My original feelings for Northern Ireland changed the moment I stepped off the train.
Like most travelers, I suppose my ideas of Belfast were from the movies and television. I really didn’t know what to expect as my train crossed the border from Ireland to Northern Ireland. This article isn’t about politics, religion, or other troubles that may be woven through the soil from history, but of the great people and food, I found while on my short trip.
What I did know before my arrival in Belfast was that I had made reservations at the most bombed hotel in the world! Yeah, you read that correctly. The Europa Hotel in Belfast, Northern Ireland, is said to be the most bombed hotel in the world, and I had a room facing the street. As I walked through the front door, the elegance of the grand room surprised me. I’m not sure what’s in the water there, but every single person in that city was attractive. However, I do know what was in the water there many years ago.
The RMS Titanic was built here for the famous White Star Line Company. We all know how this luxurious British passenger ship allegedly met her doom in the North Atlantic, Iceberg 1 – Titanic 0. Still partly hungover from my stay in Dublin, I asked the knockout who checked me in where I could find dinner and a pub afterward. She directed me to the Flame restaurant. There I murdered a three-course meal like it was my last supper.
At that time of year, the sun sets late in the evening and gave me plenty of time to walk to a Pub named Kelly’s Cellars. A person never knows when they are going to make friends. Before my first pint arrived, I was asked to join strangers at their table. Aisling and her husband told me stories of their beautiful city and what it was like growing up in Northern Ireland. One pint led to another, and more friends were made and joined the table. I couldn’t have planned a better night. We kept the bartenders busy at Kelly’s that night, up until they closed and ran us out.
The next day brought rain and a slightly uneasy feeling seeing military-style vehicles in the city gathering. The locals said not to worry and to stay away from places I shouldn’t go. Wait… what? I opted for a Black Cab tour of the city. It seems safe, right? The hotel arranged the tour. As the registered Famous Black Cab arrived, the hotel doorman wished me a good day. In the cab, the driver took me around the city, showing me points of historical interest. He seemed neutral and didn’t tell story’s favoring one side or the other. I noticed a huge pile of fresh wood built into what would be a public bonfire. Asking the driver, he told the reason, and I quickly understood why the military-style enforcements were gathering. None of my business I told myself. All in all, it was a great trip. I didn’t see Senad O’conner or the sets for Game of Thrones, not even Liam Neeson. But it was still a place that I will cherish memories from.
Our Friend Gina is this weeks Guest Writer. She writes about her escape from the normal 9-5 life, and how she has become happy as a modern day nomad.
“TRAVEL IS FATAL TO PREJUDICE, BIGOTRY, AND NARROW MINDEDNESS, AND MANY OF OUR PEOPLE NEED IT SORELY ON THESE ACCOUNTS.” ~ MARK TWAIN
I began my solo travel adventures in September 2016. If you meet a lot of solo, nomadic travelers, there is usually a story behind what motivates or inspires this traveler. We are seekers, searchers, hopeless romantics, Vagabond’s; tramping our way across the globe is not only what we do, but it is a way of life. It’s a conscious choice. Seeking a way to spend our days free from the daily norm or what today’s society or even our own family and friends dictate as a “normal way of life.” Real, deep, true happiness is the primary motivator.
I only ever wanted to be happy; blissfully happy, from the core of my soul, to my skin, JUST HAPPY!
The only way my story is unique compared to yours, is that I took the leap! “Everything you want, is on the other side of fear!” I read this somewhere once and it stuck! It resonates within me and became my mantra.
At the end of 2014, after suffering for over a decade from a debilitating back injury, I was facing a series of spinal surgeries. Not the way anyone would choose to “ring in a New Year,” but it was my reality and also my chance to research and plan for my “great escape” while I was healing. My research and learning became a respite and something to occupy my time and my mind in between various physical therapy, pool therapy, a very intensive pain management program, and countless other medical appointments. It was also a preview of possibility. Was this life of unending travel around the globe possible?
I could no longer envision my days spent in a corporate cubicle life. How much longer would I have the physical capabilities to travel? A voice in my head asked me over and over, “What do you want your life to look like?”
In September of 2016, after being released from my arduous regime of therapies, I took my first solo trip, a road trip starting from Eastern Washington, traveling as far east as Ohio, south to Tennessee, across Kansas and Oklahoma to Colorado and down to Utah, Nevada and up the California Coast back to Eastern Washington. With my National Park Pass in hand, my route was planned by National Park destinations. I researched car camping hacks on the internet and Pinterest, packed up my Toyota Rav 4 and away I went.
My goal by the end of this trip, using November 15, 2016 as a return trip date, was to REALLY choose to A: Go back to corporate cubicle life or B: Sell everything and use the money that I would spend on daily living (car, rent, insurance, utility bills, etc. ) to fund my travel. My lease was ending on November 30, 2016. That would be the perfect time to free myself to travel or extend my lease and go back to work.
I have always been extremely independent, love to be challenged and not really afraid to put myself out there. I march to the beat of my own drum and have a bit of “Gypsy” mixed in with “explorer” so maybe this has always been my destiny. I’m the square peg and it’s ok with me if I don’t fit into “the round hole!” My path and choices in life lead me to having never been married or to having children. (I always get asked these 2 questions so figured you might also!)
My road trip was a gift! It reinforced that solo travel wasn’t lonely, it was exhilarating! Any challenge I came upon, was temporary and I was able to solve it, rise above it and most importantly learn from and empower myself!
After 3 months on the road camping, crossing 20 states, visiting 12 National Parks, and driving several thousand miles, my choice was clear. I wanted to travel, full time, unencumbered by “stuff” and possessions. Free to live my best life on my terms for as long as my physical health would allow.
I returned mid-November as planned, sent my letter of resignation, gave up my apartment, sold all of my furniture and large possessions and packed a few boxes and put them in storage. (This would prove to be a “test” in case I needed to return and start “over” I’d have some staple items to do this. In 2019, I emptied the storage unit and sold the last bits.)
I flew to Florida and for the next year, lived in Airbnb’s in some of those beautiful Florida cities and near those beaches that I’d dreamed of during those miserable, grey Northwest winter days while I recovered. All the while, reading and researching how I could take my travels globally.
Two huge discoveries would prove to be the tipping point. I came across a book called, “How to Travel the World on $50 a Day”, a book by Matt Kepnes (@nomadicmatt) and a website for Work for Stay called workaway.info. Workaway helps you locate a host, ANY WHERE IN THE WORLD that, in exchange for 25 hours of work per week, will feed and house you and provide a cultural exchange! WHAT??? How does everyone in the WORLD not know about this?
Reading Matt Kepnes’ book was a huge “Ahhh-HA” moment that gave me the confidence to know that I could travel globally inexpensively and smartly. The work for stay, with Workaway.info, would help me to extend my dollar and provide what has been a cultural awakening, priceless new friendships and global networking connections that have opened even more travel opportunities! Through Workaway I have worked at a family run B&B at the Cliffs of Moher in Ireland, tutored English in Poland (3 times in the last 2 years and I’m headed back for the 3rd year April 2020!) and worked at a non-profit for 3 months in Cape Town, South Africa that provides job training for adults with disabilities, like Down’s Syndrome. I’ve also had the most amazing experience doing Workaway right here in the US, supporting hikers on the Appalachian Trail at a Hostel and Welcome Center.
My most valuable takeaway is that PEOPLE in any country, in any city, town or village throughout this big, beautiful, amazing, diverse world we live in are fundamentally THE SAME!
When you are a guest in their country, city, town or village, they want to share and show you the very best they have to offer. Be it food, music, history or iconic landmarks, people are proud to share or to teach you about their way of life and their culture. They also want to learn from you, to share ideas and stories. Myths are dispelled, friendships forged.
Yes, there is always good and bad EVERYWHERE in ANY PLACE, even in your own backyard, but people around the world are basically true and good, free from agendas. If you look for and expect good, treat all people with mutual respect, dignity and kindness, have a genuine thirst for learning and experiencing new things, your cup runneth over my friends, in the most profound and life changing way!
What draws me to travel and keeps me thirsty? THE PEOPLE! I have had the opportunity pleasure and honor to meet and learn from the most amazing and diverse people from over 33 countries and counting!
I no longer collect things or stuff! I am a collector of memories, friendships and experiences! I am the sum of my experiences and my sum wouldn’t be as great, had it not been for the people I have met along the way.
What are you waiting for? What do you want your life to look like?
Be adventurous, always safe!
**A special thank you, to my friend Captain Gary, for inviting me to write this blog post. ~ We go way back to our days as young Airmen, serving together as squadron mates in the US Navy. He has inspired me to live my life with passion and perseverance, on my terms! I hope you are inspired by Aquatramp to live your life the way it looks to YOU!
The plane landed in Ireland. It was the first time flying with Aer Lingus, and I was impressed with the efficiency. This plane was the fastest thing that I had been on in quite some time. If you can imagine moving non-stop for two weeks, but only advancing less than 10 miles per hour, that’s what it like to cross an ocean via sailing yacht.
At the Dublin Customs and Immigration checkpoint, I spotted a short line with an attractive female officer behind the Plexiglass. I figured that I would give a smile, shoot her the brown steel while handing her my passport, and I would be on my merry way. Wrong! My passport is kept in the same pocket as I carry my Captian’s License. They are both the same shape and size, just different colors. Her keen eye saw the backside of my Merchant Mariners Credentials and quickly asked if I had an additional nationality. Not to deny her question, I informed her that I had just delivered a yacht to Europe and that I was on holiday. Her second question was more stern than her first, ” so you are working in Europe?” I realized the gravity with which answer I could give. “No,” I said, and as if queued by a director, a massive gaggle of passengers from another plane started lining up behind me. She stamped my passport and smiled while saying that I should visit Temple Bar that night, then added that she might see me there.
The taxi driver dropped me outside of the Spencer Hotel, which would be my quarters for the next two nights. It is a modern hotel overlooking the Samuel Beckett Bridge, the Harp shaped bridge on the River Liffey. The Hotel had everything a person should need, attentive concierge, restaurant, and vending machines with beer! Wasting little time, I dropped my bags off in the room and hurried downstairs.
First on my list was to visit the Guinness Storehouse Factory. On-Location, you can see the how’s and why’s of making the world-famous brand. The tour takes you up floor by floor as you see a massive indoor waterfall, listen to live music and get a little bit of Irish history. The best part for me was walking into the Gravity Bar at the very top of the building. It marked the end of the tour where you can order a pint of “the black stuff” and enjoy it while taking in an impressive 360-degree view of Dublin.
The second stop on my list was Brazen Head, Dublin’s oldest pub. The distinguished list of patrons who have dined at this establishment is in regard, royalty to say the least. I feasted on the Corned Beef and Cabbage. The waiter suggested that I visit a local pub nearby if I wanted to see more Irish history. Walking in, I realize they must send all the tourists there.
I can not remember the name of the pub, but the two friends I made that night were well worth the trip. These two Canadian girls were on holiday also. We teamed up, and after a few shots of Jameson Whiskey, named our gang “The North American Hooligans.” From that pub, we took a taxi to Temple Bar Street, all the way curious if the driver was drunk.
Temple Bar is more than a place; it is an atmosphere. The party continued. Erin Go Bragh!
Two days in Dublin went by in a snap. On the third morning, I was at the train station partially subdued from a hangover as I watch a Bachelorette Party head my way. Next stop, Belfast, Northern Ireland, and the world’s most bombed Hotel!