Sunday, June 19, 2011

Wild Wild West: Galway and the Cliffs of Moher

Joanie had to work the first couple of days we were in Athlone so we decided early on in our trip to go for an adventure as soon as she had free time. We had planned on staying around Athlone for the week, but Joanie mentioned wanting to show us Galway and the rest fell into place. For a last minute trip, it turned out awesome. 2 nights before we left, we booked seats on a bus for about 14 Euro each (return, for a two hour trip), a night in a hostel for 11 Euro each (Galway City Hostel, highly recommended for location as well as free breakfast and Wi-Fi) and a tour to the Cliffs of Moher for about 25 Euro each. Sorted.

Adventure day came and we boarded the bus. Even though Joanie has been to Galway plenty of times, she was excited to see it through our tourist eyes. Despite having no idea where Galway was or what was so great about it, we were excited to explore with Joanie along for the ride. We dumped our belongings at the hostel, which was 2 minutes from the bus station and 1 minute from the best parts of town, and went exploring.

Galway is a seaside town on the west coast of Ireland. Technically it’s a city but even by New Zealand standards it’s a small city. Our first stop was Super Macs, an Irish fast food chain. I’d been seeing them everywhere and wanted to try it out. Verdict – average. Glad I tried it though! We got a map from the tourist office but we barely used it. Joanie pointed us in the direction of the quirky main street but our noses led us from there.

Galway is awesome. It has the quaint, cutesy qualities of a small town with the conveniences and attractions of a city. We ended up covering a huge distance, winding through the quirky shopping streets (conveniently led by Shop Street), wandering along the river walk, checking out the gorgeous Cathedral and lying in Eyre Square - the main central park space - in the sun with coffee, then meandering along the waterfront until we reached the beach and I could dip my toes in the Atlantic Ocean – just to say I had. We made it all the way along to Salthill, a suburb of Galway that felt like the typical seaside town you see in movies and on TV. Starving and tired, we cheated by catching a taxi back to the city.

Back on Shop Street we chose Dail Bar for dinner and it was the best choice of the trip – or at least the best food of the trip. Cottage Pie and mushy peas followed by Bread and Butter Pudding. Courts and Joanie washed down their respective Steak and Mash and Fish and Chips with Guinness and I stuck with Budweiser – old faithful, having seen me through my American travels as well. Courts and Joanie finished the night in the pub below the hostel, while me and my dear friend jetlag checked out the sights behind my eyelids.

Day two of our adventure saw us join a tour bus to the Cliffs of Moher. Our tour guide was great – just the right amount of cheesy and knowledgeable. There were several stops to see baby horses, donkeys and rabbits, which he gushed over and referred to as if they were his own pets, having seen them every day along his travels. To balance out the cheese, he knew everything about every town, pub and ruin we passed. Between anecdotes and history lessons there was Irish music quietly playing but the music was the minority and I prefer it that way – I like to hear as much as possible about the places we’re visiting.

There were plenty of stops for photos of the countryside, and a visit to the Ailwee Caves. The caves were cool, buried deep in the limestone mountains and crafted over thousands of years by now-dry rivers. The visit added value to our tour but I don’t think I’d call it a must-see. At home we’re spoiled by caves filled with glow worms and we half thought we’d see bats, but there was nothing but rock and lime stone formations. A geologists dream and a cool little bonus but I don’t think I would pay the 12 Euro admission fee – we only had to pay 5 as the tours get a discount.

Late in the day, we reached the Cliffs of Moher – spectacular land dropping hundreds of metres into the Atlantic. Much of the coast is fenced off in case you get too close to the edge but more of it is not, and with winds as strong as they were it’s easy to see how so may have made it their final resting place – accidental and not. The views were spectacular and not at all dampened by the impending black clouds that haunted us throughout the day.

As we made our way back to Galway, we wound around the coastal roads. In place of sand, limestone flats stretched out into the wild waves, making for a wild and beaten landscape. That’s what struck me the most about the Irish landscape - or at least the Burren, the area through which we travelled – it’s so rough and beaten up. The trees grow in the direction of the wind, animals shelter behind rock walls from the harsh Atlantic winds, and rocks and thistle blemish the fields. It’s beautiful but not pretty. Joanie said they reminded her of New Zealand’s South Island which experiences much harsher weather conditions than the north, and which I haven’t seen much of. At least in the North Island, grass is almost cleaner – no rocks, not a lot of thistle, just grass. Trees, even on the coast, are somehow softer. More like what we experienced on the Viking Boat.

Overall our trip to Galway and the Burren was awesome. A perfectly unplanned adventure that let us see more of Joanie’s Ireland – just what we wanted. What’s the best place you’ve visited that you hadn’t heard of before you got there?

Penelope_nz's Galway and the Cliffs of Moher photoset Penelope_nz's Galway and the Cliffs of Moher photoset