Saturday, June 22, 2013

What to Do While Stranded in a Foreign Town

"It isn't an adventure until something goes wrong."

I came across that saying early in my planning for this trip and took it as a challenge. "I want stuff to go wrong, then, because I want adventure." Well, I certainly started my two month trip to Europe off on the adventurous foot then!

My dad is joining me on the first leg of my trip, the parts through Ireland and Wales, and though I booked my flight several months before he booked his, we were scheduled to arrive at the Dublin Airport within an hour of each other on Saturday morning (June 15). The plan was to pick up our rental car and drive across Ireland to Westport, in County Mayo, by that evening. So, when I arrived at the Dublin Airport and turned on my phone, I was greeted with adventure: dad's first flight had to make an emergency landing, so he missed his connection to Dublin, and would be at least a day late.

We had a reservation for a Bed & Breakfast in Westport, so I ended up taking the train there and had to wait until my dad's flight arrived the next day - roughly 4 hours late - and then for him to drive all the way out to Westport to catch up with me. So after arriving on the train and collapsing on my bed for the night, I basically had a whole day to kill in the small town of Westport. What did I do while stranded in a foreign town?

1. Find a map. Preferably a map designed for tourists. (Find maps at your place of accommodation or a Traveller's Information office - My B&B host gave me one.) They're simple, but outline the basic stuff you need to know: Where to eat, shop, loiter, etc. Touristy towns will often even have signs or maps posted around town with more info, too.

Georgian bridge built in 1704 in Westport, Ireland
2. Find a green space. Towns, shops, bustling streets, and other people are nice, but if you're stuck there for a whole day, make sure you can find a little bit of nature to escape into as well. For example, Westport is a very environmentally conscious town, so I got lucky: they have a very nice "Greenway" - a paved path just outside the town, but easily accessible from many points in town, just separated enough to be wild and well, green. The path wound alongside of the town, then on a hill above the town center (nice views!), across the river on a tall, arched stone bridge built in 1704, and across a field/park. It was beautiful. Riversides are also great places to sit and relax.

3. Follow the locals. If you're worried about safety or cultural faux pas, just be aware of those around you. If lots of people are eating at a particular cafĂ©, it's probably got a tasty menu. If nobody else is drinking their soda out of the can, but pouring it into a glass first, you probably shouldn't drink your Coke straight from the can either.
Door in the Holy Trinity Church, Westport, Ireland.
4. Loiter in a church. Churches are almost always unlocked, especially near the center of small towns. Churches often have cool architecture, especially in the interior decoration, and especially if they're at least 60-70 years old: stained glass, stonework, mosaics, paintings, memorials, and other such stuff is common. Even if you're not into art and architecture, a church is a great place to, say, get out of the rain, or just sit and think, read, or talk with God - especially if you've already explored the town to your heart's content. 

So, my day wandering around Westport, Co. Mayo, Ireland, turned out all right. I walked to the quay or bayside end of town, trekked the Greenway to the other end of town, then back into Westport, crisscrossed the town, taking many breaks to sit by the river that is canaled through the center of town and rest without my 30 lb backpack on my back, crisscrossed the town again, then spent an hour in the German Gothic Revival church in town. Dad arrived by dinner time and though our schedule had to be edited and rearranged, everything ended up just fine.

I'm sure it will for you, too. :)

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