I am both a romantic and a ruthless bargain-hunter, so when my friend Sarah found Foulksrath Castle, Ireland’s oldest hostel, just outside our destination of Kilkenny, I felt we had stumbled upon a particularly delicious batch of karma. “Just outside” turned out to be eight miles, which sounds like nothing, but considering the transportation available in Kilkenny in December, it might as well have been in Wales.
Ireland in December is Not Warm, and after hauling our luggage all around town (in restaurants, in tourist attractions, in a department store to buy the pajamas I forgot to pack), we decided to head to the hostel – the buses to Foulksrath had stopped running, so we were forced to take a hellaciously expensive cab. And spent all our cash.
We are not as unseasoned at traveling as we surely seem, although it would not seem unreasonable for a hostel as inexpensive as Foulksrath Castle to expect its customers to carry enough cash to cover one night’s stay. But, being from America, where you can charge Certs, we were unprepared for such quaintness. “Ohh nooo,” we were informed, “this is cash-only.”
We attempted to pool our cash, and had maybe two-thirds. We couldn’t afford another cab into town to get an ATM or find another place to stay. Were they going to kick us out and have us sleep on the grounds to freeze to death and add more ghosts to Foulksrath’s population? “And sometimes, in early December, you can hear the howls of two stupid Americans who thought they could pay with a credit card!” They could put it in their brochures, a cautionary tale to be told at breakfast by hostelers all over the world. “Who would even think of going to a hostel without cash? Who does that?”
Luckily, the beautiful, generous, kindly, magnificent manager’s wife had some errands in a nearby town and offered to drive us so we could get money. We more or less emptied our bank accounts (admittedly not difficult), ensuring we would not be without paper money for the rest of our trip.
Before bed, we tried to shower. The shower was unkind – when not trying to boil our flesh off, the water was a chemistry-defying marvel of liquid ice. I had foolishly neglected to bring a towel (one might wonder what I had managed to pack), and had to dry myself with my sheet, which was not absorbent and ended up just pushing the water around my body, somehow only making me colder. The space-heater did very little to assuage our fears that we would die that night – the staff would come to wake us up and there we’d be, a couple of icicles in twin beds, unprepared for a room without central heating.
Our bus back to Kilkenny was leaving at some sadistic pre-dawn hour, so we awakened in the middle of the night to wait for it. We weren’t sure when the bus would come or at what point we were supposed to assume we were too late for it. We stood, shivered, watched our breath, talked about whatever would distract us from the cold. Every time we saw a vehicle in the distance, we made sure they saw us, even if it turned out to be a truck. I jumped and flailed in my white coat (which later in that same trip was defeated by a poorly-sealed cup of coffee), and Sarah flashed her bright-white boots, Claudette Colbert-style. At one point, a bus rolled up, but did not stop. We didn’t mind, as it was going the opposite direction, but we would have liked to ask the driver for some information about the bus we needed.
After two hours of avoiding frostbite, we started worrying we had missed it. I started pacing around the roadside and came upon a sign that we had previously been unable to see in the dark. Half laughing, half crying, I shouted to Sarah while pointing in the opposite direction: “Kilkenny is that way!”
In the midst of our sleepy conversations and truck-flashing, we watched the sun rise over the thatched-roof cottages. My camera was somewhere in my luggage, and maybe I didn’t realize it at the time, but it was the most beautiful thing I had ever seen, made even more perfect by the imperfect experiences that had preceded it. We got a story out of our trip, and no real harm was done. As long as you’re safe and have a good friend to laugh about it with, it is always the most disastrous trips you remember most fondly. And I will always highly recommend the coolest, (c)oldest, most inconvenient hostel in Ireland should anyone venture to Kilkenny.
Looking to Book a Vacation to Costa Rica? Get $100 off your vacation through Costa Rican Vacations >>