Goodbye, Belfast

After 205 days, 11 countries and I don’t know how many miles, we’re flying home today. It’s a bittersweet day for all of us, thinking of what we’re leaving behind while looking forward to getting home.

The bags are repacked, ready to go into the taxi that will take us to George Best Belfast City Airport for the short hop to Heathrow in London, then it’s on to hometown airline Delta for the final push to Atlanta.

The assorted items we bought during the trip have been used, sold, donated or tossed, save our dishes and a few other items (including an oscillating fan!) that our friend Eileen has agreed to keep for us.

Lifetime of memories

For per diem purposes, we kept a calendar of where we were on each day. Mostly we were together, except for a couple of Fulbright conferences in the UK and an Irish studies conference in Kansas City that Marilynn attended alone and the weekend in April when Declan and I saw Arsenel play Manchester City to a tie at the Emirates in London.

But we were together someplace other than Belfast for 50 nights, seven weeks’ worth of trips to Italy, mainland Europe, Portugal, Dublin and the Dingle peninsula in the Republic and a week in England’s Cornwall district. We also spent a weekend in the natural beauty of Donegal and another visiting Big Houses in Enniskillen.

Declan spent a semester at a different school, where he excelled in Spanish, Irish history and religion. He also saw lots of professional football, including the local Linfield Blues (twice), Hertha Berlin and Bristol City.

I learned, despite the occasional technology snafu or time zone crisis, that I can work from truly anywhere. And Marilynn immersed herself in Northern Irish politics, which have been particularly turbulent these past seven months, and dived deeper into the publications she plans to include in her next project, on literary responses to the peace process.

We take with us memories of our travels near and far, as well as the people we met and those we’ve gotten to know much better. We think back to those who have opened their homes and their hearts to us and how we tried to reciprocate. But we also look forward to reconnecting with our US family and friends, to chance encounters with neighbors in the street, at the grocery store or at the gym.

We miss our cat, our big American washer and dryer, American plumbing and central A/C, although I do enjoy needing a light jacket in July. Later this week we plan to enjoy milkshakes at Cook Out, share a dozen Krispy Kreme doughnuts and eat out at Mellow Mushroom and Sushi Avenue. Declan and I also want to split a box of Cap’n Crunch cereal (with Crunchberries, of course).

And then diets beckon for the adults, as do the prospects of returning to their jobs, and Declan heads back to school, just a month after getting out of school in the UK.

Thanks so much for coming along on this journey to Europe and back, although the journey doesn’t end today. No, there are more stories left to tell, so stay tuned. But for now, I’ll leave you with the same scene that we started with on January 3, although this image was taken this morning, our final morning in Belfast.

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