With my heart overflowing after the completion of the Kerry Way, I made my way north and back to work. The brief time away was a wonderful break from all the work in the previous few months. Being with friends, out in nature, with the singular, grueling focus of hiking everyday was a wonderful tonic for the restlessness I had been feeling towards the end of my time in Sofia.
Those seven weeks in Sofia had given me a new perspective on the potential balance I could achieve working while traveling. But it wasn't a perfect balance. And in retrospect, I think it was tinted a little by the environment and the people I was surround by.
The challenge now was to maintain and hopefully improve the balance in the absence of that perfect location.
After saying goodbye to my friends, I headed up to Northern Ireland and the quaint little town of Newtownards, outside Belfast. My friend Erin had very graciously agreed to let me stay a month with her. Upon arriving, I settled into a simple, and if I’m honest, pretty mundane routine.
A couple blocks down from her place, I found a wonderful little cafe called Caledonia Coffee and Bakes. It was the perfect landing spot for me to work everyday. It was quiet, but busy enough to provide me the occasional distraction. The coffee was good and the baked items delicious. But the staff, the staff makes this place amazing.
I got to know them well over the course of the month. We enjoyed many wonderful conversations. Some deep and philosophical, some lighthearted and joke laden, but all extremely genuine.
To Blair, Leah and Michael … you each made me feel welcome and at home in the cafe, but also in Northern Ireland. You will all be one of my favorite parts of my time in Ards, so thank you.
After a couple weeks of heads down work, the main project I’ve been working on finally launched. This provided a break in the schedule, and Erin and I took advantage to embark on a little road trip.
Our first day saw us heading north. We made several stops as we drove through the Atrim Coast and Glen Area of Natural Beauty (AONB) on the way up to Giant’s Causeway. Afterwards, we snuck in a cheeky quick visit to Dunluce Castle. Many of you will know it as Pyke Castle of House Greyjoy, from Game of Thrones.
For the rest of our weeklong adventure, we rented an Airbnb in County Donegal. On our way there, we drove up to Malin Head, the northern most point of the island. Our day included a stop in Derry to walk the old city walls. And as we headed out of town, a quick detour to check out the Grianan of Aileach, a sixth century ring fort.
From our base in Lettermacaward, the next few days were full of day trips around Donegal and Sligo. Highlights include the cliffs of Slieve League, Donegal Castle, Sligo Abbey and Benbulbin & the Gleniff Horseshoe. After returning from our exploring, we enjoyed excellent meals in the towns of Glenties and Ardara. Each night ended sitting by a fire in our cute Airbnb.
On the last day of the trip, we made a stop at The Argory, a National Trust protected estate near Dungannon. It’s always interesting to see what life used to be like. Along those same lines, once back in Newtownards, I took Erin up on her offer to visit Mount Stewart, another National Trust estate. This is where Erin works, so I got the VIP treatment and personalized tour. One of the most fascinating tidbits was seeing the desk that the Final Act of the Congress of Vienna was signed on, in 1815.
The remainder of my days in Ulster were spent back at Caledonia Cafe working, with a couple day trips into Belfast sprinkled in.
Mundane routine. That’s how I described my time in Northern Ireland above. It’s not inaccurate, but it doesn’t tell the whole story. It was a time of slow living, dedicated work and of making unique and interesting connections. This country is undeniably breathtaking. It is also a place of unique history and of difficultly understood beliefs, full of contradiction.
I’ve started to adjust and better understand how I can enjoy both work and play. It’s a unique challenge that requires a unique outlook on life. It’s not for everyone, and it might just turn out not to be for me either, only time will tell. But my time here has opened my mind to what’s possible and given me the start of a framework from which I can expand and make decisions moving forward.
As always, I remain open to all possibilities and look forward to seeing where this path leads me. For now, it leads me south again, where I’ll reunited with several dear friends, new and old, over the coming month.