The writer Ray Bradbury once said, “Go to the edge of the cliff and jump off. Build your wings on the way down.”
I think of Bradbury’s advice often as I think about traveling, the best way to plan it, or in the alternative, not plan at all and just go. To the edge of the cliff and see what develops.
Over the years I have traveled both ways. Well thought-out journeys planned by others, or trips taken with no plans at all — just went somewhere that seemed intriguing and waited to see what the universe had to offer.
My daughter-in-law is great at planning trips for her family. She goes online, does her research and discovers wonderful restaurants, hotels and various activities to please adults and children alike. She knows how to navigate the internet and for sure knows how to work it to get the best deals for the best price.
I try but the entire exercise stresses me out. I think it’s because I need to see it to believe it. A description on the internet of a charming hotel with great food and enormous suites overlooking the sea might turn out to be a small dark room facing an airshaft on a road with a curve up a hill that motorcycles have to shift gears to navigate right outside my second-floor window!
The best trips I’ve had involved a great deal of luck, like not getting mugged in some sketchy part of town and falling into a cozy B&B with gracious hosts and delicious free breakfasts. You can usually tell most establishments as soon as you walk in and are greeted either warmly, as though they have been waiting forever for you to arrive, or dismissively, as though you are lucky that they are even considering taking your money. For obvious reasons, choose establishments offering option one.
When I was younger and braver, there were no destinations that I found too scary to at least take a chance on. Get dropped in the middle of Tangier with no reservations? Sounds like fun. Hitchhike over the Alps with three totally unknown men showing me the sites? No problem. One of my most memorable trips was when I dropped into the family home of a Yugoslavian sailor I had met on a freighter carrying me to Europe.
Now I think twice before deciding to visit the unknown. The wilds of Dumbo in Brooklyn intimidate me, probably because the area is so hip and I am so not. So I ask myself, how should I travel now that my courage seems to have deserted me?
Trains, planes and automobiles seem to still be reliable. A plane trip to Shannon, Ireland will not break the bank and the airport is very small. A rental car is minutes away from the terminal and the countryside greets you immediately. Green fields and friendly faces are everywhere in Ireland and the roads, once you learn to drive on the left, are well maintained and directions easy to follow.
One hour away from Shannon Airport is the small town of Doolin which has some of the best traditional music in all of Ireland. O’Connor’s Pub, opened in 1832, is located in Doolin along Ireland’s Wild Atlantic Way. ( I mean really, the Wild Atlantic Way — how could you not want to go there?) The music is fabulous and the atmosphere is wonderful. You will easily fall into conversation with other customers, especially in summer when a campground nearby fills up with young enthusiastic people from all over Europe.
A walk down the street from the pub lies a small harbor where a ferry can take you to the Aran Islands, a group of three islands located on the mouth of Galway Bay. The 1,200 inhabitants primarily speak Irish, although they are fluent in English. The islands are crisscrossed with ancient stone walls enclosing small fields containing livestock. The islands contain the ruins of monasteries that at one time housed Catholics fleeing Cromwell’s armies in the mid-17thcentury. Spend an afternoon walking along the paths between the stone enclosures, on land that held Catholic refugees scratching out a demanding existence, and you will be amazed at the resiliency of the people.
When you have tired of Guinness and Irish music (as if that is possible), drive back to Shannon, drop your rental car and hop a flight to Nice, France, on Ryan Air. $237 roundtrip.
A bus will take you from the airport to a stop along the Promenade Des Anglais, a short walk away from Vieux Nice (old Nice) where you can explore food markets and colorful flower markets. When you tire of walking, stop at a café, order a dry white wine or a coffee and watch the crowd go by.
A wonderful hotel overlooking the Promenade and the glorious Mediterranean is the Hotel Suisse. Make sure you request a room with a balcony, get some bread, cheese and saucisson, a bottle of red wine and have the best lunch of your life.
A short walk from the Hotel Suisse is the Nice bus station where buses leave every twenty minutes or so for the surrounding villages. Hop on the next one for Juan-les-Pins, Grasse or Monte Carlo. Get off at your stop and search for a restaurant that appeals to you and treat yourself to an expensive lunch. Another bus ride takes you back to Nice. A small safe jump off that cliff that Bradbury was talking about
If you are really adventurous and have the time, trains carry you from Nice to Venice or Lake Como, one of the most beautiful areas in the world. Hopping on and off trains once you get the schedules down is not difficult and most towns have hotels right next to the train stations where you can book a room for a night or two while you explore.
Back to Nice airport for you flight back to Shannon. The best part about traveling back to the U.S. from Shannon is that you pass through U.S. customs while in Ireland, saving you major aggravation of going through customs at Kennedy Airport.
Now I have to say it — bon voyage.