My wandering has always included being lost 90% of the time. As I try to navigate Dublin, a highly walkable and generally friendly city with a wide-reaching public transportation system, I find myself lost most of the time. I don’t care how many maps with stars and circles and flowing lines over bridges (I’m looking at you, River Liffey) and streets and bus stops you give me.
I listen and nod when people give me directions and just hope I run into whatever I’m looking for. It doesn’t help that there aren’t many street signs, and the ones that exist usually look like this…
That kind of signage corresponds with how I’ve experienced many Dubliners giving directions: “You just keep going and you’ll run into the church. And then you just keep going and you’ll see a restaurant, a lovely little spot. And then you make a kind of turn and just keep going. It’s only a ten minute walk.” Every time I ask for directions, it’s “only a ten (or fifteen) minute walk.” It’s always straight but involves “kind of” a turn or two. Maybe it’s because I’m not used to walking everywhere or something (thanks suburban sprawl), but it’s always more like, um, THIRTY. I’d like to take a moment to say that I find comfort in the fact that I have found other humans in this world who give directions exactly like I do, with landmarks and a general idea of where something is. However, as I cannot read the city the same way that they can by buildings and in relation to the Liffey and sometimes even just a wall, these directions often are lost on my already disoriented mind.
Today, for instance, I tried to see how long it would take to walk from my apartment to the school where I’ll be studying. I walked to the train/bus station, and asked someone at the main information desk how to get there. He gave me the same directional/distance spiel with a bonus instruction “not to cross the river.” After pretending to understand per usual, I started walking. I went straight, crossed the street, succeeded in not getting hit by the Luas (the local tram system), and for a moment had confidence that I would be able to find where I intended to go. After all it was just a ten minute walk, right? I looked to my left and saw the river. I started feeling uneasy. Did I cross the river? I had been walking for at least fifteen minutes. Did I miss a turn? WHERE WAS I? I walked all the way back to the station and told the man that I had failed. I didn’t know where I was going, and that I needed to take a taxi and then I could figure it out in the future from there. He just chuckled, left his station, and took me outside. “You are completely capable of doing this. You alright, there? Good. Follow me.” Then he led me across the street, and showed me the exact point where I should turn. Thanking him profusely, I started off again. I walked ten minutes, made the turn at the exact right point, and kept walking.
After another ten minutes of walking, I once again figured that I must have done something wrong. So I popped into a gas station and pulled out my completely unsubtle tourist map, replete with giant sketches of buildings and bright colors. I asked one of the attendants if he knew how I could get to the school. He told me that I was headed in the right direction, to just keep going straight for about ten minutes. Even though the minutes just kept adding up, I felt my spirits soar and thought that I just might be capable of doing this on the first go without a cab.
Time passed, and my hopes began to dwindle. I couldn’t find a street sign anywhere. I knew I was in the right district, but that wasn’t enough to help me find the building. Just when I feared that all was lost, my brand new German roommate passed by and smiled and I pounced. “Is the school near here? HELP!” “You passed it 200 meters ago,” he replied. He was headed there anyway, and I followed. I don’t even know how long we walked because I had lost track of time with my consecutive and non-consecutive ten minute walks followed by 200 meters. All in all, even though it took a small team who gave me reassurance, directions, and literally walked me to the school, I felt accomplished. Even though I returned home two hours later from a “ten minute walk,” I delighted in the fact that, hey, at least all of my ten minutes were on the correct side of the Liffey.