Don't Be Sad It's Over, Be Happy It Happened.
To be honest, I didn’t know what to expect from Ireland. I pictured rain, sheep, and lots of vibrant green grass. After dancing on tables at Oktoberfest in Munich and running through the valleys of the Swiss Alps, I didn’t think the last stop on my trip could be any better than the bliss I had already experienced. As my best friend and I stuffed our backpacks with a week’s worth of clothing and rain gear, we had no clue what adventures lie ahead, and what surprises the charming Emerald Isle had in store for us. Little did I know that I was about to experience one of the best and worst parts of traveling, something I did not prepare for: 24 hour friendships.
“Are ye girls gunna have sum good crack tonight?” Asked the old, scruffy yet smiley man at the bus stop in Dublin. My best friend Miranda and I stared at him with wide eyes and no response aside from coerced laughter to fill the awkwardness. Luckily, another local later clarified for us that “crack” or “craic” (as it’s spelt in Ireland) is the closest translation to fun that you can get in Gaelic. If only I could go back and tell that cheery little man just how much craic I had that weekend…
The charming city of Galway stole my heart in several ways. Miranda and I arrived with welcoming sunshine and even a rainbow to provide the full Irish experience. Our hostel (Galway City Hostel) was quaint but boasted with a diverse population of travelers. In our room, there was a 70-year-old man who was from Norway, enjoying the different cities of Europe. Then you had the woman from Alaska who had been traveling for over a year from the money she sold everything she owned for, a result of her husband divorcing her. Miranda and I turned around as the door opened, and in walked two strapping young Australian men, one of them shirtless. “For God Sakes Matt, could ya put a shirt on!” said the tall blonde one, whose name was Stephen. The pair looked like they could have been on one of those calendars that you get your single friend as a gag gift for their birthday. Did I mention they were fire fighters?
Only a few moments later, the door swung open again. A dark-haired man with a backwards baseball cap walked in, followed by a wide eyed, tight lipped female. He smiled at us sweetly and exposed that he was Australian as well, when he introduced himself as Michael. The girl he was with didn’t speak much English being that she was fresh out of France, and when the two left the room I turned to Miranda: “Do you think Frenchie is his girlfriend?” I winked at her while she smirked at me in return. Little did we know in that moment that Michael would become a significant part of our adventure.
Fast forward a few hours and Miranda and I are hopping from bar to bar along Shop Street in Galway, sipping Guinness’ and entertaining the locals with stories from New York (they love you if you say you’re from New York, but you’re nothing special if you’re from the U.S.). We walk into a dimly lit pub called Taafes and see our roomies Stephen and Matt sitting in front of the stage, working on a few pints. It didn’t take Miranda and I very long to realize that Matt and Stephen were essentially the male versions of us, which is why we got along so well. As the evening progressed, we learned more about each other by playing the hypothetical scenario game “Would You Rather” which became much more interesting and controversial in correlation with the amount of beers we were drinking. By the way, back in New York you can get a glass of Guinness for about $6, so I never drank much back at home. You can imagine I was taking full advantage of the pints I was getting for the equivalent of $2.50…
I couldn’t keep up with the Australian alcohol consumption. These two were on perhaps pint number 10 while I was struggling at half that number, but I was having a blast. In a whirl wind of gut wrenching laughter and echoing bagpipes, we found ourselves in yet another bar known as The Front Door. It seemed like it would be a tiny, cramped place, but that was an illusion. We walked in to find ourselves immediately consumed by old school hip hop music bouncing off the walls, the kind that Miranda and I grew up on back in the states. We jumped right into the swing of it and started dancing wildly, just like we would when we were in high school. I couldn’t tell if it was the alcohol or pure euphoria kicking in, but I lost my sense of reality. One of the last scenes I remember included Miranda and I trying to get Matt to dance, who stated “No, no. I don’t dance” with a serious look on his face. “Oh, you’re no fun!” I shouted over the music as I turned around and continued to tear up the floor. Next thing I know, Matt is crouched down, butt out, twerking like a mad man.
Back at the hostel, it’s 4 am and I’m not feeling too hot. I curl up in a ball on the couch in the common room, accepting the wrath of the multiple pints of Guinness on my stomach. Miranda, Matt and Stephen are sitting at the table, still laughing, probably at me. In walks a friendly face, a stranger, yet I felt comforted by his presence immediately. He sits next to me, looks at me with understanding eyes, and says “You need tea. I’m going to make you tea.” Then he proceeds to tell me of how he met his future ex-wife that night, because she knew how to poach an egg. His name was Sean, and he was a pilot from Hawaii. I can’t remember much of our initial conversation aside from his excitement about the poached egg girl, because we were both recovering from intoxication. However, we would make up for that the next evening.
As quickly as they had entered our lives, we exited theirs. Only four hours after I had fallen into a deep, drunken slumber, I was awoken by Miranda’s alarm for the tour we were scheduled for at 9 am. Stephen laid with his long arm outstretched, hanging over the bunk, snoring comfortably. Miranda and I snuck up close to him and whispered as loud as possible “Goodbye Stephen! We had fun with you, best of luck on your travels!” He peeked an eye open and mumbled half-awake goodbyes in a sleepy Australian accent. We said the same to Matt on the way out when we met him in the stairway, he flashed a big smile at us from underneath his fuzzy mustache. As we boarded the bus for our day tour to Connemara, I felt a strange ping of sadness that I don’t think I’ve ever felt before. It was an unexpected mixture of sentiment, bonding, and appreciation…I felt it more as I pictured the sterile white beds set for new people to take Stephen and Matt’s places at the hostel when we returned. I just made some wonderful friends, and I’ll probably never see them again. I mentioned it to Miranda, and she nodded with understanding. “That’s the thing about travelling, Sen…it’s called 24 hour friendships. It’s the best and worst part about a journey.”
I looked out the window at the rolling green hills and wondered who would be in Matt and Stephen’s beds tonight. I wondered who else would come into my life in the next 24 hours and leave me so quickly, but with memories to last a lifetime. I wondered what the purpose of these strange temporary occurrences was. My world was so much bigger now, in so many ways. Seven billion people in the world and at least one of them would be playing a role in my life for the next few days in Galway. Oh Ireland, what are you doing to me? I thought to myself. I tried not to think about it, but as I absorbed the beautiful scenery passing us by through the bus window, I knew I would be flooded with emotions on the plane ride home. “Don’t get attached, don’t get attached” I tried to train myself ahead of time. In that moment, little did I know that this challenge would become much more difficult with what the rest of the weekend had to offer…
Miranda and I stumbled into the hostel room, beyond exhausted. Matt and Stephen’s beds seemed untouched, as if they had never existed there. I felt sad for a moment, but that feeling was soon replaced by excitement for whomever would enter our adventure next. After a satisfying dinner of traditional Irish Bangers n’ Mash, Miranda and I decided to lay low in the hostel for the remainder of the night. Running off four hours of sleep, a hangover, and lots of terrain covered throughout an 8-hour tour, our energy was depleted. Come 10:30 that evening, Miranda was curled up in her bunk. I kicked around anxiously in mine- “You’re going to sleep already?!” I whispered loudly to her. She spoke in a mumble “I’m…tired. Tour…Tomorrow.”
I flopped backwards into my pillow, feeling defeated. The bar below our hostel was alive with bagpipe and fiddle music, I felt enticed by it. Logic versus passion, again, dammit. I should go to sleep. But I’m in Ireland and I might never be here again. I have a desire to go out and see the sites, hear the music, absorb myself in everything that Galway is because I love it here. I tossed around a few more times. The music picked up pace, parallel with my quickening heartbeat. I threw off the blanket, and jumped out of the bed with purpose. As I half put my shoes on, I stumbled in the darkness over towards Miranda’s bed. “Miranda…Miranda! I’m going out to listen to some music on my own. I just can’t sleep. Something is telling me to get out of bed.” No movement, no response aside from some snoring. I grabbed my jacket and headed for the door.
As I rounded the corner with motivation and went to pass the receptionist booth, I locked eyes with the man sitting behind it, arms crossed, feet up. Dark fluffy hair paired with dark almond shape eyes, mysterious looking yet I could see his smile in them. I slowed down instinctively due to immediate attraction and curiosity. “Goin’ somewheah?” he smiled up at me. “Of course, he’s Australian. I can’t escape them” I thought to myself. “Oh, uhm, do you know what time the music is on until?” Please don’t let me turn red, I’m turning red. “Hmm…it’s probably off in about half n’ owa” he looked at the clock, then back at me. I explained how my best friend had fallen asleep and I really wanted to go see the sites, I wasn’t satisfied with going to sleep. He nodded and continued that captivating smirk. I lingered, and before I knew it, I was sitting on the staircase across from him, telling him my life story and listening to bits and pieces of his. You can take a wild guess that I didn’t leave the hostel that night after all.
They say there are more sheep in Ireland than Irish people. Well, I think there are secretly more Australians in Ireland than both Irish people and sheep combined. Yet, from the several Australians I had already met, this one seemed different. His name was Zach, and he was modest, seemingly reserved, and appeared kind. His intelligence and humor was alluring, in addition to his free-spirited nature. Our conversation and laughter echoed throughout the quiet staircases and hallways of the hostel, occasional foreigners passing in between. I leaned my head against the stair rail as I listened to his stories of his travels across Europe, the relief he had from not having a cell phone for a few months, and the reasons behind some of his tattoos. This guy was the definition of a rolling stone, and I wanted to roll with him.
As the clock strikes three AM, Zach and I watch as Sean, my caretaker from the night before, stumbles onto the stair next to me, a big piece of pizza hanging off a flimsy paper plate. “Oh man, whatta night. Where were you guys?! You missed out big time.” He then takes a big bite of pizza, and I suddenly want a slice from one of those dingy places back in NYC. Sean joins in on mine and Zach’s conversation, the three of us getting along wonderfully-we all exchanged Facebook info in that moment. We even played a few rounds of would you rather, I remember watching Zach ponder, admiring his handsome side profile as he did so. “Would you ratha…sweat mayo or have a hairy tongue?” He looked at Sean and I as he awaited an answer. Sean said mayo, I said hairy tongue. Like I said, you learn a lot about a person.
The best part about conversation between traveling souls is that you skip the small talk, and dive into an ocean of vast unknowing. Suddenly, a stranger is your best friend. Sean was a gem- he had me in stitches laughing a few times. We spoke of our new beginnings, all the things we were leaving behind in the states, and the fearfulness of taking that first, big step into a journey. Our bond was quick but stable. He promised me that we would go to the Opera the next time he flies into New York, and I smiled at the thought. I tried not to acknowledge the fear of potential false hope that lurked in the back of my mind. Dear God, I gotta see at least one of these people in my life again. Sean looked over at me as the night came to a close: “Jeeze…I don’t want to leave Galway, let’s just stay here.” I nodded slowly in agreement, sealed with a yawn. I smiled at him, then looked over at Zach, hoping my smile was masking the sudden twinge of worry and doubt on my mind. “Do. Not. Get. Attached.” I scolded my heart, trying to repress the passion with logic.
Miranda and I returned from our second tour the following evening to find two hostel mates settling in the bunks above ours, two girls chatting away excitedly about their ideas for the evening. Their names were Jenny and Sam, two friends traveling together as Miranda and I were. Jen was a spunky, confident strawberry blonde from Dublin, and Sam was an elegant, reserved Brit with big blue eyes. Our conversations of travels meshed together nicely, as well as our personalities. We were also surprised to find a lonesome Michael, sitting on his bed with a friendly smile, but absent of Frenchie. “You girls goin’ out tonight?” He asked us. Our plans weren’t concrete in that moment, but we knew we wanted our last night in Galway to be one to remember. We invited Michael, as well as Jenny and Sam, to come out with us for one last hoorah in the City of The Tribes.
As we walked through the puddled streets of Galway, I walked alongside Michael and listened to his stories of his almost yearlong expedition. “Ya see, I get attached too easily” he explained to me. I shook my head with unfortunate understanding- “You don’t have to tell me twice, I know the feeling.” The evening escalated quickly. We found ourselves at The Front Door again, this time on the upper level. It didn’t take Miranda and I long for our feet to find their way to the dance floor, which was jam packed with well-dressed Irish boys and local girls whose wild dance moves almost showed me up a few times. I danced with a sweet lad from Tipperary who swore I was his soul mate because our moves were so in sync to Biggie. “Wait, you’re such a classy girl! Don’t go leavin’ on me, the states don’t deserve ya!” He kissed my outstretched hand as I followed the pull of Jenny through the crowd. I could get used to this.
I was up to my head in Heineken’s and Jager bombs before I realized we were in a large club that kind of reminded me of home, which I wasn’t sure if that was a good thing at first. My feet felt disconnected from my body as I danced around irrepressibly, I’m uncontrollable in any state of mind when DMX’s “Up In Here” plays in the club. Hair swinging around wildly, purple and pink lights flashing, Miranda, Jenny, Sam and I dance around Michael- I’d assume he was in heaven. Jen could bust a move like she was Beyoncé herself, and Sam allured the boys with effortless finesse in her movements. “Don’t let this night end, I’m having the time of my life” I thought to myself.
I finally found a table to sit down on and catch my breath, the beat outdid me. Before I know it, I have a friend. This guy who’s features I can’t quite make out in the darkness of the club swings his arm around me as if we’ve been friends for ages. I look up, trying to consider his eyes, but my gaze is interrupted when he plants a kiss on my lips. Even in my fairly drunken state, I remember the shock and bewilderment washing over me in that moment. “Who do you think you are?!” I snapped at him. He puts his hand out, waiting for a shake. “My name is Kevin, nice to meet ya” he smiles at me (and no, surprisingly he’s not Australian). “I’m a classy girl, you can’t just do that! That’s my personal bubble you just broke.” He chuckled at my response and then apologized. “Welcome to Galway love” he winked at me as a flash of purple moved across his face. We sat there for a moment in silence, observing the crowd almost reflectively. We both look towards Michael, who’s standing alone in a sea of drunken dancers, a big goofy smile spread wide across his face, he looks like a happy palm tree waving in the breeze. “Your friend isn’t from around here is he” Kevin asked as he sipped his drink, observing Mikey. “Nope, he’s an Aussie.” I laughed at Michael’s drunken demeanor. “Coulda told ya that, the hat gives it away” Kevin smirked.
Thankfully, the cold, salty Irish air helped me sober up and in that moment, I wish I could turn the scent into a Yankee candle. We all hooked arms and swayed back and forth with our steps on the way back to the hostel, laughing, singing, free and filled with pure bliss. Time had no meaning to us, worries were inconceivable, and negativity was non-existent as we kicked through the puddles between the slick cobble stones of Shop Street. I’m young, I’m alive, and I’m in love with life. Unbelievably, my night was about to get even better.
Butterflies flew rampantly when I saw Zach sitting behind the desk back at the hostel, which wasn’t good for the quickly declining state of my stomach. As everyone else dispersed, I plopped on the staircase across from him and smiled widely, internally laughing at how disheveled I must have looked. “Looks like ya had a good night” he smiled at me. It was already 4 AM at this point and I had one final tour only a few hours later. I decided to invest any remainder of my energy into conversing with this handsome man as the truth that is reality told me I’d never see him again. Make this next hour count, I convinced myself.
I told Zach about dancing uncontrollably throughout the evening, as well as my encounter with Kevin and how he popped my personal bubble. He listened attentively and laughed at most of my stories from the evening. I felt like I was trying to rush and fit as much conversation in as I possibly could as the dawn approached, for the first time in my life I didn’t want the sun to rise. In all honesty, I had no intention of meeting anyone special while I was in Europe. I wasn’t looking for it, in fact, I was looking the opposite direction. This trip was for my independence, my personal growth and self-discovery. Yet of course, as the universe would have it, what can happen will happen. And so, I found Zach when I wasn’t looking for anyone at all.
After showering off the smell of Irish tobacco and alcohol, I returned to the desk to say goodbye. “Well…it was really nice talking to you, thanks so much for keeping me company.” I felt timid with my words. There was something more that I wanted before I left him but I was shy. He nodded slowly and looked up at me with a sentimental smirk, one I won’t forget. “Of course. I wish ya the best of luck with the rest of your travels.” I lingered for a moment, then slowly began to back down the hall towards my room. “Goodbye Zach…I enjoyed our talks…” I’ll be so upset if I don’t get a kiss from this guy. “Me too.” His smirk continued as he stroked his scruffy chin. Frustrated, I slumped around the corner and hurried into my room. 5 am on a Sunday and I’ve never been so bothered.
The second my head hit the pillow I get a message on my phone: “I was trying really hard just now not to pop your personal bubble” he said. That was all I needed to hear. “Let me get my socks” I responded immediately, what a sexy response. I threw on some socks and hurriedly tip toed back out of the room, everyone else asleep. Perhaps it was lust, perhaps it was me romanticizing the fact that I was kissing a handsome Australian in Ireland, but I felt a connection. The chemistry was apparent. Kissing him was an awakening, magical moment for me. A light had reappeared in my life, one that shone on the dark shadows I had been remaining in for so long. A toxic relationship for three years prior deprived me of passion and meaningfulness, I can’t remember the last time I had been kissed like this. Clearly, I’ve been missing out. As if 24 hour friendships weren’t difficult enough to get accept, 24 hour romances were another animal.
Disney’s The Lion King did a great job at teaching me that life’s not fair at a young age, but sometimes I still have trouble accepting that. This was one of those moments. It felt terribly unfair that I was awake, aware, and alive now, but I had to let go. I had been shaken free from monotony and apathetic kisses, I had experienced bliss, and now it was being ripped out of my life as quickly as it entered. Are all treasured moments so brief? Or am I being punished for taking a bite out of the apple? A thought that I didn’t want to acknowledge pushed its way into the front of my mind, chipping away at my heart simultaneously: right guy, wrong time.
Perhaps I’m naïve, maybe even a wishful thinker, but I found it bewildering that a stranger held me with more passion than my most recent boyfriend of 3 years ever did. This in fact made it much more difficult to let go, but we knew our time together was limited. Neither of us said much, I think because words wouldn’t do our thoughts and feelings justice. Sometimes, silence says it all. As I fade into the shadows of the hallway towards my room, I turn around once more. He’s there, at the opposite end of the hall, watching me with a bittersweet smile. With one last wave, I turn the knob quietly and slip into the darkness of my room. As I curl up in my bed one final time that evening, my phone glows with a message: “Maybe our paths will cross again one day.” If I have any enemies in this world, it’s false hope.
Being on a bumpy tour bus with a hangover and a driver that keeps trying to make awkward jokes is never a good combination. Miranda and I try to fall asleep on both of Michael’s shoulders, as he decided to come with us to the Cliffs of Moher. We became a friendly trio quickly and effortlessly, telling our life stories within the few hours spent traveling through the vibrant valleys of Ireland. Michael was sweet, caring and genuine, but with a smart mouth on him at times. He started to feel like a dear friend I had known my whole life, yet another travel bond to never forget. I tried to learn and mimic his accent throughout the day as we walked through meadows and hopped over rocks. He even taught Miranda and I how to roll a cigarette.
I watched as Miranda and Michael skipped happily along the Cliffs of Moher after each other. They had developed their own bond, becoming evidently fond of one another as the day went on. I wholeheartedly approved, as I would tell her later, I liked this Australian manfriend much more than the last one she had. I wiggled my body up to the edge of the cliff, laying on my belly. My chin rested on the periphery of the rigid rocks. There’s a strange mixture of invigoration and vulnerability that comes from looking down about 480 feet into a reckless jade green sea below. I feel so tiny yet so grand all at the same time. I’m literally living life on the edge, and I’m loving it.
As our tour bus pulls into the Galway station one last time, sorrow emerges into the front of my mind. It was only forty minutes before our bus back to Dublin arrives did Michael make the decision to accompany us there. The three of us decided to use our last moments in Galway to do some reminiscing, because we all had the feels. A burst of deep orange exploded in the western part of the periwinkle sky, the sun was giving us quite a farewell as we approached our charming hostel one last time. As I walked past the receptionist desk, I exchanged a glance between the empty seat and my spot on the staircase. I smiled fondly at the ghosts that would forever exist there, harboring warm memories of perfect strangers and life changing experiences.
After Michael was done packing up his things, the three of us decided to do what felt best in that moment, as I think we all needed comfort to heal our post Galway sorrows. We cuddled. I was tucked into Michael’s left arm and Miranda was comfortably snuggled into his right. We laid there in silence, staring at the ceiling, surrounded by sterile white bunks. There was no need to speak, because I think we understood each other’s thoughts and feelings in that moment. We simply enjoyed each other’s company, which prolonged the post travel blues successfully. I appreciated the affection tremendously, even with someone who was a stranger only 24 hours ago. After traveling for almost a month, I had forgotten this comfort and how reassuring it was.
I was overwhelmed with appreciation in this unexpected moment, thankful for my best friend who doubled as my free-spirited travel sidekick. Thankful for the magic we had experienced. Thankful for the outstanding people I had met: Matt and Stephen, Sean, Sam and Jenny, Michael, and of course, Zach. Lastly, thankful for my new outlook on life. The expanded horizons. The understanding I had of going to the edge, looking at a sea of chaos and beauty. Understanding that fear is necessary, it’s a driver as much as it is a weight. Thankful to be alive, in more than one way. As our time of departure out of Galway approached, we hoisted our backpacks on, hugged each other, and snapped a photo in the mirror. We were just a few rolling stones, living with uncertainty, but flooded with passion.
Miranda and I leaned our heads back against the uncomfortable seats of our Aer Lingus flight as the engines fired up. Eyes bloodshot and hair frazzled, we stared quietly out of the window. I felt tears welding up in my eyes as the plane started to move forward. I looked at Miranda, she understood without me having to say much. I admired her ability to detach so easily from things but I envied it all the same, wishing I was better at it. Despite her powers of separation, I think even she was overcome by a feeling of sorrow as the plane lifted off. “I’ve been to 25 countries, I’ve seen and done amazing things, but there’s been nothing like Ireland” she spoke softly. I continued to let my tears fall as a response. I thought about dancing the night away at The Front Door, biking freely through the Aran Islands, peeking my nose over the edges of the Cliffs of Moher, and I thought about Zach and our brief yet beautiful encounter. The plane began to lift into the air, but I felt my heart sink. I watched through blurry eyes as the landscape disappeared beneath the silver clouds, taking a piece of me with it.
Life involves inevitable sacrifice. Sometimes, we’re unaware of it. It’s in the form of a trade-off, a bargain, a compromise. We sacrifice our happiness, our dreams, our passions, often for our roles in reality. I didn’t realize that post travel depression was actually a thing until I was in the car on the way home from the airport. I was hit with a wave of sorrow as I looked out the window at traffic, litter and stagnant suburbia. It was only a few hours later I found out that the break my boyfriend wanted to take was over, permanently, as he broke up with me over Facebook and I never heard from him again. I went back to being a cashier the next day, trying to remember the codes for carrots and collard greens but my mind was consumed by wanderlust. Thoughts of Zach lingered for quite some time after my return. I wondered what he was up to, if he thought about me, but mostly, I wondered why I met him. Why does life tease us like this?
Although it took me some time to understand, I learned one of life’s greatest lessons after my return. Don’t be sad it’s over, be happy it happened. My sorrow blossomed into cherishment, my anxiousness to appreciation. The sweet overcame the bitter. My heart felt warm at the thought of my time in Galway, the souls I met becoming significant pieces that I needed for my complicated jigsaw puzzle. I realized each person had a particular role in my life. Zach and I had such a brief encounter that it seemed unfair, and we may never see each other again. But, at least we met. I wouldn’t trade a moment of it in for the world. He was a teacher in life’s classroom, he opened my eyes when I had been in a slumber of settling for less than what I deserve. He reminded me that passion exists somewhere in the world, and I will forever be thankful for that.
I’m so happy it happened. I’ve realized it’s okay to turn your head every now and then to look behind you and give a sweet smile at a memory, to admire a setting sun, to acknowledge an ending that deserves appreciation. It’s important to say thank you to the things that serve as building blocks in the foundations of our lives. These are the memories that I want to take with me to the grave. The pain, the sadness that I felt upon my return was worth it for the bliss that I experienced within 72 hours with a few strangers. Being that this was the theme of my trip, it’s only appropriate to conclude my story with a question we should all ask ourselves:
Would you rather…have felt, than feel nothing at all?
Blog writer, explorer, fellow Long Islander!
"A personal account expressing all the truthful aspects of life and travel"