Updated: Aug 28, 2019
It's interesting the things you hear growing up about trusting strangers.
Especially when it comes to traveling to another country.
I'm always trying to break these kinds of beliefs with the things I choose to do in my life.
So, while in Ireland, we decided to book two couchsurfing stays. Couchsurfing is a traveler's community where you can stay with fellow travelers for exchange for something you can offer. Sometimes, you get to stay somewhere for free in exchange for paying it forward in the future. Other times, you can hang out, cook a meal for your host, take them on a nearby excursion, whatever you can offer. It's a community based on merit and good intentions. Our first couchsurfing experience was in Cork, a major city in southern Ireland. Our hosts were Fabien and Julie, a friendly and fun couple from France. They gave us our own room with a comfy bed while we stayed with them for three nights. We felt so welcome and almost unworthy of how nicely they treated us! Surely, this was too good to be true, yet it was true. People on our planet are SO kind!
All of us woke up later in the morning, around 10 a.m. We stayed up until 1 a.m. the previous night sharing conversations about our travels and life. Comparing lifestyles in Europe and the US. It's so different, the culture, the "system," - sharing all this gives a wider perspective of what people experience on our planet. The four of us set up breakfast outside on the patio. Apparently the summer weather goes as such: mornings until 11 are sunny and warm, then the clouds roll in and the afternoon starts out overcast with chills of rain in the air. Sometimes, it will actually rain, downpour, mist. Whatever Mother Nature is feeling that day. The evenings are still, though still cloudy, and if you're lucky, a colorful sunset will appear around 9:30 p.m. Since Ireland is so far north, the summer days are longer than we're used to in Arizona, where the sun sets at 7:30. We chatted around the table with chocolate croissants, multigrain toast and homemade jams. It was great talking with them about holistic health and veganism, they too followed a mostly plant based diet. Fabien suggested we eat at the Quay Coop the day before!
After we got ready for the day, we piled into the Dacia and took a trip to the coastal city of Kinsale. According to Fabien (who was well educated on the area's history), it was a famous town based on its interesting history. A few battles in the past happened here, including one where the Spanish armada tried to take over the area but failed miserably and ships sunk into the mouth of the river. More about that later!
We parked in the rainbow town and began walking around. We saw lots of old churches and ruins still being used today. The one I photographed was from the 1500's, the old stones covered in lichens and ferns. Graveyards seem to litter the landscapes in Ireland, especially in the middle of small villages. Some of the stone faces you could read, others are worn away by the rain and wind. We walked passed one of these churches with a service finishing up, the locals walking the streets to get to their cars and continue Sunday in their little homes. Along the way, we passed by a building that appeared to be rented out for travelers, each colorful cottage having a different name, like Giant's Cottage and Mansion House.
Fabien and Julie led the way back into town where buildings were glued to each other, yet separated by their colors. Cafés, art galleries, and book stores greeted us with each of their quaint store windows, and we even walked into a few. The first store we walked into was a local artist who made art similar to a friend of mine in Seal Rock - bright, abstract renditions of the little towns in Ireland. Another gallery we went into was a black & white only photographer's studio, his travels and viewings of the world seemingly taken a hundred years ago with the tones of yesteryear. We found ourselves wandering through a vacant fun fair, the carousel horses waiting patiently to give a little one a ride. On the outside of the fair, a rugged looking man set up his array of orchestral dolls, each playing an instrument for a circus tune.
It was time for lunch, though we wanted to make a picnic to bring on a hike. We went into a convenience store that had a hot food bar. Austin and I got a beautiful beet falafel salad with a baguette (and he FINALLY found some coconut water, to his relief), while Fabien and Julie shared a sandwich from the hot bar. We walked back to the car and drove near the trailhead to begin our hike.
The trail started by Fort Charles, the structure that protected the city from threatening attacks in the past. It was this fort where a bride to be waited for her lover to return from sea. When she found out he died in battle, she threw herself off the fort wall in her wedding dress and into the water, filled with grief for losing her partner. Locals say they can see her standing up there in ghost form, waiting for him to return. This was also the fort that the 1,000 Spanish ships couldn't get through on their attempt to conquer the city. Many shipwrecks lay on the river floor, forgotten.
We started walking the edge of the river towards the ocean. Along the way, we saw these signs that shared some of the history of this place. You can read some of them below!
We found a nice place to rest with a view of the fort. It was chilly at this point, maybe in the 60's (ha, maybe not chilly for some!). We enjoyed the views around us, the flowers dancing in the wind, the children laughing in the distance. Convenience store food never tasted so good, as well as a baguette. After awhile we kept on walking through the hodgepodge hedges made of blackberry brambles, fireweed, ferns, and queen ann's lace. We almost made it to the ocean, but decided to turn back because we had other plans for the evening. Austin and I picked blackberries along the way and skipped rocks near the boatyard. Sailboats looked so idyllic in their natural habitat, and the rocks sounded like glass as you walked over them. Here's a little gallery of the sights we saw along this trail! You can click on the pictures to see them better.
After driving back to home base, we decided to spend the afternoon napping. All of us were so tired and needed a rest before going out to explore the City Center of Cork. Once we did get up, somewhere around dinner time, we set out on foot to the City Center. Our plan was to walk around most of it and have dinner at a popular pub to finish off the day. Fabien and Julie led us as we walked about a mile to the center. Fabien explained that the city center is basically floating on the river, and over time it was built this way. The old streets and pathways were marked along the sidewalk, indicating that dozens of years ago certain paths were for certain artisans. Some of the pubs around town have been there for hundreds of years, hidden in the nooks and crannies of some of the darkest alleys (though not to be feared!) Cork was famous for the street art, and in my video you can see some of it. Giant hummingbirds or colonies of colorful ghosts can be seen on the historic buildings, some of them falling apart and becoming dust in the wind. Fabien explained that some of the owners of the historic buildings wish to let them dilapidate so they don't have to put tons of money into restoration. Understandable, but such a shame to see the physical history disappearing.
The end of our walk landed us in a cool local's pub called the Franciscan Well filled to the brim with people. A jazz combo played on the back patio where petunias showered the people from above. The four of us ordered vegan pizzas from the counter nearby (yes, VEGAN pizza with cheese, olives, artichokes, eggplants, and other delicious toppings) and drinks made from the brewery on site. Apparently, Franciscan Well teamed up with Jameson Whiskey to make an aged Jameson-Aged Stout using the old whiskey barrels that were seeped with whiskey for years. If you want to read more about this place, visit their website and learn about their history! This was definitely the highlight of the day, sitting around a table with beers, (very tasty ones at that - Austin and I usually don't drink beer!) pizza, and great music. Bellies full and hearts filled with joy, we headed back to the apartment and said goodnight for the evening. Even though it was around 10 pm, it was still light outside, suggesting that the days go on forever.
Now, if I would have listened to those "scary things" about trusting strangers, this amazing day would have never happened. The next time you're challenged with these beliefs, consider interacting with strangers from overseas. You never know how good of friends you can become!