I considered skipping over writing a blog about Ireland. One, we only spent four days there. And B, we spent nearly all of our time outside of the hubbub of Dublin and instead stayed in our Couchsurfing host’s suburban home. The only touristy thing we managed was to take a tour of the Guinness factory where we saw a fish riding a bicycle and Nate perfected the “Guinness Pour.” Did you know that you could push back on a draft beer tap? Whoa.
I’ve decided to go ahead and write the blog though because our stay in Dublin was one of my favorite Couchsurfing experiences. Plus this is my blog, and I can do whatever I want. Anywhooselbee…if you’re here to read about Dublin, you should stop reading now. Seriously.
When Nate and I arrived in Dublin, we took a bus from the airport to the nearest stop to our host Aiden’s place. He told us he’d pick us up from the stop and that we could walk from there. My social anxiety was already creeping up and irrationally filling my head with images of how miserable we were going to be. I hate being out of control of a situation, and being out of walking distance of the city eliminated any quick exit plan. Things did not get better after Aiden met us at the bus stop and escorted us to his family’s home. He led us into a section of the house that seemed cut off from the rest of the dwelling. First he explained to us that there were two other surfers already in the space and that there were four more surfers arriving around midnight. There were nine of us in total meant to sleep on 2 queen beds, 1 couch, and a twin mattress that had been laid on the floor. Aiden, it turns out, had recently learned about couch surfing and took to it with all the enthusiasm you’d expect from a newly-minted college student discovering independence and the-meaning-of-life. Aiden was so enthusiastic that the surfed himself right out of a bed and ended up sleeping that night on the bedroom floor.
Before we could even get to sleeping arrangements, though, Aiden let it slip that his enthusiasm for letting total strangers into his house was not shared by his father. He offered to make us tea but declined when we asked if we could help because his father was likely in the kitchen and didn’t really “know” about us. He assured us if we just stayed out of the kitchen area, we’d be fine. Oh, and the wifi router was in the kitchen as well, so there went our plans to spend our time away from the city catching up on blog writing and planning out our next travel steps. Here we were, unwanted guests in a strange house with 7 other strangers unable to even go get a glass of water. At this point, I was really hating couchsurfing and Nate a little, which I shared with him in harsh whispers as soon as Aiden slipped away to make tea. Because it’s impossible to hate Nate, though, I trusted when he said that it would be fine and waited for my hot tea so that I could use it to swallow the tenseness that had built up in my throat…or throw it on Nate if the situation didn’t improve.
Then Nate did what Nate does best. He went into the kitchen despite Aiden’s warnings and started talking to the father. I tried to eavesdrop on the conversation and felt like I could feel the chill in the air from my station in the bedroom. I fully expected Nate to come back any minute. I used that time to compose a detailed argument for why we should abandon this house and get an Airbnb in the city center. Strangely, Nate didn’t come back. I waited and waited until curiosity got the better of me, and I decided to brave the kitchen to make sure the father hadn’t dismembered him. There I found them all chatting like old friends: Nate, Aiden’s father, Brennen, and a younger man named Darren who was also boarding at the house. It turns out that Brennen didn’t actually have anything against sharing his space, he just didn’t quite understand couch surfing and, understandably, didn’t really love the idea of inviting in strangers, especially when Aiden didn’t tell him about them until they where already there. Fair enough.
We ended up spending that entire evening and the following three nights around the kitchen table shooting the breeze with the whole family. Brennen confided that since his wife had passed away three years earlier, he’d opened up the place to boarders to make the space less lonely. It was just himself, his son Aiden, and his daughter Orla. Orla was in her early 30s but had Down Syndrome and needed his care. When we first met Orla, she insisted that Brennen play the part of a mean father and yell at her for something. He obliged, yelling at her to clean the dishes. With a very dramatic air, she yelled at her father that he couldn’t tell her what to do and slammed the kitchen door shut behind her. She came back a moment later and bowed to our lavish applause. Darren, a self-taught amateur body builder in his mid-twenties, filled hours telling us almost comical tales of a young marriage gone terribly wrong while Brennen poked fun at his hyperbole at just the right intervals. That kitchen was constantly alive with the comings and goings of people. Orla’s friends came to visit, Darren’s girlfriend, a super sweet aspiring MMA fighter, stopped by, and other boarders and family friends popped in from time to time. It was like Grand Central Station, and it was better than all the tourist traps in Dublin combined.
I realized by the end of it that we’d been welcomed into the most private affairs of this family whom we’d just met. I’d been astounded before at the generosity of couch surfers, but this level of intimacy was something altogether new and very, very welcome. It is hard to make genuine connections with people when you’re constantly traveling. With Brennen, Aiden, and the whole lot, we were family. They didn’t try to hide the messier parts of their lives, and in turn we didn’t have to hide ours. We were honest about the highs and lows of traveling, and we were happy to receive empathy and advice from Brennen, who had spent much of his life before marriage traveling around the world.
So that’s my story of Dublin. The trip, in fact, did end in a stereotypical-leprechaun-infested rainbow. I noticed on our last evening that a rainbow had arched itself over the house. When I rushed in the house to share the photo I’d snapped on my phone, Brennen reminded me that there was a pot of gold waiting for us at the end. I just smiled knowing that he’d already given us a treasure.