There are certain things you don’t say. Or at least, there are certain things you don’t feel comfortable admitting as a traveler (or even as a human being)
Some examples could be
“I didn’t really like Disney World.”
“I skipped Buckingham Palace because my feet hurt.”
“I don’t like Christmas.”
Yes, all of these are statements I’ve repeatedly made and none of them ring the bell of shame for me.
“I’ve never seen an episode of Game of Thrones,” is another.
Again, no shame (DING!!)
However, there is one statement that makes me hesitate with anticipation of how others might respond..
“ I think the Cliffs of Moher are a little overrated.”
Listen, I fell in love with Ireland when I went in April of 2016. Not the vague kind of love you use to describe your favorite restaurant…but the sappy, bear your soul, take pictures of yourself to see if you’re an ugly cryer type of love. I genuinely get sad looking at pictures of Ireland. The rolling hills, the purity of the countryside, the history, the natural beauty, the lambs lambing. It digs a hole in my chest and I’m constantly tempted to go back.
But if I had to rank everything I did and saw, The Cliffs of Moher would almost certainly be last.
To better explain my position, let me tell you about my full experience at the cliffs.
It was a fresh day. The air was clear and crisp as I drove with a friend the 40 or so minutes from Ennis. After checking the parking price ( 6 euros per person) we decide to take a risk and head for an alternate parking location that I had researched a couple of months before.
*I took this idea from A Little Adrift‘s cliff adventure, though I still don’t know if the road I took was the one on her secret map!
We drive about a little over a mile before turning onto the first side road we see. This road winds us up and over hills and through a small neighborhood of farms before reaching a small modern style house with an equally small gravel parking lot. Parking is 1 euro per car and even though I had read that it was free, we couldn’t beat saving 11 euros just to park.
We make our way up the gravel road and to a stone fence with built in stairs. My friend climbs over first and starts walking. I make my way over, but not before seeing a sign that reads:
“Cliffs of Moher: 1.5 to 2 hours one way.” Followed by a YOU ARE HERE style map.
2 HOURS?? Nowhere, and I mean NOWHERE had I read that this approach would take two hours, let alone another 2 to get back. At this point, I have climbed a peninsula and scaled a mountainside in the previous 3 days. My body is tired and hurting. I hesitantly walk on, but eventually realize that I’ll never make it. I signal to my friend that I’m going to take the car back and park in the lot where we could meet up later. He went on, and I enjoy a ride back with the windows down and Irish Dance music blasting.
After parking the car, I pass the gift shops and tour groups picnicking behind their busses. A short walk up an incline and I peer over the cement wall to see the cliffs.
There, blue waters gravitate toward the dusty browns in the cliffside. The gulls catch my eye as they hover on gusts of wind that take them on hypnotizing flights up and down and in and out of the rugged layers of exposed dirt and rock. I am in awe of their ability to fly through the bursts of wind and land on rocky shelves only inches wide.
I take slow panning videos of the birds in flight as well as the base of the cliff thinning and stretching out into the ocean. The vibrant blues, browns, and greens aren’t nearly as lucid on screen as they are to the eye.
I move along the man-made wall and up to O’Brien’s Tower. I take pictures for couples and families before finding an ideal spot to take some selfies..you know, to prove that I was actually here. I look at my phone and realize it’s close to meet-up time so I make my way down to the shops for some last minute browsing.
The shops are nothing I haven’t already seen; children’s instruments, pins, CDs, wool sweaters and blankets, jewelry, post cards, etc. Nothing too eclectic and nothing special enough to bring back with me.
I sit along the stone wall outside the shops waiting for my friend and listen to an accordion playing in the distance.
So where did it go wrong?
Well, I had just spent 3 days driving through a small portion of the Irish countryside and what I saw in those three days had nailed the entire Ireland experience for me. So much so that the cliffs felt like the “Small World” ride at Disney World: overworked, and overdone.
Looking back, even if I had reversed the trip and visited the Cliffs of Moher first, I still wholeheartedly believe that places like Inch Beach, Dingle Peninsula, and Slea Head Drive would have easily surpassed the cliffs.
Though they are beautiful, the entire attraction was a “surface” experience; similar to a museum, I felt like I was looking at an object behind smudged glass. You are given specific paths to walk, walls to keep you at a distance, and tacky souvenirs to spend too much money on. I wanted more touch, more feel, more rugged, green ground to bounce back beneath my feet.
But hey, maybe it isn’t the cliffs. Maybe it’s me. Maybe I’m unable to see past the regulations and ad-ons. Looking from a different perspective, the paved paths make it easier for those with physical limitations to gain access, the gift shops keep younger visitors engaged and excited, and the cement walls keep people safe. Maybe it’s less about the attraction, and more about me learning about myself and the growth of my ability to accept that the value of an experience lies within the individual. And in the end, isn’t that what traveling is all about?
And now that I’ve unpacked this statement, I’m really not ashamed of it at all. I used to believe that in order to have a successful trip, you had to be able to prove it by going to all the places most people know about whether they themselves have been there or not.
Ireland made me realize that the places you can’t get out of your head, the ones that make you lift your eyebrows when you talk, or forget to breath between sentences because you can’t get enough adjectives into one thought are the places that prove your trip was successful. Simply by existing in my mind, bits of Ireland changed the way I view travel.. and I hope that any traveler can find a place in the world that does the same for them whether it’s a museum, a mountain, or a gift shop.