My Life as Carmen Sandiego, Volume One: Ireland, Wales, and England

The Destinations:
Dublin, Holyhead, North Wales, Stratford, London, Holland, Amsterdam, Brussels, Paris, Versailles, Burgundy, Lucerne, Florence, Pisa, French Riviera, Nice, Barcelona

I already told you I want to keep this simple and summarized. None of the exquisite detail about the innards of the two-story Air France plane; then the transfer to a much smaller mode of air transportation, comforted only by a cheese sandwich and a lady’s elbow digging into my ribs with abandon. I don’t need to tell you about room selection, or staring wide-eyed into the eyes of strangers who would probably never know how truly hilarious I am, really. The cat’s pajamas. The bee’s knees. They would live their lives in the form of Facebook friends and phone numbers, with only the impression received from a traveling girl from Boston who is way too emotional because she hurts, damn it. She needs a break from philandering and phonies. She needs to find something somewhere, maybe in the sounds of fiddles or in the rainbow of fruit sitting fresh under market tents. She needs to get away. But this she doesn’t get to do. Everything is a reminder of home. Worry has hidden in her bag like contraband.

It is when she returns that she realizes how her trip to Europe has affected her. She has both changed and stayed amazingly similar: the problems she has sought to avoid return in bulk, but she stays calmer, she seems to smile more. She is energetic, aware of her journey as she clicks through photos. She really did have a great time. Look at her smile in that one. Look how blue that water is. Look at her float into the air, graceless but content. Look at her go.

And to think, it all started in Dublin.

In Ireland, she tries to fit in. She makes jokes too early. She gauges facial expressions in nose twitches and rolled eyes. She sits on a bus at one point, listens to the Irish accent and imitates it to herself, then to others. She cries to herself in St. Patrick’s Cathedral because she is in awe of the stained glass, the beauty of it. She stares at pages of the Book of Kells. She analyzes the typography (because she does that) and gazes in wonder at the colors, illuminations so bright despite their age. Later, she drinks too much Bulmer’s cider. She feels tipsy, but she is still sober enough to guide the drunken home. Once again she is Mama Bear. She is frustrated because she cannot seem to change.

She finds a place; they find a place: The Old Storehouse. She goes here most days in Dublin. She listens to music, sings along to songs Irish and English and American (see video below). She is happiest here and then later on Grafton Street, walking alone in search of pants she’d eventually bring back to the states, pants gray and to her, quite perfect. She pub crawls. She walks through a garden. She eats bangers and mash more than once.

She will miss Dublin; she knows this.
 

In Wales, she climbs castle towers, holding on to rope railings until her palms burn. She ponders safety codes and the lawsuit epidemic in the U.S. In the evening she walks through a little town of Llangollen, her closest friend on the trip beside her (but she doesn’t know this yet). They walk through a graveyard, watching scouts rubbing gravestones. She returns to the hotel, finding herself, once again, too sober. She tries to eat a fisherman’s pie. She wonders later what a pie made out of fisherman should taste like. She laughs to herself about this and packs her bag. 

On a Castle in Wales

OK, OK. The third person is killing me, too. For what I wrote earlier, it seemed necessary. But I feel your pain. Let me give you my sum-up of England with just a little less panache, also because you’ve already heard a wee bit about it already.

Our first glimpse of England: Warwick Castle. We walked the grounds, Rachel and I (this is the girl/woman/lovely lady? mentioned earlier), our cameras snapping knights in shining armor (cue faint here), a semi-secret battle video room, birds of prey, a bunch of trees. While splendid, the castle also felt like a medieval theme park, you know, with a dungeon instead of a roller coaster.

We went to Stratford to see the house of my fave bard, Shakespeare. My best memory was the croissant with the asparagus and cheese.  

In London, we danced and drank, and for the millionth time on this trip I tried to figure out whom to hang out with. While trying to ride solo worked for Han, in Europe you can’t really go out lasers a-blazing.

After that night, and probably because of the lack of sleep and constant go go go go go of the itinerary, I got sick. My throat felt like it was being punctured with toothpicks, so I stayed in most nights and drank tea (which was indeed readily available).

I don’t remember the exact order of events, but when I felt well enough to go out, I did. A small group and I went to Harrods for afternoon tea, visited Westminster Abbey and Big Ben. One of the nights we saw a musical, Blood Brothers, which revealed the English sense of humour (or lack thereof? Really, the whole thing was depressing.). On one of the free days I ventured off to meet a blogger friend, and he showed me Camden, one of the coolest marketplaces I’ve ever been to where I bought a handmade journal and a Banksy T-shirt. He also took me to Buckingham Palace.

I really loved London once I realized that sickness was skewing my judgment. I wished for an extra day. More vitamins. A better immune system. Riches. But it was time to move on. We had like, OMG, six more countries to visit.
 

Market Sign in Camden

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