Actual Events Solo backpacking stories Stories Summer Abroad Travel UK

Holyhead and Dublin

The morning before I left Betws-y-Coed, I took one last walk through the green space close to the tourist office. There I met a gal from Poland with a huge backpack who was embarked on a solo backpacking trip that was much more “ballsy” than mine. She had arrived in the city the same evening I had, except she had hitch-hiked there and camped in a tent in that horrible rain! Actually, the guy who drove her offered to pay for a room for her to stay in, but she felt uncomfortable with that and refused. She was planning to travel like that all summer.

I ran into the group of guys from California on the train platform in Betws-y-coed. We were all catching the same train to Holyhead to take the ferry to Dublin. It was before 9am and one of the guys was two beers into a six pack. They told me a story from the night before – something about one of them making sandwiches in his sleep and waking up with Nutella on his face. My mixed up contact lens story was not nearly as amusing.

I had a hard time deciding how much I should tag along with their group as we were taking the same route to the same destination, and at least one of them seemed to have his head screwed on straight, so they weren’t as awful to be around as I’m making them sound. Luckily I didn’t have to decide- there was limited space on the soonest ferry leaving Holyhead and they hopped in and left me behind. With quite a bit of time till the next ferry would leave, I checked into an internet café nearby, and ate a sandwich.

The ferry passengers were taken by bus from the waiting area to the dock. The bus had just a few seats and lots of open space to pack in the standing passengers and their luggage, but it was nearly empty that afternoon. My eyes met briefly with a pair of sharp blue ones across the bus.

We all loaded into the ferry, which looked like a tacky bar and casino. It was carpeted. (Read that with disgust.) It was my first ferry ride so I didn’t know what to expect, but I guess I had something in mind like the ferries mentioned in the Oregon Trail computer game. So the carpet was a surprise, and so were to dirty Plexiglas windows with no view to anything. I was disgusted, but also kind of pleasantly surprised that I didn’t have to sit on a hard plastic chair on a windy deck for the journey that was close to two hours long.

I settled down at an empty booth to write in my journal, but soon I felt the sharp blue eyes on me.  He approached my table with a well prepared introduction that I don’t remember anymore and asked if he could sit and buy me a drink. I refused the drink but welcomed him to sit. His name was Craig and he was from Cork, but he worked in England as a night guard at a hotel. We sat and talked for the entire journey and he must’ve offered (and soon pleaded) to buy me a drink at least eight times. I’m not sure if I ever accepted.

Truthfully, I trusted him not to poison me (although I did consider that possibility), but I felt uncomfortable with the offer because I was/am such a tightwad and I was positive the price of any beverage on the ferry would be astronomically inflated. Also, I was completely in the dark about the social norms surrounding drink offers from strangers on ferries. Come to think of it, I’m still in the dark about social norms in that situation, but I think I know enough now to guess that the guy must’ve been really confused that I wouldn’t accept a drink but I let him sit and chat for over an hour.

Near the end of the journey, a little boy came and joined us; his parents were playing slots and he was bored out of his mind. He wasn’t older than six or seven years old and he had the worst potty mouth I’ve heard on anyone of any age. It was shocking to hear him speak, but somehow also kind of adorable with his Irish accent. Craig, who wasn’t a saintly speaker himself, was scolding him very seriously for his language, which he said was especially inappropriate in front of a lady. I had to bite my lip to resist giggling.

I asked Craig about how to get from the ferry port to the city – there was a bus but he insisted that his sister was coming by car to pick him up and they could pass through Dublin city center on their way to Cork. I tried to politely decline, but he would not take no for an answer, and anyway, the fiasco to get from ferry ports (and airports, bus and train stations) to the main part of cities was my least favorite part of arriving in any new place. (Now I know very well to always make a plan beforehand, and be very grateful whenever someone comes to pick me up in person when I arrive anywhere!) Also, it occurred to me too late that Ireland uses a different currency than England, Scotland, and Wales and I had no Euros on me whatsoever, just British Pounds, a hundred dollar bill (from my grandpa), my American debit card (which kept getting blocked and wasn’t accepted everywhere because it was a swipe card), and my new UK bank card (but I didn’t know the pin for it at that point). So, paying for a bus ride could’ve been complicated.

His sister showed up in a small car with her toddler son. I’m not sure now how this was even possible, but for some reason there wasn’t enough space for all four of us to be buckled safely in the car, so Craig had to sit in the back seat and hold the baby on his lap! Isn’t that horrible? I’m so ashamed of myself for putting them in that situation that I’m tempted to leave it out of the story all together!

Needless to say, it was an awkward drive, but it didn’t last long. She pulled off to the curb on a street adjacent to the River Liffey to let me out. They mentioned some street names and pointed what direction to walk to find a hostel. I was surprised that Craig hopped out of the car to say goodbye, lovely to meet you, good luck, take care, blah blah. Then he kissed me on the cheek, and I was left blushing on the street corner in the pouring rain.

After some time, I managed to find a hostel to stay in for the night, and I was happy that the room came with a free breakfast. I breathed a sigh of relief when the card reader showed, “Transaction accepted.” It was one of those huge, “fun” hostels. Lots of young people, organized pub crawls, lounge rooms with dirty couches, and so forth. I didn’t meet anyone though- I was exhausted and very cold from the rain, so I went right to bed.

The next day after breakfast my first priority was to exchange that hundred dollar bill into something useable. I went to a Royal Scottish Bank (although it was intimidating to enter because of the name and I couldn’t gauge how “royal” it actually was by the building – most of European architecture still looked royal to me at that point), but they don’t do currency exchanges so they advised me to find a Thomas Cook. That took about an hour. I can’t tell you how many Euros I got for the hundred dollar bill- the exchange rate was so unfavorable towards to USD at the time (summer 2008) that I’ve permanently removed the number from my memory.

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One of those famous landmarks. Don’t ask me what it’s called- I was walking and looking purely for pleasure, not to purposely enlarge my mind with facts and info.

Later I ate lunch at a place that served “tacos,” and visited a free museum that had an exhibit about art from China. It was a nicer day so I wandered around to see some of the free outdoor landmarks. I was exhausted and had a headache by the evening. I went back to the hostel and took a shower, but I was too cheap to rent a towel so I just got dressed in my pajamas without drying off first. If you’ve never tried doing that then I’ll warn you that it’s miserable, but if you don’t believe me you can try it for yourself. I went right to bed although it was only around 7pm. After an hour or so, some girls came into the shared room and invited me to go on a pub crawl with them, but I declined because I was clearly ill. The next morning I would have to travel early to the airport for a flight to Glasgow.



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View from museum roof
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Touristy street in Dublin
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Museum parking lot (I think)

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