My plan was to go alone for the first few days, then meet up with my father - who was on a business trip in London - and we would then travel together to the town of his birth and he could introduce me to all of my Irish aunts and uncles and cousins.
On Saint Partick's Day I traveled to New York City where I caught a flight to London, then a connecting flight to Dublin, and finally a train across to the western city of Galway. By the time I stepped off the bus in Galway, I had been traveling for nearly twenty-four hours. It was raining when I arrived, and the streets were shining, people moved quietly and quickly from one doorway to another. I had been once before, but this was my first time traveling alone. As I stood watching the small, wet city, I was filled with a sense of rising anticipation, as if the whole thing had been created just for me.
I found a payphone and dug in my backpack for the telephone number of the woman I was meant to be staying with. She was an old friend of my father's who had offered to let me stay with her until he arrived later in the week.
I made the call, but was met with an answering machine. I hadn't expected that, so I left a brief message letting her know that I had arrived and scooped up my backpack, setting off to find something to eat.
It is impossible to go more than a few yards without coming to a pub, and I entered the first one I saw. Wiping my dripping hair from my face I took a seat at the nearly empty bar and asked for a dinner menu.
"We stopped serving at 5," the bartender told me. "Can I get you something to drink?"
"Um, sure." I looked around. When in Ireland... "I'll have a Guinness," I said.
The sound of my American accent attracted a group of boys from the other end of the bar. They moved closer as the bartender set the beer in front of me. He leaned in closer and nodded in the direction of the boys, "They've been 'ere since yesterday." He made sure I caught his meaning before going back to polishing pint glasses.
I looked at the boys. They were cute, about my age. One of them nodded to me, and I quickly looked away and sipped my beer. If they'd been there since yesterday, and yesterday was Saint Patrick's Day... I glanced back at them and then ducked my head again. They were staring.
Knowing that drinking beer on an empty stomach after 24 hours of travel isn't a good idea and not doing it are two very different things. I sipped the beer because they were looking at me, and it wasn't long before one of them left the group and made his way down the bar to where I was sitting.
"You're an American, yeah?" he asked. His eyes sparkled, and in spite of the fact that he had clearly had a lot to drink, he was charming.
"Yeah," I smiled.
"Doin' a bit of traveling?" I could hear his buddies whispering, but didn't look over at them. This Irish boy's eyes were starting to affect me. Or maybe it was the Guinness.
I told him about my trip, how long I'd already been traveling, that I was meeting my father in a few days.
He waved his crew over and there were introductions all around. They all seemed thrilled to meet the American girl fresh off the plane, and they had an easy way about them that made me feel part of their drunken little band right away.
He put his arm behind me, not quite around my shoulders, but leaning on the bar in a flirty kind of way. "Let us show you around, then."
I remembered my father's friend. "I don't know," I said, "I have to call this woman I'm staying with before it gets too late."
"Ah, don't worry about that," he said, "we'll make sure you can call her in a bit."
He took my hand and I scooped up my backpack and left the pub with them. I started to feel like this might be just the adventure I had been hoping for, exactly the kind of thing a girl with no strings attached should do when she travels.
...to be continued.
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