We’re home again. Jet lag is playing havoc with our sleep patterns, but it is good to be back in familiar surroundings, the quiet, the relative solitude. Distance provides an opportunity for some reflection. While we were away, we were able to reflect on our lives here, next steps, with no conclusions (although we did get some great ideas for bathroom renovations).
Now that we are back, we can take some time to sort through the experience Ireland was, the way it may have changes our perspectives, our thoughts. A month is a long time to be away from home, but spending a month in a country does have its benefits. During the first week of our trip, everything was new.
As we cycled the country we were continually rubber necking, amazed at the ruins, speculating on their history, confounded each one didn’t at least have a set of sign boards telling the story of the place. By the end, we knew the stories, St Patrick, the Normans, Henry VIII’s reformation, the Potato Famine, the rebellion, the financial crash of 2008, all written for us in the ruins left to mark the passage of time. I’m not sure a two week, whirlwind tour of the popular coach stops could have given us the same depth, could have gotten us past the ohhhh and ahhhh stage.
We did find the bicycle to be an excellent way to experience the country. We were odd enough, riding a tandem through the back roads of the country, that people stopped and talked to us. This happened much less once we joined the tour, although, since our tour was very small, we didn’t totally get tied up in the closed ranks of the tourist swarm. These contacts were invaluable to our understanding of the place today. We heard about the struggles folks were having with the country’s economy, first hand. We heard their interpretations of the ruins around them (no where near the romanticism we placed on them). We learned about how they lived, their schools, their churches, their sports, their opinions about the world. These folks were our tour guides, and because we were odd, interesting, they offered their “tour guide” services free and unedited.
The bus had its advantages as well. Rain did not prevent us from getting to the places we wanted to see, although getting out of the bus for a close up look was still an issue. Distance was less of an issue as well, allowing for a broader picture of the entire country. The tour guides are trained to give a full, and possibly correct, commentary as we go, while the bus driver provided a “man in the street” view of what we were seeing. The group dynamic, which comes with a bus, can be trying. To gain the advantages, one gives up a lot of freedom. Bathroom breaks take longer, folks wander off, back to the bus deadlines are stretched, but community is built and new friends are made. Its a balancing act.
We bought a map of Ireland just before we left on Friday. This morning we opened it up and traced the journey of the past month. We realize how little of the country we actually saw. We are drawn to the idea of returning to the Emerald Isle, with its wonderfully friendly people, its deep history, and its beautiful landscapes, but the world is big with so much more to see……..