Today, my friends, is the day I try to leave Ireland and go to Scotland. I say try. I ultimately succeeded, but not before being very nearly thwarted at every turn.
I took a bus from Dublin to Belfast, intending to catch a ferry across the water to Scotland and say hello to J.K. Rowling and Hogwarts. My challenge to myself had been to avoid at all costs (and it cost dearly) flying. To me, planes take (almost) all the romance out of traveling. I still think that. I told people that to me, a plane was like a time machine that took time: you climb into a big metal tube, wait, get out, and you’re somewhere else. I wanted to watch the land go by, I wanted to see one place change into another seamlessly. There was also a colossal tradition of expatriot Americans traveling Europe that I wanted to be part of, and I think the rail system is essential to that tradition.
So I sat on the bus, so excited about the ferry I was to catch that afternoon. I had never traveled by ferry before, really. Not to change countries, anyway, which was an infinitely more exciting prospect than traversing around, say, Florida. In terms of scheduling, I was definitely pushing it. I would have to dash from the bus onto a taxi and dash immediately onto my ferry in order to make it. I was so focused on dashing, of course, and changing my money, and finding a taxi, that it completely slipped my mind that my big orange backpack was under the bus. With my whole life in it. Even my international identity. By the time I realized I didn’t have a 35 pound bag on my back like I should have, the bus had gone. Panic mounted in me. I had my wallet, and my journal, and a book. I paced the station, checking all the buses. I knew what it looked like, but even that was blurring. I didn’t know the bus number, I didn’t know if it was going back to Ireland. I knew it was blue. I could remember that. What do I do? I need that bag! Using the credit card Dad had gotten me for emergencies, which this certainly was, I called him. Having completely forgotten there was a five hour time difference, I felt even worse when I realized I had woken him up. But he snapped awake when he heard me crying and heard what had happened. “Tell someone,” he said firmly. I didn’t know who to tell, because who could possibly help me? The bus was gone, gone, gone. “Find the information desk and tell him. Where you were coming from, when you got here, whatever you remember. You’ll be fine. They’ll find it. Call me when they do.”
So that’s what I did. I must have looked pathetic, with puffy eyes and disheveled clothes and unwashed hair. And American, no less. I was a bit stung when the man at the info desk smiled at me bemusedly and said “You’re backpacking and you left your backpack on the bus?” I nodded, trying not to scrunch up my face in visible irritation. He chuckled on the phone with someone, and nodded, presumably saying the same thing he’d said to me. Irritated and offended as I was, his calm amusement with my tragedy calmed me down, too. If he wasn’t seriously concerned, then it must not be irreversible. Granted, I was still pretty panicked. After he told me that they’d found the bus and it was coming back, I waited by his little glass kiosk like a panicked but well-trained puppy, looking around the chaotic bus station with big, red, glassy wet eyes.
Then I saw a man, my previous bus driver, walking up with big strides and my blessed, lost orange backpack. “Thank you so much!” I cried in relief, running to meet him. “You left your rucksack on the bus? How’d you forget a thing like that?” He was also bemused with me.
Blushing and smiling embarrassedly, I went back to the pay phone to call my wonderful dad, straddling my backpack protectively as I held the phone.
As an epilogue to this story, I will briefly mention that I, of course, missed my ferry and waited in the port for four hours. From the tiny, smelly station on the coast in Scotland, I caught a fateful train into Glasgow, which I will write about next week, and in which Germany makes its only debut in my trip.