July 21, 2014

Eurotrip: The Ireland I Came to See

There is a pleasure in the pathless woods,
There is a rapture on the lonely shore,
There is society where none intrudes,
By the deep Sea, and music in its roar:
I love not Man the less, but Nature more,
From these our interviews, in which I steal
From all I may be, or have been before,
To mingle with the Universe, and feel
What I can ne’er express, yet cannot all conceal.
-Lord Byron

I purchased tickets months ago to the Longitude Festival in Dublin. That, along with the Pearl Jam concert, were literally the only things I planned in advance for the duration of my whole trip. I was very excited to experience both a concert and a festival in another country. Of course, Pearl Jam did not disappoint. The festival, on the other hand, was a bit of a different story.

I initially only bought a Friday night pass because Ben Howard, whom I’ve been following for years, was headlining. By the time I decided I wanted to do Saturday night too, tickets were sold out online. The first thing I did when I arrived at the festival, before even entering the gates, was looked for scalpers. I found one pretty quickly who directed me to two girls my age who were selling a weekend pass. Mission accomplished. And I didn’t just get a ticket out of the transaction, I got two new friends whom I spent the first night at the festival with. Win-win!

Beyond the entry gates, it looked pretty much like a festival in the States. Food stands, beer tents, long bathroom lines, people everywhere, and lots of noise. It was great. I couldn’t wait to get to the stages. The first show we caught was sort of a smaller act, so we were able to get close with little effort and enjoy the music. Then Bombay Bicycle Club came out, and that’s where everything went south. I’ve always said that the best concerts are ones with the best fans. The crowd has the ability to add magic to a concert as much as the band does. This is one reason it’s near impossible to beat a Pearl Jam concert for me because the fans are so dedicated. This was not all the case at the Longitude Festival. The crowd was almost entirely made up of teenagers who were absolute train wrecks. I’ve never seen or experienced any music event like it, and I’ve been to a LOT of them. Everyone was completely out of control, rude, drunk, high, horny, you name it. They were climbing on each other’s shoulders and literally falling on top of the people standing next to them. They were pushing and screaming so loud I could hardly hear the music at all, even for as close as I was. My view of the stage was covered with cell phones from everyone taking selfies. People were on the ground passed out, girls were crying dramatically, some were hurt. Perhaps even worse than all that was the terrible stench of body odor that filled the air. Remember, not everyone wears deodorant over here. It was BAD. I can’t even describe the awfulness of the experience, and it only progressed as the acts on stage got bigger.

I’ve always thought it was silly in the U.S. that the legal age for nearly everything is 18, except for drinking. For the first time ever, I understood why and appreciated that our legal drinking age is 21. I underestimated how much of a difference it makes at public drinking events to not be surrounded by young and immature high school students who can’t handle their liquor. I wanted so badly to have a pause and mute button on the crowd so that I could just experience what I came for – the music. Maybe it was naive to think people would actually be there for the music too. It was 100% about the party and posting to social media, and it irritated the crap out of me. These were bands and artists who don’t necessarily tour in the U.S., so it made it all the more frustrating. I couldn’t help but wonder if I was just getting older and outgrowing the party stage because nothing about it was appealing to me. I felt ancient in that crowd.

I knew I had to move or do something different for Ben Howard, who was the closing act and main reason I was there. I decided to move off to the side of the stage to escape some of the craziness. This was the first (and hopefully last) time I’ve ever purposefully moved away from the stage. I wasn’t happy about it, but I knew I couldn’t stand another hour and a half in the midst of that madness. Things calmed down a little, but it still was definitely not ideal. I left the festival seriously contemplating whether or not I should skip out the next day, even though I had JUST paid money for a ticket and I really really wanted to see Sam Smith and The 1975.

After Ben Howard closed the festival, I missed the last bus back to the city center by about five people. It was full and there were no other buses coming back. Luckily I spotted a cab full of young girls, miraculously still sober, and asked if I could share with them. They were happy to let me in and informed that the Friday festival day is always the youngest crowd because there’s no school, while everyone else who works waits until Saturday. They convinced me to give it another shot the next day.

After calming down, I got up the next morning and did some shopping around before hesitantly heading back to the festival for round two. I told myself I needed to let all the annoying stuff go, find a spot further back, and try and make the best of it. I did just that. Day two was much better. It also helped that the girls in the cab were right and the crowd was slightly more age appropriate. Sam Smith and The 1975 were brilliant on stage, and I’m glad I sucked it up and went.

On Sunday, I signed up for a full-day tour (starting at 7am) to drive across Ireland and see the west coast. This was the earliest morning for me on my trip so far. I don’t do mornings well, but Dublin was not the Ireland I always imagined; I knew there had to be more. My instinct was spot on. There was definitely more. This day tour turned out to be the best thing I did during my four days in Ireland, perhaps even my whole trip.

The drive alone with the tour guide explaining the history of the country was really neat. The further west we drove, the greener and older things got. It was cool to physically see the change from east to west and listening to the guide explain why. There was an Asian couple with us who actually asked what the green crop was growing everywhere. Confused at first, the tour guide finally said, “oh, that’s grass.” The couple had never seen land covered in grass like that before. It made me chuckle and appreciate growing up in Iowa where we’re surrounded by open space and the color green.

After three hours, we arrived at the Cliffs of Moher in County Clare. I had heard great things about these cliffs and even saw a few photos on the tour pamphlet, but no description or picture did them justice. They were absolutely breathtaking. The whole experience was humbling as they made me feel so small and insignificant. I kept thinking to myself that these cliffs existed long before us and will continue to exist long after us, which was cool to think about. It was nature at its best. Ancient. Massive. Indestructible. Pure. Beautiful. I will never forget the emotions I experienced up there. I brought my iPod along with me so I could tune out the other tourists and enjoy those moments in peace. I played Pearl Jam’s “Release” on repeat for a while thinking about all I’d gone through with my ex-husband.

Just the summer before, him and I went to see Pearl Jam at Wrigley Field in Chicago. It was a really rough time period for me as I had come to the realization that divorce was likely inevitable for us. At that time, I was still desperately trying to change the reality of the situation. The weight of it was unbelievably heavy. When Pearl Jam opened with the song “Release,” tears flowed down my face with the first few guitar strums. I sang along with Eddie to the sky that night wanting so badly to be released from all the pain. Being alone in my head listening to that song up there on those cliffs brought back all those emotions, except this time I was finally free. It was a moment I’ll never forget for as long as I live.

“Release” has sort of been a theme song for me on this trip, along with a soft folk song by Neil Halstead called “Digging Shelters.” I’ve listened to them countless times the last few weeks as they sweeten every moment, and they did once again standing on those cliffs. While looking out at the green landscapes and blue ocean, taking in the sun and smells of fresh air and sea, and feeling the wind do laps around me, I had moments of disbelief in where I was standing. I was looking at Ireland. The real Ireland. Miles and miles from home and family and friends. It was a “pinch myself” experience that had me wondering when I’d wake up.

After two hours at the Cliffs of Moher, which wasn’t enough, we headed to the city of Galway. Our tour guide (who was a native Irish man in his 50’s) was extremely proud of and passionate about his gorgeous country. He really wanted us to experience the non-touristy side of Ireland, so he took us on a detour where we stopped at a random quiet spot along the coast. We were the only people there. More breathtaking views. More “pinch me” moments. He gave us a full half hour to wander the coast. Galway was a neat city and really different from Dublin in good ways. Dublin is so touristy and city-like that it’s harder to see the true culture there. For this reason, I liked Galway much better. The food and art festival was in town that weekend which was an added bonus. I saw the Thomas Dillon store where the original Claddagh ring was created, so I walked in and made my first souvenir purchase. I ended up having dinner and a drink with our tour guide (just the two of us) and learned even more about the city because he lived in Galway for many years. I really enjoyed hearing him speak so fondly of Ireland with a smile on his face. My favorite bit of information was him telling me about the wisdom that still lingers on the west coast. He told me farmers use to wait to build their houses until the sheep settled first. Wherever the sheep choose to sleep at night was the spot they built their house on because they knew it was the best. “That’s the kind of wisdom I’m talking about,” he said.

We took an entirely different route on the way back, stopping at a castle for a break, so I got to see even more of this beautiful country. It was an amazing day spent alone (even though I was with a tour group) that I didn’t want to end. It definitely made my list of favorite experiences.

We got back to Dublin around 8pm, so I ventured off to find a good dessert menu somewhere before calling it a night. On my walk home, I was stopped by a traveler new to the city looking for directions. I felt so big and mighty that I, a traveler myself in his same shoes only a few days earlier, could actually give him proper directions to where he needed to go. It was an ironic and proud moment where the start of my Ireland adventure came full circle. I felt like a seasoned and experienced traveler for a brief moment knowing that come tomorrow, I have to start all over again in a new city. I hope I can manage some sleep tonight so I’m well rested for Amsterdam where literally anything goes!