Thursday morning I navigated back in to London to meet Isaac at the Gatwick airport. I knew there were good omens for our travel excursion when my pack exactly met the 20 kg limit. Irish luck must have been on my side as we headed to the greenest country I have ever seen.
We arrived at our hostel in Cork late afternoon and immediately hit the streets. Isaac and I quickly discovered that we will be very compatible travel companions and set our number one rules for adventuring. His: If he see’s something interesting, he’ll start walking towards it. Mine: If I can get in or on top of anything interesting, I will. Rules set, we were ready to start wandering towards all the interesting sights of Cork.
Fascinated by two large tower structures, we climbed up the first road we thought would get us there. Clearly it was the right path as we stumbled upon Chapel Hill Street. Home again. Soon enough we found ourselves in front of St. Catherine’s, a castle-like church with the most brilliant stain glass colors I have ever witnessed. Across the way was St. Anne’s with a remarkable clock tower that could be spotted from almost anywhere in the city. We were off to a good start. The good luck faltered once we tried to find dinner. Apparently pub food is not a thing in this working-man’s Dublin. Pubs are for drinking. But even with that mentality, I found Irish pubs the most refreshing environment to enjoy a good Guinness, live music, and meet new people. We learned from a new found friend that “pub” stands for public house, meaning it is a space where people meet up; that everyone should always feel welcomed.
The next day Isaac and I put our travel compatibility to the test. (don’t worry, he passed) We looked outside and realized why Ireland is as green as it is – torrential downpour. Regardless, we set off to find University College of Cork. It amazes me just how much history is at the fingertips of these students. We walked through a hallway (itself built hundreds upon hundreds of years ago) lined with relics of the original limestone and fossils found in Cork. Each building looked like a little castle. Once the rain got to be a bit too much we headed back in to city center to find my only requirement for our trip in Cork: The English Market.
I was like a little kid in a candy shop. This covered market housed stalls upon stalls of freshly baked bread, gourmet cheeses, crates of produce, butcher shopped meat and fresh sea food. I could have spent hours just wandering from stall to stall. Oh wait, I did. (another great compatibility factor, Isaac and I are both always thinking about our next meal) After making few rounds through haven for the senses, we finally settled on buying a few things for our lunch and a lot of bread for the rest of our travels. It’s quite remarkable how far in life two people can get with three loaves of fresh bread.
That evening we discovered my favorite pub so far: Franciscan Well Brewery. Not only did they have six of their own beers on tap, but they also had their own cider. New quest to add to Isaac’s search for Chocolate Stout: find me the best locally brewed cider. The atmosphere was fun as well. We met a local who further explained the idea of a “public house” to us. He said that people don’t come to pubs just to drink, they come for the music, the people, and the place just happens to have some good beer too.
The next day on to Dingle, which is easily my favorite place so far. The minute we arrived Isaac spotted a hill, and so we decided to climb it. Both of our boots have been so soaked through for days at this point that a little more water and mud couldn’t phase us. The higher up we got the more expansive and spectacular the view became. As we got even higher, however, the view soon became engulfed by clouds. We followed the path for as long as we could, but it was taking us nowhere near the actual top. We decided it was time to suck it up, push through the brambles, and find our way up.
I convinced Isaac that the best tactic was to follow the sheep shit; that’s where they will have already trodden down the brambles and grass. It worked most of the way to the top until we hit the land where even the sheep would not venture. But, we spotted a circular stone alcove and trekked our way to it. We were surrounded by grey. All we could see were clouds. All we could hear was the wind. The whipping wind easily could have lifted me up and away. Somehow, we were simultaneously on top of, and at the end of, the world. I felt like I could have stayed there for ages: nothing to do, nothing to say, just me and the elements. Eventually it started to get cold and we knew it was time to head back down.
Wanting to explore the other side of the hill, we found a much muddier path. Wearing unsuitable shoes for climbing, however, has serious unintended consequences when following the sheep shit paths. Let’s just say that one fall was enough for me to suck it up through the brambles.
Dingle is known for having 50 historic pubs, so in town that evening we had quite our fair share of choices. At Murphey’s we found a delicious seafood chowder everyone had instructed us to try and at John Bennies we found the Irish music we’d been craving. The band was a middle aged man on the hand organ, an older gentleman on the guitar, and his daughter on the fiddle and vocals. Their music cycled through typical upbeat Irish dancing music, with some wonderfully snarky lyrics, to beautifully haunting love ballads that took my breath away. Isaac and I sat captivated, unable to pull ourselves away.
We both realized how introspective traveling had made us, especially when feeding each other’s thought processes. Isaac and I can sit for hours enraptured in a moral debate or appreciating the pensive silence. He made a fabulous point that traveling with each other is almost like traveling alone. We get to do what we want with the added benefit of intense conversations with someone who understands. It makes me wonder what traveling truly alone would be like. One day I want that experience, but for now I’m loving my adventurous companionship.