One night in October or November of 2017, my best friend Sam was sleeping over and we began talking travel. I was in the hypothetical phase of a trip to Europe in the coming summer to celebrate my graduation from college, and as the thought cropped up we laughingly sighed, “What if we just go to Europe this summer?”
Then we looked at each other, a serious glint in our eyes.
“What if we just go to Europe this summer?”
This time, planning a trip as a passably-fledged 21/22 year old adult and with my best friend was exciting. It was one of the saving graces of my final semester, taking (too long) breaks in between writer’s block while working on my thesis and exploring the endless possibilities that lay ahead. I decided on one week solo, and then Sam would meet me in Ireland, where we would begin two and a half weeks of silly, thrilling, cider-filled adventures. It was another milestone to put in the friendship books, featuring a rainbow of gel pens and shiny gold stickers.
We were in Ireland for 10 days, eating our weight in scones, listening to trad music and bubbling over with a happiness that truly couldn’t be contained (resulting in some tipsy, loud remarks about how we wouldn’t be leaving the country), feeling humbled by the hills and valleys and water like glass that filled our sights, and running into Americans who swore Titanic was actually pronounced Titantic.
Sam and I split our time between Dublin and Galway, the urban and the removed, all charm.
From Dublin, we hopped on an already packed coach bus to Galway, sitting across from each other and popping our earbuds in for the ride. When we were deposited at the bus station two and a half hours later, on the edge of Galway city, I accessed the public WiFi and took screenshots of the directions to get to our AirBnb, arriving by the 409 bus.
Before that, though, I went to the restroom, which charged 20 cents to use, and required you to pass through a turnstile that turned against the flow of bathroom users. A cluster of people who had just gotten off of their buses was growing, all of us milling around for a second confusedly as one, then another person, pushed to no avail. So I stuck my 20 cents in, pulled the bar towards me, and shimmied around it to get in.
About twenty minutes later, we were on the 409 bus, studying the ten or so screenshots of our route and, where it only vaguely noted we had twenty stops before ours, counted down those being rung.
“Twenty,” we began to chant quietly.
The problem became that stops weren’t being called out, or listed on a digital scroll above the seats, so we didn’t have an accurate tally.
“Okay, this must be sixteen,” One of us said.
“Or is it fourteen?” The other asked hesitantly.
Sam realized that the bus had WiFi, and once I logged in and plugged our information in, Google kindly informed me that we had missed our stop and were about a twenty minute walk to our lodging. (Twenty is probably not my best number. Good year of life, bad number.)
Immediately we rung the button for the next stop, grabbed our luggage from the designated storage right by the door, thanked the driver, and hopped out. I had quickly taken more screenshots, these even more vague than the last ones, and we stood stranded for a moment.
“Um. I think we go this way?” I suggested, pointing to the way we had come from. We were in a bustling spot, a main drag with rotaries and traffic lights that went red after maybe ten minutes of said traffic had zipped through.
Ireland doesn’t like signposts.
Street names are usually denoted on a small sign placed on a low wall, or, in city centers, high up on corner buildings or just not at all. We took estimated guesses as to where we should go, putting to use the sense of direction I inherited from my dad, backtracking the route of the bus and turning off onto a slightly inclined street that I cross-examined between the two sets of screenshots. It looked like it could fit the bill.
Both of us looked confused enough to attract the attention of a girl about our age, who noticed us either from across the street or who was quickly approaching from behind as we, probably stopped, were staring futilely at directions that simply said, “Turn left onto the road. Continue up the road for 340 meters. Merge onto the destination road. Arrive.”
We didn’t even know if we were on the right road.
“Are ye’s lost?” She asked a yard away.
“Yes,” I sighed gratefully, giving her the address and shoving the bare directions that we had at her. We were, indeed, headed the right way; it would be on our left.
Sam and I arrive shortly after that, once we had stopped to confirm with a neighbor tending to his lawn that the address was around these parts. Our suitcases vomited some of their contents, which we pretended was unpacking, and flipped through the pile of snacks, maps, and guides that our lovely host left for us.
When we were content with our “settled” state, Sam and I decided to head into Galway City for dinner. With the hopes of getting it right this time, we heeded the advice of our host, and the internet, to take the 403 bus that picked up right down the road from us. Since Ireland drives on the left side, we waited at the bus stop opposite our AirBnb, since that was the direction they would head into town. Right?
Wrong. The bus came relatively quickly, and we found seats in the front row of the second level to slide into. At the bottom of the street, the bus veered left, back towards the highway-like area we had mistakenly found ourselves only an hour before, and at the rotary continued up the road parallel to our AirBnb.
Sam and I looked at each other and didn’t bother containing our laughter.
“Where are we going?”
“Who knows!” We giggled.
The bus did get us to the city center, but in a very roundabout way. It returned to the bus stop that we had decided not to wait at, the one on the same side of the road as our stay, and we made a note to throw logic to the wind and get on at that stop for the rest of our time. But it was an industrially scenic extra ten minutes we were given, and that, contrasting with the imagery of Ireland’s west coast being so rural, so green, so not this picture of industry that we were seeing. And I loved it.
In Galway City, we sat outside in the cooling evening, along the main, medieval street, blankets across our laps and pizza steaming on the table in front of us. The street hums with people coming in and out of restaurants, potential eaters perusing the menus listed outside front doors, street performers and band members preparing for that night’s set. At Trattoria Magnetti, I sung the praises of my carbonara pizza and Sam relished the margarita.
We decided to walk around a bit, two buzzes along with that evening hum, and on our way back to catch the bus, stopped at the only store open, a small Tesco’s where we each decided to buy a sleeve of digestive cookies. They looked tasty, their bottoms coated in rich chocolate. While abroad two years ago, I’d always seen them, but never tried them. Why? I kept asking myself from that night. Why would I do that?
It began to rain while we stood at the bus stop, but we didn’t care. We tightened the hoods around our faces, did a jig over the cookies in our hands, the warmness in our stomachs, and the lightness in our hearts. We knew our way back.
The thing about getting lost is that you’ll regain your footing. Even when directions are vague, or cities/countries don’t indicate streets with signs, or you just don’t know where the hell you are or what you’re doing there (in cases like this, specifically). It’s okay not to know it all. Or, purchase an international plan if you’d feel safer doing that. But that ruins some of the “it’s kind of out of my hands but I’ll get back eventually” humor. Sometimes, it’s just really fun to end up at the wrong stop. It’s even more fun when you’re sitting with your best friend, replaying the day while eating through a roll of dark chocolate digestive cookies, and savoring the way the late June light over Ireland lingers past 9 pm.
Cheers to detours!