Monday, March 28, 2011

The Luck of the Irish: St. Patty's Day in Galway!

Ireland was such a treat! I’ve really grown to love that country. Early on St. Patrick’s Day we met at the Santa Justa train station to take the bus to Malaga. From Malaga we flew to Dublin and then the last leg of the trip was the bus from Dublin to Galway. It was a very long day of travel. In fact, we could have done it faster from the US!

We were greeted in Dublin by several warm, Irish smiles. It really did the trick. The people are so friendly there. It was a nice break from Spain. While in the airport we made a pit stop for bagels, clearly a necessity. After bagels we boarded the bus to Galway and we were pleasantly surprised with free wifi! Could it get any better? It was easy to find our hotel once we got there, so we quickly dropped our bags off and headed out for a night on the town! Prior to celebrating Patty’s day like the Irish (drinking) we attempted to find some food to nosh on. Most of the restaurants we passed had closed early due to the holiday. We stumbled upon a pizza place with giant pizza slices resembling the ones from home. We ate our pizza standing on the sidewalk because the tiny restaurant didn’t have many places to sit. After devouring it we went across the street to a bar called The Front Door to begin our celebration.

Walking around town from the hotel to the pizza place was quite the experience. During my first trip to Ireland I learned how drinking is often considered a sport in Ireland, and it’s one the Irish have down pat. That being said, Patty’s Day in Galway was a mess. Generally speaking, I think the country can hold their liquor very well, so it was clear how much they had drank when it looked like all hell had broke loose.

The bar was packed. It was hard to find a spot to stand and talk. Everyone really seemed to be enjoying themselves. It was so much fun! After a few drinks at The Front Door we headed down the street to another bar, whose name I cannot remember. There was a decent live band, so that was a definite plus. Live music isn’t really big here, so it was great to hear some music and even better that it was in English! We walked around for a little while, but then I decided to go home. Unfortunately, I was (and still am) battling a cold. I wasn’t going to let it effect my Patty’s Day, though. It was a fun night and only the beginning of our trip.

On Friday we woke up to a delicious Irish breakfast (another thing Spain doesn’t do so well.) After breakfast we were picked up by our tour company and brought to the bus station. We had signed up for two tours and we weren’t sure which order they would be in. The first day ended up being the trip to the Cliffs of Moher. We loaded the bus (with an entire sorority and fraternity, may I add. There are some things I really don’t miss about college and that is one of them. Needless to say, it was a rough journey with these spoiled brats.) Our first stop were the Aillwee Caves, just outside of Galway city. I kind of feel like once you’ve seen one cave you’ve seen them all. It was cool, but not the highlight of the trip.

After the caves we made a short stop at some ancient burial grounds. It was super windy, so we took a quick picture and ran back to the bus. The next stop was the Cliffs of Moher. I had been looking forward to this for months! After seeing pictures online I knew it was something not to be missed. It’s about 7 km (just over 4 miles) of cliffs 200m high. It was breathtaking. We may have crossed over the fence to get some photos. Don’t worry, we stayed far from the edge and no one fell over. While I say that semi-jokingly, our bus driver warned us that a few weeks ago a German tourist got too close to the edge and fell to this death. That shocked some sense into us and our goal of looking over the edge didn’t seem quite as important any more.

There’s an old tower close to the edge that’s open to tourists. We climbed to the very top. The winds were whipping like crazy and it began to rain. For a short period of time it was nasty outside, so we spent our last few minutes inside. Billy, our bus driver, warned us of the penalties for being late and said that he would not wait for anyone. We made sure to get back to the bus on time, considering we weren’t willing to pay the 100-euro per person cab fare back to Galway! After boarding the bus we drove a short distance to a town called Doolin. We dined in a restaurant named Fitzpatrick’s, which put a smile on my face. I couldn’t help but think of my old roommate, Molly Fitzpatrick. We ate our Irish meals and thought of Molls!

After lunch it was almost a straight shot back to Galway. We made a very quick stop by the ocean. It was beautiful with these awesome rocks that looked like they belonged in a sci-fi movie and led right up to the water. Our last stop was Dunguaire Castle. It was closed, but we took a quick walk around the grounds.

After our full day tour and the previous night out on the town, we needed to relax a little before dinner. For dinner we went to McDonagh’s fish and chips. My high school classmate Ana McDonagh’s family is from Galway and used to own this fish and chips shop. I told her we’d be sure to stop by and check on how the new owners are running the place. After dinner we were all pretty worn out, so we headed back to the hotel for an early night.

Saturday morning we were up bright and early again. Our tour took us through the Connemara region with a stop at Kylemore Abbey. Our very first stop of the day was just outside of Galway. We stopped along the beautiful coastline for some photos. Our second stop was in a little town that only spoke Gaelic. I decided to check out the harbor instead, so I missed the Gaelic. Next time, right? The next stop was also short and was an old famine town. The towns around Galway are filled with poorly made stonewalls. I thought they were really pretty and I liked how the light shined through the gapping holes. I don’t know if these walls are characteristic of the area we were in because I don’t remember seeing them when Liza and I were there during the winter.

Our main stop of the tour was Kylemore Abbey and Gardens. It was originally built for a couple as their country home. Since then it has been passed through a few families and now it’s an abbey. It’s a beautiful estate. The gardens were slightly underwhelming, however, I imagine if we’d been a few weeks later when the flowers were in bloom that it would be breathtaking. The bad weather held off for most of the day, but towards the end of our time at the abbey it started to get gross outside. The lousy, dreary weather combined with Jack’s (our bus driver) soothing voice helped put me right to sleep. When we got back to Galway we rested for a little before another night out on the town.

Sevilla’s lackluster restaurant choices always lead us to Asian food while traveling. We found a very cute Thai restaurant online and got our Asian fill until our next destination. After dinner we went back to The Front Door, the bar we had enjoyed our first night out. On Saturday there was a DJ so we rocked on the dance floor until the wee hours of the morning. Well, not really, but it sounds good. We did get our grooves on for a while and then we decided to try the bar out across the street. I was amazed to see how nicely the women dressed for an ordinary Saturday night out. I don’t remember seeing that in the other towns in Ireland I visited. While we didn’t stand out, I think it’s fair to say we were underdressed compared to many of the other women. Most were dressed in fancy cocktail dresses and heels. I’m afraid that didn’t fit in my Ryanair sized carry-on. The bar across the street was lame. It was getting late and I was getting tired. We decided to head on home, but not without a stop at our favorite pizza place. Nothing like a little greasy food to help absorb all of the alcohol we had consumed. It might have been the best pizza I had ever had.

Sunday morning we were in no rush to get up. We had a nice relaxing morning. Jan and her sister who was visiting, Leslie, went to church in the morning. Julia, Briana and I wondered around town and did what we do best: shopping. I bought a pretty Claggagh ring. Supposedly they are originally from Galway. It’s the ring with a heart being held by two hands. If your heart is “taken” you wear the heart facing inward and if you heart isn’t “taken” yet you wear the ring facing outward.

After we met up with Jan and Leslie we walked around town and down by the waterfront. Galway is a very charming city and by far my favorite out of the four Irish cities I’ve visited. That afternoon we went to a very cute tearoom down by the water. I really like Irish and English tea. Can’t get enough of it! After tea it was already time to head back to the hotel to pick up our bags and go to the train station. Train travel in Ireland, and most of Europe for that matter, is so easy. Our train was direct and painless. Once we arrived in Dublin we hopped on the tram to go to our hostel. It was near the hostel Liza and I stayed at, so I led the way. It was a great hostel! I wish I had stayed there the first time I was in Dublin. We dropped off our bags and headed to the Temple Bar area for dinner and our last few pints. For dinner we ended up at a Mexican/Italian restaurant (again trying to hit up all restaurants that aren’t Spanish.) Right across the street was the famous Temple Bar. I delighted in my last pint of Bulmer’s (hard cider) and we listened to a fun live band. For a Sunday night the bar was packed! I would imagine 90% of the occupants were tourists. Either way, it was a fun night and a nice way to end our Irish St. Patty’s getaway.

The next morning we took the bus to the airport to fly back to Malaga. Once in Malaga we had to take the train back to Sevilla. I wish Sevilla had a better airport! Luckily, the train ride from Malaga to Sevilla is absolutely gorgeous. There’s this one stretch with huge cliffs with a windy river below. I’d love to take a day trip there. It looks out of this world.

Overall, Ireland was very successful. I fell in love with Galway and hope to return some day. I have another trip to look forward to in only 10 days—Amsterdam here I come!

Hasta pronto,

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