I have a fairly haphazard approach to traveling: I like to drop myself in the middle of some locale with no plan as to what I'm going to do – and occasionally no viable way of getting out – just to see what happens. I tell myself that this is a good way to test my mettle. If I can make it out of some of these scrapes alive, the argument goes, then I must be a tough one indeed. The truth is, I’m probably just a bit lazy and can’t be bothered with stuff like arranging accommodations before I arrive in a place, or finding transport more than a day or two in advance.
Whatever the case may be, this approach has made for some interesting experiences: from the mildly frightening (hitching a ride in Luxembourg City and getting kicked out of the car in Paris just before midnight, with nowhere to stay, no guidebook and no command of the language) to the totally relaxing (stumbling into a small village south of Barcelona a few days later and spending the next week or so lounging on the beach).
The following is excerpted from a journal I kept during a trip to Europe this past summer. I began in Ireland with my old friend Eric, who may not have been fully prepared for my approach to traveling. Fortunately, he returned to the States before I hopped a flight to London, where things really began to unravel...
Tuesday, June 6, 2:12pm
On a bus somewhere between Doolin and Cork City, Ireland
We’re on an interminable road, reportedly closing in on Cork City. We’ve just wrapped up the second leg of our Ireland trip. Like so many things in my life, this part of the trip was born of ineptitude – I couldn't figure out how to work the pay phone in the Galway City bus station so I set out to find another phone, triggering a series of events that led me and Eric to the village of Lisdoonvarna – and yet turned out about as well as I could have hoped.
Lisdoonvarna, a small village in the heart of Co. Clare, Ireland, near the edge of the Burren, offers old-world charm in a smattering of taverns and inns – most of which feature live traditional music in the evenings.
Lisdoonvarna is a picture-perfect village of 917 souls located in the heart of Co. Clare. We stayed in the Royal Spa Hotel, a beautiful 18th-century structure that figured prominently in some political deliberations of the early 20th century. More importantly, though, it offered each of us a private room with a hot shower. This was especially appreciated as Bryan Adams had caused us so much hardship in Galway City (I’m still having trouble comprehending this, but a concert by the Canadian singer virtually shut down the city this past weekend, almost leaving us with no possibility of lodging).
After dinner, we found our way to the Roadside Tavern, where the atmosphere was as convivial as the music. At one table sat a pair of older gentlemen who were enjoying themselves immensely. Near the end of the night, and quite unexpectedly, they stood up, turned around and dropped their pants for a friend with a digital camera. Even more surprising, the friend then showed them the photo for their approval – as if a picture of their arses might not come out as well as they liked.
The next morning we boarded a bus to the Cliffs of Moher, about a 20-minute ride from Lisdoonvarna, where the Emerald Isle suddenly falls into the Atlantic Ocean. After snapping a number of photos of the cliffs – and, uh, of the cows and me – we departed for Doolin, where we had booked a room for the night (actually calling ahead that morning). Eric took the bus, while I decided to walk a couple of hours along the Burren Way, a trail stretching from Liscanoor in the south to Ballyvaughan in the north.
The walk took me along several country roads. It was a beautiful day, and I had the opportunity to speak with several people I found leaning against their front gates. I approached the first because I wasn't sure I was headed in the right direction. I asked where I could find the Burren Way.
“Ye’re on it. Where’re ye from, lad?”