An American in Europe (at 30): Part Two – In UK and Ireland, friends make the world go round

“Walking with a friend in the dark is better than walking alone in the light,” – Helen Keller

Friends are a great thing to have. A good friend can give you so many things: Advice, Confidence, Wisdom. But the best friends are the ones who are just there. It took me seven days, four countries and nearly 4,500 miles to realize how lucky I am to have such great friends.

I wrapped up my time in Paris with a very bold, cost-effective choice. Instead of booking one more night at my wonderful hostel, I decided to book the first flight out of Paris and sleep at the airport. This is where I learned that carpet really isn’t a thing at European airport terminals and hard tile floor is very very unforgiving. So after attempting to destroy my hips and back for four hours, I was allowed to go through security to go to my gate. I unfortunately had not been able to sleep. My flight was scheduled for 6 am but after three gate changes and many clueless flight attendants we finally boarded at 7:30,. After taking my seat and noticing the plane was about 20 percent full I asked to move to an exit row where my long, lanky legs wouldn’t be fused to the seat in front of me. I was told no. I then debated nicely with the flight attendant over the fact that both exit rows were completely empty and I wouldn’t be taking anyones seat. I was told no again. Needless to say I was very unpleased and grumpy, mostly due to the fact I hadn’t slept, but also because this airline was being the worst. Luckily the flight was just over an hour and I had arrived in Dublin.

The site of the cliffs and greenery of Ireland had given me a boost of energy I had lost due to poor customer service and no sleep. I was in one of my ancestral countries I had always dreamed of visiting. The romanticism of Ireland has always attracted me. The Irish folklore, the music, the pubs, the girls clogging on top of bar tables; Culture had painted a picture of what Ireland was like and I knew I needed to be there. So was Ireland exactly what I expected? Yep.

After getting to my hostel and taking a much needed nap, I set out to Grafton street. The biggest take away I had from walking the Dublin streets was how the architecture and designs of the buildings has been mirrored everywhere in the United States. Every Irish pub I had ever been to was modeled directly like these pubs that were hundreds of years old.

I had one goal for my first night in Ireland. Find a man and a woman playing acoustic guitar and making beautiful harmonies. Lucky for me that took about 30 seconds because every pub has this happening. I found a table at the Famous Temple Bar to myself, ordered a Guiness and Fish and Chips and I was living it up in Dublin. After a few more Guinnesses I simply walked the streets of Ireland, admired the Castles in the middle of the cities and the beautiful cobblestones of the street. The lights strewn across the buildings created a beautiful atmosphere and the street musicians made the city I dreamed of going to because of the movies come to life.

The next day I went to the Guinness Brewery and fell in love with the beer. The history, process and magnitude of the company blew me away and made me forever a fan. That night I was lucky enough to get tickets to see one of my favorite American hip-hop bands Run the Jewels in Dublin’s historic Olympia Theatre. Needless to say I was extremely excited for what was about to happen because I had no idea what to expect. A hip hop show with a bunch of Irish folk in a nearly 200 year old Irish concert hall. All of those things combined together created a massive party. The show packed about as much energy and insanity as any show I had ever been to. The Irish fans knew every word. Killer Mike chugged three Guinesses in a row and all mayhem was set loose. It was incredible. I had beer poured all over me, but I didn’t care. I was in Ireland, I was raging. I was happy.

As I walked back to my hostel my time in Dublin was coming to an end. I reflected on my last two nights in this city I had always dreamed and I kind of got a little sad. Everything I had always wanted to do, I had done, the pubs, the “Once” movie tour, taste an authentic Guinness, see an Irish girl clog, but something was off. I didn’t have anyone to share it with. I then realized what an amazing city this would have been if I had a group of friends to encourage me to make worse decisions than I already had. Dublin to me was a great city, but not really a city to be alone in. At this point I had been traveling for a week alone in Europe and I was starting to feel it.

I was excited for my next stop, I was going to see my friends.

The next morning I took a ferry from Dublin to Holyhead, Wales. After sailing across the Dublin Sea I was now in Great Britain. This was the moment I had been looking forward to for my whole trip. I was renting a car and I was going to have complete freedom to drive wherever I wanted to. As excited and pumped up for this as I was, I was also mortally terrified. You see, driving in the U.K. is the complete opposite of all of the driving I had done my entire life. So after I checked in and got the keys to my Audi, I walked to the wrong side of the car, opened the wrong door, sat in the wrong seat where the steering wheel was on the wrong part of the dash and then I had to remind myself to drive on the wrong side of the road. At least this is what my brain kept saying to me. The lady at the desk was very encouraging and said not to worry, but be very careful of the roundabouts… Oh yes… the roundabouts. The British people’s answer to stoplights and fast moving traffic. After spending about ten minutes trying to figure out how to turn the car on, I slowly pulled out of the rental car lot and approached my first roundabout. I crushed it! I was a regular modern day Michael Schumacher. (For all you Americans reading this, he’s the most famous Formula 1 driver of all time, who is used to driving on the wrong side of the road.)

After hitting the highways, learning that the right lane is actually the fast lane and about 63 more roundabouts I finally reached my destination for the day. I was stopping in Telford, England to visit my recently made friends. A.J, Sandy, Scott and Yasmine were all friends I had made while visiting my Mom in Curacao in the Netherland Antilles. While visiting there with my buddy Sean (who you will meet soon) we all became good friends. We are all similar in age, personality and we all love to have fun. We all hit it off and they made me promise I would come see them when I came to Europe. So after being in two countries alone and not knowing anyone within hundreds of miles, I was thrilled to go and see some familiar faces.

After arriving they proceeded to treat me like royalty. A.J. and Sandy made me a steak dinner which was the best meal I had had in ages. Then we met Scott and Yasmine in some of the coolest English bars I had ever seen, including one called The Cock Hotel. It was very hard for me to remain mature and act like a 30 year old while staring at the sign. After stopping at these bars and seeing all of the English selections, I learned two valuable lessons.

  1. English beers have more alcohol than what I am used to.
  2. Don’t try to keep up with the Brits.

These are now things I will never forget. So after several beers at several bars and trying to sound intelligent while discussing Manchester United football, I wound up back at A.J and Sandy’s house. Then while waiting to play pool with my friends I somehow wound up passed out on the coach. Oops. What a soft American I was proving to be.

The next day was originally meant to be a busy day of going into Manchester and watching the United game at a pub near the stadium and experiencing the Hooligan like atmosphere of English football in action. But due to my poor decision making and lofty expectations of myself, it was spent laying in bed and in pain. But A.J rescued me with my very first English breakfast and everything became ok again.

After watching Manchester United play what many Brits would call thrilling, but I would call a boring 0-0 draw, I took another nap. That night the Brits gave me the option to go out on the city or lay low, I was still feeling the effects of the night before and I opted for a day off of the British pubs. Instead the five of us had wine, meats and cheeses and we sat around talking while Titanic was playing in the background. Was this the kind of night I imagined I would have when I decided to take on this adventure of a lifetime? Of course not. But it was incredibly enlightening at the same time. Here I was thousands of miles from home, with these people I had only just met three months ago, but we were all talking and visiting like lifelong best friends. I felt like I was home. I felt happy.

My first week on this trip had been filled with incredible experiences, and things I had dreamed of seeing my entire life, but as the days went by I started to feel a bit of a void because I had no one to experience it with. I was having the time of my life, but something felt missing. As I sat there in that living room eating stinky cheese and hearing Jack tell Rose to “Never Let Go,” that void was being filled. And I got that feeling again, that I was exactly where I needed to be.