I've always had a bit of a love affair with Ireland. Although not merely for its sweeping landscapes and what I consider to be the best accent on the planet. My romance started about 12 years ago when I visited my then-boyfriend/now-husband, who like many American college kids was studying abroad in Dublin.
I didn't say a word to him or anyone else, but I decided I was going to marry him someday while on that trip.
Luckily at some point in his own personal journey, he came to the same conclusion. We celebrated 10 years of marriage this week.
Fast forward three college degrees, four houses, two kids, a handful of jobs and an international move. A couple of weeks ago, I returned to Dublin under quite different circumstances. A conference for travel bloggers took place in the city, so I escaped dirty diapers, school drop-offs and chicken nuggets for a bit of alone time.
And I fell in love with Ireland all over again.
Without kids to care for, I had quiet moments to reflect on why I connect with this place so strongly.
There are some places in this world entirely too humble. My home state of Indiana is sometimes like that. Hoosiers tends to make fun of themselves and their state, instead of reveling in all that there is to love about it. On the other hand, there are places that make you feel that as a mere visitor, you'll never be as cool or chic as the locals. Paris is my favorite city in the world, but it can definitely make an outsider feel a bit out of their league.
Ireland is the best of both: confident in its own unique beauty and charm, but without sticking its nose up in the air.
My taxi driver wanted to talk a lot about where I'm from in the U.S. and debate with me whether or not it rains more in England than in Ireland. But he was quick to explain the many structural improvements that had been made to the city since my last visit. And he was sad to hear I only had a couple of days to enjoy his country (as was I).
At dinner one evening at a wine bar, they weren't shy about blaring the hometown favorite band, U2. But my waiter talked to me at length about the conference and what everyone had thought of Dublin.
You know that friend you love spending time with because she listens just as much as she talks? That's what Ireland is like.
Ireland is not at all pretentious. It doesn't need baguettes being carried on old bicycles. Or lederhosen. Or windmills and tulips. It doesn't even need the staple of European ambiance, the outdoor cafe. (Besides, everyone has already ducked inside the pubs to toe-tap to Irish music.) Ireland stands with strong posture, head held high looking straight ahead into the rainy winds.
But not in a "we are better than you" way. Just in a "come and visit and see for yourself" way. Ireland wants to buy you a pint and get to know you better.
In a way, Ireland reminds me of a certain marriage I know well. Not flashy or fancy. Just simple, solid, and straightforward. A partnership between best friends.
No wonder I love it so much.