To be honest, I didn’t know what to expect from Ireland. I pictured rain, sheep, and lots of vibrant green grass. After dancing on tables at Oktoberfest in Munich and running through the valleys of the Swiss Alps, I didn’t think the last stop on my trip could be any better than the bliss I had already experienced. As my best friend and I stuffed our backpacks with a week’s worth of clothing and rain gear, we had no clue what adventures lie ahead, and what surprises the charming Emerald Isle had in store for us. Little did I know that I was about to experience one of the best and worst parts of travelling, something I did not prepare for: 24 hour friendships.
“Are ye girls gunna have sum good crack tonight?” Asked the old, scruffy yet smiley man at the bus stop in Dublin. My best friend Miranda and I stared at him with wide eyes and no response aside from coerced laughter to fill the awkwardness. Luckily, another local later clarified for us that “crack” or “craic” (as it’s spelt in Ireland) is the closest translation to fun that you can get in Gaelic. If only I could go back and tell that cheery little man just how much craic I had that weekend…
The charming city of Galway stole my heart in several ways. Miranda and I arrived with welcoming sunshine and even a rainbow to provide the full Irish experience. Our hostel (Galway City Hostel) was quaint but boasted with a diverse population of travelers. In our room, there was a 70-year-old man who was from Norway, enjoying the different cities of Europe. Then you had the woman from Alaska who had been traveling for over a year from the money she sold everything she owned for, a result of her husband divorcing her. Miranda and I turned around as the door opened, and in walked two strapping young Australian men, one of them shirtless. “For God Sakes Matt, could ya put a shirt on!” said the tall blonde one, whose name was Stephen. The pair looked like they could have been on one of those calendars that you get your single friend as a gag gift for their birthday. Did I mention they were fire fighters?
Only a few moments later, the door swung open again. A dark-haired man with a backwards baseball cap walked in, followed by a wide eyed, tight lipped female. He smiled at us sweetly and exposed that he was Australian as well, when he introduced himself as Michael. The girl he was with didn’t speak much English being that she was fresh out of France, and when the two left the room I turned to Miranda: “Do you think Frenchie is his girlfriend?” I winked at her while she smirked at me in return. Little did we know in that moment that Michael would become a significant part of our adventure.
Fast forward a few hours and Miranda and I are hopping from bar to bar along Shop Street in Galway, sipping Guinness’ and entertaining the locals with stories from New York (they love you if you say you’re from New York, but you’re nothing special if you’re from the U.S.). We walk into a dimly lit pub called Taafes and see our roomies Stephen and Matt sitting in front of the stage, working on a few pints. It didn’t take Miranda and I very long to realize that Matt and Stephen were essentially the male versions of us, which is why we got along so well. As the evening progressed, we learned more about each other by playing the hypothetical scenario game “Would You Rather” which became much more interesting and controversial in correlation with the amount of beers we were drinking. By the way, back in New York you can get a glass of Guinness for about $6, so I never drank much back at home. You can imagine I was taking full advantage of the pints I was getting for the equivalent of $2.50…
I couldn’t keep up with the Australian alcohol consumption. These two were on perhaps pint number 10 while I was struggling at half that number, but I was having a blast. In a whirl wind of gut wrenching laughter and echoing bagpipes, we found ourselves in yet another bar known as The Front Door. It seemed like it would be a tiny, cramped place, but that was an illusion. We walked in to find ourselves immediately consumed by old school hip hop music bouncing off the walls, the kind that Miranda and I grew up on back in the states. We jumped right into the swing of it and started dancing wildly, just like we would when we were in high school. I couldn’t tell if it was the alcohol or pure euphoria kicking in, but I lost my sense of reality. One of the last scenes I remember included Miranda and I trying to get Matt to dance, who stated “No, no. I don’t dance” with a serious look on his face. “Oh, you’re no fun!” I shouted over the music as I turned around and continued to tear up the floor. Next thing I know, Matt is crouched down, butt out, twerking like a mad man.
Back at the hostel, it’s 4 am and I’m not feeling too hot. I curl up in a ball on the couch in the common room, accepting the wrath of the multiple pints of Guinness on my stomach. Miranda, Matt and Stephen are sitting at the table, still laughing, probably at me. In walks a friendly face, a stranger, yet I felt comforted by his presence immediately. He sits next to me, looks at me with understanding eyes, and says “You need tea. I’m going to make you tea.” Then he proceeds to tell me of how he met his future ex-wife that night, because she knew how to poach an egg. His name was Sean, and he was a pilot from Hawaii. I can’t remember much of our initial conversation aside from his excitement about the poached egg girl, because we were both recovering from intoxication. However, we would make up for that the next evening.
As quickly as they had entered our lives, we exited theirs. Only four hours after I had fallen into a deep, drunken slumber, I was awoken by Miranda’s alarm for the tour we were scheduled for at 9 am. Stephen laid with his long arm outstretched, hanging over the bunk, snoring comfortably. Miranda and I snuck up close to him and whispered as loud as possible “Goodbye Stephen! We had fun with you, best of luck on your travels!” He peeked an eye open and mumbled half-awake goodbyes in a sleepy Australian accent. We said the same to Matt on the way out when we met him in the stairway, he flashed a big smile at us from underneath his fuzzy mustache. As we boarded the bus for our day tour to Connemara, I felt a strange ping of sadness that I don’t think I’ve ever felt before. It was an unexpected mixture of sentiment, bonding, and appreciation…I felt it more as I pictured the sterile white beds set for new people to take Stephen and Matt’s places at the hostel when we returned. I just made some wonderful friends, and I’ll probably never see them again. I mentioned it to Miranda, and she nodded with understanding. “That’s the thing about travelling, Sen…it’s called 24 hour friendships. It’s the best and worst part about a journey.”
I looked out the window at the rolling green hills and wondered who would be in Matt and Stephen’s beds tonight. I wondered who else would come into my life in the next 24 hours and leave me so quickly, but with memories to last a lifetime. I wondered what the purpose of these strange temporary occurrences was. My world was so much bigger now, in so many ways. Seven billion people in the world and at least one of them would be playing a role in my life for the next few days in Galway. Oh Ireland, what are you doing to me? I thought to myself. I tried not to think about it, but as I absorbed the beautiful scenery passing us by through the bus window, I knew I would be flooded with emotions on the plane ride home. “Don’t get attached, don’t get attached” I tried to train myself ahead of time. In that moment, little did I know that this challenge would become much more difficult with what the rest of the weekend had to offer...
Hanging out in the hostel common room that evening, a few minutes before I hit the couch. (Left to right:Miranda, Matt, Sean, Canadian guy, Stephen)