May 2018

The seaside town of Howth lies approximately 29 minutes east of Dublin. It’s been a trip two and a half years in the making, and the end result was worth the wait.

No matter how much the city of Dublin captures my heart and undivided attention, I need breaks from urbanity. Ireland is renowned for its spectacular coastal villages, and Howth is no exception. It is a haven of a peninsula, a collection of centuries-old nobility and ruins, endless views of the water, and the best fish and chips you may ever have.

We boarded the DART train from the Pearse Street Station and rushed away from the city center. Howth’s impact was instantaneous. It’s the perfect small getaway when you don’t want to travel too far. Here’s a quick guide on how we spent our time–and stomach space.

**Note: These photos were all taken in the same 2-hour span of time. Some were taken moments apart. That sort of weather is the cheeky play normal on the Emerald Isle. 🙂

Along the shining sea

From a break in the main road, the peninsula unfolds. Inch along the railings, past seafood restaurants and cafes, until you reach the end. All the way is the harbor, and the further you trail from the town the more of its shades of pastel homes and shops. Overlooking the lighthouse and stretch of beach to the left, we stood and witnessed the seagulls ducking in and out of the sky, swooping over the sapphire waves.

We meandered around for about an hour, the sun’s poking out from behind the cloud kept us lingering along the breezy edge. For a place to sit with a book or excellent company, look no further than this point!

The cliff walk, Howth Castle, and lighthouse are well-known ways to visit the village. It was extremely windy that day, and our tired feet didn’t want to traipse on. (I don’t totally blame them, and now I have more reasons to come back!)

At the weekend market

On weekends and bank holidays, Howth hosts craft and food vendors in an enclosed outdoor space, sectioned off by shops to weave in and out of. It has become a permanent fixture in the town after years of having a more pop-up status. Peruse inside for artsy trinkets and outside for antiques, organic produce, freshly baked bread, and sweet treats. We saw some lovely local artwork and woodwork for sale. I was enamored with wooden coasters that were carved with the names of Irish cities, as well as a heart filled with its colors. Now it’s another item of Irish decor in my room.

Kaylee and I couldn’t help ourselves, and despite having devoured a large breakfast at the Queen of Tarts earlier in the day, we bought cupcakes. They were right at the entrance, beckoning out to us, demanding that we buy one…

Buns is Ireland’s first full-fledged cupcake bakery, selling cakes in small white cups and decorated with a creamy swirl of frosting, my favorite part of any dessert. I picked out a vanilla 99, inspired by Ireland’s famed 99 cones. What a classic goddess it was.

If we hadn’t been flying back to Boston the next day, odds are that we would have left with armfuls of bread in tow–and a big box of cupcakes.

In the Beshoff Bros. Restaurant

We got a bit confused about the Beshoff Bros. takeaway place, not venturing past the front door to order our fried haddock to be delivered in a piece of newspaper, but we were very happy in its connecting restaurant next door.

As a New Englander, my pride in our seafood is unmistakable. I have no bones about spreading the word that we are the face of Good Seafood. Ireland knows how to do fish and chips like no other, though. I’ve never had it as good anywhere else. You can taste the freshest, highest quality ingredients in every bite. Beshoff Bros. is the place to be for all of your fish and chips fantasies, and we were certainly swimming in them. Fear not, for they serve a whole range of seafood delights to rock your world.

Initially, I didn’t feel dressed up enough for the occasion, but surrounding us were enough parties dressed similarly casual to us that I didn’t feel out of place. Kaylee and I split a plate of their fried haddock and chips, which was the perfect amount for two people already slightly bursting.

I’m drooling just thinking about the crispy outer skin of the fish, the breakaway into flavorful meat, and the added zest of tartar sauce. You guys, there was just nothing like it.

So there you have it! A half day or full day is absolutely worth your time. The quickest out you might find from Dublin, and the most delicious. With its intimate downtown and natural beauty in tow, you can do no wrong.

Are you adding Howth to your list?
The water has always been a close friend, and swimming my summertime joie de vivre. I am an urban gal at the core, but nothing brings me happiness quite like the ocean blue.

My family and I, all probably made up 90% of water, tried our hand at the paddle with City Kayaking in Dublin, a 2-hour kayaking round trip on the River Liffey. Congregating at the company’s small trailer near the Samuel Beckett bridge, guests are provided a group locker for storage, a vest, an oar, and, in cooler temperatures or on rainy days, a waterproof jacket and pants. The Saturday we went was splendid, a rare cloudless day teetering on 70 degrees, so sunglasses were in order and later, red skin caressed our hands and necks.

My mom packed us all water shoes, which was a life-saving choice. We purchased Barerun quick-dry water shoes from Amazon, which you can find here. Our sneakers, in turn, stayed dry, while we paddled in lightweight comfort. I would absolutely wear them more if I could. (Summer 2018 may seen the advent of my new style choice…)

We were part of a group of thirty two, so the surge of kayaks hitting the water must have been a marvel from Dublin, above. My mom and I matched my dad and Brady in little green-streaked yellow canoes. Our guides helped us slip safely into our kayaks and gave quick directions on steering ourselves out of the passageway we were in.

Like many long distance relationships, mom and I were doomed from the beginning as we attempted to latch onto the splintering wood boardwalk to our left, and instead collided with the tail end of three kayaks and regretfully let the current drag us away.

“Sorry in advance,” my mom said to our victims as we drifted past. “Oh, don’t worry,” a few replied, laughing, “we’re not going to be great at this!”

They were great at it, the narrator said.

As for us? Not five minutes after we were officially cruising, mom said from behind me, “I should have gone with Brady.” Yeah, you should have, I thought, aggravated and already wishing we could turn around. Every time our paddle returned from below the rippled surface of the water, we splashed Liffey in our hair and laps.

Kayaking is about unison. It requires two paddlers to become one, to disregard all but the direction of the oars and the timing of their strokes below the surface. My mom and I are extremely close, often riding on the same brain waves; still, we just couldn’t locate the key. We were moving with the current and somehow, the water was a barricading force, a nightmare of being chased by something and not moving at all. In our case, mom and I crashed with the cement sidings along the Liffey and once in a while with others. We ended up far enough behind that our pauses of frustration turned to admiring the bobbing boats ahead. Eventually, the guide bringing up the tail of the group asked if we wanted a lift to catch up with the others and, with slight defeat in our voices, said yes, please.

Brady and my dad, among the other bobbing boats, were tranquility personified. Dad did a majority of the paddling, while Brady occasionally lifted his paddled from his lap and, with an old-pro’s hand, stroked the water. They steered straight. They didn’t wish they were with mom or me.

The problem? We observed too much.

And not only observed too much, but questioned our own skills too much. We watched what everyone else was doing and followed it up with, “Why can’t we do this?” Without actually implementing the tricks we were noticing, we continued on disjointedly. It was like neither of us wanted to not be able to do it. We wanted to be able to latch on naturally, without help from anyone, and sort of without each other.

That’s just not how things work.

As we hung onto the red lifeboat, our guide gave us the simple solution. “Paddle on either side until you start to turn. Then paddle on the opposite side to straighten out.”

After being deposited at the edge of the group and thanking the guide, it started to work. Mom and I still faced scrutiny of one another and our inability to get the full hang of it, but we plugged on. It’s really not as easy an activity as I’d imagined it would be, current in our favor or no. Before the group was ready to turn around, mom and I were still a bit of a ways away, but we weren’t alone.

On a kayak, my love for Dublin bloomed in exquisite freshness.

As my initial irritations melted away, all I could see and feel was Dublin. The cityscape etched into my veins found me in the center of it all. Floating past landmarks of the city’s and my own making, I was witnessing a place so familiar to me with new eyes. With my family, remembering how insignificant our kayaking talents were in the grand scheme, I was smitten by Dublin almost as if for the first time.

We turned around just before reaching the Guinness factory. There, mom and I sighed and began our attempt at turning the boat around. Our anticipation of it was worse than the act itself. As if saying, “Abracadabra!,” mom and I were facing the opposite direction. I remember thinking, “That went well…” and wishing the jinxing thought away.

Smooth sailing immediately was our middle name.

I’m still perplexed by the fact that water rushed against us and we so deftly paddled against it. It didn’t comply with the laws of nature, which mom and I laughed about the entire way. Maybe fighting the current is smoother than it sounds. Sometimes I believe my mom is wired to swim upstream, doing so with immense grace, and maybe we just understood its riffs. However it happened, we didn’t put up any sort of battle as we paddled. The Liffey almost did the work for us.

Sun on our backs, water soaking our clothes, chuckles chasing their way out of our throats, we kayaked on.

To kayak is to be in unison, in stroke and joy. We found our rhythm, and as we jetted ourselves swiftly across the river, discovered new swells of love for where we were.

Yeah, we were one of the last people to dock. This time, we hadn’t even noticed.

Visiting Information

I highly, highly recommend a tour with City Kayaking. To purchase your tickets, visit their site here. Definitely get your water shoes ready.

I fell in love with Krakow at first sight.

It was after 10pm when we were dropped off at our AirBnb, just outside of the Old Town, and the cobblestoned street shimmered with rain, the dimmed glare of store windows, and the town beckoning night on. Krakow was enchanting, and didn’t try to hide it. Even a drive through Krakow’s outskirts was remarkable, the road dotted with Austrian-style houses between flourishes of forest. Krakow is the most beautiful city I’ve ever visited, and overall one of my favorites. It was comfortable, expressive, and delicious. It wove its poetry around me, the unhurried meter of a bon vivant nature.

How shall I measure my undying affection? In pieces of conversations snagged from the memories floating around my mind.

“It’s only forty-five minutes away.”

Our feet were our cartographers, charting routes that we watched blossom in front of our eyes. Given that the weather was (as we were told, unseasonably) warm, and the streets came to life like a gorgeous pop-up book, we weren’t prepared to miss a single bit of it. It was all very laissez-faire, especially for us. Known to be early risers and seize the day-ers, we didn’t rush out the door every morning as is our norm. Instead, we’d wake up whenever–though whenever is generally by eight in the morning–enjoy our coffee, sleepily gaze out over the balcony and catch conversation bites or the April breeze, change, whip out our sunglasses, and go.

We were swept up in this drift, and it trickled down into everything about Krakow. No walk was too long, no destination too time sensitive for the occasional detour or photo-op. (Occasional, frequent… same thing.) It’s the way that Krakow presents itself: effortless and easygoing.

If we’d booked ourselves to the brim with activities, we wouldn’t have walked the length of the city for no reason other than to see it. Simply blending into its vibrancy was entertainment at its finest.

The discoveries kept coming, the more we were on our feet. And we hit an average of 20,000 steps a day!

As I’ve mentioned before, walking is my main squeeze. We circled blocks for restaurants, to see what piqued our interest, and to not miss out on any possibilities. So was our mantra for three days here–it was too beautiful and walkable any other way. Aside from a couple of instances taking open air taxi cabs, everything was on foot. Kaylee and I sat in the back seat both times, which face backwards and bring you head to head with the vehicles behind (or, technically, in front of) you.

“That couch was one of the comfiest places I’ve ever slept.”

Ten minutes was all that stood between us and the city center. Every night, we returned to and contentedly collapsed in apartment on the third level of the building.

Our AirBnb was a two bedroom, two bathroom, six person sleeper modern spread that was prime in location and in space. The dishwasher didn’t work, we realized after a morning load, but everything else was functional and cozy at that. Why I love AirBnb is because of how in tune with local living you are. It was top notch at that, and without fuss. Just modernity.

Kaylee and I shared the pullout couch. We kept the balcony door open ajar, fresh air swirling through the room all night, and within moments of lying down we were both ready to conk. Our exercise and Vitamin D intake were a huge part of that; seriously, though, the couch was heavenly. It ranks as a top sleeping spot, taking the top mark from a stay in Dublin two years ago. Also a couch.

Good Zzz’s are fundamental to travel for me, and though I don’t necessarily need a lot of it, I do need a nice place to rest my head. This, oh, this was it.

“If we saw any pit bulls here, I would caption my next Instagram post, ‘Pit bulls and pierogi’.”

Accordingly, I mentally filled in the puppy blank. Passes and pierogi. Piroettes and pierogi. Port de bras and pierogi. The dance technique theme could be taking it too far, but in Krakow, there is an elegance that demands equally as graceful actions be taken. Imagine this: a crescent moon sketched in an ombre blue sky. As the sun reflects triumphantly on the moon, the Old Town town lights from the bottom up, almost a reflection on the current moments of orbit. A French singer strums his guitar by the fountain, and couples pause to listen to his melodic tales. Families sit at outdoor restaurants, agreeing to another pint and reaching for their plates of pierogi and reclining into the day as if it’s just begun. It is a weeknight, and there is no apparent worry of the work day to follow.

Such was the sum of Krakow, a balletic performance whose reverence to the day bows to the right now.

It was the little things that made me want to throw my arms out and spin around circa The Sound of Music. Like the bubble man, spinning the square into effervescence. Or the cherry blossom trees, their petals threading themselves through the grass. Or the company of strangers, every one measured in step and drinking in their setting with eyes, mouth, nose, ears, and hands. We circled one another, and the bounty of our joint happiness poured into the open air.

“It is up to us to remember.”

Prior to coming to Krakow, I knew that its preservation was important to the Germans during World War II. The city was untouched by bombs and blitzes because of how alluring it was to the naked eye. What I’d never fully been aware of was how battered Krakow was in those six years of Nazi occupancy.

We visited Oskar Schindler’s factory, a sanctuary for about 1,200 Jewish people through the war and now a museum of Krakow’s wartime history. We booked a tour here, and our guide, Ewa, was spectacular. Her informative tour went beyond the museum, a museum I wasn’t expecting. I’d assumed it exclusively showcased Oskar Schindler, and maintained the lay of the factory as it had been at the time. One of the first things Ewa told our group at the start of the tour was, “This won’t just be about Oskar Schindler.”

Truthfully, I was a bit taken aback by it. I’d figured that there would be more to the story she would tell us about Oskar Schindler–there is always a complexity to one person that can’t simply be a one-sided talk about their legacy–but now, I wasn’t sure how much we would learn about him, if she was opening with this disclosure.

Once we rounded the landing of the second level, where the museum begins, it made sense. We were embarking on a narrative of the city, its flourish, its fall to Hitler in 1939, its daily life, its injustices, its resilience.

Because, as I learned a bit every day, Polish pride reigned high. Their army was not large or hugely successful, but the country would not surrender its heart.

This doesn’t alter the reality of the situation of the Krakow ghetto and the inhumanness of treatment of the Jewish population. Life was difficult, and I lost my breath in quick turns of emotion. Ewa led us through the years of occupation, pointing out the worn down sign that read Adolf-hitler-Platz, a renaming of the Old Town; the walls of the old ghetto, which were designed to look like headstones; Oskar Schindler’s office. The second to last stop was in the Room of Choices, a rotunda of both good and bad decisions in a variety of languages made by people helping others during the Holocaust.

Overall, it encompassed the horror and the heartache and ended on a note of hope, a reminder that human kindness is otherworldly powerful.

We toured Auschwitz-Birkenau the next day. I’ve hemmed and hawed about writing a post on it, but have decided against it. The raw emotion and sobering realization of standing on those grounds, I think, is too harrowing and personal an experience to share here. I will say, however, that our tour guide, Conrad, gave an exceptional tour. Facing these atrocities is the only way to ensure it never, ever repeats itself, and the tour is given with the deepest respect for victims of the Holocaust. You can book a tour here.

On the morning of our last day, we had booked a tour of Kazimierz, the old Jewish quarters of Krakow. We ended up being the only ones scheduled. (Score!) Jack, our guide, offered wonderful insight into the history of the Jewish quarter. The trendy neighborhood is home to markets, outdoor restaurants, and memorials honoring Jewish victims of the Holocaust. Its life, past and present, are palpable. Book a tour with them here.

“Do we want a slice of cake?”

Eyeing the platter holding a rectangular pineapple cake, Kaylee and I nodded at my mom’s inquiry. We were standing at the counter of the cafe at Krakow’s Museum of Contemporary Art, waiting to order coffee, and none of us could help the fatal attraction. It was every bit as scrumptious as it looked. The coffee was its perfect partner in crime.

This was not the first nor the last of our googly-eyed lust for Krakow’s cuisine scene. I loved that classic and traditional both felt so new and exciting. My few tangos with pierogi and latkes in the past have always been delightful, but I was ready to really dig in to them here.

Pierogarnia Krakowiacy is a quirky little eatery with sit-in and takeaway dining. It’s off the main square, near the end of the street, and adorably cramped.

Kaylee, mom, and I shared our picks of apple and cinnamon, spinach and feta, and tomato and mozzarella pierogi.

At Restaurant Tradycyja, a Polish Italian restaurant in the Old Town, I filled my belly with pierogi stuffed with potatoes and cottage cheese. Not usually one for the latter, I went with it and concluded that cottage cheese is living its best life in a pierogi. Don’t fight me on that one.

Latkes were had at Cafe Mylnek, a ten-minute walk from the last point on our walking tour of Kazimierz. Our plates were arranged Mickey Mouse style to fit three on each. My eyes are often bigger than my stomach, but this time, I was committed. I ordered them without the mushroom sauce. Oof, were they divine.

Donuts might be all the rage in America right now, but the Polish have known about them forever. A traditional packzi can be located anywhere, but we bought ours at Gorace Packzi. Our packzi roza, or rose jam donuts, held out until the next morning, as fresh and bakery-warm as if they’d just exited the oven. The rose was a hair too sweet for me, wouldn’t you know, but the lightly glazed dough matched it brilliantly. From the moment we bought the donuts until the moment of consumption, I laid my nose on the white box and inhaled deeply, an involuntary grin lighting up my slightly sunburnt face.

And then there was the ice cream. *Sigh* Ice cream is right up there with cake as my favorite dessert, and is undoubtedly my favorite wintertime snack. It doesn’t melt, and what’s cozier than curling up under a blanket, plaid pajama set on, watching The Crown, and shoveling coffee cookies n’ cream ice cream into your mouth?

Warmer weather reckons a challenge with me to fit even more ice cream into my diet, which I always oblige. To be in a city that so highly prizes their frosty treat was a serenade.

Cupcake Corner was on our way home one night, and we popped in for cups of salted caramel and peanut butter ice cream. A Chicago expat and group of Polish-American friends decided to open a first-of-its-kind bakery in Poland, serving authentic American cupcakes, pastries, and ice cream. It cropped up virtually everywhere we were in the city–I believe I saw at least three outlets.

From cookie to tiramisu to mint, the flavors were endless and oh so sweet on those warm days. We mostly picked cones up on the way, when we were feeling hot and needing a pick me up. I recommend Lody z Lodziarni and Góralskie Praliny for your creamy indulgence.

Because of Krakow proper’s close confines, it is rooted in locality. A fair number of independent shops and cafes surrounded us, and we even decided on our “local” coffee joint: Big Hat of Coffee. A decaf Americano with brown sugar from them enlivened us with its flavor. Plus, the takeaway cups were darling. Order three beverages and they’ll grant you a free treat. For us, it was their bite-sized cinnamon roll. For something so small, we all got quite a good chunk of it.

We enjoyed pizza at an unassuming trattoria in the Old Town, as well as street food from a kiosk near our apartment. Let me tell you, their meats on grilled baguette special hits every spot.

“The colors…!”

I don’t think this needs any more explanation than this. I mean. Krakow, you stunner, you. Even a see you later! was hard to muster up at the end of our time.

Artsy vibes claim Krakow, too, from store displays to street graffiti.

The fact that the Old Town is encased by a park is incredible. It’s impossible not to want to take time to enjoy that.

And so the world bloomed under spring’s pastel hand. It left me delirious at its touch.

Where are your favorite spots in Krakow? What would you recommend for a return trip?

Hello hello!

It’s hard to believe that my family and I came back from Europe three weeks ago. Kaylee came home from Dublin nine days ago. As sad as I know she was to be leaving home there, I’m very, very happy she’s back.

My parents are the root of my travel bug, raising Brady, Kaylee, and I to seek out the cadences of culture and nature from a young age. I never forget how privileged I am be part of a family who has always prioritized travel. And I’m grateful not only for the places we have been able to go to together, but that we love one another’s company enough to travel all together, even with **mostly** adult children in the mix. There’s the occasional brawl, but would a family trip be complete without frustration? Confined to ourselves for a majority of the time, feelings can’t help but build up sometimes.

Still, they blow over quickly, because they’re stupid things, like someone (don’t look at me…) doesn’t get the directions to a restaurant before heading out and everyone is hungry and tired and sunburnt, and a snap comment is made that the responsible party only worsens. Arguments are a form of love, right? We always laugh about them after, a memory as fresh and valid and memorable as the happier times. For that I am also so fortunate to be part of something that, to me, is one of the most precious things in the world.

There’s never such thing as being too old to travel with your family.

I like it even more as an adult, because the five of us are pals. Only in those heated instances do I remember they’re my family. We’re always bound by blood, but so too are we bound by our fierce liking for our pack.

For the first leg of our trip, we were Kaylee-less. Her group took a weekend trip to the west of Ireland, organized by Champlain Dublin (where I studied and where Kaylee now is finishing her semester), and as we flew into Dublin on Thursday morning, while her day had already begun, we really had no time to see her.

Dublin Airport, Co. Dublin → Ballycastle, Co. Antrim

We arrived at Dublin Airport just after eight in the morning, and from there picked up our rental car to drive up to Ballycastle, Northern Ireland. The flight was one of sleep deprivation, to a desperate point that I suggested to my mom we find something boring to put on and see if that helped us nod off. (Fun fact: an episode of Ice Holes will, indeed, help for a little bit; but the sheer humor of one particular ice fisherman kept me awake. His dog, Bubbles, locked him out of their mobile home, and stood at the window calling for Bubbles to open the door.) Needless to say, the four of us were groggy and the thought of three hours in a car was hellish. Even more so for my dad, our driver.

Along the way we stopped three times, all at the country’s beloved Applegreen rest stops: once for breakfast, and two separate times to park and nap for fifteen minutes at a time. The intermediary (driving) was spent singing along to Joseph and the Amazing Technicolor Dreamcoat, a Maher family classic. So much so, we listened to it twice through on the way up, because Brady fell asleep and, when he woke up, asked if we could re-listen. Maybe we were initially begrudging, but you can only be disgruntled for so long before the possessing powers of “Go, Go, Go Joseph” take hold.

The combination refreshed us, surprisingly, for the entire day.

The weather played into that a bit. Ireland is unpredictable, clear and cloudy skies both nimble and fleeting. Carrying an umbrella at all times is a safe policy. But on both ends of the spectrum, you just never know. What started as a cloudy, chilly morning almost magically dissipated into a gloriously bright, sunny afternoon and evening.

Ireland was even more an ethereal beauty than before. And it was otherworldly to begin with.

My mom and I planned a majority of this trip together, which was a lot of fun. We built it on a “flex plan,” leaving for lots of wiggle room and open-ended possibilities for our schedule. As two lanes became one, drifting deeper into the island’s humble narrative, my mom suggested going to the Carrick-A-Rede rope bridge now, while the weather was nice. So we plugged the address into my dad’s phone and continued along the Antrim coast, leaving us breathless at every new turn.

But on arrival, at just after 2:30pm, we were told the bridge was closed. They would reassess at 3pm.

“Closed for weather?!” I exclaimed, incredulous, once my dad had rolled the window up. “Look at this!” I said, gesturing to the turquoise waters glittering under a golden sun. We learned the next day that they check the weather three times daily–at 9am, 12pm, and 3pm–to determine whether they will be open.

You just never know.

Sticking to the original plan, we visited the Giant’s Causeway. It’s truly amazing what a little shift in the sky will do for the soul: it makes everything sing. Even more than that, what the world will do for you. The four of us clambered along the road winding downwards, admiring the yellow buds bursting among the brush, interlocking arms in pairs to keep up and steady, staggering under the sight of the stepping stone-esque kingdom of giant-constructed basalt columns. I had stood in its presence before, enamored with the fairytale of it all, the magic that nature and folklore had stirred together. It simultaneously felt familiar and fresh, but ever a wonder.

In the car, mom and I munched on a bag of cheese-filled pretzels bought at Logan Airport in Boston as we made our way to our guesthouse, stopping once to capture the coast.

Ballycastle and the Irish coastal charm

After dropping off our luggage, mom and I grabbed our cameras and walked around the property. Just look at this! Then and there, I didn’t want anything else.

Because we’d skipped lunch, we drove into town around 4:30 for an early dinner. It was relatively empty at Finn Patrick’s, aside from the few middle-aged men sipping pints of Guinness and a pair of children belonging to one of them, running into the late afternoon day with pool sticks. It was at least twenty degrees warmer than it had been for us up to the day that we left Boston, but we still relished in the crackling fireplace beside us.

I ordered their beef and Guinness pie, delighted to find a puff pastry baked on top of the stew. My mom and I shared our meals, and we all gasped at the haddock she ordered, as long as my arm from wrist to elbow.

“Why didn’t we just share this?” She laughed, cutting it in half. Though we all chipped in to eat some, the plate was still full with fish. Delicious fish, I-live-in-Massachusetts-and-we-still-don’t-make-fish-and-chips-like-this fish, nonetheless.

Ballycastle at first impact is magnetic. Town of color and seaside shops, it is a point on the Causeway Coastal Route and a treasure among the dazzle of the Antrim coast. It teems with a joyful, freeing bustle. The four of us spent some time along the water and, the next night, explored the local grocery store for some pale ale-d goods. Town gives way to land, gives way to the heart being blown away.

Stories and poems wrapped themselves around my imagination, squeezing tight and asking that it never forgets them there.

It won’t.

The Causeway Coastal Route

On Friday, we remained on the Causeway Coastal Route for a majority of the day. It began at the Carrick-A-Rede rope bridge, which was open on that cloudy, windless morning, and where we were some of the first guests to cross. The walk to the bridge from the ticket booth is about twenty minutes, but it isn’t without striking views of the cliffs and, on a clear day, the edge of Scotland thirteen miles away. This is one attraction I would recommend visiting as soon as it opens, because the crowds come in. We passed a nearly endless cluster of people headed for it on our way back. This way, we had the luxury of time on our side, to walk over waves colliding with rock without being rushed and take photos along the bridge without other people in it.

I’d forgotten the way the bridge can make your stomach plummet a little bit, but in the most thrilling way.

Andrew Jackson’s Ancestral Home

We’d mapped out the day to continue at the furthest end of the route, in Carrickfergus, and wind our way back. Fittingly, the ancestral home of President Andrew Jackson’s parents resides there.

Anyone who knows us know that Brady has turned us into living, breathing presidential flashcards. In the last few years, we’ve made numerous pit stops at presidential homes while on vacation, and as a family of history lovers, these have always been fun. What luck it was when, one afternoon, mom was scouring the interwebs and came across this information. “You’ll never believe what’s in Northern Ireland,” she’d said. I hadn’t.

We arrived at the whitewashed thatched cottage to discover that this isn’t the Jackson’s homestead, but their former neighbors’ and friends’ land. It was after their home had been demolished that people realized who they were and planned to maintain the house next door as a replica.

The guide at the house, Paul, greeted us warmly as we ducked in. He moved so breezily between the story of the Jacksons in Carrickfergus, Darby’s Rangers (whose museum is behind the home), and tips for our route. At the end of our visit, he’d whipped out a few maps of the coastal route and his words blended as he circled, starred, and drew arrows across the green and blue. He even circled the location of his newly purchased home for us.

The Darby’s Rangers museum was interesting. My parents gushed about the film based on this group of American soldiers, sent to Northern Ireland to train during World War II. About 1/7 of the troop survived the end of the war. And it painted a new picture for me of the war that wreaked havoc on Northern Ireland, part of the United Kingdom who was deeply involved in the war, and the Republic of Ireland, which remained neutral.

Choose Your Own Adventure

With nearly thirty stops and a labyrinthine of off-the-path spots, the Causeway Coastal Route was. My mom and I sat in the back of the car and fanned out our maps, for the first time in my life acting in part as the navigator via paper.

In Carrickfergus, we stopped for lunch at Ownie’s, a recommendation from Paul. I warmed up with a cup of coffee, a cup of broccoli cheddar soup, and a chicken salad sandwich which, in its literal sense, was grilled chicken and a bed of lettuce and vegetables between slices of wheaten bread. We sat among a handful of couples sipping wine and catching up over plates of fish and chips.

Outside, the rain was spitting, and the rest of the afternoon was cast in misty gray. But it was ours; and though we didn’t step out of the car too much, we traipsed the coast and counted sheep.

We erased a few places on our list, like the Glenarm Castle, whose signs we missed somewhere along the way. We ended up at other places, like the Glenariff Forest park, where we stood above the foggy Glens of Antrim. We stopped for dinner at the Peppermill in Cushendall, then picked up some treats for the last leg at the local Spar.

The Causeway Coastal Route is wondrous along every turn. And sometimes, around a bend you’ll catch a waterfall hidden behind the trees or a pair of goats standing on the rise of land by the road.

The Iron Islands and Ballintoy Harbor

Recently, in transferring the contents of my phone to a replacement one, I lost 200 photos, almost all of which were from Ballintoy. I suffered a few moments of self-pity, until I remembered I had plenty of photos on my camera. Maybe it was part universe telling me to remember it through the visions constructed in my memory, not on my phone, and that I hadn’t needed to take so many anyways. Either way, Ballintoy Harbor was our second to last stop on the Antrim coast, and with the hues of magic sprinkled over the place.

It’s the site of the Greyjoy’s harbor in Game of Thrones, and slightly unrecognizable but chilling with the awesomeness of it.

It’s one of those places so sharp, so full of color and movement, so dreamlike lovely, that you feel like you’re transcending the earth. Like you’ve just jumped into the middle of a postcard, wondering how this can be real while also falling into a trance so deep it tastes like love.

Wherever I go, I focus on the way the air feels, and the way the sun falls on me. Here it was bright, unfading, a balance to the whipping winds.

Stay: Crockatinny Guesthouse

The Crockatinny Guesthouse was off of the road, in a small cul-de-sac that included the guesthouse and the owner’s home. Our room was a cozy nook on the ground level, overlooking the rise of the property’s greenery. It’s the sort of place I dream about when I’m stressed at work: quaint, dressed in the attire of home, offering sweeping views that settle the mind on first glance.

The Irish are overtly friendly, and our host was the embodiment of hospitality and kindness. We all shared lovely conversation with her, and struck a quick and effortless bond. We don’t have (many) qualms about staying four to a room anyways, but this was a superb place for us to lay our heads at night–and we conked early the first night, waking up ready to seize the day. On our second night, we sat in the sitting room, tried but failed to figure out how to turn the TV on, and drank pints of the Irish lager, Harp.

Though Ireland always leaves me wanting more, I was content to come back and actually do nothing.

Breakfast was included, allowing us to choose items from a traditional Irish breakfast: eggs, sausage, black and white puddings, bacon, soda bread, and potato bread, alongside a buffet table set with yogurt, cereal, fruit, coffee, tea, juice, and milk. HOST’S dog basked in the morning light, a fluffy white husky. Every morning I left happily stuffed with fresh eggs and meat, and if I could have ordered four times the potato bread, I would have happily done so.

Guesthouses make a getaway really feel like one, with the added component of home and connection. There was, I believe, one other couple staying while we where there; possibly two. Whether we were alone or among others, the peace and solitude coupled with the buzz of welcome was needed and loved. And on the Emerald Isle, it’s one of the sweetest authentic experiences to have.

Northern Ireland is, to me, one of the most stunning sights in the world. Have you been? Where else would you suggest a stop?