Category Archives: hiking

Ireland and why you should throw away that guidebook

The guidebook – the all-encompassing bible for travel enthusiasts – is what has united travelers across the world in their search for adventure. Even though we travel to see new places and gain new experiences, we often find that our own experience mirrors many other travelers’ experiences.

This comes as no surprise with the plethora of guidebooks out there (Lonely Planet, Fodor’s, Frommer’s, and Rick Steves, to name a few), which means everyone ends up traveling the same roads, eating at the same restaurants, frequenting the same bars, and staying in the same hostels.

Our reliance on these guidebooks has contributed to a fundamental shift in the way we travel. Gone are the days where we fly by the seat of our pants. Instead of being open to the unexpected and the endless amount of possibilities at our fingertips, we’ve become what Hemingway calls “over-itinerized”, in which our main goal in travel is to mark off everything on the “Highlights” checklist. Thus, we spend our time running from one place to the next without fully experiencing the moment or our surroundings.

There is nothing more obvious than burying your nose in a guidebook and following the tourist trail to show that you are, in fact, a tourist. And, there is nothing I despise more than looking like a tourist (even if I am one).

So I’ve thrown away the checklist because when it comes to exploring new places, I’ve found that less is more. It’s far more interesting to get to know the history of the town and talk with the people who live there than it is to figure out the most popular bar to go to or the best party hostel to stay at. These are the things that are important to me and it has always made my experiences more enriching.

So, I encourage you to stop treating your guidebook like the bible. Instead, devote your time to the one or two things you find most interesting about the country you are traveling to. In France, I would spend my time in the Loire Valley sampling their world-famous Valençay and Crottin de Chevignol cheeses and pairing them with local wines. For my friend who has a love of art, he might be content to stay in Paris and casually explore the Louvre over a full week so he can explore all of its treasures.

In Italy, I would savor the best pizza and pasta and pastries in the country. I would ask the locals what their recommendations are and that is where I would go, not even caring as I watched my waist line grow. For my parents who are wine lovers, they’d spend their time in Tuscany in a perpetual state of tipsy-ness.

In Spain, I would learn the Flamenco and eat tapas, then take a siesta and eat more tapas. My adventurous friend would run with the bulls and another who is deeply religious would hike the El Camino Santiago from beginning to end.

In Ireland, I would revel in Irish music and eat Irish food and drink Guinness and sit by the sea and explore the Irish countryside. And, when I actually went there this past month, this is all I did. I spent hours in pubs listening to Irish jam sessions. I ate beef and Guinness stew and bangers and mash and seafood chowder and Irish soda bread. I stayed in a cottage by the sea and collected sea shells. I hiked 14 miles through the country side and climbed the Connemara Mountains where I got to see the formation of a rainbow from start to finish.

I missed a lot. In particular all the popular and famous tourist attractions that every other traveler I met was going to or had already been there. I missed the Blarney Stone, New Grange, Dingle, the Burren, Cork, the Wicklow Mountains – pretty much everything the guidebook said I should do. And you know what? I had the best trip ever. I may not be able to relate to many other people’s experiences of Ireland but I did experience a part of the country that many of them didn’t, which I think is pretty unique and cool.

My point here is that you should do what interests you. And, if you stumble upon something that is completely different from what you set out to find or do, be willing to change it up. Because when you finally throw away that guidebook and itinerary, you will undoubtedly have a more authentic and rich experience.

The family I stayed with for a few days had a dog, Winnie. I took her to the beach. We played fetch and collected sea shells.

The family I stayed with for a few days had a dog, Winnie. I took her to the beach. We played fetch and collected sea shells.

Hiking through the Connemara Mountains.

Hiking through the Connemara Mountains.

Connemara Mountains.

Connemara Mountains.

Some more Connemara Mountains!

Some more Connemara Mountains!

Did I mention I met the star of Deadliest Catch? We hung out for a few days. He's crazy and fun.

Did I mention I met the star of Deadliest Catch? We hung out for a few days. He’s crazy and fun.

Captaining a fishing boat, "The Happy Hooker".

Captaining a fishing boat, “The Happy Hooker”.

There is a wall in Galway where you write a note to the sea. This one was my favorite.

There is a wall in Galway where you write a note to the sea. This one was my favorite.

Galway Bay.

Galway Bay.

Okay, so I did do one touristy thing. Many of you may recognize this as the entrance to the Dark Hedges in Game of Thrones.

Okay, so I did do one touristy thing. Many of you may recognize this as the entrance to the Dark Hedges in Game of Thrones.

Antrim Coast.

Antrim Coast.

Antrim Coast.

Antrim Coast.

On my 14 mile hike I came across a rock that had "Worm Hole" spray painted on it. I followed the red arrows and came to this perfectly carved hole in the middle of the cliffs along the sea. So cool!

On my 14 mile hike I came across a rock that had “Worm Hole” spray painted on it. I followed the red arrows and came to this perfectly carved hole in the middle of the cliffs along the sea. So cool!

Keith and I.

Keith and I.

 

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Sauk County: the Wisconsin river valley

There’s something about driving through the Wisconsin countryside that tugs at my Missouri roots and summer days spent on the family farm.  Between the rolling hills, lush green foliage, water, bluffs, and scenic overlooks this state is beyond picturesque, with the drive from Madison west to Spring Green hovering near the top of my favorite scenic drives list.

I was headed to the lower Wisconsin river valley to camp and visit my friend M who lives in that part of the state. Windows rolled down and wind whipping through my hair, I was belting out the words to TLC’s “don’t go chasing waterfalls” when I realized I’d been here for a year now. A YEAR. It’s strange because that part of my life seems so far out of reach but at the same time like it all happened just yesterday. Time sure does fly. But I digress.

M grew up on a cheese factory farm about 10 minutes outside Spring Green so we took a drive over that way so he could show me where he grew up. Though they weren’t making cheese that day, I at least got my very own personal tour and sampled some of the best sharp cheddar cheese I’ve ever had. Along the inside walls are pictures of the farm dating back to when his grandfather first bought it some 40 years ago. The tanks below were on the farm and they still stand there today so I just had to get a picture with them.

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After the cheese factory we went on a hike to St. Ann’s shrine – a sweet hilltop stone chapel dedicated to the mother of Mary. M and I both grew up Catholic so it had special significance for us. When we got there we took off on foot through the cemetery and past the stations of the cross lining a steep trail that went through the woods. There are only a few pews on the inside but sitting there you could feel a strong sense of spiritual presence in the room.

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Though I love all these hidden gems, there was one super touristy thing I wanted to do in Spring Green, which was visit the House on the Rock. It is just that – a house on a rock. It’s one of the main attractions in Wisconsin and something I wanted to mark off my bucket list for my county-by-county project. Lucky for me, M had left over tickets from last year so while he went to work for a few hours I wandered my way over to the scenic overlook off Hwy 23 and to section III of the site.

From the scenic overlook you can see the Infinity Room of the house (I would totally pee my pants being up there) and you can’t help but marvel at the architectural genius of Alex Jordan. I think maybe because I didn’t go into the house itself I was confused about what section III was actually about but nonetheless seeing the largest indoor carousel and perusing the collection of old, albeit sometimes creepy, artifacts was pretty cool. I only made it through section III but since tickets are good a year from the date of purchase I have plenty of time to head back and check out the other sections.

View of the infinity room from the scenic overlook off Hwy 23.

View of the infinity room from the scenic overlook off Hwy 23.

Nevermind the creepy figurines on the carousel.

Nevermind the creepy figurines on the carousel.

Another hidden gem M took me to is a diner tucked back in the foothills on a small air landing strip. Here you can enjoy breakfast and watch hangar planes fly in and out. It’s the kind of place where no one is in a rush (it took us two hours to even get our food) but with the extra time we could sit back, drink our coffee, and enjoy the conversation and views.

M was a fabulous tour guide!

M was a fabulous tour guide!

A restaurant named restaurant.

A restaurant named restaurant.

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A lot of the activities I got to do were things I would have never even known about if it weren’t for M, which is part of why I love having locals play tour guides wherever I go. One thing I do see as I’m writing this post and looking at the pictures is that I am finally moving forward with my life. It makes my heart full to see happiness in my eyes instead of emptiness and for once in a very long while I know that I’m not pretending to feel that way for the sake of those I am around. Thanks, M, for a great weekend!

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