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Entries in County Galway (10)

Thursday
Mar172011

Happy St. Patrick’s Day My Sexy Little Leprechauns

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Wednesday
May192010

Leaving my Dignity in Ireland

Rough freaking day.

This was not the day to be productive or even alive on only two hours of sleep.  My “to-do” list was about a mile long and I had absolutely no desire to tick off even one of them. I had to basically pack up my entire life for the past couple of months, ship some of it to Spain, some of it back to the states and the rest of it packed up in a bag to take with me for the next week and a half of traveling. Oh and I had to do laundry. And I had to clean. And I had to get us all on a bus by 4 PM.

HA.

Ya right.

Of course we missed our bus. But I blame it on Brian and Emily because they were sleeping and not motivating me to get shiz done. In addition, this was the windiest day of my life. I literally got knocked over at one point and I couldn’t hear myself think – not fun.

Fortunately, the guy at the bus station wasn’t too upset by us missing our pre-paid bus and let us on downtown instead of at the GMIT campus which was where I bought the tickets from. The bus ride was basically just an extension of our incredible day before and was 100% spent gossiping about the day/night before and how we were going to make sure we continued to live it for the next 10 days.

We arrived in Cork still in bad form, so we had a couple of beers and passed out, ready to catch our 5 AM (or some other ungodly hour) flight to Munich. 

Peace out Ireland. See you on the flipside.

Slan.

Tuesday
May182010

To Drink or Not to Drink: St. Paddy's Day 2010

 

I’ve heard plenty of mixed reviews about spending St. Patrick’s Day in Ireland.  Though it is a national holiday where most Irish are given the day off from work and school, I’ve still heard that it is more of an American holiday than an Irish one.  This was certainly confirmed when I arrived in Galway and spoke of the friends who were coming to visit me for the special day.  Mr G rolled his eyes and said he, himself, had never been to any of the St. Patrick’s Day festivities.  Hmm… Well.

I narrowed out staying the day in Dublin after I had heard that Dublin is just a collection of Aussies and American’s in town for the holiday.  I didn’t really fancy the idea of spending this day with anyone other than Irish people.  So I spent the couple of months I was in Galway making plans and scoping out details of what was going on in hopes that I could give my American visitors a good time.  Like happens with most of my plans, once we started drinking, there was no way we were following anything I had put together previously.

Originally, we were headed to the parade that was heading up Quay Street and Shop Street in Galway.  Originally, we were going to head from there, straight to the bars and the plan was to be sufficiently pissed by 3 PM.  From there, we would pop around from pub to pub in our Irish regalia causing a general ruckus.  Ya. No. None of that happened.

We woke up at noon; the parade was at 12:30.  Scratch that idea.  Rather than head into the pub immediately, we decided we would walk up to the corner store and buy some pre-game drinks and lunch.  We then sat down at the kitchen table with Mr. G and drank mimosas, Guinness and cider while chatting about God knows what.  After a couple hours, Mr. G disappeared and we decided we should make our faces seen since there was no point in spending the whole day drinking with ourselves.

The only part of my plan that did actually occur was going to see my friend Matt at the Salt House.  I had promised him that I would bring in my lot with our feather boas and dirty up his bar as much as possible.  After putting on his fake Irish beard hat, there wasn’t much left to do here though, so we headed in town for our pub crawl.

I won’t pretend to remember what happened at this point.  All I know is that we went into Sonny’s for ONE pint before heading to the next bar, but we never left.  In true drunken bullet point style, I will now recount the pieces of the night that I do remember:

  • Tequila shots (at least 4 or 5)
  • Running into a friend from Inishmore
  • Making some new friends (where have you been the whole time I’ve been in Galway?!)
  • One of new friends stealing Brian’s St. Paddy’s Day Hat and him replying “That man has my hat. Go get my hat.”

That’s it. Almost 10 hours of my life and that is most of what I remember. The rest I can’t disclose because I don’t want to embarrass Emily. But let’s just say that when the two of us arrived home on our own VERY early in the morning and found we were locked out of my house, we had PLENTY to talk about as we sat down the street for breakfast.

For those of you haters who say that St. Paddy’s Day is not fun in Ireland – I beg to differ. The only way you can NOT have a good time is if you suck because it’s difficult to make any holiday dedicated to drinking not be fun. 

And that’s my two cents.

Friday
May142010

A Long Day of Rest Before St. Patrick's Day

Even though we went home early, we were dead this morning. Absolutely dead. To avoid paying €25/day to park near the hostel, we had driven the car down near the hospital and parked in a neighborhood, about a 30 minute walk away from our hostel.  Brian and I walked this morning to get the car to come back and pick up Diana with all the bags.  Problem is, traffic was terrible. And on top of that, what I remember to be a 30 minute walk, was actually a little over an hour. So when we left our hostel at 8 to be back by 9:30 and at the airport by 10 to pick Emily up, we were WAY off. Fortunately, I got a message from Em saying that her plane was delayed and that she wouldn’t be in until closer to noon.  Since we actually left the hostel at 8:30, didn’t get to the car until 9:45 and then took an entire hour plus to get back to pick up the luggage (not leaving the hostel until 11:15) it was a damn good thing.

Regardless, we walked into the airport RIGHT when Emily was coming out of the gate and she was none the wiser (until I told her – which I should have lied and said we were waiting for hours).

Back in the car. We’re off to Galway.

The drive was fun and uneventful.  The middle of Ireland isn’t exactly the most amazingly beautiful, and in addition we were on a four lane motorway (which I hadn’t seen until then) so there wasn’t much to see.  We pulled off the main road for about an hour to grab some food in Raheen at the Mill and so Emmy could have her first Guinness in Ireland.  We also tried to do some castle chasing, but by the time we got to the castles, Diana and Emily were both asleep. Sad day.

We rolled into Salthill about 5 PM and got ready to go out before taking the car back to the rental hut when it was due at 6 PM.  When I tell you that the doors to the Budget office were locked and I literally had to knock the door to get the guys attention so I could give him the keys and NOT incur another day’s worth of charges – WHEW!

From here, we walked down to the Spanish Arch to grab a pre-diner pint and say hello to my good friend Aidan.  We had dinner at the Front Door and then went pub hopping in hope of finding some good trad session music.  We went to Neachtains, Massimos, Taaffes and finally ended up at Kelly’s for lack of other options.  Naturally, when we left Kelly’s around 3:30, we headed to get late night Cheese and Bacon Fries and home to rest up for the amazingly GIGANTIC St. Patrick’s Day festival we have planned for tomorrow. 

WOO ST. PATRICK’S DAY!!!!!!

Thursday
Apr152010

A Drive up the West Coast of Ireland - Day 1

After my driving fiasco on the first morning of my drive, I really thought I was in for it.  Marde and I drove up and out of town a bit and then did some practicing.  I pulled into an old parking lot and practiced starting and stopping, then we found a nice hill where I could practice the same again.  From a driving perspective, the rest of the trip went on without a hitch.  I still had the occasional stall, but it was less panicked.  I got through several towns without losing any hair and I managed to pull into Belfast on the 3rd day in rush hour traffic without killing anyone or causing any major traffic jams.

Thankfully, this allowed us to really spend some time marveling at the amazing scenery that is Western Ireland. 

After we left Galway, we headed west along the coast.  The weather was beautiful and the scenery even more amazing.  We drove past hundreds of houses all lined up nice and neat on the hillside and passed miles and miles of green luscious sloping hills.  We drove up through a cute town called Oughterard and then onwards towards Clifden.  We knew we were “close” to Kylemore and thought it would be nice to take a detour off to see the Kylemore Abbey.  Turns out we weren’t as close as we thought and when I saw a sign saying to turn right for the Kylemore Abbey, we embarked on an hour long detour in a redundant loop we would pass again the next day.

On the way to the Abbey, we passed through miles and miles of untouched farmland.  The scenery was beautiful and exactly what I pictured rural Ireland to feel like (only not as green – the one downside to the amazingly perfect weather I’ve had since I’ve been here).  The roads were terrible – incredibly narrow and littered with potholes.  We had to stop about every 50 yards or so to let sheep cross the road – many of which were apparently not aware that cars can kill them as they leaped gracefully in my direct path.  After about 45 minutes of this weaving and stopping, we rounded the corner at the Abbey. 

The Kylemore Abbey was absolutely spectacular.  It’s a large Abbey that sits on this little lake with a rather large mountain behind it.  The building was originally called Kylemore Castle and was a private residence before being handed over to some Benedictan nuns who fled Belgium during World War I. It has since been turned into an all-girl's boarding school run by the nuns, but Marde informed me that they will be shutting the school down at the end of this term.  Not sure what will happen to the site after that.

After we had our fix at the Abbey, we turned right back around where we had come from and down towards Roundstone which we were told was a place we HAD to stop at.  Unfortunately, I found it completely unremarkable so we breezed through, through Ballyconnelly and finally up to our destination for Day 1, Clifden. 

Clifden is a modest town with not a lot seemingly going on.  The hostel we were staying at was nice, cheap and has hot showers, so I was happy.  After a cleanup and a walk around town, we settled at a pub called EJ King’s and watched a great American cover band before retiring relatively early.

Wednesday
Apr142010

I am a terrible driver

I’ve been told that you can’t see the “real” Ireland without leaving the comfort of public transportation and the big cities and really get out and drive in the countryside.  Fortunately, I had the opportunity to do just that as I needed to rent a car to go pick up Brian, Emily and Diana in Dublin on the 16th anyway. I had tried with no success to ask around friends to “borrow” a car for the week, but most people in Galway, come to find, don’t have cars – or at least the ones I was asking didn’t.

So I dragged Mr. G up to Budget with me to pick up my new little friend and start the journey cross country.  Now, those of you who follow me regularly have already heard my horror stories of driving a car with a manual transmission.  Last time I drove a stick, it was Dan’s lovely Wanda and it was on the open roads of the northern Midwest of America on some LOVELY wide interstates with relatively no traffic. When I picked up the car with Mr. G, I knew it wasn’t going to be a pretty event, but I was confident that I could figure it out and that at this point, the only thing that will improve my driving is practice.  We made it back to the house with relatively no incident (only a couple of stalls, but nothing major and not in any major area, considering it was 6 o’clock rush hour traffic when I picked the thing up, I was pretty impressed). 

I was accompanied on my drive by the lovely Marde, a couchsurfer from Melbourne I picked up who was looking for a ride out of Galway and a much welcomed companion.  Marde met me at the house before noon on Saturday and we casually packed the car up with all of our gear and got ready to get out of town.  Marde didn’t know how to drive a stick, so it looked like I really was going to have to make this work, but at this point I was pretty confident everything would be ok.  So we pull down the hill in Salthill down towards the main ocean road and I start some idle chatter about how great the trip is going to be.  We arrive at the bottom of the hill to take a right turn (our left turn, since I’m driving on the left side of the road… so I have to cross traffic). 

Stall.

Ok.  Calm down, Hesser.  You can do it.

Stall. Stall. Stall. Stall. Stall. 

by Jim LinwoodUhh…. Wtf do I do now? I’m blocking both lanes of traffic.  People are honking.  Pedestrians on the strand are staring and laughing.  I am stuck.  I keep starting the car up, shoving it in first gear, moving about 4 feet and stalling again.  Again.  And Again.  At this point I am having a full on panic attack.  I have no effing idea how I’m going to keep going. 

A knock on the window and I jump 100 feet.  A man opens the door, asks Marde to step out and he gets in the passenger seat.  Blah blah blah… I don’t know what he’s saying, I can’t even see straight.

“I’m a driving instructor.” Wait what? My ears perk up.  “Do you know how to do this?” he asks me calmly.  Yes, yes, I do. I realize I haven’t said anything, I’m just thinking to myself.  “Yes, I can. I’m just panicking,” I sputter out, “I can’t concentrate.”

For the next 5 minutes, the man sits there by Robert Couse-Bakerand talks to me.  Not about what I’m doing wrong.  Not about how terrible I’m driving.  He talks to me about America and his first time to visit.  He turns on the AC full blast . He tells me about his son who is doing a year study abroad in Boston.  He chats me up about the upcoming journey and takes my map to show me some castles I must see along the way.  All the while, we’re sitting blocking half of the left lane of traffic, but not so much that people can’t pass me.  Suddenly, I’m not shaking as much.  My face gets some color back and my arms feel a little less like Jell-O. 

“Well, best of luck to you, Abbey.  This is sure to be an epic journey for you! Are you alright now?” Strangely enough, I was. He got out of the car and let Marde back in.  He walked to the back of my car and stopped traffic behind me.  I let out the parking break.  Foot on the clutch and the break.  Slowly release and give it some gas and… well looky there.  I got the damn thing to go all by myself after all.

See you later Mr. Good Samaritan Driving Instructor Man.  You saved many lives today.

Wednesday
Apr072010

Being a Tourist on Inishmore

The post to follow is part of a series of posts of my honest opinion of my time on Inishmore, however it should be noted that some of the expenses of this trip were waived or paid for by the Aran Island Hotel and the tourism board for the Aran Islands. Don’t hate me for taking free stuff and I promise, if I didn’t love the island, I wouldn’t write nice things about it.

by jmenard48When I came to Inishmore, my only real priority was to immerse myself in the Irish language and culture for a bit. Fortunately, I was kidnapped by James (aka “Blue”) who works for the Aran Island Hotel and who promised me an amazing day of site seeing. Our day started early (as early as I could muster: 11) at the Aran Island Hotel where I was greeted and shown around even though the hotel doesn’t open until April. The hotel looks simple enough from the outside, but is absolutely amazing on the inside. Adorned with rich dark wood paneling and vibrant colored decorations (including beautiful stained glass doors), it was love at first site. The hotel boast a huge banquet hall and conference room and an even bigger bar room with extensive bar space, loads of tables and stools and a real Irish feel. They have live music from either locals or mainland Irish acts shipped over for special occasions. I can tell that this place is a blast when the room is full. I had originally planned on staying at the hotel while I was on Inishmore but because I decided to come in low season, they pointed me towards Seacrest B&B instead.

Seacrest is a super cute bed and breakfast with a great location just off the main drag leading from the docks up to the top of the hill and less than a 5 minute walk from the ferry port. The room was comfortable, clean and quiet, which was just what I needed. My room also boasted a mounted television which I definitely watched considering I haven’t watched television in… who knows how long. The best part of Seacrest for me though, was the amazing full Irish breakfast that was waiting for me when I woke up after a long night of drinking. My first course was muesli, cornflakes, yogurt and fruit. Of course I had a large glass of orange juice and tea to go with it. Second course were generous portions of bacon, sausage, eggs and toast. I felt like a million dollars after I ate. And I was glad for the added energy as I had an exhausting day of semi-hung-over sightseeing to do.

I met Blue at a pub and over a coupleby celesteh of glasses of cider he offered to spend a day driving me around the island to show me all there is to see. We started the day by driving up the incredibly steep hill up to Dún Aonghasa which is an old three walled fort on the west side of the island. Three wall forts have three walls (obvi) but the less obvious part is why, unless you’re looking at it. The third “wall” of protection is the sheer dropoff of a 400 foot cliff. The fort had several layers of walls, with various modes of protection dividing them. The first was a series of rocks piled up loosely with their sharp ends pointing up meant to stop any mounted attack, the second, a ditch dug around a taller wall meant to stop people. The fortress truly was an amazing site to see and I spent a good hour just sitting on the edge of the cliffs marveling at the long drop to the water. I didn’t feel as vulnerable as I had the day before just a bit farther south because these cliffs were a bit more stable feeling and there weren’t as many crumbled up rocks on the edge. So glad I didn’t die yesterday.

After Dún Aonghasa, Blue drove me up to the most northern part of the island which looked out onto a lighthouse on a separate island, hosted a bunch of lobster cages and fishing boats and had a stunning view of the Connemara coast. We drove back on the ocean road (passing a dozen or so bikers who dared to tackle the huge hills – I was happy to be in a car) and made a stop at Ti Joe Watty's where we grabbed a pint and a bowl of chowder and chatted about the island and about Tedfest (the festival in honor of Father Ted of the Irish sitcom Father Ted – learn more about it here) and how crazy the event had been this year. After another pint at the American Bar, Blue bid me adieu and I headed for the ferry back to Galway. But this island hasn’t seen the last of me yet.

I was blown away by the amount of Irish culture you’ll find here. In addition, it really captures the small town feel without losing conveniences (since It is such a major tourist hub) so it really has everything anyone would ever need. I was amazed that every person passing me said hello and every car gave me at least a nod as I walked along the coast road. No, I will be back to Inishmore for sure.

Monday
Apr052010

Getting Lost on Inishmore

The post to follow is part of a series of posts of my honest opinion of my time on Inishmore, however it should be noted that some of the expenses of this trip were waived or paid for by the Aran Island Hotel and the tourism board for the Aran Islands. Don’t hate me for taking free stuff and I promise, if I didn’t love the island, I wouldn’t write nice things about it.

Taking a trip to the Aran Islands was something I wanted to do since I learned of their existence and their importance in the role of preserving the Irish language. However, with the launch of my new site and a plethora of writing commitments hounding me day in and day out, I found myself in my last couple of weeks in Ireland still having not gone. So I just went. I had originally planned to take the 5 PM ferry over, spend the evening and night on the island and then had a day of sightseeing put together for me by the Aran Island Hotel before hopping on the 6 PM ferry back to Galway. However, the insomniac that I am, I found myself awake at 7 AM (damn you Home & Away reruns) and so I decided to pop on the early ferry and spend a day of exploring on my own first.

by krat-osAs soon as I arrived on the island, I was hungry. After checking into my B&B (A lovely place called Seacrest which comes highly recommended) I headed to the American Bar which happened to be the only place open at the moment. As I mentioned in my post on the Irish language I sat in this bar for quite a while listening to the gentlemen sip their Guinness and banter about man stuff. I ordered a fresh tuna and sweetcorn sandwich (one of my favorite foods these days) and a cider (which has become like water for me) and listened to a conversation I couldn’t understand for a good couple of hours. A bottle of Jameson sat on the bar open and apparently available for anyone to pour into their glass at anytime. I really felt welcome and at home here. No one really gave me notice, but no one outcast me either. I was casually invited into conversation here and there, but for the most part, we all just enjoyed the comfort of other bodies near us.

After my gastric needs were satisfied, I decided to walk down and around the southern tip of the island. There’s really only one main road that runs down the island, so I knew I wouldn’t get lost, but I also didn’t really know what I was looking for to begin with. Like Galway, the tides here are extreme. At low tide, the beach is almost 100 yards wide, but at high tide, the water comes nearly up to the break walls keeping the water off the road. I found some amazingly perfect seashells, chased some birds digging for crabs and marveled at the strange sand formations created when half of the life of the beach is spent underwater.

I walked down the road past severalby celesteh houses and an old cemetery (which I found out later is actually several layers deep with relatives constantly being buried on top of one another and forming a sort of dome of graves). I found a hiking trail and decided to follow, not really knowing where it went. I walked through some fields that looked like a natural golf course and when I approached one of the “holes” to see if that was, in fact, what it was and learned very quickly that I was on top of an enormous rabbit field. I saw the rabbit dive into the hole and pop up about 20 meters away. Now looking for them, I saw the rabbits. Hundreds of them. Absolutely littering the field. Every step I took sent 2 or 3 dozen rabbits scattering for burrows or mounds of dirt to hide behind. And this went on for a good ¼ mile. At one point, I turned around to see if the rabbits came back out after I passed them and they did, it was like I was this orb of rabbit free zone. When I came out of rabbit town, I was on a cliff. It literally just ended like that.

I stood there about 20 feet over the water and looked over the black rock into the ocean. The weather was absolutely beautiful, so I took off my coat and balled it up as a pillow and took a little nap. When I awoke, I was accompanied by an old fisherman trying his luck as the tide came in. Nothing coming in today, he said. And he disappeared back around the edge of the cliff. I wondered now, if I could continue all the way around the base of the island and walk back on the West coast. I started up the hill to find a large old stone circle watchtower filled with stones. I was walking on incredibly unstable ground, climbing over piled stone walls used to divide livestock and sure I was going to fall off the edge of the cliff into the ocean at any minute. I threw a rock into the watchtower (not sure why, but looks like other people had done it) and proceeded across the unsteady ground around to the West, hoping to find, well, anything.

by Rusticus80Then I was there. And don’t ask me where because I don’t actually know. It was just… this thing. The cliffs I was on stopped and I was on an overhang. This oval carved out of the side of a mountain. The cliffs were at least 400 feet high here, and I was on a sliver of rock jutting out over the seemingly unforgiving churn of ocean below. The waves thrashed against the walls and I watched the water rise and fall at least 50 feet in a small cave/blowhole thing. Do one thing every day that scares you, do one thing every day that scares you, I kept repeating to myself. Any Holy Jesus I was scared. I am not afraid of heights, I am not afraid of jumping off cliffs, but Oh. My. God. I was scared. Don’t be a statistic, don’t be a statistic, my psyche suddenly shifted. I gotta get out of here. But not before I video tape it. I'm having some difficulty connecting my camera to my laptop but I will upload a link to the video once I have it up.

It was starting to get dark and I needed a beer ASAP, so I headed back to the American bar and spent an amazing night with some really awesome people: a mix of locals, people working on the island and tourists like myself just in for the night. We stayed up late playing pool, drinking and talking about how we never want to leave this place. It truly is as magical as everyone warns you.