Beth and I met a hundred years ago in another lifetime, filled with children and responsibility. As the busyness of young families lifted, we, on a whim, jetted off to Ireland. We wanted to be spontaneous, adventurous, and free. As a result, our trip had few plans and even fewer reservations. We got sucked into Londonderry history, searched Beth's family roots at Stormont Castle, scaled the iconic rocks of Giants Causeway, stayed at the foot of Yeats famous Benbulben, boated to the Aran Islands, and hung out at a lot of pubs.
But our adventure was not perfect. The two of us white-knuckled the narrow Irish, dry stack wall-bordered roads in a full-sized car on the left-hand side of the road and learned first-hand why American Express did not offer rental insurance. As Beth said," Everyone's swapping paint!" We also realized there is a dark side to spontaneity and wound up spending the night in our rental car in a motel parking lot in Northern Ireland. Horrified, uncomfortable, and exhausted, one of us made a sarcastic comment, the other giggled, and soon we were cracking jokes about how others would have handled the situation. The blaming. The anger. The lack of control. We could not stop laughing.
Our next destination was Scotland. We read tons of books about Mary Queen of Scots and made nerdy comments with obscure references to her lover, Bothwell, at Stirling Castle. We drove alongside Loch Lomond singing "The Bonnie Banks of Loch Lomond" and visited the historic site of the Battle of Culloden. Tacking on a side trip to England, we traced Hadrian's Wall and explored the Lake District. Our piece de resistance was peaking Arthur's Seat in Edinburgh. Viewing the Scottish vistas, we never wanted the trip to end. For our nomadic souls, traveling was breathing.
Like any trip, there were misadventures. We made reservations at a "backpacker's hostel" and discovered one should never use those two words in the same sentence. The drunks in the lobby pub, the stench of urine in the stairwell, holes in the walls leading to nowhere, and weird beds with stained sheets greeted us. We were appalled by the place and sat in a restaurant on our computers, searching for alternative accommodations. We were soon on a ferry to the Isle of Mull and a spotless B&B with oversized window views of the sound.
France found us descending the Eiffel Tower steps, clicking pictures of gargoyles at Notre Dame, and sipping coffee on trains between our French destinations. We hiked the mountains around Chamonix, explored Normandy's beaches, lunched with my cousin and her husband in Lyon, walked along the French Riviera, and canoed the castle-lined Dordogne.
But this trip also was not perfect. After being locked in a jetway at the airport for almost 2 hours and begging security to let us out, we arrived at our Montserrat flat in the 18th arrondissement of Paris. Having no air conditioning, we realized there was a reason the French exit their city in August. We threw open the windows of our stifling 90-degree apartment, but it made no difference. Adding to the discomfort was our location on the main thoroughfare. All night emergency vehicles sounded like they were driving through the middle of the flat, and we were permanently sleep-deprived. Mornings found us grabbing hot chocolate or coffee and some delicious pastry. Although exhausted, we did not miss a thing.
Circumstances heading south is part of life and a big part of travel. When one has a friend like Beth who giggles in the middle of the night from the hatch of the rental car, echoes my outrage at the urine doused stairwell, waves across the airplane stuck on the tarmac for four hours, takes over the driving when those crazy Irish roads are a little too nuts, and sucks the marrow out of absolutely every adventure, you know you have a friend indeed. She is not a tourist checking off destinations, nor does she want layers of luxury shielding her from the locals. She is out there living the journey and enjoying every minute of it.
We have plans to visit Canada next year, and Beth is already sharing obscure Canadian facts. Like all our trips, most of it will be magic, and a little bit will be tragic. Knowing I have a dear friend like Beth, who handles life's annoyances with such aplomb makes satiating our ravenous travel bug hearts so much better.
Beth is definitely part of a life well-lived!
Happy Birthday, Beth!
M.J. Minerman writes for spinsters around the world who have "not found their lids and are pursuing lives well-lived."