we bring ourselves wherever we go: four days in dublin

dublin (4)We arrived in Dublin on a Sunday morning. A fine, flat rain punctured the surface of the Liffey, and the streets were all but empty. We passed three elderly women, each wearing raincoats the colors of jewels. They, and the doors in Merrion Square provided the only color.

We’d flown overnight, a plan that seemed ingenious when I booked the tickets in February (fly out at one country’s dusk, arrive at the second’s dawn), but in reality, it was as brutal as it sounds. We didn’t sleep on the flight. Chris’s restless legs got the best of him, and he described his skin feeling as though it were crawling. The man next to us complained that this was the smallest plane he’d even ridden, and while we have less frame of reference, we were inclined to agree. We landed the walking dead. I was so tired that, even now, those first few hours seemed surreal. Compared to the constant movement of New York, the empty streets were a relief. It took a two mile walk (with suitcases, on small sidewalks and cobblestone–I still have bruises on my ankle) to our Airbnb to orient myself to the clock, to the day, to our trans-Atlantic position.

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Dublin quickly became for us a city of lessons. The four days we spent here were decidedly rocky. Jetlag made us susceptible to the anxieties we’re both having about our move, and neither of us handled well the discomfort of the unknown. While Dublin is a small, walkable, charming city with English speakers everywhere, the simple fact that it wasn’t home was enough to dislodge our equilibrium. On our second day in Dublin (the sixth of our trip), we looked at each other and said we just wanted a break from all the decision making. Breakfast — but where? And lunch — but were? And what should we do today? Where is that? How will we get there?

The short of it: Dublin is where we had to admit we didn’t have a groove.

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As we planned this trip, we both acknowledged how much we had to learn. This was to be our first trip as a couple, the first (large) trip for either of us without parents, the first we we’re taking as adults. I’d hoped traveling would come as easily to us as so many other aspects of our relationship, but it didn’t. It took some learning.

Our first day in Dublin corresponded with our one year anniversary, and in retrospect, I like the timing. Dublin stretched us, made us grow. We started our second year in a place of vulnerability. We had to get tender with each other, and honest with ourselves. Why were we at odds? Why were we on edge?

A mother once said to me that from raising children, she’d learned that most problems between people can be solved with food, water, or a hug. I thought about that on our third evening, after we’d bickered our way through Temple Bar and ended our evening early so we could talk, uninterrupted by the movement of the city.

Our anxieties are always over connection. How do we tell the other what we want? What we need? How do we ask each other to hold the places too bruised for us to even name?

And as much as these tensions manifested themselves in our traveling (we are kings and queens of “but I want to do what you want to do”), they weren’t about travel. They hadn’t anything to do with travel. We bring ourselves with us wherever we go. It’s the great myth of escape that we could ever lose our pain. In Dublin, we bickered over plans, but when we stopped to address the tension, we talked about deep-rooted insecurities, the mixed fear of and desire to be known. We talked about our move, and about how excitement is starting to blend with anxiety, with sadness.

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While Dublin ended up being less about Dublin and more about our relationship, I should clarify: Our days here were good days, punctuated by tension (not the other way around). After my anxiety to see everything! do everything! lessened, our days mellowed. Dublin is a charming city with an understated beauty. Compared to New York, it felt like a village, and we were so happy getting lost in down these twisting streets.

Our first four days here in a nut shell: Irish War Memorial Gardens were an oasis along the Liffey. The Little Museum of Dublin was delightful, and because it’s made up entirely of donations from Dubliners, it’s a fascinating perspective on this city’s history. I wish we’d gone the first day as an orientation to this city. We’re in Dublin, so we had to drink Guinness. We toured the storehouse on our second day here, and as much as the tour was an advertisement for its brand, it was fun, and the best way to share a pint. Temple Bar was far too crowded for us. The Winding Stair Bookshop was lovely; the swans in St. Stephen’s Green made me squeal, and the best food we had all week was the scones. Irish scones have ruined me for all baked goods. I’ll never be the same.

My favorite moment of all though was the quietest. After attempts at two museums failed (one was closed, the other required advance booking), we found ourselves in the Irish War Memorial Gardens. The rain showers of the morning had given way to blue sky, and a sun so warm I shed layers until my arms were bare. We found a rock on the bank of the Liffey and dangled our feet over the clear water. I watched a bird’s small, webbed feet pedal underneath the water. In so many ways, this could have been any other afternoon in the sun, but after spending six months saying to each other “baby, we’re going to Dublin!,” we were here. In Dublin! In Ireland! In the middle of this adventure! Forever let that be enough.

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tomorrow, new york city: pre-travel thoughts on travel (because i’m so excited)

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of course I spent more time selecting books than selecting clothing

defaultTomorrow, and tomorrow, and tomorrow. We booked tickets from New York City to Dublin in what feels like a separate life. It was dark at 7 pm (funny, too, how that endless winter now feels so long ago), and July seemed as far away as the cities we’d were visiting. When I told my parents in May that I’d be moving in August, my mom said “but there’s so little time.” There were fourteen weeks, and I think about how I view time like I’m a child, but experience it like an adult. Fourteen weeks was an ocean of time, even twelve (the number of weeks until now, the eve of our trip) seemed like a sea.

Tomorrow, we board a place for New York City, Saturday, one for Dublin, and the following Thursday, London. When we get home, we’re here for three days, and then we move.

When we booked these tickets so many months ago (so many decisions ago), I talked in binary terms. Here and there, and how I hoped that being there would change how I saw here, this place I’ll be forever returning to. I talked to my partner about how travel changes you, not because you’ve gone away, but because you’ve returned home, how it was in the returning that the leaving makes sense.

Here I go talking about leaving again, but how can I not? I was born in Minnesota, lived here twenty-five years, and when I boarded a plane tomorrow, I do so knowing that when I return home, I’ll only be there for three days, then gone again.

I’ll be traveling as a novice, and it’s humbling to admit this. I’m 25, and save for a very few times, I’ve never boarded a plane without a parent. I recognize that I am traveling from privilege to privilege, to countries that share my native language, and to metropolises that are as large or larger than the one I currently live in. We’re not roughing it, and the chances of us encountering any problems — but especially one we can’t easily solve — are low.

Chris is skeptical when he hears me talk about this trip. In all aspects of my life, I want a PLAN, but about our time away, I keep saying “let’s play it as it lays.” Yes, I’ve a list the length of both my arms of museums and landmarks and restaurants for all three cities, but I don’t want our trip to be a checklist. Even now, I don’t have a clue how we’ll spent our first (partial) day in New York. Get to my friend’s apartment to drop luggage, but then? It’ll be enough that we’re there.

Last year in Rome, I was bewildered by the city, by its size and the depths of its history. After I gave up any hopes of “seeing” the city in something resembling totality and decided instead to just see the streets in front of me, our days mellowed into something lovely and free. My mom and I wandered neighborhoods and poked our heads into shops and cathedrals and down alleyways.

We won’t see all of Dublin, we won’t see all of London. Why do any of think we can somehow get our hands all the way around the places that we visit? I’ve lived in the Twin Cities for twenty-five years, and for all that these cities are home, I still only know them in parts.  Yes, in Dublin, we’ll visit the Guinness Storehouse and in London, the Tower, but dear god, don’t let our trip become a carousel of tourist traps and photos ops. I want this trip to reveal itself in hours and days, the cities by neighborhoods and streets.

I’m new to traveling like this, and Chris and me are new to traveling with each other. Right now, the night before we fly anywhere, it’s all hopes and philosophies. I picture parks and cafes and long hours in museums. I want time to read, or write, or watch the city go by. I see our days loose. I want the hours to stretch. I want us to be bowled over.

But then, this is what my whole life is right now. Hopes and dreams and visions of what may come. Tomorrow, New York, then Dublin and London, and then, instead of home, the east coast, and whatever meets us there. I want to not be consumed by the move, but how can we not be? Twelve weeks ago, it was surreal to think that this is how it works: that first, we tell everyone we’re doing this monumental thing, and then we just do it. It’s still surreal.

But that’s all for tomorrow’s tomorrow, because you know what else feels surreal? That I’ve spent my lifetime dreaming of three of these cities, and finally, I’m seeing them!

Follow our trip: I’ll be sharing all over Instagram + writing a bit here. And as always, if you know where I can find good books, good food, or anything beautiful in these three cities, tell me everything and tell me now!

“you’ll miss the water + the trees”: north shore getaway (pt. 2)

palisade head 4It’s summer, the fourth of July, but cool temperatures and the possibility of rain had us awake early on Wednesday. Day two of our little getaway was my to play. I wanted to drive northeast to Palisade Head, and pick our way back south, stopping as we wanted.

Palisade Head rises in sheer cliffs, three hundred feet above Lake Superior. On clear days, it’s a stunning panorama. The Sawtooth mountains and Shovel Point to the northeast, Split Rock Lighthouse to the southwest, and across the lake, the Apostle Islands.

We only stop once on our way up (for me to jump out of the car and snap photos of lupine along the shore — the first I’ve ever seen growing wild), but by the time we reached the lookout, the lake had vanished. Banks of white fog obscured everything, leaving only the base of the cell tower, and the rocks immediately in front of us clear.

A man with Ontario license plates shook his head at me when I joked about the view.
“Waste of your holiday,” he said, then warned me of coming storms.

The man had a camera on his neck, and I understood his gruffness. This lake is unruly, dangerous. It has its own weather patterns, and if you expect anything from your visit, you’ll likely be disappointed. I didn’t care though. That we couldn’t see the water, but could hear the waves roll over boulders at the base of the cliff was its own experience, gave the day its own beauty. We didn’t leave, but climbed down the billion year old lava formations.

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In the white fog, I thought, strangely, of death. This lake is, historically, treacherous. The “graveyard of the Great Lakes,” Superior has more than 500 ships on her floor, and as Gordon Lightfoot said, Superior doesn’t gives up her dead. The water is too cold for a drowned body to release the post-mortem gases that would, in a kinder lake, bring it to the surface. (As I told Chris on our drive up, I was really into shipwrecks for a while.)

I tried to explain how its in this space between beauty and danger that I find my love of Superior. It’s like the mountains, or the Grand Canyon. Like any wild place of beauty, we come to it, because it dwarfs us. We come to it, because we need it to dwarf us.

Lake Superior exists separate from us. Beyond our intervention or desires. It’s unruly and dangerous, and in this largess is its majesty. This lakes is powerful in the ways that it is, resonant and restorative and clarifying, because it exists beyond and beyond and beyond us.

Climbing these cliffs with so little visibility, I felt closer to the raw power of the lake. It’s large enough to have its own ecosystem, its own currents, and the fact that it’s landlocked and not ruled by global tides makes it somehow more powerful, more set apart from all its comparisons. It’s 2018, and we don’t navigate by lighthouses anymore, but this lake still demands respect. Just a year, a girl slipped from the very place we were climbing, and died on the rocks below.

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We were quiet in the fog, careful on the rocks, and cautious when we looked over the edges on our hands and knees. There was so little lake to see, but still, it was there. Just before we were about to leave, the fog shifted, and I could see the low waves that, previously, I’d just heard. The eddies of fog broke, and the lake to the northeast opened for us. Behind me, the cliffs we came to see.

For all I’ve said about the lake not existing for us, this felt like a gift, like the lupine on the highway felt like a gift. I didn’t expect it, didn’t need it, but oh my god, to receive it. The cliffs rise up, reds and oranges and grays, above sheets of hammered metal. You see the forests that rise and fall with the low mountains, and the lava formations that stand above the water. The fog kept the coast and water hidden, but I’ve seen, on clear days, the shore recede to haze and the lake stretch farther that you can see. I snapped photos furiously, then put my camera down. It’s a kind of worship, to sit before so much.

The clearing only last ten, maybe twelve minutes, and when the fog returned, we climbed back to the road. Growing between the lichened rocks, I came eye level with a blueberry bush, the berries still waxy and green. I snapped a photo, and kept climbing. I took hours for me to realize that I’d be gone by the time they ripen.

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Preparing to move away has left me with so many separate pieces. There’s the deep sadness of being away from family, but that sadness doesn’t diminish the sense of adventure. The waves of fear that we’ll fail (finances are my anxiety) are separate from the excitement that we’ll will be building something entirely our own. I hadn’t yet tried to reconcile all these jagged pieces, but they were with me as we picked our way down the shore.

Heavy rains truncated our plans, but we stopped once more to visit Split Rock Lighthouse, a Minnesota icon Chris has never seen. We skipped the tour to walk the grounds on own own. The thick white fog that had obscured the lake at Palisade Head was gray and heavy here. It hung over the trees and buildings, and turned everything to shadow.

Here, again, is a shore I know so well. Even under blankets of fog, I can trace the outlines of the cliffs and rock patterns. I’ve seen this beach on hot summer days and in crisp fall weather, with fat snowflakes falling on and in the earliest spring when the ice was breaking up. Its broken pieces made music riding on small waves.

For two days I felt this returning. All the ghosts of who I’ve been, from my childhood to my adulthood, are here. This lake is part of me. All these memories, all these stories kept coming to me. That’s my favorite beach, and if you climb past the no trespassing signs, it stretches all the way to the mouth of the Beaver River. When he was a toddler, my brother wore his flippers and goggles on the walk to Gooseberry Falls, but when he got there, there was barely a trickle  of water coming over that wide terrace. Six years later, he and another almost-brother scaled that rock face. We watched waves on this beach the year my dad turned 50, and if you keep driving north, that’s where we spent Thanksgiving.

On the beach beneath Split Rock, I submerged my hands in the water, a holdover from childhood when I wanted the water, the lake itself on my skin. We were getting ready to leave, fog heralding more severe weather on the way. I expected to be bowled over by grief. How many times in the last nine weeks have I asked myself ‘am I really leaving? And I really leaving the home I love, the land that feels apart of me, the family to whom I’m anchored?’ That we’ll be back is a given, but when? I’ve never left home with a plan to return.

The water was cold and clear and bracing, and with my hands in it, I felt clarity instead of sorrow. All the pieces of fear and hope and sorrow and excitement and possibility, all gathered into something that felt whole.

Cheryl Strayed’s Wild came to me. How she wrote, “Of all the things I’d been skeptical about, I didn’t feel skeptical about this: the wilderness had a clarity that included me.”

I think about what my friend told me about leaving: It’s not easy, but it’s not scary, and the doors that open make it worth it in the end.

But I’ll miss the water and the trees.

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ps: read part 1 here

new york city, dublin, london: tell me everything

We are traveling this summer! We’re going to New York City! We’re going to Dublin! We’re going to London! Then we’re going back to Dublin!

My boyfriend and I booked tickets a few months ago, but it’s taken the snow melting from the sidewalks (this week) for me to get we’re-going-to-be-in-Europe excited. I love guidebooks, and already have ones for all three cities (evidence above), but I want to hear from people who have been there. Where do we go? What do we do? What restaurants do we need to try? What museums do I need to visit? What bookshops do I need to see? What bookshops do I NEED to see?

Each of these cities have been jewels on my tongue for years. I visited New York when I was a teenager, but the other two will be all new. I’m all the things you are when you travel: excited and anxious and ready to be wowed and hopeful that it will bring with it clarity/creativity/wonder/an awakening. Mostly, though, I’m kind of in awe that I booked these tickets, and kind of in awe that in just a few months I’ll be standing on foreign soil, walking on streets whose names I’ve memorized from maps and books. In the weeks after booking the tickets, I kept turning to my boyfriend and shouting “We’re going to Dublin!”

It’s still a few months out. For now, though, I need you to tell me everything good. Heavy emphasis on books, food/drink, weird crime stuff, and anything not included in my guidebook.