Instead of staying in Dublin, we had booked a hostel in Galway on the opposite side of the country– a four hour bus ride away. After some initial freak-outs over European money being too different to make sense (“But grandma, there are still 100 cents in a euro! It’s just called a euro instead of a dollar!” “Brandon, that doesn’t make any sense to me.”), we managed to get everything situated, find the correct bus route, and get on the next available ride to Galway. Grandma was like a kid in a candy shop, but trying to work a camera that may as well have been made of nuclear reactors and orphan tears.
“Well I wish these pictures would take…”
“You have to hold down the shutter button, Grandma.”
“You’re just turning the flash on and off. Here, like this.”
We watched as green pastures, low stone walls, and castle ruins flew past us. I had been on this same bus before, but Grandma’s excitement made it feel like I was seeing it with a fresh pair of eyes.
We arrived in Galway early in the afternoon– about 2:30. This left us plenty of time to look around the city, pick up groceries, shower, and settle into the hostel. When we checked in, we were greeted by a man with a heavy French accent and a face that made him look twenty years younger than he actually was.
“If you leave your bags just hee-a, I may help you with the check-in.”
“Great, thanks!” I said, setting our stuff in the common room. A girl with dyed red hair looked up at us from the. Couch across the room and smiled.
“Here is your key. Please help yourself to ze things in the keetchen. There is tea and coffee, and just clean up whatever you use.” As he explained everything to us, I could see the same look of confusion on my grandmother’s face as I must of had when I checked in to my first hostel.
The light switches are on the outside of the bathrooms?
There’s not hot water tank?
I hit a power switch to start the shower?
The plugs are upside down?
Instant coffee exists?
Why does everyone speak French?
It was strange. It was a small hostel – maybe thirty people at max capacity – and all the people coming for the entire afternoon were French-speaking (English as a second language, anyway). It wasn’t until after we had eaten dinner (spaghetti and scones) that we met a couple of German girls and a Canadian woman named Amanda.
Grandma’s confusion turned into self doubt pretty quickly. All of us were switching back and forth between French and English and I realized she wasn’t doing so great about it.
“I wish I had learned some of these languages, guys, I’m sorry,” sounding genuinely grieved.
“Don’t worry!” They repeated again and again.
“You guys probably think it’s so strange, there’s just this old lady here and all of you are so young. You must think this is so strange,” she kept saying nervously. My poor grandma.
“Not at all!” The other guests repeated. It would take another day, but she would get over this. For now, we needed sleep. Having been up for far too long and put under far too much stress, we slept relatively early after dinner until late in the morning with the plan to get a SIM card for me and some souvenirs for the other grandchildren back home.
Ireland’s phone company ‘Meteor’ had an incredible deal for 7,5 GB of data good for thirty days for only €10, so that’s what I went for. As we passed the little shops and old buildings, I read about them to her directly from Travelwiki, trying to be a good tour guide. She couldn’t get enough of the architecture and bright colors, the outdoor restaurant seating and tiny sidewalks.
“Oh heavens!” was her mantra for the day. “Oh, well for heaven’s sake!”
The real fun began that afternoon when we met two men from Northern England: John, a tall, fiery, super marathon runner (he’d just run thirty nine miles the day before); and Malcolm, John’s partner in crime with a cheeky sense of humor and an identifiably authentic kind heart. Along with a Slovenian girl who went by Stella, the Belgian girl we’d met yesterday (who we later learned went by Malo), Amanda, a Mexican expat named Alberto, and a French woman named Cecile, we made a formidable team of completely awesome people (for the purpose of this blog I will hereby refer to us as Team Craíc*).
*Craíc is the local word for ‘a good time’
Forget what we saw in the city– Grandma learned what hostel hopping is all about: the connections you make with other people.
There were so many people from so many different countries, I doubt my grandmother had ever heard so many languages I her life as she was hearing in this one room.
“It just boggles my mind that all of you are traveling so much like it’s nothing,” she observed. “It’s so easy for you to just move around. And you guys must think it’s so weird, like what is this old lady doing here?”
John piped up. “You’re only as old as you feel.”
“I think it’s great you are doing this,” Stella added.
“Better late than never.”
“You’re doing it now, and that’s what counts.”
Etc etc. I could actually see her loosening up, finally.
Then things got crazy.
On a whiteboard in the kitchen was written “SILENT DISCO, MEET TONIGHT IN KITCHEN AT 10:30.” We had to ask what it was.
“Everyone’s got headphones and listens to different music, so you’re all dancing to different music,” Malcolm explained.
“Well, that sounds neat!” Grandma said.
“Do you want to go?” I asked her. She seemed genuinely excited about the idea, even though I was sort of on the fence. It cost money to get in (strike one for me) and would keep us up really late (strike two). But Team Craíc was such a great group…
“Yeah, let’s do that.”
“Okay, just let me know if you get tired or uncomfortable at all,” I coddled. The whole day I’d been pestering her. “How are your legs? Are you sore? Do you need to drink or eat something?”
“No, I’m fine,” over and over.
John and Stella took turns putting on disco music in the kitchen as everyone gathered slowly. Somehow, this ended with everyone in the group sharing some kind of dance they were familiar with. Even Grandma learned John’s eccentric dance, which included jumps and turns, and she mastered basic Irish step dance with me before teaching everyone else how she dances to Elvis.
Half of Team Craíc including John, Stella, and Malcolm took us to the bar a bit early to get a drink and hang out. I’m almost positive it was Grandma’s first time in bar in thirty years, but by this point, she was much more comfortable with the idea of being around people and having a good time.
We entertained ourselves by choosing an accent to read a famous quote in, and then copying someone’s accent. It. Was. Phenomenal.
I’ve literally never seen her so happy. I couldn’t help but feel proud of her for taking such a huge step out of her comfort zone (and without a single push from me!), listening intently to what everyone was saying and making an honest attempt at not only remembering their names and stories, but adding them on Facebook (we’re still working on that bit) and trying to understand their various cultures and philosophies. I was so excited for her.
And then we went to the silent disco.
As we stood in the queue to get in, it was obvious it was a packed house. I was becoming exceedingly nervous for her.
“Now,” I shouted over the crowd, “if you feel tired or crowded or anything at all just let me know and we’ll head out. Everything okay?”
“Yeah, I think so!”
The whole group stayed together, which, if you’re familiar with clubs at all, was a miracle. We were all given wireless headsets which could tune between two stations which matched a music video being played on the wall opposite the entrance. Then, the fun began. We danced crazy and screamed the words to the songs, and the songs I didn’t know, Grandma would sing. And the whole time, she danced happily around like she was 25 again.
And here I have to give another shout out to Team Craíc, who helped me watch out for her, and especially Malcolm. In a lot of ways, she had more fun with them than with me!
A man in the crowd no one actually knew came up and danced with her once, which was a little strange. The second time he danced with her, he pulled off one of her headphones and said, “I’m not a very good dancer,” and gave her a kiss on the cheek before disappearing back into the crowd.
“I think it’s time to go,” I shouted.
“Yeah, I think I’m ready,” she said.
We let the others know and made our way back to the hostel, where I planned on immediately sleeping. Grandma had other ideas.
Malo was hanging out on night shift in the common room watching Miss Congeniality. I went to the bathroom and came back, and Grandma and Malo had made it into deep conversation. They talked about Belgian politics, war, refugees, taxes, immigration, and American and European history over the course of a hour and a half.
Finally, I couldn’t stay awake anymore, and went to bed (which Grandma took as a signal she should sleep, too), unbelieving of how crazy our day had been.
I got a message shortly after that from my dad in response to a picture I’d uploaded to Facebook:
“Please let her do what she wants to do and don’t be dragging her to all this partying.”