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The Wandering Widow

Observations, Tips and Reckless Truth Telling on the Road Through Grief

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Adventure Part 7 – Killarney, Ireland

A Wandering Widow Post

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.

The only thing better than checking one off the list is having friends there to help you. All the way from Idaho!

 

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)

XOXO,
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 FOOD

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

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Torc Waterfall

 

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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

THE PEOPLE

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.

 

 

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.

Adventure Part 6-Northern Ireland

A Wandering Widow Post

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.

One of my faves.

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).

XOXO,
The Wandering Widow
Live Now. Dream Big. Love Fierce.

 

THE WHISKEY

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.

THE PUBS

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.

THE FOOD

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.

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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 HISTORY

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.

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This quote is part of a display at Belfast City Hall.  This last room on the tour displayed several quotes from widows on both sides of the conflict. It was powerful and emotional and I had to leave before I lost it.

 

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.

 

 

 

 

That Scene in Wonder Woman (Spoiler Alert!)

If you haven’t seen it yet and are planning to, stop reading right now. And get your freaking ticket ASAP, this movie is AWESOME. I loved being able to see it with three generations of the wonder women in my family.  It’s about dang time we get to see such a strong female lead, and DC sure threw down the gauntlet for Marvel.  But that’s not what this post is about.

While I left the theater wanting to a get a sword and fight bad guys and stuff, I was also reeling.

I couldn’t find a single image of the scene that kicked my ass. Interesting. Guess grief really is that hard to look at.

Dan was a soldier.  A regular American bad ass defender of freedom, protector of others, and fighter of dangerous people. AATW!  So when Steve made his heroic choice, it wasn’t really a decision. It was his only option. To have taken any other action would have meant betraying who he was at his core. I was a military wife for a lot of years, so that scene didn’t really hurt me as much as sadden me. It is a movie, after all.

It was Diana’s reaction that brought me to my knees.  Her grief was palpable, painful, raw, and perfectly captured by both the director and the actor. And it mirrored the intensity of my own grief.  I’ve come a long way in the last year, but that scene stole the air from my lungs. Literally.  I felt my pulse shoot up and the hyperventilating start and knew a PTSD anxiety attack was not far behind.  Bearing witness to her grief ripped open the healing scars on my heart. Had I been prepared that it was coming, it may not have been quite as overwhelming.  Or it may have been just as bad. Who knows. Honestly, just thinking about that scene weeks later still raises my blood pressure. I was so thankful for the powerful ass-kicking fight scene that followed because it was the distraction I needed to regain control of my lungs.

What few W’s want to acknowledge is that her grief, our grief, is a catalyst for the transformation into someone stronger.  Someone MORE despite the loss. Someone who can value both the best and worst in others. Someone who doesn’t give up. Someone who will mourn for their rest of their life, but who keeps living in spite of it. While I don’t have lightning shooting out of my hands (too bad, I can think of a few occasions where that would be handy), I will battle my grief until the end.

So yeah, I’m not saying I’m Wonder Woman, but WW also stands for Wandering Widow, and you’ve never seen us in the same room.

XOXO,

The Wandering Widow

You Should Journal

From the minute we got the terminal cancer diagnosis, we were hustled into counseling.  Dan’s was different than mine. Mine should have been called “How To Become A Widow” counseling (totally vomit inducing since I hate that word), but one thing was constant.  Every session, every social worker, psychiatrist, and grief counselor all said the same thing…you should journal.  

I am VERY good at following instructions, so I did.  I wrote out everything I was too afraid to talk to Dan about.  And after he died I wrote out my pain. It was endless.  And horrific.  And sad.  And miserable.  And lonely.  One day I was complaining journaling how I missed being able to talk to him.  How I missed being able to share my thoughts, fears, and dreams with my best friend in the whole wide world. In that moment I decided to stop using my journal to log my misery, but to start talking to Dan.  I decided to write the same kind of letters I did when he was away on military training, and something crazy happened.

This promised coping mechanism finally started to help me start coping.  The tone of my journal entries changed.  Instead of focusing on how awful I felt, I was reminded that I WAS actually doing things.  I wasn’t as stuck as I thought I was. By writing to Dan as if he was still alive, I was slowly helping myself realize that I was still alive. The darkness was starting to fade.

Will that approach work for everyone?  Of course not…is there anything that works for everyone?  It’s working for me, so I’m sharing it with you, my lovely W’s. 

Dear Diary Dan, I miss you.

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