my favorite parts of the whole trip. It was a farm with a true herder doing short talks on the breeds kept in Ireland and showing the skills of true sheep herding dogs. I was fascinated. He showed about ten different breeds and talked about where they came from and whether they were raised for wool or meat, and shoot I wish I had taken notes. Then he showed the dogs and how each has only a few commands and with that the herder can direct his dogs to move the sheep anywhere from a great distance. It was just such a grand sight to see them work and made me sad as well that it's a dying art. Back on the bus my eyes grew drunk with green and I felt sure if a charming Irish farmer came by I could easily disappear into those gorgeous rolling hills for a very long time.
Killarney was a manageable-sized town and we were able to see good live Irish music and have plenty of good food. A couple nights I braved the scene alone and had a good time watching more live music with a cold pint in my hand. Still awkward, but able to enjoy myself nonetheless. Another night my dad joined me, which was grand! We met a quintessentially Irish couple that just cracked us up, and completely refused to believe he was my dad not my date.
After our stint in Killarney we headed back to the big city-Dublin-to really tackle it. My dad happily handed back the car and we got city bus passes so we could see all the sights. We did the Guinness Storehouse, the horribly manned Dublin Zoo, The Book of Kells and Trinity College and plenty of beautiful churches. We ate tons of good food from around the world and Dublin was quite easy to navigate. The exception of course being the half day we spent completely lost in industrial factory-land outside the city trying to find the Harley shop for my dear dad. We did finally make it but it wasn't a very fun trek. Overall it was wonderful and what I most enjoyed was just goofing off with my sisters and being able to hang out with them. They are so incredible.
Thanks to couchsurfing I found out about the CS Dublin weekly meet up happening a night when I happened to be there. So one night after dinner I headed out to Temple Bar and met up with fellow young travelers and Dublin residents for a night of mayhem. They were wonderful and so much fun! I haven't hung out with a group of young people that aren't in Peace Corps (and therefore have different topics to discuss than bowels, gossip, the heat, barf on transit, etc) in a very long time. Many were from Brazil and Argentina and gave me crap for our team almost beating them recently in football (which I knew nothing about of course). After a few drinks we wound up at some metal bands show at another place and danced like crazy. I also went out with my dad a couple nights which was fun too. My goodness he is a magnet at bars for hilarious people and goofy questions! Some Americans came up to us, convinced he was Irish, asking about football. Once they realized we were tourists too they decided to explain, in full, how to get at least four free pints out of one ticket to the Guinness Storehouse.
Our last night, after an amazing meal, Leilani actually made it out to Dublin again. Though we went out for a night on the town (my last for quite some time) we were both embarrassingly exhausted. We managed a drink and had a good chat, but headed home well before Dublin's bedtime. My family and I headed out before dawn the next morning, July 3rd for our very early flights and I had to bid my dear family yet another goodbye. Though the wait will not be nearly as long this time, I will see them all before the holidays!
And that's that. I had an amazing time, but I also greatly looked forward to returning to work and my silly PCV buddies and talking about bowels and barf and all that fun stuff again. I also had a great deal of culture shock, but I'll discuss that another time.