You know those images of road trips with friends that play through your mind in some magical sequence of blissful nostalgia? Montages of laughter and spontaneous roadside adventures and long stretches of high-speed cruising along ocean cliffs and lush green mountainsides? You know – the kind of Hollywood-warped daydreams of adventure that seem to always be one level above reality because, come on, life is never actually that perfect?
Well, welcome to my weeklong Ireland road trip, where Hollywood became my reality.
I’ll save the full itinerary of that road trip through the Irish countryside for another post, but in sum, those ten days will forever be implanted in my head as a movie montage of laughter, spontaneous roadside adventures, breathtaking scenery that could never be captured by a camera, and escapes from the cold outside to have dinners by the fireplace in pubs that warmed us from the outside in, all the way to the heart. It was everything we thought Hollywood lied to us about, the otherwise unrealistic expectations of reality stemming from watching too many movies with attractive female leads, delusions-of-grandeur-made-reality for ten blissful days spent whipping around impossibly tight roads with my two closest girlfriends, a tiny car lovingly dubbed “Little Blue,” and a playlist comprised largely of Rend Collective and the Narnia and Lord of the Rings soundtracks.
We chose to visit Ireland during off-season (as I typically prefer to do when I travel) during the first week in April of 2017. It was still a bit chilly and grey, with some perfectly-timed burst of warm sunshine that would last just long enough for us to be ready for some magical winter hues again. One of my most common pieces of travel advice for people is to embrace off-season. You’ll get great rates on pretty much everything and will be able to avoid the miserable crowds at some of the hottest tourism spots. Win-win.
So, early April in Ireland: the perfect time for a visit. And this couldn’t have been more evident than it was on the day we visited the Cliffs of Moher.
After several hours of driving, we checked ourselves into the most charming farmhouse bed and breakfast looking out onto a misty ocean horizon and surrounded by nothing other than horses and sheep and miles-long stretches of grassy hills. We dropped our bags in our room and decided to drive the couple of minutes up the road to the Cliffs (yes, we were really that close) to catch a glimpse of this natural wonder at sunset.
Upon arriving, we discovered that it was past “visiting hours” which merely meant that we didn’t have to pay to enter and no one was going to stop us. Already a good sign.
It happened to be one of those moments of perfectly timed bursts of warm sunshine. So while we expected misty view of the famous Cliffs we’d seen on travel sites and Instagram, we instead got blue skies that turned shades of pink and yellow as the sun disappeared behind the horizon. And what was even more perfect? We were the only ones there.
Seriously. There wasn’t a soul in sight. We stripped to our knickers on those cliffs to switch clothing because we each wanted to take turns dancing around in a bright blue gown. We had these magnificent cliffs to ourselves, stretching five miles long and towering over 700 feet above the ocean below – an ocean that somehow appeared both violent and insignificant in comparison to the imposing edge of earth against which its waves crashed. An abandoned stone castle perched itself on the cliff edge, looking out to the sea as if awaiting the return of its long-lost residents who would once again fill its walls with life.
We ditched the paved walkway around the Cliffs that was situated a bit inland, and hopped the fence to spend an hour or so spinning around in the grass along the edge of the grass-covered earth, snuggling into one another as the air chilled and the sunset painted the sky.
When it became too cold to bear, and when we each had lost feeling in at least 30% of our toes, we piled into the car and drove to the nearest little village called Doolin where we parked in front of the only pub that appeared to be open. A sign overhead identified the pub as Gus O’Connors, aptly named for our perfect Irish setting, and it beckoned us inside with the sounds of Celtic tunes and lively bar revelry illuminated by flickering fireplace light that spilled onto the cobblestone street outside.
It was here that our Hollywood montage continued, as we sat in the corner of this stone-walled ancient pub, perched on creaky wooden benches, warming up over bowls of stew and pints of Guinness, listening to singers lead the house in traditional Irish folk songs accompanied by a group of grey-haired men with various instruments and a seemingly endless supply of stout. Slowly, as the evening wore on, the pub filled with locals. I imagine the entire town crammed themselves into that tiny pub, considering there was nowhere else to go on that chilly night in Doolin and, really, nowhere else you’d want to be.
Under the pressure of my two girlfriends, I downed my pint, channeled all the bravery that those Guinness ads promised, and sat myself next to the grey-haired musicians to lead the packed house in a rendition of one of my favorite Celtic songs from childhood – Carrickfergus, named after the small medieval seaside town in northern Ireland. The room quickly quieted when I began, which gave me the opportunity to really soak in the lyrics of the song and the magic of the place in which I sang it. My version, inspired by Charlotte Church, was a little different from the original and, I felt, entirely appropriate for that evening in a pub just down the road from the Cliffs of Moher:
“I wish I was in Carrickfergus
Where the castle looks out to sea.
I would swim over the deepest ocean
For my love to be with me.
But the sea is wide and I cannot swim over
Nor have I the wings to fly
I wish I had a handsome boatman,
To ferry me over, my love and I.”
And now, when I think back to that picturesque, Hollywood-montage of a road trip with my two favorite girlfriends – reunited with two of the people I love most in this world, and who otherwise live thousands of miles away from me – it will be that scene toward the end of the movie where we stopped for a night at the Cliffs of Moher that will forever stand out, frozen in time as one of those rare perfect memories. My favorite movie scene, set to the tune of Carrickfergus: “Ah, to be back now, in Carrickfergus, to be together, my love[s] and I.” Sometimes Hollywood gets it right.