53 Kinds of Cow

Candice and I took our next international adventure in September of 2013 throughout the hills of Ireland and Scotland. Upon our return from Portugal in November of 2012, our flight home was cancelled and we were forced to stay over an extra night in Dublin. We fell so in love with the accents alone, that the day after returning to the states, still jetlagged and marginally broke, Candice threw a trip for two to Dublin on her magical American Express card.

“Are you on Expedia? Yeah? OK, I’ll check Kayak.”
“A castle.”
“What?”
“We can stay in a fucking castle in Dublin for ten days and it’s $1,400 each with the plane included.”
“Give me the link.”
We flew Aer Lingus on the way home from Portugal, and when they had to cancel our flight, the airline was beyond accommodating, and refunded our flights for the 600 Euro it would have cost normally to fly home. An extra $728 in the bank made us a little cheeky in our plans, and within minutes Candice and I had European takeover 2K13 in the books via Skype conference from our kitchens.
We had some extra money leftover, which is why Scotland was thrown into the middle of our excursion, as well as a side trip to Limerick, about a two hour bus ride from Temple Bar in Dublin, to have lunch with my friend Christina. She and I met at Bridgewater State when I was a junior in college and she was visiting for a semester as an exchange student. We played rugby together for a short amount of time, and shared an Irish Literature class. Christina was tough, had a raw sense of humor, and enjoyed whiskey, which made me believe that yes, every Irish resident must like whiskey. Which later proved to be true – at least at UL.
We arrived on a soggy Tuesday afternoon, tired and excited to be greeted by Christina and taken to lunch. Coffee and a lamb cheeseburger with rosemary steak fries….college food. No wonder she complained about our cafeterias so much. Candice and I toured UL – the gyms, the rugby pitch that the Munster Rugby Team practiced on. Swoon.
“Why go home? Stay here for International night. Pizzas and Jameson.”
Sold.
We sat at a table, low-light, taking turns paying for pizza and Jameson and Cokes. The wonderful thing about having international friends is, if you are open-minded, the potential for deep, multi-faceted conversation is very real. We spoke of foreign policy, student loans, welfare, and 9/11. Whiskey and genuine expression from Christina made me emotional to see how affected she, a foreigner to the United States, was when the Twin Towers fell. Conspiracy theories aside, judgments aside, lay the undeniable fact that thousands of lives were lost, and the hand of humanity reached many countries who had compassion for the families, and the victims. Brought together, and bonding with someone from a different country on a subject that ultimately affected the world drunkenly restored my faith – even if only for a moment – where I first truly experienced how good food, good drink, and good conversation united people.
“Let’s take this into town.”
The three of us hopped into a cab and met with Christina’s friends at a pub in the heart of Limerick, where the population was minimal, middle aged, and sloppy.
“It’s usually busier than this.”
It’s usually busier than this…on a Tuesday?
 
On downing what I believed was my ninth Jameson and Coke, Candice and I were soon engulfed in a conversation with a tall, portly, jolly young man, an acquaintance of Christina. No older than twenty, he smiled wide and his eyes brilliant with passion as he spoke of the farm his family had, and the fifty-three (of fifty-five) different breeds of cow he could recite. Maybe even in alphabetical order, but I was drunk, and this kid was crazy.
“Shut. Up.”
Drunken disbelief pulled Candice and I closer to this stranger. He spoke of his favorite cow, her name, what breed she was, why he liked that breed so much.
What in the….
She and I mouthed this about a dozen times over and over, ten Jameson and Cokes in at this time, while one by one this kid named cow after cow. I discern cows by color. Black, white, white with black spots, black with white spots, brown, chocolate milk…but I learned quickly my whole life-long cattle knowledge was a lie.
All of the cow talk made us hungry, and that led to Chicken Hut, AKA the KFC of Ireland, but worse. By worse, I mean worse for you. By flavor, I mean the tastiest thing my drunk self has ever consumed in my entire life.
Fried chicken with gravy that had the consistency of lard (amazing), fries, a soda, all washed down with impending regret and the continued disbelief that this kid was still talking about cows.
Drunk and tired, Candice, Christina, and I made our way back to Christina’s dorm, and arranged ourselves like drunk little piggies horizontally on her bed. I lay on my left side, facing the wall, knees tucked up, teeth un-brushed, still in the same clothes. Candice was in the middle, flat on her back, arms spread like a little drunk starfish. Christina, cocked diagonally and already unconscious lay at the head of her own bed. I tried to count my breathing in an attempt to make myself sleepy, but the Chicken Hut sat like a brick and I too, now, found myself trying to recall fifty-three or fifty-five types of cow. Candice, I assumed was dancing in a dream, because her jazz hands leaped out at my side, and my knees jerked over and over against Christina’s wall. To break the silence, Christina, in her drunken sleep, methodically ripped the loudest, yet odorless farts from six feet away from me. And thus was the night, a symphony of tickles, wall knocking, and gas, until we rose the next morning for our walk of shame back to the bus, and our hungover ride back to Dublin, penniless, nauseous, and educated in Irish bovine.

Cattle and a Unicorn

Candice and I saved a decent amount of money booking our trip to Dublin, and about three months after setting our dates and planning our excursions, I suggested a side trip to Edinburgh.

“I’ve never been to Scotland. It’s a bucket list. And Ryan Air is stupid cheap.”

“Great. And we can find a bed and breakfast or something.”

Our Skype meetings were frequent yet efficient these days. I would say “hello” to her mother in background, who never met me in person, yet knew me as the girl from New York who traveled the world with her daughter. I looked at flights, while Candice hunted down a website that wasn’t suspicious and also had low enough rates for a bed and breakfast.

“Ryan Air. We can leave Wednesday, middle of the trip, come home Friday. We’ll have a full day to explore. I want to see the Edinburgh Castle.”

“I want to see King Arthur’s Seat.”

“OK done. Booked on my end.”

Just like that, we were headed for Scotland…as if we were to become bored with having to spend ten whole days in only one country – one castle – what first world problems. We desired so much to hit as many places as we possibly could, and that’s what I loved about traveling with Candice. I had control issues with always being on time, booking trips, and Candice just smiled and trusted me to make sure we didn’t get kidnapped and there was always a pint of something in front of us. We had this strange, calculated way of moving around foreign places, where we booked the trip, but once we arrived, we had no concrete idea of exactly what we were to do. Everything in the country was decided generally the day before it happened, and we just rolled with it until we hit our next adventure. It took off the pressure of travel, and also made us feel less like tourists, and more like explorers.

******

Our flight to Scotland was booked for the part of the morning where it’s blacker than what nighttime should be. We didn’t sleep at all the night before, and thankfully the hotel was accommodating enough to book us a car to the airport, so all we had to do was make sure we had enough euros for the cab as we slumped into the back seat, and a very pleasant older gentleman zipped us off through the chilly morning.

Wow. We were so very tired.

“We should have slept.”

Candice gazed at me over a cup of coffee while we sat on the floor at the gate, putting our shoes back on, watching equally exhausted people wander like a herd of cattle, disheveled and regretful of their time choice to fly. Suddenly, I saw a unicorn among the cows. Tall, thin, wild curly blonde hair, his face looked like a Ken doll – almost perfect – and his style was amazing. Donning all black everything, wearing heavy black boots and a black jackets with spikes on it, Candice and I turned to one another and had a telepathic moment of recognition. How did he get through security with that jacket?  I could see it across as I struggled to figure out how this man was so well-dressed for 4:30 AM. He was so much his own style, so strange, so pretty.

Get a load of that guy. With our luck, we’ll be sitting next to him on the plane.” We both shared a laugh, and deep down, we both knew we so wanted to sit next to this man on the plane.

The cattle and the unicorn and the only two American people were herded down across the tarmac in the dark and up the stairs onto the airplane. We were told the flight would be about forty minutes, a first for Candice and I, who were used to anywhere between six and eighteen hours of travel to get to our destinations.Walking hurt. We were so unbelievably exhausted from not sleeping the night before, that our tiny airplane seats were the La-Z-Boys we longed for. People trickled in slowly, sleepily placing bags above them, slumped over in walking comas, when the unicorn stepped onto the aircraft and bee-lined for our row. Candice and I both tensed up and screamed a little on the inside when he sat beside us, gave a half smile, and we were sent into an immediate bout of giggles as she and I narrated the emergency instructional photos on the seat in front of us.

The safety demonstration began and a pleasant Irish girl unconsciously moved her hands along with the audio instructions of what to do in case of emergency. I could barely pay attention as Candice held back her slap happy laughter and the unicorn looked about like he was about over with us and with the emergency instructions. I leaned forward to my backpack on the floor, and in the process smashed my face into the seat back in front of me. I grabbed my forehead, and Candice, no longer able to contain herself, burst out in laughter. It wasn’t the hearty har-har type of laughter when a good joke is told, but rather a desperate wheeze of a person trying not to laugh at an obviously inappropriate time. Her face was changing color. I began to cry. The unicorn looked over the both of us, and chuckled.

Yanno, I’m doing this for your safety, you best not laugh.” The flight attendant was moved from her demonstration to scold us, threatening our removal from the aircraft, and I fought through my own laughter to explain I wasn’t laughing at her, I just hit my face into her close-quartered seats. Candice affirmed that I really did, in fact, hit my face, and we passed through the rest of the demonstration like elementary school children who were caught doing something naughty.

The plane took off, and Candice passed a comment about how these types of things only ever happened to us, which caught the attention of our unicorn, who began to engage in conversation. We learned he was called Nikolai, and was a hair stylist from Dublin. His family, originally from Russia, lived in Chicago at one point, and now settled in Ireland. His carry-on was filled with hair styling equipment, and he was heading to Scotland to visit his aunt, which he did every two or three weeks. Soft-spoken and polite, Nikolai engaged us in conversation for the short duration of the trip, and as we parted, the herd of sleepy cattle, the only two Americans, and the unicorn shuffled off the plane into customs.

“Nice meeting you.” We trudged through the automatic doors of customs for the only two American people traveling that morning into Edinburgh, and came across an empty white room. There were no employees, the computers were off, and there was no one to stamp us into the country.

“Where the hell is everybody?” Candice looked around, I peered in corners thinking maybe it was a surprise party, and we stood listlessly in this room for about ten minutes before making the decision to exit. Half-upset at the fact that we didn’t get a Scotland stamp for our passport collection, we passed through the next set of large automatic doors, only to be greeted by a large poster of an old man offering up a lobster, and Nikolai! Our unicorn waited for us! He waited as we gave our Facebook information, and said he would request us, but we weren’t able to tell until we reached another Wi-Fi hotspot, so we went on faith that we would hear from our new friend again. Nikolai wished us luck, as his aunt alerted him of her presence outside the arrival gates, and we watched our unicorn disappear into the harsh Scotland rain.