Sitting up in my garret room above a pub in the town of Clonakilty, Ireland, I am wishing that the sun would just go down so I could sleep, thank you very much, even though it’s only 8:30 pm and I should make the most of my time here and listen to some music in a pub in Recorder’s Alley. I should, but I am not going back down the crooked steps of this crooked house tonight.
I’m not going out, because I miss my husband, Brian. I miss our dogs, who seem to be having the time of their lives at our friends’ home in Portland, according to the photographs posted regularly. I miss our bed and my memory-foam pillow. And as good as the coffee is here in Ireland (seriously, who knew?), I miss the ritual of my early morning cappuccino and watching the news with Brian, pausing the television every few minutes to complain about the government.
I have been traveling for more than a month, first in Norway, then in Scotland, then back in Norway, and now in Ireland. I have been hiking hills, riding the rails, ferrying to islands and conversing with the myriad animals I meet along the way. Cramming in as much as daylight will allow, which is saying something in a northern European summer when the sun fills every cranny with radiance and warmth and stays up way past its normal bedtime, barely giving the moon space to flirt with the night. Then when the evening rolls around, I’ve been seeking out those quarters where I hear a fiddle being tuned, a pint being pulled and voices raised in song, or at least talking about the World Cup.
My hosts through airbnb have ranged from single mothers to couples, both gay and straight. I stayed with a Slovenian woman who immigrated to the west of Ireland with her young daughter and started a language school. I learned about whisky in Edinburgh, courtesy of our hosts who generously left two bottles at our bedside. I rarely saw my host in Oslo because it turned out she was now part of a couple with a three month old infant and was pretty busy with her own life. I rarely saw my host in Kenmare because I spent hours driving the roads of Kerry and the Beara peninsula. Eilish gave me a great recommendation for horse-riding though, and slipped tea and KitKat bars into my room while I was out, so she gets props for that.
I am currently staying with Maura, above her pub, which is cool because I get to fix myself breakfast in the pub’s kitchen and eat alone in the empty, shuttered bar early in the mornings. Not exactly sure why I find that pleasurable, but I do. Probably because the only time I am alone seems to be when I am sleeping. I expected I would feel lonely at times during this trip and I have, but that loneliness is fleeting and aimed specifically at Brian. And Gracie and Scout, the dogs.
Solo travel has forced me out of my comfort zone and that has meant getting to know the people I meet on the road, on boats, and in bars. I have been asked about the weather where I live in Portland, Oregon (it’s pretty much like weather in Ireland, I tell them, which cements our relationship quickly), about how I am finding the driving on the left (doing well, though shifting with the left hand still requires focus) and about which team I am rooting for (the underdog, which seems to be the consensus, at least in Ireland). Admitting to being a writer brings its own questions: Are you famous? (From an American couple in county Kerry.) Do you know Stephen King? (Really?) And support: I will sell your memoir in my shop someday! (From a Clonakilty bookseller.) I have spoken and listened to kids and octagenarians, to yoga teachers and Cambridge academics, to guides and ghosts, to locals and immigrants and to other travelers.
Which is why, after a month of nonstop travel-related activity, and making friends of strangers, I have a hit a stone wall and I’m going to indulge myself by staying in my little garret room to read. My foam earplugs are coming out of their package and getting shoved into my ear canals to drown out the voices of the pub’s patrons, who have spilled out onto the sidewalk below my window. I will recharge my iphone and my brain and my traveling muscles, then get back out on the streets of Clonakilty in the morning.