Wanderlust often fills my thoughts with images of colorful, cosmopolitan cities. I am energized by the challenge of navigating the maze of a new city and find joy in wandering aimlessly, unsure what cozy café or bustling street corner I’ll come across next.
I ended up in Ireland somewhat by chance. Its cities didn’t excite me in the way those of Portugal or Sweden did, and weren’t high on my travel list. But, a ridiculously inexpensive round-trip plane ticket drew me there. Largely because the weather forecast predicted cold rain — and lots of it — my expectations for a weekend there remained relatively low.
Ireland’s energetic cities caught me by surprise. There is a vibrancy in the streets as the sun starts to set, when pints of beer start to disappear a bit quicker, and the sound of live music seeps under pub doors and dances between the cobblestones. In both Dublin and Galway, despite the cold or drizzling rain, people congregated in the streets after sundown, wandering from one pub to another, Guinness in hand, filling the streets with laughter in the process. The friendliness of the Irish accent just made it all a bit sweeter.
Even though I consider myself a city girl at heart, it was the western coast of Ireland that brought me to the state of euphoria I often find when I travel.
The beauty of the countryside is humble. Abandoned stone castles, half in ruin, spot the farmland. They are not grand, but simple and dignified nonetheless. Short stone walls wind along the landscape, moss crawling out of spots between the stone, reminding you that they’ve been standing there for longer than you can begin to imagine.
The dramatic coast sneaks up on you. It feels as though one minute you’re surrounded by farmland and the next minute, you’re staring down a majestic, rocky cliff into the Atlantic Ocean.
When I stood on the rim of the Cliffs of Moher — cliffs that stretch for eight kilometers along the western coast and drop over 700 feet in some places into the water below — I was momentarily silenced by just how wrong I had been about this country. I had pictured the quiet simplicity I associated with Ireland and assumed it would be boring. Instead, I was climbing along the edge of the biggest cliffs I had ever seen, mesmerized by the thrashing white water barreling into the cliff walls and the flocks of birds plummeting through the air.
For the first time, I found wonder not just in the majestic, but in the quaint. Stopping for sweet potato soup and homemade brown bread at a pub in Doolin, a quiet village near the cliffs, I felt as though I had been invited into a friend’s home. It was neither Instagrammable nor trendy, but it was welcoming.
There is a sort of balance that I found in Ireland, between dramatic coasts and quiet fields, between buzzing bars at night and quiet, fireside pub lunches during the day. This balance invites rather than intimidates, granting the opportunity to slow down and enjoy the surroundings rather than rush through a checklist of things to see in 48 hours.
As I boarded the plane back to Amsterdam, I didn’t feel the same exhaustion I normally feel after a far-too-short weekend adventure. I had been rejuvenated by the ocean air and comforted by the genuine smiles of friendly strangers. I hadn’t seen the entire country, but I had absorbed the beauty of what I did see.
Ireland’s beauty does not announce itself to you. It waits patiently for you to arrive, and lets you take your time to understand just how magnificent of a place it really is.