Today, with a GPS in the car and on the phone, getting lost has become, well, a lost art. It can’t even be used as an excuse for being late. When was the last time you heard someone say: Sorry, I got lost, and it took me forever to find the place?
I have no sense of direction. And, although family and friends have seen this as an annoying flaw, I have always thought of it as a chance for a new experience. A missed exit off the highway is an opportunity to explore a town I’ve never visited, uncover interesting shops and restaurants, or find fresh eggs and bottled honeycomb at a roadside stand. As much as I appreciate and need the directional technology, I miss those unexpected discoveries and the need to stop at gas stations every other block to find my way home.
When my children were young, we referred to my ‘misdirections’ as adventures (a convenient cover-up when they spilled the beans that mom got lost, again). I always added time to the clock when we had to be at a (new) doctor’s appointment or at a birthday party in an area I wasn’t familiar with. Those stops at gas stations for directions became normal occurrences and a great place to pick up wrapped beef sticks, Twinkies, and other adventure snacks. Bribes? Maybe.
Our outings began to disappear when getting to a friend’s house or an after-school activity became more important than unexpected cow sightings. Once we got the Tom-Tom navigation system for the car, there was no going back. I missed my quirky delights, but change was good, too. By the time the kids left home, getting lost for the fun of it was a thing of the past.
When my husband had to travel to Ireland for work, I was excited to go with him. Who doesn’t have (or want) a wee bit of Irish in their ancestral tree? My husband would work most of the week, but we added a few days to the end of the trip as vacation. On the days that he worked, I would be left to my own devices.
I had no plan and no timeline; it couldn’t be more perfect. On that first day as a wandering spirit, I passed many pubs before finding a café for coffee and breakfast pastry. I shamelessly listened to customers’ conversations, rolling their words over my tongue trying out the accent. My friendly server provided a list of her favorite shops, restaurants, and points of interest. Unfortunately, between her accent and the reference to roundabouts, I knew I was on my own. After all these years, the old excitement of discovery re-ignited. I was ready to lose myself in the moment. I took a bus into Cork City and got off at a random spot.
The architecture, the bridges, the Old English Market, the people – I wallowed in the history of Ireland. I had no idea how far I was from the hotel, nor did I care. Every shop was a treasure trove. I stopped in a jewelry store and watched as an artisan created a Celtic knot just for me. He slipped the interlocking arcs on a chain and fastened it around my neck. It made the Irish part of me feel right at home.
I wandered through galleries and splurged on a piece of pottery. I ogled the goods at the Old English Market and chatted with the vendors. Their stories were committed to my memory for the retelling. I threw a coin into the water as I crossed over a bridge to mark that I had been there.
When the sky began to darken, I realized I needed to get back to the hotel. I asked for directions in the cozy old bookshop, my last stop. After jotting down a series of rights and lefts on a slip of paper, I was happy to hear the Imperial Hotel was just a fifteen-minute walk. My feet were sore, but there was no way I would take the bus or taxi–not at the end of this perfect day.
Soon the area began to look familiar. Evidently, I had made good time. I looked in the window of another bookstore–a familiar face looked back at me. It was Molly, the shop owner, who had just given me directions ten minutes earlier. Embarrassed, I waved and quickened my step. Was it right at the corner, then left?
When, yet again, I came upon the same shop, I opened the door to ask for help. I was tired and hungry and had a husband who would be concerned if I wasn’t back in the room before him. Molly laughed when she saw me.
“Have a seat. I can close up soon and I’ll give you a ride.” She fixed a tray with tea and cake and filled my ear with Irish lore.
Molly dropped me off at the hotel just as my husband arrived. He noticed our chatty goodbye.
“You must have gotten lost,” he laughed expecting a dramatic re-hash of my adventures.
“No, not lost at all,” I replied touching the silver knot at my neck. “I was exactly where I was supposed to be.”