It’s 8:35 p.m. and I am standing at the Ryanair ticket booth in the Adolfo Suárez Madrid Airport Terminal 1. I have missed my flight to Dublin.
In this moment, I was living the traveler’s nightmare. Realizing that no one was here to help me through this crisis, I had to figure out what to do next. I took this failure as an opportunity to practice resilience, and as an excuse for a good adventure.
I proceeded to book a flight to Manchester, the nearest city with a cheap flight that was leaving today. The idea felt both brilliant and ridiculous, but the moment I got off the plane was a giant affirmation that, yes, this would be a strange new experience, and would probably make for a story.
If you’ve ever seen Hair the Musical (it’s an American hippie rock love story), you’ll understand the excitement of actually being in Manchester, England, England. Fabulously, once I found my way to the bus, my station was called Picadilly. There was something so charming about the name Picadilly. It felt so storybook-esque. I began to pick up on the other isms inherent in this culture. 1. The bus driver actually referred to me as “love.” 2. People kept talking about a “tube.” 3. This accent.
Have you ever had a moment’s pause at customs, the abrupt realization that the person across from you asking whether you’ve brought any gifts or have been working on a farm in the last fourteen days truly knows nothing about you? This wild idea hits me that my story could be literally anything. I flirt with the prospect of becoming someone new, just for a moment when I assure them that I am not carrying more than $10,000 of valuables, but decide against it. I guess the odds are too high and the thrill won’t really have much of a payoff, besides some sort of personal inside joke. What would I even say?
The thing is, and I recognize with what privilege I say this, I’m a young white blonde girl who looks the farthest thing from sketchy you could possibly imagine. I got a nose ring once to make me look a bit more ferocious and unapproachable. This did not work. I still get stopped in the street quite often and asked for directions, drugs, or money, because I think I have the kind of face or figure that makes people say, ‘huh, she probably couldn’t rob a bank if she tried,’ or maybe ‘huh, that girl sure looks like she knows where to get some crack.’
Now I’m not saying they’re wrong, but this also isn’t the kind of look you’re going for when you’re a solo female traveler. I’ve taken to kind of hunching over and scrunching my eyebrows in just the right way and sometimes tilting my lip so that I can kind of flash my incisors at you if you stand too closely. On an off day I think it makes me look epileptic.
So we’re on the bus and half way to Picadilly it hits me that we are on the wrong side of the road. I notice this precisely as another bus hurtles towards us and I gasp, expecting a crash, before it passes on the right and literally no one else raises an eyebrow. Oh, Britain. I start to think of how much easier it would have been to study abroad in this country where I can actually communicate seamlessly with just about everyone. I feel so liberated, also so painfully American.
The next morning, I wandered through downtown Manchester and took some obscenely touristic photos of British phone booths, structures that we Americans romanticize beyond comprehension. Reality check, folks: it smells like urine and is a small box you stand in and serves do something which we now use Nano SIM cards for. But I don’t mean to be too cynical; I loved it.
I found myself on a train to Liverpool. I was listening to Abby Road. It was wonderfully romantic. I was working off of this paper map that had creased so severely in my pocket that I couldn’t read some street names. At least people spoke English, though, and I walked passed three fish n’ chips shops before finding another train to the airport.
My flight was to Belfast City, and from there I planned to take a bus to Dublin. What I wasn’t prepared for was the five hours to kill in the airport. After countless failed Sudoku puzzles and, out of utter desperation, some travel-sized-toiletry-item shopping, the plane was delayed. Part of the adventure. My patience was wearing.
Belfast City: you know you’re either a world traveler or probably a very disoriented flight attendant when you get off the airplane and you actually have to ask the information desk, “excuse me, I’m so sorry, but what’s the currency here?” The answer was pounds, in case you were wondering.
It wasn’t too difficult to get to Dublin from there—I just had to take a bus to the center of town and find another bus to Dublin and then figure out how to get from the city center to my hostel.
Wanderlust continues to propel me towards whimsical adventures and exhausting and unnecessary trips.
Learn Irish: Dia duit – Hello