What is the first country you’ve visited that opened up your heart to this desire to wander and see more of the world around you? Was it seeing the Blue Mosque of Istanbul, Turkey? Was it seeing Peles Castle in Sinaia, Romania? Was it walking along the cobble stone streets of Rome? Was it walking through the open air markets of Paris?
You would be wrong if you thought it was any one of these countries that started me down this path; traveling wherever and whenever I could. Actually the first country that opened up my heart to want to see more of the world around me was a country I hadn’t seen yet. Can you imagine this impulse to explore the world and you hadn’t stepped foot out of your own country yet? The country that spoke to me and made me open up my eyes to all the possibilities around me was Ireland.
I was studying Journalism at Western Kentucky University in Bowling Green, Kentucky when I started thinking about traveling. One day I was studying in my dorm room and the next thing I know, I am thinking about wanting to see another country. The one place in the entire world I wanted to see was Ireland. I was mesmerized by the photos I had seen splashed across some magazine I was flipping through. Picturesque villages stood out to me. Faces of the people who lived in Ireland smiled back at me from the pages. Castle ruins, rugged landscapes, shades of green flew off the pages to me. That was all it took for me to want to visit this country.
It wasn’t until 1998 when I stopped dreaming of Ireland and visited the land of a thousand welcomes. I was only there for two weeks but two weeks was enough time to see a lot of the country since my roommate and I had rented a car for our trip.
Renting a car had its advantages and disadvantages while traveling through the countryside.
- Traveling on own; can take time seeing the sights without traveling with a group.
- Can change course of where you want to go whilst being spontaneous on what you want to see.
- Can stay as short or as long as you want in each village.
- Getting lost in the city i.e. Dublin and not knowing where to go whereas the tour operator would show you the sights of the village you are seeing. You would feel you weren’t missing anything if you were with a group.
- Trying to navigate your way around a new country. Remembering the laws of the road for the country you are in and knowing which side of the road your car needs to be on when driving.
Personally, I am glad we rented a car because we could take our time in each village we were in during our time in Ireland. I especially loved meeting this couple and their family who lived in Wexford. Taking us down to Wexford Beach, we drove four wheelers along the beach as well as driving through the forest along the edge of the beach. It was something we wouldn’t have experienced if we were with a tour company.
This place more than lived up to my dreams and expectations of the first country I visited outside of my own; Roscommon Castle, Rock of Cashel, Hore Abbey, Clonmacnoise, Galway along with driving along the Ring of Kerry to Northern Ireland and walking across Carrick-a-Rede Rope Bridge to seeing the Giants Causeway. I felt that I saw a lot of what Ireland and Northern Ireland had to offer without feeling that I missed anything. My only regret during this first trip overseas was not spending as much time in Dublin. We were in the car more than we were walking through the city and seeing the sights. Maybe this is why I wasn’t impressed with Dublin as I might have been if I parked the car, got out and saw everything around the city.
It wasn’t until 2013 when I made my way back to Dublin that I fell in love with the city and saw all the things I missed when I was here the first time. It goes to show that having a car when I was in Dublin the first time deterred me from seeing all that was readily available if I had the chance to walk through every part of it. This time around, I was car-free along with having two of my nieces with me; therefore I was seeing this city really for the first time with them. It was amazing to walk from Jacobs Inn to Phoenix Park and see that side of Dublin and then go to Ha’Penny Bridge or Guinness Storehouse and Trinity College and see another part of the city. This city was full of life, vibrant and made me see why I chose Ireland as the one place I wanted to see when I was only dreaming about traveling and not seeing more of the world yet.
Another reason why I love this country and why it will always hold a special place in my heart is the people. They are some of the friendliest people you will ever meet. You feel like you are a part of their life even if only for the short amount of time you are there. Looking fondly back to my first trip to Ireland; going into a restaurant and leaving shortly after finishing my meal was the norm for me. Not so in Ireland. The first place where my roommate and I had stopped for dinner was this pub on the outskirts of Dublin. I figured I would get my bill after my meal but the waiter kept telling us to relax, enjoy our stay and so we were there for three hours. Another instance was getting lost while driving through Dublin. I had the map in my hands and the gentleman in the next car over motioned for me so he could ask me where we needed to be. He gave us directions from his car before we headed in the opposite direction from him. Where else does something like this happen? Now I can see why this country is called the land of a thousand welcomes. I was welcomed into their lives for the time I was there.
What country started you on your path to wander the world and see more of it? Was it the pyramids of Egypt? Was it Oktoberfest in Munich? Was it walking through the streets of Barcelona? What city captured your heart and helped you see there is more to the world than what is in our own backyard?