Strange Jewels

“The universe buries strange jewels deep within us all, and then stands back to see if we can find them.”  – Elizabeth Gilbert, Big Magic

This post is going to be briefer than most but as it is serving as the intro to my next grouping of travel tales, I think this is appropriate.

I wasn’t quite sure how to start this particular piece so I started where I always do when my access to the creative recesses of my mind is blocked: I started going through my quote book and my journal to see if anything sparks inspiration.

In flipping through both tomes, I came across both the quote that began this blog (side note: if you see yourself as a creative, or aspire to be a creative, or are curious about the untapped potential of your own creativity, do yourself a favour and read that brilliant book) as well as a couple of journal entries from the months leading up to this trip. As per usual, I was immediately struck at how well these two sources fit together – it really feels as if some unknown force is guiding me towards the exact inspiration I need to read sometimes.

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A Tale Worth Telling

“One describes a tale best by telling the tale. You see? The way one describes a story, to oneself or to the world, is by telling the story.”

– Neil Gaiman, American Gods

I can’t believe I have finally reached this point in my tale – the end. It has been a long time coming, much longer than I had envisioned, but I am truly proud of myself that I have made it this far! I suppose it also helps that I already know what I will be writing about next: my trip to France around Remembrance Day 2015. And this time around, I actually kept a pretty devoted journal during the trip itself so I shouldn’t be relying entirely on memory. However, I must warn you, my trip to France was fraught with emotions – and not always easy ones. But for now, let’s finish the telling of this adventure up, shall we?

Though technically the trip my sister and I took ended in Dublin, the last place we spent any significant amount of time was Wicklow Town in County Wicklow. And this destination was another one which made an appearance in my travelogue entirely by accident…

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A view of not New Ross as we had hoped, but Wicklow Town

Originally, Kristen and I had been hoping to make it to New Ross, not far geographically from Wicklow but certainly farther when you consider that we did not have the luxury of taking our own car around the Emerald Isle. If you have never been to Ireland (or the U.K., or Europe in general for that matter) and you happen to hail from North America, here is a free bit of gentle advice: do NOT expect the road systems to be like ours. Ever. Don’t do it. You will find yourself thinking a hundred kilometer trip is going to take an hour on a fairly straight highway and will find yourself still on some winding (though beautiful) road 3 hours later wondering if you might have taken a wrong turn somewhere, desperately moving afternoon plans around to try and still fit all your desired destinations in.

I don’t say this to imply that their roads are not as well-designed as ours, goodness knows I have my issues with the 401 (and don’t get me started on the haphazard muddle of on- and off- and a-little-bit-of-column-A-a-little-bit-of-column-B ramps we have going on in Ottawa), but they are certainly different and take some getting used to. I’ll get into this more in my posts about my trip to France – that time we did rent a car – but suffice it to say that the majority of the roads in Europe were built long after cities and towns and farmland had sprouted all over the terrain whereas those in North America were built across large swaths of as-of-then undeveloped (read: not unoccupied) lands. The result in North America is long stretches of largely well-groomed highways allowing one to travel at a pretty consistent speed and reach far destinations in a decently short span of time. And thank the stars for this because otherwise we would be an isolated people indeed – everything is far away! Don’t ask me to take you to both Halifax and Vancouver in one trip – it ain’t happening. Would you take me to Moscow and Paris in the same one-week sojourn? I didn’t think so. But, I digress.

In Europe, while there are some main highways on which you can drive rather fast from one end of the country to the other, in order to get to most of the smaller towns and villages, you are forced to skip these oft-controversial paved thoroughfares in favour of smaller and less straight-forward country roads. Often, these country roads are barely wide enough for one car, let alone two, and good luck to you if you come across a truck while passing through one of the particularly narrow channels graced by stone walls on either side. Again, this is not to disparage the roadways across the pond. This is just to warn potential North American travelers that the driving conditions over there can take some getting used to.

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You can’t reach views like this on the highway.

Now, what was the point of this diatribe you might ask? Simply that the route from Doolin to New Ross would have been decently long and confusing (though filled with stunning vistas) should we have rented a car to make the journey. As it stood, we were quickly running out of both cash and time and as such were forced with choosing between a long and multi-stop bus trip between the two villages or instead choosing a different destination for our Irish swan song.

This should have been an easy decision for us, and I do think we made the right one considering our circumstances, but it wasn’t one we were pleased to have to make. The reason New Ross had been on our list in the first place, as random as a destination as it might seem to most, was personal. You see, according to our family lore, this was where the Walsh clan (our ancestors on our maternal grandfather’s side) bid adieu to their island home in the hopes of finding prosperity in the New (read: new to Europeans) World. They left during one of the several famines that struck Ireland in the 19th century and, as far as we know, never looked back.

Random Historical Fact #16

New Ross is one of the key destinations in Ireland when looking to learn about the Famine Ships that carried so many out of (and, unfortunately, through) dire conditions to distant shores filled with the promise of a new life. It is the home of the Dunbrody Famine Ship, a replica of one of the “passenger” ships that actually ferried Irish emigrants away from their home shores towards North America and a fresh start. Commissioned by the Graves family, the original ship was actually built in Quebec, Canada and was first launched in 1845 – the same year that the Great Famine (though by that point it was thought to be a bad blight on that year’s potato crop) began in Ireland. When the blight continued to get worse without an end in sight, hundreds of thousands of people started to make plans to leave the Island to try and ensure their survival and that of their families. The exodus was so large, in fact, that there simply weren’t enough passenger ships to carry everyone across the Atlantic. Enter the Graves family who saw a business (and, one would hope, humanitarian) opportunity and decided to outfit their cargo ships with bunks in order to sell tickets to ferry desperate families across the water. Though ships like the Dunbrody may have been stuffed with anywhere from 160 to 300 people in one voyage, as regulations were exceptionally lax during this dire time, it still managed to carry thousands of people across the ocean – mostly to Quebec – and even to keep its fairly good reputation as far as newly-converted passenger ships were concerned. I can’t help but wonder if some of my close or distant relatives may have been passengers on this very ship – doing their best to remain calm and hopeful as they pitched about in their cramped quarters on the rough sees. It must have taken incredible courage… 

Now, our ancestors not only left from those very shores but that they also hailed from the green hills of Wicklow County – we were hoping to spend some time there to try and wrap our minds around what kind of life our family must have led back then and how they found the nerve to strike out to find a new life. Perhaps it was not nerve at all but rather a leap of faith knowing that if they stayed, they likely wouldn’t see many more winters.

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Was this what our ancestors’ last views of their homeland might have been like?

I am still a little heartbroken that this part of our trip did not pan out as we had hoped but I must add that Wicklow Town was more than just a consolation prize. Though not our intended destination, the town might have been just what we needed at that point in our trip – a calm respite before the exhausting whirlwind trip back home to Canada and full-time work. I can’t honestly tell you much about the history of the town or its many attractions but I can tell you this:

It is truly a wonderful place to slow your pace and enjoy leisurely walks to nowhere in particular. We spent much of our time on the coast there, rambling about and breathing in the fresh air and quiet calm of the local parks. I am sure we could have packed our day with historical and cultural fare, and I promise I will be back one day to explore its charm more thoroughly, but the long walks we took complete with a barefoot stroll (OK, 30 second toe-dip) in the frigid water was just what the doctor ordered. 

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Taking in the breeze, and the peace and quiet.

It wasn’t New Ross, no, nor a town particularly tied to my family in any way that I know of; but it was a refuge from the madness of our 3-week trip and the adulting we knew we had to do once we got home. And, truthfully? I’m not sure I could have handled the inevitable emotional turmoil I would have experienced stepping on the same ground my family last felt before fleeing their home forever.

Though this last post was a bit more aimless than others, and I do hope you will forgive me for this, my one wish is that this very long travelogue has been an at least somewhat entertaining tale for you to read. At times it wasn’t easy to write, at times inspiration evaded me for months on end as life got hard or exceptionally busy, but I always knew it was a story worth telling. Maybe one day I will put all of these thoughts and stories into a book, perhaps I won’t. But at the very least, I have gotten them down on the page and shared them with at least a few souls around the planet who thought them worth their time.

So, for those who have followed me throughout this journey, or even those who dropped in now and then for a laugh or a ponder, thank you for bearing with me as I fought my way through the writing of this adventure. I can’t promise I will always be the most consistent blogger, though I am trying, but I can promise that I am not nearly out of stories yet. After all, as Neil Gaiman so wisely wrote, the best way one can describe a story, whether it is to oneself or the world (or a few hundred readers), is by telling the story.

I hope you’ll stick around for the next chapter.

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A fitting photo to close this chapter, methinks.

And, remember, Life is beautiful.

Xo Erin

Kindred Spirits Everywhere

“Kindred spirits are not so scarce as I used to think. It’s splendid to find out there are so many of them in the world.”L.M. Montgomery, Anne of Green Gables

My re-telling of the Gurski Grad trip 2014 has gone on for so long that I am actually dreading the end of the tale. Though it is bound to come eventually, and it shall in the next post, I thought I would pause here to reflect on a phenomenon I have experienced on almost every adventure I have had since my teens: Kindred Spirits.

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Full of Character

“Here is the country not in its Sunday best, but in its old clothes, unpaved, unfenced, full of character, ungroomed, unvisted, barely penetrable.”

-Elizabeth Hay, Alone in the Classroom

Recently, after a long hiatus, I have returned to writing in earnest. Not only have I been keeping up with these blog posts on a regular basis (finally) but I have also waded into the writers’ community here on WordPress. Aside from the – albeit important – fact that writing is good for my mental health, reading the wonderful posts by other like-minded creatives has encouraged me to continue expanding the amount of time I devote to the craft; you can only improve with practice, right?

In returning to my writing with more and more energy and zeal, I have also picked up the threads of my unfinished debut novel. Though I have never taken down the post-its that have served as a makeshift storyboard since I began working on this book *gasp* six years ago, the story itself has sadly lain largely dormant for the last three. Apart from a few halfhearted attempts to return to this world I had begun to create, I have not well and truly reentered it until this past weekend. And, let me tell you, it felt amazing. Almost like a homecoming of sorts – it felt right.

But, I did not set out in this post to write about my novel. I’ll get to that perhaps once I have finished at least this thread on the Gurski Grad Trip from all those years ago.

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Familiar Ways

“Yet as he walked up the familiar ways, the streets remembered themselves in his mind.” – Sebastian Faulks, Birdsong

As much as I truly do love travelling alone, every single time I have fallen in love with somewhere on one of my solo trips, I have almost immediately felt an intense desire to share it with not any one person in particular but with every person in my life. This is different from the feeling I have when dreaming up a new trip – usually these visions involve a specific person or set of people (ex: I would love to visit the South of France with my Mom and Sister – Mum was an au pair there at one time). But once I have gone past the dream and really fallen for a place, I just want everyone and their dog to see it, experience it, and (hopefully) love it… as I did.

I could go on and on about the many (and I mean an absurd amount) of places I think everyone should see, and perhaps this blog will get to all those places eventually. But for now, in keeping with the narrative already established, I’ll settle with talking about one little village that has found a distinctly dear place in my heart.

Nestled at the base of the famous (infamous?) Cliffs of Moher on Ireland’s rough western coast is a teeny tiny village called Doolin. And it is one of the most heartwarmingly lovely places I have ever visited.

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A view of the main road in Doolin from the path to the Cliffs of Moher.

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A Pause Within Time

“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 BarberyThe 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?

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Chance Encounters

“To be a historian is to be questioning, to have a vivid imagination and an insatiable curiosity.”Anna Whitelock

I realize this might seem like I am trying to define who I have always been using the benefit of hindsight – you know, the way every autobiography ever written makes some kind of broad statement about how so-and-so has always been a natural leader or something of the sort? However, I believe my parents would back me up in this statement: ever since I was a very small child, I have delighted in learning about the past. I went through many phases: Egyptian Pharaohs, Celtic Druids, English Monarchy, Irish Revolutions, etc… but the bedrock of my interest was always the same – I wanted to learn everything I could about how people lived before I existed. How did they go about their days? What could have occupied their minds as much as their very existence occupied mine? Did they think about the future? Or struggle to make it to another sunrise? The study of recorded and analysed history could only take me so far – my imagination always carried me further.

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Folklore and Quasi-Historical Facts

“…throwing open their windows for the cool breeze the storm had left as an apology.”    – Louise Penny, The Murder Stone

Sometimes the sentences I rediscover in my quote book are not particularly profound, or insightful, or perspective-changing. Sometimes they are merely sentence fragments, sometimes only a few little words. But every piece of literature in my modest collection has one thing in common – it’s all great writing.

The quote that began this post spoke to me today for a particular reason, which I’m sure will become clear by the end of my musings. But, for now, let’s pick up where we left off.

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Impressions of Time

“But Three Pines itself was a village forgotten. Time eddied and swirled around and sometimes bumped into it, but never strayed long and never left much of an impression.” – Louise Penny, The Cruellest Month

One of the most incredible things about travelling, in my humble opinion, is arriving in a place that seems completed unhurried and unconcerned b the passage of time. You do not even have to go far to discover such a place – even in a country like Canada where 1000 year old ruins may not exist around every corner. Simply walk into the center of your nearest forest, or down to the banks of a local river outside the city center and take a careful look around.

Chances are that while much has changed in the intervening centuries between when Europeans first inserted themselves on this already lived-in landscape, you are looking up at the same, or at the very least a similar, sight as the First Nations people once did before their world was turned upside-down. Many lives have come and gone but the land was here before and will be here long after mankind meets its fate, whenever that may be.

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The Haze of Fatigue

“The haze of fatigue seemed to act as a magnifying glass, exaggerating tiny details and sensations.”

-Diana Gabaldon, Dragonfly in Amber

The ebbs and flows of any vacation are a fascinating concept. You spend weeks struggling to sleep for all the excitement you feel about your upcoming trip and yet, about halfway through, there seems to occur an inevitable lull in energy where all you want to do is curl up and relax – two things you could have easily done back at home. Continue reading “The Haze of Fatigue”