Wednesday, March 13, 2013
The bare tree branches twisted against the darkening wintry sky. Deep into the wooded path in the wilds of Ireland's County Wicklow, the rich green moss hummed with the promise of ancient magic, while tiny waterfalls fell from secret caves, throbbing with the pulse of the blood of our ancestors.
When I decided to hop on an international flight with just my 3-year-old and a few suitcases for company, much to the thinly veiled scorn and genuine bewilderment of many less adventurous souls, I knew we would have a great time together. I just had no idea what joy and wonder were waiting for us across the pond.
We arrived in Dublin shortly after lunchtime on Christmas Eve. We felt tired, hungry, jet-lagged, dirty. And because of an unanticipated computer glitch, it seemed for a few harried moments that we might just be homeless, since the lodging I had booked in advance was locked and dark.
A cozy lunch of sandwiches and juice in a pub down the cobbled street revived us, and I set out with purpose--a boy on my back, suitcases on one arm and my Lonely Planet guidebook in the other hand. We found a lovely, affordable, family-friendly guesthouse nearby, and a friendly local even helped carry our luggage most of the way.
I have traveled extensively, but I have never been anywhere as friendly and welcoming as Ireland. It was easy to navigate public transportation and everyone spoke English. Plus, everyone we ran into was so excited to help out by recommending places to eat, pointing us in the right direction, giving us discount fares, insisting we take an extra book free of charge at the used bookstore, offering their help, or asking us about our lives. Even though Dublin is a vibrant modern city of more than a million people, it is full of historic buildings, cobbled streets and a vibrant community of friendly faces. We felt right at home.
We could have stayed in Dublin for weeks without running out of things to do. There are fabulous museums--many free--to explore. The Natural History branch of the National Museum of Ireland appeals to natural-science enthusiasts of all ages, with an incredible collection, including different breeds of octopi that have been preserved in jars since 1837 and many other extremely odd specimens dating back to Victorian times.
The Archaeology branch of the museum around the corner houses everything from ornate religious relics to human remains that were preserved in boglands for centuries and only recently discovered. St. Stephen's Green is a beautiful park in the middle of the city, a short walk from the celebrated Book of Kells at Trinity College and the high-end shopping of pedestrian-friendly Grafton Street. We spent a lot of time at the St. Stephen's Green playground making friends with Irish families in between our more touristy forays.
It is also worth wandering outside the city. We hopped on an amazing bus tour of County Wicklow and were able to see and experience countryside and wilderness that would have been difficult to navigate on our own. We rode the train up to the little seaside village of Howth for a day, where we were enraptured by an up-close-and-personal encounter with wild seals in the Irish Sea.
From ancient churches to cozy tea houses, Ireland has something to offer anyone, and it is a trip that can really be tailored for different tastes and budgets. We walked almost everywhere, stayed in an inexpensive guesthouse, and ate simple picnic meals from the grocery store. We people watched, played in parks, explored free museums and splurged on an amazing night at an incredible Italian restaurant.
I know, I know, we were in Ireland, but my 3-year-old is not a big fan of the more traditional Irish fare of seafood or stews, and I have to admit that it was truly some of the best pasta I have ever eaten.
Travel Abroad Tips With Children
A spontaneous trip to Ireland turned out to be a friendly, cozy Christmas to remember for the writer and her son.
Keep some healthy munchies in the room, because little kids will likely wake up hungry in the middle of the night confused by jet lag and discombobulated by the new time zone. My little guy and I were awake from midnight to 2 a.m. every night that week eating hummus and carrots and apples together.
Pack a few familiar toys and books, but there are enough exciting kid-friendly places to go that it is not worth lugging a bunch of stuff around for entertainment. Plus, your kid will want that cool double-decker bus toy. And you will probably want to say yes.
Be flexible. We showed up in Dublin with a guidebook and no plans except to have fun together. Travel with a young child is much more joyful without rushing to meet predetermined agendas and expectations.