When I started this grand adventure, there were only a few things I feared. One of those was this two-week period in November that encompasses four back-to-back grief milestones. I wasn’t afraid of the days themselves; I’d already survived them once before. No, what I was afraid of was attempting to get through them all by myself, 5000 miles away from my family and friends. Although my new friends have reminded me I’m not alone even though I’m far from home.
I will not allow my fears to limit my life. And while I could feel my stomach starting to knot up as the first date approached, this was no exception. So I broke bad with a little strategery and will power. I made sure to stack my calendar with fun activities and outings with new friends. My family and friends back home were put on a regular FaceTime schedule so I wouldn’t feel so isolated. And my lovely W’s surrounded me with their long-distance love and support. And most importantly, I gave myself permission to feel the feelings, good or bad. And they’ve been mostly good.
And I made it through the first milestone, the second anniversary of losing my Dad. For those of you who are new, losing him kicked off my downward spiral year-and-a-half of hell. My Dad died a month after we learned of Dan’s terminal diagnosis, and eight months before I lost Dan. The day I told him about it he was heartbroken since he loved Dan like his son. I didn’t want to tell him but had to fess up that I was going to break my promise to visit him every day due to Dan’s chemo schedule and care needs.
We had a heart-wrenching conversation about it. We’d already had a plan of care meeting scheduled for that day, and Dad shared with the social worker that he was concerned about his family and that he didn’t want to be a burden. He believed it was too much for me to deal with and he didn’t want me to visit anymore. My tough as nails samurai Dad cried. I cried. Hell, the social worker and head nurse cried. It was horrible. And, in case you were wondering, I did successfully negotiate my way into continued visitation rights.
That was the last time we had a lucid two-way conversation. Dad knew caring for both of them was going to break me but that I was going to do it anyway. With each visit, I noticed he was a little further away. I will always believe Dad let go intentionally, his last sacrifice to take care of his little girl. I saw it in his eyes that day that he’d made the decision. For those of you who never met him, my Daddy had a willpower like no other. He quit smoking cold turkey the day I was born. He approached everything in life that way. When nothing else would work, sheer will would win the day. That was the Ikeda way. He was the strongest person I’ve ever known. So when he decided that it was time for him to go, it was go time. That Friday the 13th (he was also a real joker) he’d waited until after I’d already visited and til his favorite nurses had left for the weekend. He was alone, which was how he wanted it. No drama, no fuss.
People that knew my Dad have told me that I’m just like him. I take that as a huge compliment, even though I don’t always see it. But I know he’d be proud of me, willpower-ing my survival through this grief journey and all these $hitty milestones. He’d high-five my efforts to re-frame these dates with new happy memories. And he’d give me one of those magic hugs and tell me he loved me and to have faith that everything was going to be okay.
Whew. One down, three milestones to go. But with the help of Team Lisa and the will to choose a positive outlook, I’ve got this. Everything is going to be okay.
The Wandering Widow
Live Now. Dream Big. Love Fierce
P.S. If you are lucky enough to have your Daddy with you, please stop what you are doing and call him or visit him RIGHT THIS FREAKING MINUTE! Hug him for me. Tell him you love him for you.
Kintsugi, or Kintsukuroi, is the Japanese aesthetic that repairs broken pottery with lacquer mixed with gold powder. The belief is that the piece is more beautiful for having been broken. This philosophy honors its survival rather than hiding the fact it was once damaged.
I love this metaphor as it applies to grief recovery, and not just because glitter is my favorite color. I can remember sitting with my grief counselor bawling about how broken I was. And being broken was terrifying. But somehow owning my brokenness, out loud, made it a little better. The simple act of acknowledging my being shattered meant that I also had the opportunity to put myself back together. Someday. With precious metal as the glue.
And it wasn’t easy, but it happened. First I had to crawl around on the floor picking up as many shards of my life as I could find. I was already a broken mess of a grieving human being and their sharp edges cut me open as I tried to make them fit where they once belonged. No one warned me that the grief recovery process could be so gruesome, bloody and painful. What I couldn’t find either couldn’t be replaced or didn’t need to be. The reality is when you’ve suffered a massive loss, you’ll never go back to being the person you once were. Some of those shattered pieces of your heart just turn to dust.
The good news is, with time, your heart has the potential to end up stronger, and more beautiful than you could have ever imagined. Those missing pieces create space for the light to get in, and eventually for sparkly precious metals.
A few months ago I had a conversation with a friend and fellow W. We were discussing our grief journeys, our survival, and the fact that we were both transformed into new people through the grief recovery process. Stronger, kinder, wiser, braver, more loving people. We struggled for words for a bit but were eventually able to express that it was the deaths of our beloveds that were the catalyst for us to become these better people. We were able to take the horror and the pain and transform their loss into a blessing. And that while we never wanted it, we were grateful for all of it. I’m sure if anyone else had been eavesdropping it would have been an odd conversation, but we knew what we meant. Grief’s fiery forges took the raw material of who we used to be and made us MORE.
Neither of us would have EVER surrendered our husbands no matter what kind of higher evolution was waiting for us, but we didn’t get a vote.
And no matter how much time goes by, or how much happiness I’ve created in my new life, every now and again I find another shard. It slices through the soft pink scar tissue of my heart. It hurts. But I know that it’s just a matter of time before it’s glued in there with gold.
Killarney was one of the stops I’d made on my spring trip, and I had some unfinished shenanigans that needed my attention. Since I am leaving a lot to chance on this adventure, it made perfect sense to travel from Northern Ireland to about as far South as I could go in one day. Um, no. It’s a good thing I’m not in a hurry because I spent a whole day on trains, trams, and buses. Fortunately, I continue to luck out meeting cool new people on trains, and this travel day was no exception.
It was also the first place on this adventure I was going back to with a big item that needed checking off my list, and I found my closure at a whiskey bar. I know you’re shocked, but I’m convinced all good stories start with whiskey.
When I first visited Killarney in April, I was having a rough time. I was having fun, but crying myself to sleep every night that I was here on this dream vacation without Dan. After two weeks on the road, I was tired of living out of a suitcase. (That sounds hilarious now). I was tired of getting lost everywhere I went. (Also hilarious since Killarney isn’t large enough to get lost in unless you’re like me and getting lost is your superpower).
So there I was, tired, hangry, and couldn’t find my way back to my hotel. To prevent yet another public cryfest, I got angry. I started yelling at Dan (in my head, no need to let ALL the cray-cray hang out) that this was all his fault. I was angry at him for dying. I was angry that he’d made me promise to take this trip anyway. And I was hangry and knew I was going to lose it soon. I yelled at him to find me a place to have a good meal and an even better whiskey, that wasn’t too crowded with tourists at that hour.
Imagine my surprise and relief when I turned the corner and found Murphy’s Whiskey Bar. My lunch was fantastic, and I did get to try a fancy new whiskey. I also noticed a wall of American police patches behind the bar. There were none from Idaho. It felt like Dan had led me to that spot, and that’s where he wanted his last Caldwell PD patch to end up. (I’d found it in a box just before leaving for Europe). So, threads still attached from where I cut it off his uniform, it’s traveled with me ever since I left home. Now it lives at Murphy’s. Somewhere he is laughing that not only is he hanging out in a bar, he’s also hanging out in an Irish whiskey bar with a bunch of other cops.
When you visit Murphy’s on your next trip to Killarney, look up and raise your glass to Dan Bain. I officially close this chapter of the adventure. Cheers. (Details below as usual)
The Wandering Widow
Live Now. Dream Big. Love Fierce.
THE KILLARNEY PUB CRAWL
Killarney caters to tourists, and you can find live music pretty much every day of the week. I ran out of nights to check it all out.
***PSA: Ordering a Black and Tan or Irish Car Bomb at ANY bar in Ireland makes you an insensitive ass. (If you don’t know why, pick up a freaking history book or google The Troubles). You may be asked to leave. Even if you’re allowed to stay, you’re now embarrassing me. Don’t do it.***
Murphy’s Whiskey Bar: There are two sides to Murphy’s, separated by hotel reception. The cop patches are only on one side (door number three). An excellent choice for lunch or dinner, with an extensive whiskey collection and live music on the weekends. And you can’t forget your opportunity to take a photo of that super sexy Caldwell PD patch for Facebook and Instagram. Tag me so I can send you a virtual high five.
Here’s the scoop on the patches. For my non-American friends, historically many US cops have had Irish heritage and a strong connection to Ireland. One or two patches showed up at the bar one day, and more followed suit. You know how that goes, it then takes on a life of its own. Each patch is a story about how it got there and the person or department it’s connected to. I love that Murphy’s allows them to stay, and that Dan Bain and Caldwell, Idaho (and maybe even me, too) are now part of it.
The Lane Cafe Bar (in the Ross Hotel): If you’re tired of traditional Irish pubs (we’ll have a chat about that later) this contemporary cocktail bar will take good care of you. Good food and a surprisingly large menu considering cocktails in Ireland are limited to two shots.
The Killarney Grand/Liquid Lounge: Live music every night in the traditional bar on the ground floor. Upstairs is a cocktail bar that opens around 11:30 pm with a fantastic piano player.
Reidy’s: Fun place with multiple bars, each with their own theme. Start at the front and keep working your way back until you find a spot you like.
Courtney’s: Pulling pints in three centuries, this traditional pub has a cool, down-to-earth vibe. Perfect place for a pint or a whiskey. TIP: the fireplace is en fuego hot, so don’t stand too close unless you want to set your backside on fire.
O’Conners: Another traditional pub, covered with signed dollar bills. O’Conners will have a soft spot in my heart as the place I tried my first Guinness.
The Flesk: Open only for dinner, and I recommend making reservations. A friend suggested this place, and it didn’t disappoint. Excellent seafood and superior service. I wasn’t out of place in my usual jeans and hiking boots, but you would also blend in if you wanted to dress up a little. Thomas was a gracious host, and you’ll have to ask him about the connection with the American Legion.
THE RUGGED STUFF
Last time I was here I wasn’t able to get out and do any hiking. I overcame my reluctance to hike alone because the trails in Killarney National Park desperately needed my footprints. Glad I did because I found one that’s now on my Top Ten. I’d say “check that one off the list” but know I’ll be back for more. The proximity of this beautiful National Park to the center of town is hands-down my favorite thing about Killarney.
You know I hate driving, so the hop on/hop off Red Bus was my best friend to get to and from town to Killarney National Park sites. Torc Waterfall is about a 5-10 minute walk from the parking lot where you get dropped off. Don’t stop there or you’ll miss all the views. There are three looped trails with varying degrees of difficulty and length to choose from, and bathrooms next to the parking lot.
Keep going, and you can follow a trail along the lake past the Muckross House estate. It’s easy, beautiful and it goes for miles. I encountered only one other hiker that day, so it was like we had the lake to ourselves. I loved it so much I went back more than once. The bus will get you back to town when you’re ready.
Want to stay on a paved path but still be in nature? Start at Killarney House and Gardens and continue until you get to the River Walk. Paths are well marked and maintained, and you’ll get to enjoy some up-close views of the red deer and Kerry cows that roam the area. I know towns and cities in the US that would kill to have a natural resource like this.
Unfortunately, all the ocean-faring activities I’d hoped to do wrapped up at the end of September due to weather. Even when you don’t have a hurricane headed your way, the season ends the first part of October. It looks like I have yet another reason to come back. If boating out to the Skellig or Blasket Islands is a high priority for you, be sure to plan accordingly.
I still can’t get over how friendly people are here. When I got into town, my new neighbors picked me up at the train station, took me to the market, and checked on me every day. And I lucked out with the Airbnb jackpot. Great place and the most attentive and friendly host I’ve ever met, and that’s saying something since they’ve all been fantastic.
Everyone I met gave me great tips for dining and suggestions for the next stops on my adventure through Ireland. I don’t know if they make everyone in Killarney kiss the Blarney Stone when they are born, but I’ve heard the best stories since I got here, and been in stitches since everyone also seems to be a comedian. Even the rare cranky ones.
In addition to catering to tourists, Killarney rolls out all the stops for Americans.
Take a jaunting cart ride through Killarney.
Not a cloud in the sky after Hurricane Ophelia blew through Killarney.
BONUS BEACH DAY!
Hurricane Ophelia blew out all the grey weather and my last full day in Killarney dawned with sunny, warm, blue skies. Since I’ve been so openly in love with Scotland’s beaches, one of my Irish friends decided I needed to give Ireland’s a fair shot. Yowzas, I’m torn. I love the Carribean blue and wildness of the beaches in the Orkneys and Hebrides, but being able to run around the beach and watch surfers without a jacket won out for personal enjoyment. I could have stayed forever.
A short drive up to North Kerry made for a fun afternoon of beach hopping. Ballybunion Beach was my favorite of the five with the cliffs, castle ruins, and a long stretch of sandy beach. I’d recommend staying the night, so you don’t have to rush back, but be aware that most restaurants close up shop in October.
Apologies if you could hear the squee from where you were. The promise of the beach can turn me into a five year old.
Derrymore Beach. My first beach in Ireland.
Rattoo Tower is a restored round tower near Ballyduff. Learn more at roundtowers.org
In case you haven’t figured it out by now, I live in “unconventional” mode as I endeavor to figure out this new post-Dan reality. I try hard to be a good person, but after decades of taking care of everyone else first, these days I do what I want. I don’t feel bad about eating or drinking like a rock star, sleeping in or staying out all night. I don’t feel guilty about leaving home to live the life of a nomad. I don’t feel guilty that I haven’t got a clue where I’m going next or when/if I’ll ever come home. I don’t even feel bad about the fact that other teenagers who have shown up with nieces and nephews were warned not to be shocked by their Aunty Pirate who SOMETIMES sports a colorful vocabulary that could make a Marine blush. Before you lecture me, they hear it all at school. And I kinda DGAF.
But there is one thing for which I give many f@#$s. I’ve recently learned there is a group of young people who are watching my every adventure move. Their parents are sharing my travel stories (language cleaned up, of course), or they are following on their own. (Dear parents, rest assured I keep Instagram clean). I have heard that teenagers sit around sometimes and talk about what adventure I had that week. OMG!
This knowledge is overwhelming on multiple levels. For the first time in life, cause it sure didn’t happen when I was one, some teenagers think I’m cool. I’d high five myself, but what a freaking responsibility. I’ve said from day one of this adventure that what I want my nieces and nephews to remember about me is that I lived the #$!@ out of every minute and that no matter how scared I was, I never let fear stop me from pursuing life and love. I want them to learn that risks are worth taking and that making memories will always be more important than acquiring things. I want them to know that sometimes life is $hit for no reason (thank you Sheila for this quote), but we have a choice in how we move forward when bad things happen. If your kids are following along, I wish the same for them too. And, no promises, I’ll see what I can do about the language.
The Wandering Widow
Live Now. Dream Big. Love Fierce.
Before I left Scotland, someone in Glasgow described Belfast to me as very European, and I had no idea what that meant. I get it now. Belfast boasts a diverse population with a seemingly endless supply of shops, restaurants and pubs to enjoy. If Scotland’s landscapes and single malts are rugged and handsome, those in Belfast are smooth, charming and a helluva lotta fun. Wait, what were we talking about?
Unlike Scotland and the Republic of Ireland, this was my first trip to Northern Ireland. For those of you who didn’t pay attention in school, NI is a separate country and part of the UK. I’d heard that the people of Belfast like to have a good time, are iffy when it comes to the rules, and have a quick (and dark) sense of humor. All accurate from what I’ve observed. My outsider’s theory is that their experiences during the Troubles have cultivated a collective “Live Now” attitude, which resonates with my heart and might be why I fell in love with it instantly.
It hasn’t stopped raining since I got here, but it feels warm and welcoming nonetheless. I’ve spent a good chunk of my waking hours laughing, and laughter is good for the soul. The day I spent at the salon getting my hair cut, laughing so hard I was almost crying at my sassy young stylist’s descriptions of Irish men and football players by region. I’m laughing out loud right now as I remember it. She should take that comedy bit on the road! Or listening to my driver’s explanation why Belfast is the best city in Europe. (FYI every taxi driver in every city I’ve been in insists their city is the best value for the money). Or laughing while listening (it’s not eavesdropping if they’re so loud you can’t help it) to a group of university students’ thoughts on life, girls, and why they are going to solve the world’s problems. Cheers dudes, I genuinely hope you do.
Don’t get me wrong; Northern Ireland has its share of rugged beauty. With the Giant’s Causeway, the Carrick-a-rede (not for the faint of heart) rope bridge, and countless miles of gorgeous hiking trails, there is a lot more to this place than just the city.
Although after just one afternoon I decided to make Belfast my home base for this week. I had to hopscotch my hotels a bit since the sold-out FIFA World Cup qualifier between Northern Ireland and Germany affected availability significantly. If you can’t beat ’em, join ’em. Right? I got laughed at by everyone I asked about getting a ticket, but thanks to some new friends I connected with a lovely gentleman who was too ill to attend (I really hope you’re feeling better Dave!) who agreed to sell me his ticket since I was a visitor. Wow. What a memorable experience! To all the doubters who told me to give up trying, this is a good reminder that all kinds of good things can happen in life if you have faith, friends, and don’t quit taking chances.
If you’re planning a trip to Ireland, don’t forget to head north. I fell in love with Belfast and will be back soon since a week wasn’t nearly enough time to get to know this city. (Details below as usual).
The Wandering Widow
Live Now. Dream Big. Love Fierce.
St. George’s Market.
Looking for Belle and Beast at Belfast City Hall.
That’s right you typo maniacs, now that I’m in Northern Ireland that’s how you spell it. There’s lots of it. Some of it is crap, some blessed by the angels. Maybe someday when I’ve completed the Scottish single malt challenge, I’ll start working my way through all the Irish stuff. Until then, you’ll have to decide for yourself what your favorite is. My current splurge is the Redbreast 21, and I will forever owe a couple of cool Canadian dudes for this recommendation.
There is no way to get through all of them, so here are a few I recommend.
Brennan’s Bar (City Centre):
Fabulous service, decent pub food, good wifi, and Sunday’s feature an all-male staff. Don’t judge me. It backs up to a tiny street called Bains Place, so I was obviously meant to be there. That and it came highly recommended by some Idaho friends who were recently here. Thanks Jimmy and Michelle!
The Crown Bar (City Centre):
Owned by the National Trust and directly across the street from the Europa Hotel, the Crown features some incredible woodwork and stained glass. This place is worth a look even if you don’t like pubs, but it’s likely to be packed at all hours of the day.
The Harp Bar (Cathedral Quarter):
This one came highly recommended by my Belfast guru, and I can see why. We loved it so much we went back three times! The live music and atmosphere quickly made it our favorite place. My only complaint is that my drinks were always double the price when poured by a female bartender.
The Dirty Onion (Cathedral Quarter):
One of several pubs that claim to be the oldest building in Belfast. Friday night was rocking with fantastic live music, and the patio was full. Sunday night not so much. It’s around the corner from Harp Bar and The Duke of York, so be sure to stop in.
Just like the whiskey and the pubs, there are almost unlimited dining options, so here are my two favorites.
Hadski’s (Cathedral Quarter): An epic Belfast Pub Crawl can really work up an appetite. We found Hadski’s and lucked out. They were full, but had two seats open in front of the chef. Are you kidding me? Those are the best seats in the house because your dinner comes with a show. The food was plated so beautifully I felt bad digging into it. Then I realized it was so delicious I didn’t care and had to refrain from licking the plate. If you’re going to be in the Cathedral Quarter, go there. Happy noms!
Fratelli’s (City Centre): I stayed in City Centre for a few days. I liked Fratelli’s and dined there more than once. I’d describe the food as Italian with a delicious twist, and the restaurant has a robust wine menu. Hey, a girl can’t live on whiskey and pub food alone. Excellent service despite being a solo diner on very busy evenings.
THE RUGGED STUFF
Giant’s Causeway: This lengthy stretch of hexagonal basalt columns is geology nerd cool, and far more accessible than Scotland’s Isle of Staffa. That may also be why it was less impressive to me. Sorry, Northern Ireland. I still liked it, just wish I’d visited the Causeway before Staffa. My recommendation is to get there first thing in the morning (or late in the day) to avoid busloads of annoying tourists.
I promise to give it another shot. I do appreciate that so many people can go to experience the science behind this world heritage site, and it looks like some fun hiking. Minus the tourists. And before you say it, I’m a traveler, not a tourist. Completely different mindset and behavior.
Carrick-a-Rede Rope Bridge: They closed the bridge for crossing the day I visited due to crazy high winds. While disappointing, I didn’t come all this way to die. It’s a freaking rope bridge. It sways in the wind. If the wind were strong enough to push grown men (and one short girl) around on the trail, attempting a crossing would be beyond terrifying. I’ll be back to take on that bridge another day.
The Troubles: In my opinion, political history tours about the Troubles are necessary for foreigners to understand the current culture of both Northern Ireland and the Republic of Ireland. When I mentioned the Troubles to family and friends back home, I was surprised how few people knew anything about it beyond a song by U2 or some vague recollection of the IRA. I know it isn’t our country’s history, but it is part of our global history and no different from taking a tour of the USS Arizona Memorial in Hawaii or visiting the Hiroshima Peace Park in Japan. I won’t go into detail (click the link to educate yourself) but felt the tour I did was pretty neutral and fact-based, and I learned a lot. Kudos to my guide JR because I was unable to guess which side he’d grown up on, and he still won’t tell me.
Another thing I think I liked about Belfast, is directly related to the Troubles. I can’t quite put my finger on it and will probably butcher this, but there were so many widows created here during that time frame that my being a young W is no big whoop since everyone knows one and it doesn’t make me a freak of nature like I often feel at home with non-W’s. The loss of life during The Troubles is horrifying but, for the first time since Dan died, I feel like my tribe has expanded beyond my local widow’s group to an entire community. As I said, there is no clear or easy way to describe it, it’s just a feeling I have.
Irish Genealogy: Do you claim Irish heritage? JR gave me a good tip, and I spent some time at PRONI, the Public Records office, trying to track down additional information on my great-great-great-great-grandparents who left Co Antrim sometime after 1802 for the US. Unfortunately, there isn’t much information available before the mid to late-1800s unless you know what church your ancestors belonged to, so the only new bit of information I was able to glean was the name of their parish. Kudos to the lovely Paul who spent a fair amount of time helping me search, even though I could tell by his facial expression that it was hopeless. And the fact he said to me that it was almost undoubtedly impossible if I didn’t know the church affiliation. (Dear Paul’s Boss: Please give him a raise because he didn’t roll his eyes once despite my endless and annoying questions and “what if” optimism).
There is no charge to visit PRONI, but you’ll need valid government-issued photo identification to access the records. Your passport will do fine to get your new official ID card. PRONI is just a short walk from the Titanic Museum, so if this is something you’re interested in schedule adequate time to visit. And bring as much information with you as you can. Names and dates alone aren’t very helpful.
Random thoughts on a Thursday. I’m okay, just thinking out loud about how far I’ve come and the lessons I’ve learned on this journey.
Two years ago today I was on the receiving end of the private conversation that told me I was going to be a widow and that we needed to stay positive for Dan. This conversation was so private I didn’t tell anyone else about it. It hurt too much to acknowledge. I was auto-enrolled in “how to be a widow” training, which was the name I gave my Widow 101 counseling sessions provided by the cancer clinic. I was in shock and denial. There was no way this f’n diagnosis was correct. They don’t call it practicing medicine for nothing, and I told the doctor as much. I put my big girl panties and my war gear on and attacked cancer the same way I took on any challenge or project. I was Lisa By God Bain and still operating under the belief that I had control and could bend this diagnosis to my will. I put on the “we got this face” for Dan and our family and friends but cried in private every single day. Every. Single. Day.
A year ago today I was at rock bottom, fighting the effects of the PTSD and anxiety that no one warned me could come with grief. Instead of fighting to keep Dan alive, I was waging an internal battle every day to keep myself alive. Or at least breathing, since being alive and living are two very different things. Despite being surrounded and supported and loved by the amazing people in my life, I’d never felt so alone and isolated. I’d lost my will to live.
Today. Today I’m both alive and living. I’m happy and at peace, two feelings I wasn’t sure I’d ever know again. I’ve rediscovered my laugh, my sass, and my hope for the future. I love my life, and I’m grateful for each and every minute of it.
Like I said, just random thoughts about this journey. I’m okay. I’m better than okay. I’m Living Now. For my fellow travelers on our collective grief journeys, please don’t give up hope. Our paths are all different but it does get better. You will heal, even though you may not believe that now.
The Wandering Widow
Live Now. Dream Big. Love Fierce
Over the last few months, I’ve written a lot about going with the flow and trusting my intuition as I navigate this new post-Dan reality. Unfortunately, there isn’t a process map for picking up the pieces and starting over, and I have had to learn to trust my heart to guide me. It’s something I encourage my fellow W’s to do as well. No one knows you, or what you need, as well as your heart does. As much as I try to live that way, every now and again I still need a reminder, and Oban was most certainly a beautiful one.
Oban is best known for its single malt distillery, but this Western port has got a lot more than that to offer. The seafood is legendary, and it’s the jumping off point to explore the Hebridean Islands. I did a lot of research for this trip, so before I left home, I’d put it on my list of possible home bases.
But when I passed through Oban a few weeks ago on my way to the Isle of Skye, I found it underwhelming so took it off my list of places to stay. That was shortsighted and dumb. Due to some scheduling limitations, and the encouragement of my friend (and Scotland expert) Gavin, I decided to go back. Yay me! (Or, yay my intuition and Gavin). Out of all the places in Scotland I’ve fallen in love with (which is most of the country), Oban is the one I feel I could put down roots and stay long term. I can’t believe I almost missed out on that.
So my dear W’s, trust your heart. Trust your instincts. Only you can decide where this journey will take you. And wherever that may be, it will be the right place for you.
The Wandering Widow
Live Now. Dream Big. Love Fierce.
Since I chose not to drive in Scotland, I relied on public transportation. Oban is a four-hour train ride from Edinburgh. The train ride was incredibly beautiful, and you’ll be able to relax and enjoy your trip through the Trossachs. TIP: The earlier you buy your tickets, the less expensive they will be.
I knew I wanted to stay on the Corcoran Esplanade, a short strip of super cute B&Bs right on the water and a five-minute ocean front walk to the center of town. I’d been referred to Kilchrenan House by my B&B Hosts at the Pipers Lodge when I was in Skye. Availability was an issue since I’d waited so long to decide where I wanted to go. So instead of a full week, I was only able to get four days. Four beautiful days! Book early, especially if you want to stay for awhile. I don’t think four days was enough and would have liked at least a week if not two. Frances and Colin are super friendly and welcoming hosts, and you can’t beat the amazing view of the ocean at breakfast, or the sunsets in the evening from the front porch.
If you tried to force me to choose between the ocean and the wooded hills and mountains, I couldn’t do it. Thankfully, in Oban I don’t have to.
The Inner Hebrides:
I decided to do a day tour of Iona, Mull, and Staffa, which are part of the Inner Hebrides. My scheduled tour got canceled due to weather the first day, but I was able to get on one the next day. Good thing, since it was sunny and the ocean was pretty calm.
It was freaking fantastic, although Mull was just a pass-through so shouldn’t be advertised as part of the tour. Staffa is the famous basalt column island that is home to Fingal’s Cave. I wish I’d had several hours here, but did get down to the cave and also had a chance to scramble around up top and enjoy the views.
Iona was stunning. Crystal blue waters, white sand beaches, and the greenest fields I’ve seen outside of Ireland. If you like to hike, you’ll want to spend a whole day here. I’ve already decided on my next visit that I’ll need to overnight on Iona to fully explore the trails.
I’d been advised by fellow travelers to make reservations at EE-USK as soon as I got to Oban, which I did. Wow! The seafood and service were superior. And despite being a Table for One, I was seated at a window table so I could enjoy the best view they had to offer. Top notch, so be prepared to pay for it.
First of all, whisky in Scotland isn’t called Scotch and isn’t spelled with an “e” so please stop messaging me about typos. This whisky woman knows what she is doing.
Now on to the business of single malts. Oban grew up around the distillery. That means it’s an entire town centered on the production of an amazing single malt. It also means that the distillery can’t expand. Their Instagram boasts “great from small, ” and they rock it. Their copper stills are works of art, and I would encourage you to do a tour (even the short one) to check it out. Here science and art come together to make beautiful single malt babies. If you’re a whisky fan, I also recommend doing the four taster, since we can only get one or two of those easily in the US.
Beyond the tour, go across the street to the Oban Whisky and Fine Wine Shop and talk to James. He was able to turn his single malt hobby into a business, which is both cool and makes me a little envious. And he knows his stuff. In addition to the tasters and education, he gave me suggestions on which newer distilleries would be coming online soon, and which whisky bars in Glasgow would likely have the lost and silent stuff on my single malt challenge checklist. And, now that I know the Old and Rare whisky festival is a thing, it’s going on the bucket list.
Okay, so I know adventure and slowing it down don’t usually go together. But that’s what this week was all about. I still have 11 months left to go on this adventure, and I’m notoriously bad at pacing myself. Hey, this is all new to me. I’ve never had a vacation where I could take so much downtime and not feel guilty about it. Sleeping in, coffee in bed, and writing for hours isn’t something I’ve ever gifted myself with on an itinerary.
I chose to stay in Edinburgh and rented a cute flat in walking distance to both Portobello Beach and Arthur’s Seat. Each evening as I sat enjoying the view with a glass of wine, Arthur’s Seat (on my list to hike since my last trip here) would silently mock me through the living room windows. Whatever Dude, I’ll get to you when I feel like it. (Which I eventually did).
I took time to smell the flowers, walk on the beach, people (and dog) watch, and eat ice cream on the promenade. There is something about the ocean that is soothing to the soul, even one as unremarkable as Portobello Beach. But this island girl will take any beach she can get and be happy about it.
This week was also a good reminder that we need to make time to rest on our grief journeys (and life in general). Sometimes we are so eager to get away from the horrible emotions and feelings that we choose “busy” as a shield as we run pell-mell towards grief recovery. The truth is, those feelings aren’t going anywhere, but if you’re too tired to face them you won’t get anywhere fast, and it’s easy to start drowning again. So be kind and every now and again give yourself permission to take a timeout.
Walk on a beach.
And eat ice cream.
The Wandering Widow
Live Now. Dream Big. Love Fierce.
The super cute flat I rented was in Portobello. My Airbnb hosts (the same cool people who left me a bottle of wine when I checked in) were awesome! I’d mentioned how much I loved the beach, so they called one day to invite me to join their family beach walk out at Yellowcraig, a beach I wouldn’t have found on my own since it was about a twenty-minute drive away.
Their advice helped make this week so much better and relaxed, and they recommended all three of the pubs below.
Since it was practically across the street, I went for dinner almost every night I was there. The food was excellent, and the service even better. Light and bright, the vibe changed every night depending on whether there was live music or football on TV. It must have a loyal crowd because everyone knew everyone.
The Barrelhouse Bar and Grill:
After climbing Arthur’s Seat, I rewarded myself with lunch at the Barrel House. I was surprised with how many American items were on the menu, but the neon, “I am the God of Hellfire” sign above the bar was what drew me in since I knew there had to be a story there.
Right on the promenade, The Espy is home to the best cullen skink (seafood chowder) I’ve had in Scotland, a robust single malt menu and ocean views. A perfect spot for lunch during my beach strolls.
When was the last time you opened your box of treasures? When was the last time you took them out, held them in your hands, and went back in time? Sometimes on our grief journeys, no matter how well we’re doing, it’s important to take a timeout and honor the things you miss about your dearly departed.
That’s what I did this week. I hadn’t planned on it, but some of my new friends found that box of memories and dragged it out in the middle of the room for me, where I couldn’t ignore it.
Steve, Andrea and I were hanging out at the pub one evening. The singer that night invited people to come and dance on the mini dance floor she’d made by moving chairs out of the way. Steve dragged Andrea out on the dance floor and proceeded to shake his goofy groove thang. Andrea was a little self-conscious since they were the only two on the dance floor in this tiny pub.
I was laughing my a$$ off but told her how much I loved their love and that I thought it was fantastic. Dan danced like a dork (and there is a wedding DVD somewhere in storage that can prove it). He may not have invented the T-Rex dance moves, but he sure owned them. And lemme tell you, I would give just about anything to be able to dance with that goofball again, even if we were the only two on the dance floor and everyone was staring at us.
Somehow that memory opened the floodgates to all the little happy memories about things I miss. It was as if the contents of my treasure box got dumped on the floor so I could find and savor all the little ones that get buried at the very bottom like tiny legos or Barbie shoes.
Things like how he’d run around the house singing falsetto and opera just to be funny. Or how we shared the same adolescent sense of humor and could drag any event into the gutter with just a look.
I miss coming out wearing his favorite Boise State hoodie, only to see him roll his eyes and complain that he was just going to wear that. All the while knowing he secretly loved seeing me in it. Something he proved when it mysteriously showed up in my side of the closet one laundry day.
And I miss all the little thoughtful things he would do, despite being a knuckle-dragging cretin (his words, not mine). Like how my coffee was always waiting for me on the bathroom counter when I got out of the shower, or how he’d fuel up my car while I was still asleep. Or my favorite, how he’d throw my bathrobe in the dryer to warm it up for me on cold winter mornings to coax me out from under the warm blankets so I wouldn’t be late for work.
It’s been a long time since I’ve thought about these little things. I’m grateful Steve and Andrea helped me rediscover them. I’m grateful they danced and laughed that night. And I hope those of you still lucky enough to have your hubs with you remember that it’s the dancing that counts, not what you look like or who may be looking. Someday all you’ll remember is the joy of the moment. So don’t be self-conscious, just get out there and dance.
The Wandering Widow
Live Now. Dream Big. Love Fierce.