I am apparently really bad at (at least) two things: keys and European showers. The keys thing I’ve always known. I worry every time I am put in charge of a door because I will inevitably have a really hard time using the key. I’ll start by trying to put it in upside-down, and then it will turn out to be one of those keys that doesn’t want to be pushed in all the way, just half way, so I will spend five minutes pushing and jiggling and twisting before it works. Then there’s the weird relationship between locks and door handles. Do the key and the handle need to be turned simultaneously, or will the door open if I just turn the key and push? And, WAIT. THERE ARE TWO LOCKS HERE. Does my key go in the top or the bottom lock?? Obviously this is a simple process of elimination thing, but if my key doesn’t work in the top lock, is that because it’s not supposed to or because I’m bad at keys? This is all assuming I haven’t already lost the damn thing. Imagine my relief when I arrived in Drogheda, Ireland, yesterday to find that no keys would be required at all at the hostel. I’ll get back to you about how well I do with not losing the three keypad codes.
And then the shower thing. I once stayed in a really nice hostel in Cardiff, Wales with really clean showers that seemed to have no temperature below a thousand degrees, no matter how I turned the dial. I even tried at least one other stall, because I’m a fan of the scientific method, but I never did find a comfortable temp. In Ayr, Scotland, I was almost late for breakfast because I spent so long trying to figure out how to turn the shower on at the B&B. What was the secret? The switch outside the bathroom door, obviously. WHO DOES THAT? In Belfast, I looked for the switch outside the door, but there wasn’t one. And I couldn’t get the water to come out. I’m still telling mysef that that one was out of order so I feel better about sneaking down to the showers on the next floor. I have figured out the shower in Drogheda, but it’s weird. It’s got a push handle like the sinks in public restrooms, so it only runs for about 10 seconds before you have to push the handle again. This completely negates the warming power of a hot shower.
Today I bought a bus ticket from Drogheda (where I’m staying) to Carlingford (a reportedly adorable medieval town with stuning mountain hikes) with one bus changeover in Dundalk. Easy enough. So I get off the bus after the “Next stop Dunalk Bus Station” announcement, right? I thought so, but when I got off the bus I was not at the bus station, I was at something called Dundalk Institute of Technology. So, I started walking, stopping for a pack of gum and directions at a convenience store. The clerk asked me which way I was going. I thought, Um. I’m going in which ever direction you tell me the bus station is, but I pointed towards the town. I never did get an answer I understood, probably because one or both of us had an accent. So I kept on in the direction I’d been going. (Side note: I now know that “Black Mint” flavored gum tastes like black jelly beans.) Not too much later I started seeing signs for Dundalk City Centre. In a small town like this, the bus or train station must be close to downtown, right? Stay tuned. Dundalk is a cute little town and the sun was out so I started taking pictures, feeling a little nervous about having no idea where I was. But Dundalk was a bit familiar, like all small towns are, with a funny combination of fast food chains and local cafes; a shiny glass and steel rec center next to old brownstones, some of them looking as if they’d been empty for years. Of course, the “old” buildings in America’s small towns are shopfronts built a century ago, whereas in Ireland, they’re medieval castle ruins. Eventually I asked an old man to point me towards the train station, which he did, but reluctantly: “The railway? Oh. At a guess, I’d say you’re two, two and a half miles away. Aren’t you better off taking a taxi?” I told him I didn’t mind the walk, but he insisted on sending my to the nearest intersection where there would be taxis to catch. It was kind of adorable. He was right, it was about exactly two miles from where I’d ended up, but it was a bright, sunny day and I took a lot of pictures. Thanks to the free wifi at a McDonald’s, I made to to the station and back to Drogheda. I’m feeling a little put out that I didn’t get to hike in Carlingford after all, and spending the day being lost is exhausting, even if you do take a lot of pictures, but I’m not going to call the day lost. I am in Ireland, after all. And being here, in the land of my ancestors, some of whom got on that boat for the new world more than two hundred years ago, I’ve been thinking a lot about faith, and courage, and the possibility that the pictures turn out better when you get lost.