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Entries in En Route to Galway (17)

Wednesday
Apr212010

A Drive up the West Coast of Ireland - Day 4

 

After much convincing from our hostel mom in Donegal, Marde and I reluctantly agreed that driving all the way up to Donegal and not seeing the “largest sea cliffs in Europe” when we were so close would be a mistake.  So, we did.

We left Donegal early while the sun was still low to the ground.  We headed West towards Teelin and arrived at what we thought was the highest place we could go about an hour later.  We got out of the car and started hiking.  We hiked along the dramatic cliffs with mountain sheep and piles of peat.  The views were gorgeous, first back to Donegal and then out to the West into the expanse that is the Atlantic Ocean.  After about an hour’s hike, we come upon a car park (dammit, guess we could have driven) where one other person was parked and we were thrown upon what we had trekked so long to see. 

The cliffs at Slieve League are large; 2000 feet to be exact and are quite an impressive sight.  We decided to come, mostly because people say that these cliffs are more impressive than the Cliffs of Moher and I was VERY impressed by the Cliffs of Moher.  These cliffs are pretty cool, but different in every way.  The view from the top is spectacular, and I definitely enjoyed not paying for parking or any sort of entry fees.  I also enjoyed that we were pretty much the only people here, but other than that, they were just more cliffs.

After we had our moment of solitude at the cliffs and made the hike back down the road to our car (seemed to be one of those uphill both ways kind of hikes – vom).  We got back on the road, drove through Letterkinny, Derry (or Londonderry, depending on what side you’re on) and onwards to Coleraine to drop off Marde who was ending her journey with me here.

After a warm “see-you-later,” I got back on the road by myself this time and began the quick hour drive down to Belfast.  I didn’t hit much traffic, but also exited on the wrong exit and found myself driving around in circles before I found my hostel.  Once I did find it though, I parked my car on a side street (for free!), had a quick bite in my hostel lounge and did a bit of writing.  The next two weeks was bound to be a complete whirlwind as I was off to Scotland the following morning to pick up Brian and hang out with our long lost friend, Mark, for a couple of days before flying back to Ireland to pick up Emily and Diana in Dublin and beginning a pretty intense two weeks of traveling through Ireland, Germany, Portugal and Spain.  I didn’t feel bad at all as I stayed in and did absolutely nothing and was quite relieved to hear that the boys in my 4 bed shared dorm were all out for the evening.

Tuesday
Apr202010

A Drive up the West Coast of Ireland - Day 3

Another day of driving.  It’s starting to sound incredibly redundant.  And now the scenery is somewhat redundant as well.  It’s another day of green sloping hills.  Another day of driving along the coast on the wrong side of the road, in a car I generally disagree with, on roads that are way too narrow.  County Mayo was… well… not as exciting as mayo should be. At the end of the day, the roads start to straighten out a bit and I experience the 5th gear for the first time on this trip.  I won’t bore you with the rest of the details because, well, I honestly don’t remember them.

We have lunch at a really cute little café in Dromore West.  The place was incredibly charming and we dined with a police man, a priest and a woman who may or may not have been alive.  After a couple of hours, we arrived in Donegal.

The most exciting part of the day was when we pulled into Donegal into a hostel parking lot and I make the HUGE mistake of parking facing down a hill towards a 2 foot stone curb and the road below.  In order to back the car out of this space (after 3 or 4 failed attemps) I had to maneuver some sort of emergency break jump into reverse which was, for all intensive purposes, a complete mess.  However, after the e-break back up dance, I finally get the car in the right direction (not without having a minor heart attack first) and we end up at the most amazing hostel I have experienced yet.  It was basically a HUGE old manor home that had been converted into a hostel run by the cutest and nicest little family. 

The hostel dad built us a nice fire when we arrived and we cooked some dinner before heading to bed early, after having a LONG chat about Ireland, the Irish language and our lives with the hostel mom.  I ran into a friend from Inishmore (small freaking world) and we chat about what we’ve been up to since that fateful night at the American Bar a couple of weeks prior. 

Marde and I walk into town to check out Donegal but are rather unimpressed.  We walk to the Donegal Castle which looks nice, but was closed (at 3 PM?!).  We asked around for a pub showing the Liverpool Game (of which there was only one) and after that tried to find a place to sit down and connect to the wifi and have a pint (no such luck).  I go to bed early, as we have a decently long day of driving ahead of us (even on American standards, a full 8 hours likely) especially since hostel mom convinced us to take a rather large detour to the cliffs at Slieve League. 

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.

Saturday
Mar062010

A Walking Tour of the Western Irish Countryside

After my little walking tour of Galway City the other day, I decided that walking out into the country for a day wasn’t going to be as daunting of a task as I had previously envisioned.  I walked a total of 8 miles roundtrip to the Tesco, so what’s an extra four miles?  I plotted a walking tour starting in Salthill and heading West down the coast to Barna, inland a couple of miles and then back to Salthill.  The whole walk was supposed to be 12 miles, but I ended up turning down the wrong road at one point and so I

ended up walking about 16 miles. Let’s just say, my little feed were NOT happy with me when I got home.

Possibly inspired by this clip from P.S. I Love You, I really wanted to get out and experience the REAL Irish countryside.  These little roads seem so charming and every turn off looks like a scene from the Secret Garden.  So off I started, heading straight West on Upper Salthill Road.  I walked down towards the Salthill Diving Tower (where a man was actually swimming! At about 40 degrees F – no THANK YOU!) and kicked the Blackrock Wall at the end of the promenade (it’s said to give good luck).  I walked down past the Galway Golf Course along the ocean and then turned in a bit to meet up with Barna Road and loop around Rusheen Bay.

I found a small castle here, but it was pretty much overgrown and covered in graffiti.  I kept walking along the road, and as I came around the bend at Knockauncarragh to look back towards Salthill, I found one of the most amazing views.  I stood up on a hill quite high above sealevel but could look down a clear path all the way past small farms and a couple houses down towards Rusheen Bay and across to the Burren.  There were even ponies (a grey mare and her baby black colt), and though I couldn’t tell if they were wild or not (I didn’t see any fences, but they were awful close to town to be wild) they were beautiful against the bright green background.  The baby hid from me most of the time so I didn’t get a chance to look too close, but he was there.

At this point, I couldn’t really remember where I was supposed to turn but I was pretty sure I wasn’t supposed to walk too much farther past Barna.  So I took one of the first streets out of town, which actually took me on a slight outward detour.  I cut back once I saw a sign pointing into down and headed towards Aille, where I had looked up a riding stable I was hoping to pop into.  On the way, the streets were just perfect.  Every driver gave me a cheerful wave as they passed by, but they only drove past every 10-15 minutes.  I was pretty much out there by myself.

At one point, I broke off the road and hiked a bit up onto a hill to take in the view.  There was a faded horse trail, so I was pretty certain that I wouldn’t fall into a boggy hole, but it was a bit frightening as the ground was pretty spongey and wet. Someone told me that they invented the sport of Cross Country Riding here, and I see why.  The only thing dividing most of the pasture land for each farmer are these short stone walls and it becomes quite clear why horses would be bred to travel long distances and jump short stonewall jumps. 

I walked for about 6 hours before making it back to my little house and, though I was ambitious to head into town again, my feet just completely stopped working, so I called it a day and cooked some dinner. 

See all of my pictures from the little walking tour on Flickr.

Friday
Mar052010

An un-love story - by Ben

In an effort to do some self mending, I wrote yesterday’s post.  When I woke up today, I read back over it and laughed at how much emotion I was able to feel in such a short amount of time.  I walked downstairs and over a cup of coffee, I discussed the events past with Mr. G. After much discussion, I thought it would be comical to re-write the post from Ben’s perspective.  And this is what happened next.

An un-love story – by Ben

I met this cool chick last night. 

She was pretty hot. Ok no, she was really hot (haha – sorry, I had to).  I got into town pretty late, grabbed a burger and walked into this small bar.  They were one of the only places playing the footy game.  Which is quite surprising, as I thought the Irish were pretty big on sports.  But I guess they’re just fond of drinking.  Which is fine by me too.  The Guinness here does taste much bet…. Oh ya. I was talking about the girl.

So she was cool. We talked for a while and I wasn’t bored. I could see myself hanging w/ her if she lived in my neighborhood. We drank a bunch and I asked her if she wanted to come up for a cup of tea, which she totally fell for – I didn’t know that line still worked.

I had to get on the road early to make it down to Cork in time to catch that show.  I’m really looking forward to seeing the band – the Atlantic Pirates I think they’re called? I thought about giving the girl my phone number but realized the probability of us even being in the same city at the same time again is next to none. 

Now it kind of looks like it’s going to rain.  I should probably leave before.......

... That stupid chick comes back and bothers me and makes some big effing deal about life like she fell in love with me or something.

Ok, so maybe I threw in my own bit there at the end.  But you get the point. 

Thursday
Mar042010

An un-love story...

My life is like the television series 24.by John Griffith

Pack an entire seasons worth of emotions, stories, details, encounters into one twenty-four hour period and that happens every day.  I’m not saying I frequently find myself in situations where I need to disarm some nuclear bomb in 24 hours – rather, as a traveler, most of the people I meet and situations I find myself in, are fleeting – at best.

I fell in love.

Just like that.  I'm not necessarily a believer in love at first sight, but if it exists, this was it. The night we met, I got stood up.  I was supposed to be on a date with some musician who flaked or forgot me, and in a somewhat disheartening mood, I headed to the pub alone, to sit and drink and watch football. 

by MarthouliIn walks Ben.  Ben was tall, beautiful and – though I rarely double-take – I found myself glancing back at him after initial eye-contact. He seemed to hesitate for a moment, but then took a seat next to me at the bar.  He wasn't overly forward; didn't strike up a conversation and certainly didn't throw me a cheesy pickup line.  I was chatting with some older men at the bar; some regulars of a genre I find who will exchange a drink for a chance of meaningful conversation in a lonely pub, and nothing more. I opened my body contact a bit to encourage interaction from my new eye candy, but he was polite and never contributed more than a smile or a soft laugh into his pint. So I engaged. I took a social cue from a prior giggle that he was into sports, so I idly asked the bartender for some good sports bar recommendations to watch the Superbowl – which as it turns out, is nearly impossible when not in the US.

Hook.

Naturally, my old men friends took a back seat as I spent the next hour or so engulfed in anything and everything Ben would tell me. Every answer was perfect; a life that fit nearly perfectly with my own.  He had an incredible smile, a gorgeous personality and the most attractive outlook on life I have seen in a while.  Successful (a rarity, I find among those of us who call travel our semi-full-time lifestyle choice), educated, sociable. 

Hooked.

From here, our romance was typical.  We went to bars, grabbed food, made mutual friends.  We gradually shifted our conversations from sports and the weather to our families, religion, future plans.  But there were still no red flags. Our chemistry was perfect; our conversations insanely fluid. He complimented me constantly - which, honestly - is a drug I would recommend to anyone and everyone.  He painted this beautiful picture of our life together.

Our first kiss was epic.  by DeeyhordeeBeing an avid watcher of Dawson’s Creek growing up, I’d always envisioned my first kiss with the right guy to involve some sort of fight, makeup, rain drenched hair and a down-right good guy. This was pretty much that – which I imagine is quite easier to achieve with the constant raininess in Ireland – I digress.

There were obviously many kisses to follow – most of them not involving any rain at all.  There was a lot of hand-holding, hours of cuddling in front of the tv and just enough bickering to keep things interesting. Ben loved my hair – which happens to be one my loves as well.  He was constantly messing with it, brushing it from my face, playfully pulling it, bothering me by running his hands all through it and messing up my perfect ponytail or greasing it up with his amazingly perfect hands.

We had found this perfect asymmetry; two completely separate and windy roads that somehow converged at this strange moment in an Irish pub and then continued on an even windier path but side by side. There was nothing normal about the relationship, but then again, there was really nothing normal about either of our lives to begin with. We slept we woke, we breathed, we kissed; that was all that mattered.

by xrrrBut somewhere along the way, our paths unhooked.

Almost as fast as it began.  We drifted a bit.  The conversations ceased to be as dynamic – the long pauses became more prevalent. But there were hints of normalcy that brought us both back.  We would recognize them, hold each other tightly, sigh loudly and think of ways to make it work.  Could it work?  Is it possible for two completely different lives to actually converge without splitting up again and wandering back into familiarity?

As we watched the sun rise over Galway Bay, Ben started packing his bag. It was inevitable. I wasn't expecting anything different. But then again, I hadn't expected to fall this hard either.

Just like that, you're leaving?

Yes.

And that was it. I packed up my own belongings and walked towards the door.  Ben stopped me and stalled a bit. Kisses and more stalling.  He started to say something.

Maybe, I could... Never mind.

But I knew at this point that stalling was just going to make it harder for both of us to split the road back up on our own way. So I gave him one last kiss and left.

I sat that whole day down by theGalway Bay sea where the Corrib river meets Galway Bay and watched the tide roll in and out.  I watched the birds flutter about and the tourists walk around with their cameras, hoping that I'd be in the right place if he decided to change his mind. I knew the likelihood of just that happening and it was not in my favor, but I didn't want to chance it. After all, I could modify my plans, change a couple plane tickets here and there, meet up in a couple months.  You could stay a couple days longer, make some changes to your trip.  

Less than 24 hours before, I hadn't even known this character. 

And just like that, I remembered this cycle.  It had seemed vaguely familiar before, but now the pattern was clear; this hook and release.

It had happened before, and it would happen again.  Antonio broke my heart in Paris.  He was the first of my travel loves. I was not his first though, and we all know how well that usually ends.  Then there was Neil; he stuck around a bit, but ultimately, left me for Egypt – I can't compete with Egypt. Steve was the first one I thought might actually work.  He did change his plans for me – but only once. He left me in Prague. Then finally Thomas.  He stayed in my life for a while – virtually at least – but eventually I drifted. As one of us usually does.

No, Ben wasn't my first, and he certainly wouldn't be my last.  I just hadn't formed that bond in a while – as my last long-term trip was over 2 years ago – I'd almost forgotten what it was like. That doesn't mean that the feelings weren't real.  They were. But I find that as travelers, we are able to open up our hearts quicker, and close them back up quicker.  When you are constantly moving, it's difficult to find anyone who catches your attention for longer than lets-make-out-in-a-bar.  So when we find that, I think we're capable of allowing the emotions to run their course quicker.  A sort of micro-relationship, if you will.

In a couple weeks, I'll be in a new town, a new country, even.  I'll fall again, I'm sure of that.

Wednesday
Mar032010

Walking Around Galway City

One of the first activities one partakes in upon entering a new city is to find the closest grocery store to your dwelling and stock up.  What, not everyone is thinking about food 90% of the time? Hmm.  Well, regardless, when you move to a new city, it takes a couple of days to get your bearings.  My first night in town, Mr. Activism invited me out to have drinks with some of his friends.  We walked all over Western Galway City and hopped into several bars including the famous Róisín Dubh, the Salt House and a couple other places I fail to remember.  After spending the night walking around the (very) small part of town we frequent, I honestly thought I had my orientation down pretty well.

Ya, not so much.

I asked Mr. G for the closest major grocery store which is the Tesco up in the Galway Shopping Center which is about  2.5 mile walk from my house.  In addition the boys thought that they would throw in free delivery on groceries over a certain amount so I could walk there, shop and have the stuff meet me back at home.  Excellent!

Quay Street - Galway CitySo I set off walking with the directions to walk straight up a certain road and the store on my right. I started walking.  I walked through city centre, down past the Galway Cathedral (where I’ve been going to church every week) past a really cool old cemetery and down some long suburban streets.  After about 2 hours, I started to think I’d walked WAY to far, but I kept seeing small glimpses of civilization just beyond the hill, so I pressed on.  And then town ended.  I had effectively walked from the most Western point of Galway (Salthill, where I live) to the most Eastern point, almost to the airport.  So I turned left hoping to turn back around and walk back on a different street, sure that I missed the store by a couple blocks, only the street I turned onto gradually looped all the way around Northern Galway.  As soon as I realized my mistake, I turned back towards town ONE street before the Tesco (awesome) and walked back to city centre before finding some wifi and refreshing the Google map on my iPhone.

I finally arrived at the Tesco only to find that they do deliver, but only on online orders (you mean I could have shopped from my bed and avoided this mess?).  So I tucked my tail between my legs and dragged my sore feet back to the house and the market less than two blocks from my house. 

Lesson learned: don’t be cocky about your bearings in a new place.

Second lesson learned: Grocery shop from your bed.

Third lesson learned: Galway is a TINY city.  I walked from one end to the other.  WALKED.

So if you ever come to Galway.  Do not worry about public transportation, money for taxis or renting a bike.  You will be just fine walking around town.  

View All of my photos from Galway on Flickr