During our programs, one administrator (director, site director, or student assistant) stays on campus or at least in town over the free weekends in case of emergency. We rotate taking a free weekend for ourselves, and this past weekend was my turn. I decided to go to Galway and actually spend time there–cf. last year when I stopped through Galway en route to Doolin and the Aran Islands, but didn’t get to see anything except the train station and a nearby Centra. Everyone raves about Galway so I thought I’d better go see what the fuss was about.
Early Friday morning I left Waterford by train along with my colleague Jeff from ABAC. He was going to spend the day in Dublin, so we spent the first leg of my train journey drinking snack-trolley coffee and setting the world to rights. I then continued to Galway on my own. First stop was the Bus Éireann office to get a Leap Card. My B&B was about 3km outside the city centre and I did not want to wrestle with change for the bus every time–plus, it’s cheaper per ride to use a Leap Card than to pay in cash. Dublin has the Leap Visitor Card that’s good for unlimited rides in a given number of hours (24, 48, or 72) but Galway does not, so I just bought a regular one and put €15 on it. The card costs €5 and a minimum €5 top-up is required. According to what I read, that €5 deposit is refundable but I ended up not getting mine refunded because the Bus Éireann office was closed when I left town. You’re welcome, Transport for Ireland!
From the bus office I rode out to my B&B to drop off my backpack. Ordinarily I am a big corporate-chain-hotel person. Something about the mix of cleanliness and anonymity appeals to me. However, there are few large hotels in Galway at all and they were very expensive, so I branched out to my first B&B experience. It was an unqualified success! Everyone should go and stay at Moytura B&B and be hosted by Rita (the Southerner in me wants to say “Miss Rita”) and eat a delicious home-cooked breakfast in the morning and possibly have the neighbor’s cat climb through your window for a visit.
There are dozens of these little B&Bs in Galway–I assume they were private homes once upon a time–and a few in Waterford as well. This one is definitely a winner. The Marriott Courtyard just will not offer you a cup of tea and some biscuits when you come back after a windy day of sightseeing.
Friday afternoon/evening I did not have firm plans other than getting some lunch. Someone had recommended The Pie Maker, so I beelined it there and ate a delicious vegetable pie:
The pie (aubergine, kale, and goat’s cheese) was excellent but I was equally impressed by the salad. A lot of side salads are just tragic iceberg lettuce with 2 cherry tomatoes added. This one was actually good!
Well fortified, I set out to wander around Shop Street (aptly named), down to the Spanish Arch, and ultimately out to Mutton Island Causeway. Luckily the weather cooperated extremely well:
I’ve met several coastal dwellers who are amazed that I was 20 years old before I ever saw the ocean. I am doing my best to make up for that now, and I hope I never get over the amazement of seeing a stretch of water with no land visible on the other side.
Saturday was the centerpiece of my Galway visit; I took a bus tour to 3 sites in Connemara. Did not really know anything about Connemara (except for the song), so I thought I’d take the opportunity to see something new. We visited Kylemore Abbey, a 19th-century estate now owned by an order of Benedictine nuns. It is beautiful:
We went to the village of Cong, where the movie The Quiet Man was filmed and where there is a ruin of a 16th-century (I think) church:
Finally we went to Ross Errilly Friary, one of the most complete medieval abbeys still standing:
I may be able to do justice to the sights we saw but not to our tour guide, Mike, who was a character and definitely had the Irish gift of gab! As we drove between sites he pointed out several places where peat had been harvested and piled up to dry, and he explained about peat bogs and the phenomenon of “bog bodies.” “We are the only tour company licensed to take this route,” he said, “and on a day like today there’s virtually no one else out here. I could murder all of ye, and 500 years later the archaeologists would find you, perfectly preserved in the bog, holding a tour brochure.” Maybe I am a little morbid but I laughed at that mental image for days.
Saturday night I ate dinner at Quay Street Kitchen after a pre-dinner drink at Tigh Nora. I recommend both! Quay St. Kitchen is small (I think I counted 32 seats), so you may have to wait, but it’s worth it. Nice fresh ingredients and good service. Tigh Nora is a gin bar named for James Joyce’s wife. It’s a small offshoot of a larger pub called The Front Door; it’s very pretty inside (180+ tastefully lighted gin bottles behind the bar); and it’s a nice place for a gin enthusiast or wanna-be (I’m a wanna-be). All in all it was a great evening to cap off a great day.
I managed to sleep in a little bit on Sunday morning but, curiously, the power went out in the neighborhood around my B&B! It put Rita in a mild panic because my room has an electric shower: no electricity, no shower.* Luckily the power came back on at exactly the right moment and we could get on with the day. Having put away a square meter of breakfast (Weetabix with yogurt and fruit, toast, scrambled eggs, potatoes, and coffee) I returned downtown to stash my backpack in a luggage locker near the train station before walking out to Salt Hill, the opposite side of the bay from where I’d been on Friday:
I’m glad I went to Salt Hill first thing, because rain had started by the time I came back to Eyre Square, and things just got worse as the afternoon went on. Luckily I had booked afternoon tea at the Meyrick Hotel and then just had to get on my train back to Waterford. Going to get my backpack was a bit of a swim but I enjoyed swimming alongside people who were excited about the World Cup: saw lots of French tricolors painted on faces but lots of red-and-white Croatia jerseys too. The afternoon tea was ideal (would have been even better were it not for some uptight parents and cranky kids in the area): elegant furniture, sparkling chandeliers, and of course teatime treats, fancily presented.
(vegetarian cheating slightly with smoked salmon)
And so back to Waterford and into the final days of our program. As I write, it’s our last full day. Students are finishing exams, packing, and getting ready for a farewell celebration tonight. Buses roll tomorrow at 4:30 a.m., but let’s try not to think about that till we really have to. I’d rather think about Galway a little longer!
*The Irish approach to water-heating and showers continues to elude my understanding and probably always will.