An Unexpected Journey [Excerpts Part Three]

This was a very funny day for me to relive. I have never been much of a drinker. More a social drinker and since I had no social life to really speak of prior to Ireland that wasn’t saying much. I now don’t drink at all. No particular reason. Just don’t. But this is a day when I did.

Monday, March 5
Paddy’s Palace (Belfast)

Today was one of those days. You know how I said I wasn’t going up north on tour? Well, I’m up north on tour.

Spire DublinOnce again, I was up disgracefully early. I haven’t mentioned that I was viciously bedridden only on Thursday, so it’s a miracle I’m doing any of this, really. Typically, but understandably, over-packed. God only knows what I’m going to need now I live here. Instinct says the kitchen sink. Fortunately, I have the upper body strength of a Greek God, so I hauled a*** down three flights of stairs and into the reception – again.

Positivity is the key. My externalization is totally contrary to reality. Really I’m a bit depressed today. Three days without much to do, without much community and no real plan for what to do next. I admit to being overwhelmed and meet it with a genuine determination to succeed. So I got downstairs having successfully misplaced my upper plate. This time it was insanely full of people. I sad down next to a thin, awkward looking girl, a bit like myself and we proceeded to not talk to each other.

A brown-haired driver came in looking like he meant serious business and god forbid you hold him up. He took most of the crowd, including the girl next to me away. Eventually I left with a blonde lad, the nameless driver, and a couple of others for a large, cold, and mostly empty coach. I pick a seat about half way down the bus – neutral territory and I tried to get everyone feeling positive, but they weren’t buying it at all. It was freezing. I was down, convinced that the whole trip would go on this way. Fine. Sod you all. I put my headphones in. This trip is going to be thoroughly average.

I sent Jack a txt message, ‘This tour sucks.’

‘Get over it. You’re in Ireland.’

‘Right.’

Sunrise Luas DublinForgive me. Right now, I’m six Bacardi and cokes, and one Havana since the bartender decided to literally and figuratively mix it up for me, down. I lay down with my head spinning and couldn’t believe I was spending a very cold night in a room with four other girls, in a Belfast hostel with no working toilets, when I had been intending to be spending the night in Galway.

Basically, when we got round to Suffolk Street and loaded up more people and goods. The driver then got on the phone. The phone call ended with him yelling my name. Apparently there would be no Six Day South as I was the only one on it. I now had to make a very quick choice between staying with him for three days and taking tour credit or hopping off and ‘going with the bus behind us’. The dark-haired, no nonsense guy. I hopped off. No brainer. No offense, Blondie, but the craic is definitely not on your bus.

Between blondie, no-nonsense guy (hence forth called The Driver) and I we extracted my luggage. I can carry 23kgs myself, despite how I look. But I think the guys found it a bit interesting. The Driver unnecessarily pointed out that I was only going for six days and I got a bit flustered.

‘How long are you going for?’ I feel judged.

‘But, but, I’m here for a lot longer than that. I’m here for a year.’

I’m such a dope. But my defence is accepted, we introduce ourselves and that was the end of Blondie. I hopped on the crowded bus and sat with an Australian girl. I mostly remember her Blue coat. Everyone around me seemed to be going on a 10 Day tour so I was getting a bit perplexed. I ask here what her story is. Working in London, in Ireland with a girlfriend. I ask her where we’re going. Belfast. Fannnntastic. We promptly leave Dublin and I sit through the first two stops again (Drogheda and Monasterboice). Wandering about Drogheda with my hot chocolate. Sitting on the wall by the River Boyne, just for something different.

Ceiling of St. Peter's Church Drogheda

Ceiling of St. Peter’s Church, Drogheda

Chatted with a different crowd before the next stop. Making my way around the bus like the trip… erm… red light person. A German girl, an Austrian girl, and an Australian woman (the trip’s older person) who all think I’m so outrageous, adventurous and fantastic. Great. I was still listening too. The Driver and Don’s facts didn’t exactly mesh 100%, but numbers don’t matter all that much. A theoretical example would be a difference in the number of people who died in Battle X. We don’t really need the number, we just need to know it was ‘lots’. Meath history in a nutshell: there were all these people larking about in the countryside, many battles were fought and most of said people were illiterate.

Here’s the bit where I praise the driver [look away Tiernan – only joking]. He’s an intelligent, interesting sort of person. Despite his no-nonsense, moody thing he is capable of making a joke. For example, ‘I love driving in bus lanes. Makes me feel like I’m driving a fire engine.’ When we got to Monasterboice he went for team building. We were all in a circle around The Driver. And it was a very big circle. Not just because there were a lot of us, but because we were all doing that trying not to get to close to each other thing. This is where The Driver picked up a little Aussie named Tiahna and forced her into a circle. At that point we started to round off since we could tell he was serious and wanted to avoid being manhandled.

Monasterboice

A high cross at Monasterboice. This is from Sunday as Monday was too rainy to bother with photography 😉

There was something The Driver was very curious about. Father Jack. Nine people on the list with only that for a name. Turned out to be a group of Japanese people. The Driver made some Father Ted references. There was a bit of giggling from the Japanese girls, but I wasn’t entirely sure they knew what he was talking about. We didn’t find out who Father Jack was anyway. One peculiar travel agent, that’s for sure. Thus ended the name game.

I loved Sue’s introduction. Talking about doing those things she wanted to do before marriage and kids. Now she is single, mature and the kids have flown the nest. So she is off on tour. He had some banter with Sinead (yet more Australians!), who can really hold her own against Irish sarcasm. I cannot. Mupp, mupp, muppet. The girl I’d been sitting with in reception turned out to be another Kiwi – instant bond.

Since I’d done this before, albeit in the finer weather on Sunday, I was dubbed ‘tour guide’ by Sinead and Sue, who joined me for lunch. I towed them right into a cafe where we had chicken pie and chatted for over an hour.

Daffodils in BelfastUnfortunately, the new tour does mean staying the night in the Belfast hostel. I didn’t mention it yesterday, but it is a hostel I was glad to not be staying in. Nevertheless, I grabbed a room with two girls from Dubai and a very peculiar girl from Canada whose most distinguishing trait was a puffy fringe. The room itself was cold and has a dripping tap which I know will be infuriating me. Once the heater gets pumping it is at least liveable.

Choosing not to take the Black Taxi tour this time meant I had an abundance of free time. I went strolling on an extended stroll through the university, botanic gardens and the surrounding suburbs. Enjoying being outside, talking to robins, stumbling upon motivational graffiti (‘You are beautiful’ – can’t argue with that kind of honesty, thanks).

Belfast grafitti

Thanks

Our tour group must be particularly upbuzz since The Driver seemed surprised when all of us – save Father Jack – assembled to go en masse for dinner. Really, I just think we were all ignorant of tour etiquette. Most of us hadn’t done a tour like this before and those that had been on a coach tour were with groups that had organised meals. The Driver required me to sit next to him over dinner. One of the other girls and I spent the evening teaching him about Meetup.com and how it’s OK to go out and meet random groups of people when you’re new in town. It’s so expat.

Robin BelfastAfter dinner we moved on to a pub – Filthy McNasty – which is basically the world’s largest smoking room. Out the back of the pub is a giant court yard with alcoves. In the alcoves are tables, chairs, fire places and plenty of mood lighting. The Driver, a lad from tour (Josh) and I commandeered seats near one of the fires. For a long time we were the only people to discover outside. We began to get a bit happy on the alcohol. I’m so interested in what alcohol does to a group of people – and to conversation. It makes everything a whole lot lighter and we just had some fantastic banter. So many laughs. So much testing of the boundaries of our newly formed friendships. And it’s only day one! The Driver left around midnight, so Josh and I led the others back to the hostel when the bar closed. Despite us all being several shots worse for wear, we got there and all fell into lovely, warm sleep.

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