“This pause in time, within time…When did I first experience the exquisite sense of surrender that is possible only with another person? The peace of mind one experiences on one’s own, one’s certainty of self in the serenity of solitude, are nothing in comparison to the release and openness and fluency one shares with another in close companionship. – Muriel Barbery, The Elegance of the Hedgehog
There really is nothing sweeter while traveling than taking a day to relax near the end of a long trip. I know what you’re thinking: but that doesn’t make any sense, Erin! At the end of a trip you only have a finite number of days to see everything before heading back to comfortable, familiar (and, by extension, apparently less exciting) home. Right?
Well, bear with me here. In my experience, choosing to take a day’s rest in the final week of a trip is extraordinarily beneficial. Now, by a day of rest, I do not mean that you stay in your pajamas in bed curled up with a good book and bottomless tea (although, if that is your main definition of rest – by all means, indulge). For me, a restful day means one during which we do not write anything at all on the agenda. We choose instead to mosey around the village we have alighted on at a completely unhurried pace and simply enjoy each other’s company and the delightful fresh air.
Note: I can confirm that this method of relaxing works just as well if you’re travelling alone – who says you can’t enjoy your own company in the fresh air?
The conscious choice to slow down instead of picking up the already fast pace of multi-city travel simply feels luxurious. Almost as if you’re rebelling against what is expected of you. I would say the reward is a feeling similar to what one feels upon making the decision to take a mental health day from work. The day spans out in front of you, enticing in its’ enchanting emptiness – inciting you to do with it what you will. The sky, and perhaps the conventional understanding of time, is the limit.
This is exactly what Kristen and I decided to do with our time in Dunfanaghy. Looking it up now to spark my memories of the place, it looks like there are quite a few fascinating and unique ways to spend time in that area – including a bunch of megalithic tombs and a preserved workhouse – but I’m not sure we even knew these were options at the time. We decided, instead, to maintain our ignorance and take in the village proper at our own pace – foregoing any kind of set schedule.
Taking this kind of self-care inspired decision is certainly made easier when you are travelling with a like-minded companion whose company you genuinely enjoy. I am well aware that I am extraordinarily lucky to count my sister among several people with whom this type of experience would be possible. I have witnessed many examples of siblings drifting apart – or of brothers and sisters who were never close in the first place.
Lucky for us, our parents always did everything in their power to encourage a strong family bond. We may not have always been best friends, the three of us, but the older we get…the closer we become. And, for that, I am eternally grateful.
Let’s see, where did I leave you last? Ah yes. Historians talking history.
After a riveting chat with the hostel owner about local history, Kristen and I deposited our bags in our “room” in preparation for our foray into town.
Again, as part of writing these blogs, I spend at least a little time before the writing begins perusing my photos and the internet at large for inspiration. Maybe someday I’ll have my act together enough to blog while I’m on a trip, or at least shortly afterwards, but that time is not now. Instead, resigned as I am to recounting recollections of trips that happened many years ago, I rely on all the tools at my disposal in order to craft an engaging story.
While undertaking this preliminary research, I came across the description of the accommodations we were about to enjoy on the hostel’s official website. The owner called them, and I quote, “Quirky but comfortable bedroom compartments”. We should have, perhaps, focused on the quirky a little more when booking our room for the night – maybe taking a few minutes to research just how quirky they were – but instead we thought, “comfortable? Awesome!” And away we went.
Retrospectively, however, the word “Quirky” is what brought back the most vivid imagery for me, as this was the best word I could use to describe the room we had booked. In order to save some money, we have declines to book the larger ‘family-sized’ car in favour of one of the smaller ones outfitted with a set of bunk beds. After all, I recall thinking, we certainly don’t need as much room as a small family, And, besides, it was definitely going to be more comfortable than sharing a room with 10 other people, right?
Well, the room was beautifully outfitted at the very least. It was wooden and had an old-world charm to it, quite a stark difference from the flashy mix of metallic walls and plastic furniture I had found in my last encounter with a sleeper car on VIA Rail back home.
I think, however, that we were a bit shocked upon entering and seeing just how small the room was. I’m not sure what we were expecting – I mean, we had knowingly booked a modified railway car for the night. And yet, I feel like a small and probably sleep-deprived and illogical part of us was hoping it would somehow turn out to be significantly larger than a railway car ought to be. Something along the lines of the Weasley’s tent at the Quidditch World Cup. Hopefully some of you will get that reference.
As the railway car turned out to be, understandably, a muggle-sized car indeed, we decided to forgo the nap we probably both needed and to walk into town instead.
On our way out, the owner helpfully handed over a business card for the only taxi driver in town. He was apologetic that there weren’t more options but, to be honest, I was surprised that they had a taxi service at all.
He assured us that he was more than affordable but we had decided nonetheless to save the ride (and therefore the money) for our way home – preferring instead to stretch out legs with a walk into town. Perhaps in preparation for our cramped sleeping quarters?
Having made this decision, I think we had forgotten what little room for walking there really was on what was ostensibly a local highway. We also had forgotten to take into account how incredibly different distances are on foot VS in a car. I’m sure you’re thinking that this should have been common sense but, remember, we were more than a little sleep deprived by this point and common sense tends to flee at the first sign of exhaustion.
The walk into town, therefore, was equal parts harrowing and awakening. Though our hearts surely skipped a beat every time another car came barreling past us, so close that at times we could have reached out and touched them, the scenery was gorgeous enough that our pulses were calmed right down soon after each incident. The amount of times we stopped (where safe, of course) to snap a picture of our surroundings may have contributed significantly to how long it took us to complete the walk – but the frequent stops were well worth it.
I’m not sure what the tidal schedule is like in Dunfanaghy, but it was well and truly out by the time we got there, leading to some more stunning scenery upon our arrival. Much like the landscape at the shores of the River Ness, detailed in an earlier blog, the shoreline devoid of its customary supply of water intrigued us, managing to somehow appear simultaneously desolate and teeming with life. It may seem trivial but, hailing as we do from an inland city, the fleeting nature of an ecosystem usually covered with water being temporarily revealed to us is like gaining a peek into a hidden world – a world reclaimed in what seems like the blink of an eye by the return of the tide.
We spent quite a bit of time that day walking and resting along the seaside, alternately talking and conducting mini photo shoots. Some of the day, however, was spent in companionable silence – enjoying the peace of a quiet moment in an overall busy trip, with nothing but the eventual call of sleep having the power to hurry us along.
When we did finally decide to stop ignoring our aching limbs and protesting stomachs by giving them a rest and fresh fuel in the local pub, we both felt more refreshed than we had in a week. Though we had been travelling at a somewhat harried pace for over two weeks at this point, it took only one day of unstructured relaxation to make us feel regenerated.
This is exactly what I was referring to when I wrote of there being nothing sweeter than a day of rest near the end of a long trip. Yes, we fully planned to pack the last of our days oversees with as much sightseeing as possible, as one does. However, had we not taken that day to rest our minds and bodies as much as possible, I think those last few days would have felt much more like an uphill slog than they needed to.
Arriving back at the hostel thanks to our friendly (read: very talkative) neighbourhood taxi driver, we soon discovered we were in for a rough night. Another quirk of the railway car compartments? They were, none of them, fully insulated! And, as you can probably imagine, the northern coast of Ireland can get pretty chilly overnight, what with the blustery winds off the water.
Despite knowing immediately that we were in for a cold – and therefore bad – sleep. I still went to bed with a smile on my face. The accommodations may have turned out to be more quirky than comfortable but I was still grateful for the restful day spent in great company. This pause in time, within time is certainly possible alone but it seems to be particularly exquisite when shared with a close companion.
And, remember, whether you are travelling through this crazy thing we call life with friends and family or alone, Life is Beautiful.