"You just need to say hello and you'll be on your way." The Ireland of a thousand welcomes is alive and well.
I arrived in Dublin very early in the morning after an overnight flight from New York. My eyes were blurry and I needed, more than anything, to lie down. But first I had to get from the airport to the hotel.
"Who are you visiting?" That was the first question my cabbie asked when I got into his car. I told him I was traveling alone to see the sights and do some research. I had some vague plans to visit with relatives but for the most part I'd be on my own.
"You won't be alone in Ireland," he assured me. "You just need to say hello and you'll be on your way."
At the hotel, the front desk clerk asked me if I'd ever been to Dublin before (I had, but only for a day). "Well then," he said. "Let me steer you away from all the tourist sites and to some really good things to see." He pulled out a map of the city and highlighted some attractions he loved.
After a walk through Trinity College, a small dinner, and a good night's sleep, I went to the restaurant and told the waiter it was "just me" for breakfast. I was greeted with, "What's wrong with just you? Isn't just you grand!" He chatted with me about the extraordinary number of bicycles in Dublin, which in his mind made the already crowded streets even more difficult to navigate.
Over the next several days I sought out the hotel clerk and waiter for restaurant recommendations and neighborhoods to explore. They never let me down, but they weren't the only ones. I spent a half hour talking with an artist hanging her work in Merrion Square about our mutual love of art. I got into a long discussion with a Cork-born store clerk about life in Dublin verses her rural upbringing, as I admitted I was tiring of city life in New York and wondering about settling someplace quieter. We didn't come to any conclusions about which was a better choice but we had fun discussing it.
Then there was the fisherman I met on the train to Galway who talked about the news of the day, the publican who noticed the book I was reading and gave me the names of her favorite authors as I shared mine. And in Lahinch, Co. Clare one Sunday morning I window-shopped in the rain. The store was closed, but the sweaters and jewelry caught my eye. Suddenly the door opened.
"Come in so, you'll drown!" a woman directed me. It would be at least an hour before her shop opened, but that didn't stop her from insisting I join her in the warmth of both her store and her company. She told me about her daughter and granddaughter, I told her about my family back home.
On and on it went. Everywhere I traveled, in big cities and small villages, I'd find conversations easy and interesting. And somewhere along the way I realized my cabbie was right. Ireland is a place where you can certainly, and safely, travel solo. But you won't be alone.
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