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Entries in Ireland (13)

Thursday
Mar172011

Happy St. Patrick’s Day My Sexy Little Leprechauns

What are you doing for St. Patrick's Day? Book cheap flights to over 150 destinations. Discover Ireland's West Coast, East Coast and everything in between with RyanAir.

Click to read more ...

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.

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.

Friday
Mar122010

Soaking up the sun in Salthill, Co. Galway

Salthill is a lovely seaside resort town just west of Galway City in the heart of Western Ireland. It also happens to be the place that I call home right now. My own lovely little beach town where I can sit in my bed, writing articles and blog posts and watch the whales frolic in the ocean. Ok so maybe there aren’t any whales (at least none that I can see), but the rest is true!

I’ve been so blessed with my location. Like I mentioned before, my house is located on a hill, in a row of houses that only lines one side of a street. The other side is open to a park, and eventually, the beach/ocean. I can literally watch the waves crash up on the rocks from my bedroom window (yes, while sitting in my bed) and the sun sets straight out over the water. It’s absolutely beautiful.

Everything here is within near walking distance. I have a small market up the block where I can get nearly everything I need in the form of groceries. At the bottom of my hill is the Salthill Promenade (or the Prom as the locals call it) which is a long stretch of bars and restaurants facing the ocean. Across from the Prom is a long walking path that runs all the way from Southpark (near city center Galway) out to Salthill ending at a black rock. Many people use this long stretch of pavement for their morning or evening work out and it’s essential to kick the black rock at the end of the prom (apparently it brings good luck).

In terms of going out, the pubs are a plenty. There’s a great pub down the street that I frequent quite often called the Oslo which is open all day, has free wifi, great food, good coffee and plays most of the good sporting events on a large projection screen in a bruhouse type picnic table setup. Down the street is a great Italian restaurant serving great authentic pasta and pizza next door to a nice Polish restaurant. If you’re in the mood for a bit more traditional Irish food, head to the Cottage where the beer is cold and the chips piping hot (and served with a really great mayo dipping sauce).

My favorite part of living in Salthill is the walk into town. Clocked at between 10 and 20 minutes (depending on how fast you walk, which of the 1000 routes you take and what state of mind you’re in), the walk I take usually winds down the prom along the ocean, then up through some neighborhood streets before popping out and crossing the river onto Quay Street. It’s the perfect amount of time to share a nice conversation with a friend, listen to some pump up music or sober up a bit after a night out.

It’s close proximity to the city make Salthill a perfect place to stay if you’re in town, no matter how long you stay.

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.