Tuesday, November 29, 2011

Connemara's Beautiful and Andrea's Wordy

We hold these truths to be self evident!

I awoke on our last Wednesday very stuffed up and suffering from a sore throat. As we our plans included the 1:00pm ferry to Inishmore, Al set off to do some shopping while I rested a bit longer. It seemed like everything was falling into place... until we met up at the ticket office. They had already cancelled the April-October 1:00pm ferry. Um, last I checked it was still October. Of course, the website is updated now but it wasn't when I checked two weeks before our trip. So now I was sick, tired and not going to the Aran Islands.

Well, at least it was gloriously sunny! That was a welcome change.

Looking back at Salthill on my walk into Galway

I pointed out to Al that we were 0 for 3 for cliffs in Ireland: we opted not to see Slieve League because of the rain, we couldn't see Cliffs of Moher because of the fog, and we didn't make it to the cliff at Dun Angus because of the ferries. Well, there's three very compelling reasons for us to have to go back!

I took the change in plans as an excuse to crawl back into bed for the afternoon. Figures, the sun is out and I'm walking around in a t-shirt... and all I want to do is sleep because I'm sick. I'd feel sorry for myself but then I remember that I was living it up on holidays. I could have been sick at home in Victoria while it rained. Perspective... it's good to have it sometimes.

The boat in the middle is called a hooker. It's also the name of a locally brewed beer.
The joke about 'Galway hookers' will never get old.
Yes, I have the maturity of a 10 year old.

Galway City as seen from the Claddagh.

I felt much better after my nap and when Al returned I agreed to head back into town for dinner and drinks on the condition that we didn't stay out too late. We had a low-key dinner, went to a pub know for its Irish music nights that just wasn't the Reel Inn, before deciding to stop at the Front Door for one more pint before bed. Then we met the world's second greatest bartender, Philip, (Emer is still our #1!) and enjoyed chatting with him so much that we hung around for a second pint. Then we met Mike.

I'm posting this photo of him for a reason. Remember this face, people!

He and his group of friends helped us make targets for Philip's elastics (until the night got too busy and Philip actually had to work)...

...and then his friend's left him with me, Al, and Lindsay (a lovely Yank he and his friends had met earlier in the evening) so he started buying all our drinks... and then a few drinks we didn't actually order.

This was actually my first time ever having a Butterball shot.
Where have these been all my life?

Towards the end of the evening, we had this exact conversation:
ME (pointing at my cell phone): Please tell me that says 12:10AM and I'm just too drunk to see the '1'.
AL: No. That says 2:10AM.
ME: Really? F*ck. A pint for the road?
AL: Sure.

So much for our early night. But you know what? It was worth it for the new friends and the awesome bartender. If you're ever in Galway, go to the Front Door, find Philip the bartender, and ask him for "ah, one, ah, hot chocolate" and then duck. Just trust me on this one.

Needless to say, when you crawl into bed at 3:00AM, 7:30AM comes ridiculously fast! Stupid tour of stupid Connemara at stupid o'clock in the stupid morning! But then you see this and decided that all is right with the world.

We switched tour companies for our second tour which meant we lost on the 2nd tour reduced rate but we also had a tour guide who didn't put the radio on! It was worth the extra money to actually feel like the tour guide was more than just a bus driver, so excuse me while I throw a little love their way. I would definitely recommend them if you're ever in Ireland. (As our guide, Michael D., would say they were a great tour company in and of themselves! Which might not make sense to you, but Al and I are rolling on the floor laughing at our hilarity!)

The day started (of course) with a visit to a friary. Having not seen one in almost three days, Al and I were going through withdrawals.

I actually really liked the Ross Errilly Friary because it was a) free and b) surrounded by sheep and cows (which, sadly, were not free. Best souvenir ever!).

Our next stop was the village of Cong which is best known as being the home of the Cross of Cong the village in The Quiet Man. In fact, if you've seen The Quiet Man then this pub should look very familiar to you. (If you haven't seen The Quiet Man then you should rent it tonight at watch it.)

Cong also gave Al and I a chance to change things up and visit an abbey! Always keeps things interesting when you don't get tied into just one type of religious building! It was also the beginning of the 'Mike face photos' which punctuated the rest of our travel photos.

I don't know which was better: the fact that this made us laugh as hard as it did or
the looks we got from everyone else every time we did it.

I liked the Cong Abbey because it was a) free (hear that, Donegal Castle? Two free ruins in one day. Boo-yah!) and b) it was right across the street from an awesome coffee shop. It was a common look for Al and I: camera in one hand, coffee in the other.

Cong is a very quaint, quiet village and while I'd suggest it as a stop for lunch (or coffee), we had half an hour there and were still back at the bus 10 minutes early. It's not really a place I'd recommend as a destination in and of itself. (Also, many of the stores shut down from November to March when there's no tourists so then I really don't recommend going there.)

Connemara is one of my favourite regions of Ireland (the whole northern part of the west coast is the bee's knees for me. The cat's pajamas. The dog's nuts. Wait, what?). Every time Al and I talked about possible Ireland itineraries, I kept putting "Connemara Day" into them regardless of what Al wanted because I'm a selfish friend I know that a trip to Connemara is always worth it. Even in the rain, Connemara is beautiful. If you go to Ireland and visit Connemara because of my recommendation and this it was a complete waste of your time, I will buy you a pint.*

Plus it's home to the Connemara Pony which sometimes you get to see. Or, if you go with the GTC, you'll get to feed one!

They call him Mr. Pony. Michael D opened the bus doors and whistled as we drove past.
Mr. Pony raced with the bus the length of the field and then patiently waited while we were
dolled out apple slices to feed him.

There's a lot of history in the region, lots of stories to tell about it, but more than anything else, it's just beautiful. It's a 'pictures will never do it justice' kind of place. But let's try anyway, shall we?

For hikers, the region is home to the Twelve Bens** and I've often thought what a wonderful weekend trip it would be to hike a few of them over the two days. Apparently crazy people like to hike all of them in 24 hours. For once, even my crazy thinks that's crazy! How can you enjoy the views if you're just running off to the next one? (Plus, that leaves no time for stopping in at the pubs!)

Like all Connemara tours, we eventually found ourselves at Kylemore Abbey. I'll be honest with you, I've now been to Kylemore Abbey three times. Next time, I'm bringing a book and staying on the bus... well, after I take the required Kylemore Abbey photo, of course.

Most original Kylemore Abbey photo you will ever see! EVER!

The grounds are very nice and if it's your first time visit, you should pay the entrance fee and go check them out (you do not, however, need to pay the fee to get the photo above) but it's not really a location which bears repeat visits (unlike Connemara itself). There's some lovely walks, they've done a great job with restoring the largest walled Victorian garden in Ireland (if you need that many qualifiers, I don't think you should get to brag about it), and... well, that's about it really: walks and garden. Knock yourself out, kids!

Still, we did get to see some lovely assess^.

WAIT! I was talking about these guys:

We stopped in Galway just quick enough to grab a bite to eat and then caught the GTC bus back to Dublin. As sad as I was to not actually get to see Ireland roll past us on our last bus trip, I was thankful to just get the trip over and done with especially now that it's a toll motorway that avoids all towns (as opposed to when I lived in Galway and you still had to drive through Athlone or other larger towns).

Returning to Dublin made it official: our trip was nearing its end.

*Totally serious on this one but you have to live close enough to me that we can go for the pint together and you can tell me exactly why you didn't enjoy Connemara. (I want you to look me in the eye and say "I hated it".)

**Ben (sometimes written Pin or Bin) is the anglicised version of the old Gaelic words for mountain (regional differences means I've found five different spellings of the original word, but beinn or beann seem to be the most common.). Many mountains in Ireland and Scotland contain 'Ben' in the name.

^The two guys in the first photo turned out to be really nice. They were on our tour and after a couple of quips back and forth through out the morning, they approached us at Kylemore and struck up a conversation. Unfortunately for them, Al and I just weren't function at all and I'm sure we came across quite b!tchy as we just wandered away after niceties had been exchanged. It was a moment I wish I could have gone back and redone when I wasn't so, um, under the weather. Our travel plans were the same for the next three days, they were Canadians who knew hockey, and they were hot obviously trying to engage us in perhaps meeting up in Dublin. It's not that I think we all would have become great friends and would totally stay in touch and visit each other, it just would have been nice to have someone to meet up with for lunch on the Saturday for example. I also debated about telling them to check out Croke Park because they were hockey guys and that would have been right up their alley. Instead, out of the three times I thought "mention Croke Park to them", I said nothing twice and then awkwardly mumbled 'see ya around' the last time. It's probably the only part of the trip I honestly really wish I could do over. If anyone reading this recognizes those two assess from the picture, please tell the boys Al and I say 'hi' and they should totally check out Croke Park.

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