Our readers share tales of their ramblings around the world.
Who: Terry Fink of Mercersburg, Pa.
Where, when, why: Poring over ancestry information for years had created such a surge of curiosity within me that I booked my most comprehensive trip to date — a 12-day tour of Ireland in May — right as I reached retirement. I traveled 1,300 miles through 22 of the 33 counties of the Emerald Isle, in both the United Kingdom of the north and the Republic of Ireland in the south. I enjoyed the coastlines of St. George’s Channel, the Irish Sea, the North Channel, the Atlantic Ocean and the Celtic Sea.
Highlights and high points: All the many travel shows, guide books, magazines and articles about Ireland pale in comparison to the actual experience of it. The colors are more radiant and stunning, the sound of the dialect and the folk music more endearing. Even the aromas were more appealing than I had imagined. I was never disappointed by the iconic scenery. I marveled at distinctive landmarks such as the Giant’s Causeway, the Cliffs of Moher, the mountain of Croagh Patrick, the Dingle Peninsula and, of course, Blarney Castle.
Cultural connection or disconnect: Whenever I travel, it’s my desire to have random conversations with some of the local residents and merchants. They’re usually just as content to have a chance to visit with a sincerely interested tourist. I did that often on this trip, but I was also able to connect with a friend from Belfast. We first met nearly 10 years ago, when we were both serving on a mission trip in Papua New Guinea. We had a late lunch together after my walking tour of Belfast. After lunch, we went walking together and, because my tour guide had been so thorough, I was able to show my friend things about his city that he never knew!
Biggest laugh or cry: Nothing makes a trip more memorable than pictures. We had just arrived at Queen’s University Belfast when I tripped and took a tumble onto the cobbled courtyard. This was my laugh-and-cry moment. Of course, I laughed at myself for tripping in the first place. There I was, torn capris, my bloody knees poking through the holes! Instinctively, I pulled out my handy “repair kit” and sat on the curb opening Band-Aids.
But, oh, my poor camera! When I fell, it landed on its face, and naturally the lens had been extended. It was crooked, and the camera now looked like a face with an obviously broken nose. Once I pushed hard enough, the lens finally retracted and, unbelievably, continued to work for the rest of the trip. I did have to borrow some duct tape from the bus driver to keep the battery door closed, however.
How unexpected: The most profound takeaway from my trip is a greater understanding of the enormous loss of souls during the Great Famine. It’s estimated that more than 1 million men, women and children perished from 1845 to 1852. The country is filled with so many memorials and statues that document an event that seemed so unlikely to occur, yet devastated the country. These memorials are very graphic and very sad.
Fondest memento or memory: I am thrilled to have visited Ireland when I did. It was late May into June, and nature left the biggest impression. Although I was too early for the renowned heather to be blooming, I was enchanted by many other things that I hadn’t expected to see. These included bright yellow fields of rapeseed and huge lavender rhododendrons; the latter are considered a major nuisance because the shrubs choke out so many of the island’s native species. Gorse, another common bush, is splashed across the landscape. Smaller species of flowers were the wispy delicate bog cotton and more familiar bog iris.
The Irish climate is an amazing contrast. As far north as it is, the island is blessed with favorable warm winds, making unique locations where alpine and tropical trees thrive together, which was a truly unexpected sight!
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