Saturday, September 26, 2009

The Hitchhiker’s Guide to County Galway

Thursday, September 24, 2009

After 5 hours of sleep (much less than I’m used to over here) I packed my bag and Zach and I headed to the bus station to purchase tickets to Letterfrack. The town is about a 2 hour bus ride to the north west of Galway. It is positioned at the base of Connemara National Park, so it is easy for hikers to access from the bus.

The ride out of the city was filled with political posters on every light post from the socialist, green and labour parties telling citizens to vote yes or no on the Lisbon treaty for being a part of the EU. I’m really not sure what it is all about, so I might try to research it sometime.

The ride through the countryside was amazing. It’s the Ireland I was hoping for. The pictures should prove it. I had so much fun using my different settings and attempting artistic photography. The weather was perfect – what one would call a photographer’s paradise I suppose. The clouds created a dramatic effect, but with no rain. The sun would poke through to shed just enough light on the landscapes to illuminate the bright green and blues, colors which normally look gray and dull under cloud cover. It is amazing how much difference the sun makes in the color over here; more so that you would ever think.

A lot of the pictures I took through the bus through window. Even they turned out great. It made me want to explore the Appalachian Mountains even more. Driving on my own and stopping whenever I want. Passing it all by on the bus was difficult. I just wanted to go run out through the field up to the water’s edge where I dive I and swim around in the shadows of the mountains – assuming the water was warmer than it is. I had dreams of untying the little fishing boat for a lazy row through the lake, but we soon arrived in Letterfrack and I had to get off the bus.

We decided to take the longest hike to the top of Diamond Head. It was about 8 km round trip. The weather was still holding out to be a beautiful day and the wind wasn’t very strong. The higher we climbed the more of the ocean could be seen. The trail was mostly gravel, which I had been placed there to avoid getting stuck in the bog. We had a look around in the museum before starting the hike and it told us a lot about bogs. Ireland was once a dense forest, but humans cutting down trees and scorched earth practices created a land barren of trees and rich in coal. The coal prevents the water from seeping down very far, thus water logging the soil. This is obviously over thousands of years, but nonetheless it has given Ireland the landscape we know today. Travelers would put down toghers, which were bridges made of laying wooden planks across the land. At one point these were very extensive, but eventually became overtaken by the bogs after layer upon layer of peat built up over them. Much wood is still down inside the bogs. The trail changed to stepping stones (from the limestone) as we began to climb the mountain itself. The views were breathtaking.

Upon reaching the top Zach and I sat down for our packed lunch. It was really windy on top, so we sat behind a rock to eat. I made a ham and brie sandwich with spinach for myself and we had Pringles and cake to share. The Pringles were sour cream and onion. I have never liked that flavor, so I thought, but I’ve also never really given them a chance. I didn’t mind them one bit. I also ate the dried fruit cereal bars Zach got at the store. Another thing I’ve previously passed on, but they were actually very tasty. We discussed how there are a lot of things like the bars (which he had never had before today either) and the chips (which he only recently started eating) that when traveling it is just a mindset that makes it easier to try things. Everything is new, so why not the food too. At home everything is so routine that trying things out of the ordinary diet is more unlikely.

I got my picture taken adding another rock to the pyramid at the peak then began the descent. On the hike down I got out my pocket knife and cut away some sod for a unique little souvenir I thought up. At the welcome center it had a saying about Irish folklore that when someone was away from home they took with them a piece of sod, a shamrock and a chip off the hearth. So…I cut out some sod, collected a few rocks, and found some shamrocks to put in a little trinket box with the story as souvenirs. All small pieces and not too disruptive to the natural order of things – I hope.

We walked around the little nature trail outside the visitor’s center when we got off the mountain. It had a mini waterfall that was pretty and the area was covered by trees! It was nice to hike under trees and out of the wind. It was only 2:30 by this time and the only bus wasn’t due to arrive till 6pm. The lady at the visitor’s center told us we could go to the Kylemore Abbey just down the road. I wanted to see it, but was not willing to pay the expensive entry fee, but a look at the outside would be nice. She said it wasn’t far if we had time – about 4km (2.5mi). She said we could thumb our way there with a shrug like it was nothing. Hitchhike? Zach looked at me and asked if I’d ever done it. Nope, he had not either. We laughed and thought maybe give it a try since it was just 2 miles. We timidly held out our thumbs, but no bite. The next car passed us by as well. We continued walking down a road with very little shoulder. We’d have to dive into the bushes every now and then. We tried about 6 or 7 cars and gave up. Must not be as common as the lady let on. We kept walking and walking and walking. It was crazy far. My feet were killing me. We stopped at a bridge for a little break. Finally, we saw a sign for the Abbey … 750m ahead. Would we ever get there? Too late to turn back. An hour and 15 min later we arrived. It was more than 4km. The grounds were beautiful, but we couldn’t get up close because of the entrance fee. I got my picture made by the thing with a look on my face that said “I came all the way for this, better get that picture”.

We looked around in the gift shop and then decided we had about an hour and a half before the bus was coming. Surely we could catch a ride with some tourist heading toward Letterfrack, but better start trying now in case we had to walk back ( a looming fear that we would). I scoped out a place to sit near the carpark. I asked one couple. Nice people. The kind I wouldn’t mind catching a ride with. Nope. Not headed that way. The next group was all French and on a tour bus. The next couple walked by and they looked nice young and American. “Are you headed toward Letterfrack and if so can we get a ride?” - Letterfrack? Where is that? – about 5-10 min to the right – oh sure, why not!

So that’s how we met Kate and Tren. They were over 25 (to rent a car) late 20’s I’d say. They were married. He had spent 6 years in Germany with the air force and she had spent the last year there, so I assume they were newlyweds. They were both from California, and were headed back to the States after touring Ireland to move to Portland, Oregon. We explained our situation and that we were working in Galway on work visas. They dropped us off in Letterfrack said goodbye and we offered many thanks.

So we still had and hour and half. What to do. Letterfrack had nothing – NOTHING. Two bars and a hotel. We started walking towards one bar when Tren rolled down the window and said “you guys said you were living in Galway, right? We’re go through it on the way back, you want a ride?” Zach and I looked at each other. Crossed back over the street and said well, yea I guess if you are going back that way. We hopped in the back again and off we went to Galway. The conversation the whole way never stopped. Tren said he was a “outgoing, whatever kind of guy”. I joked that he must be to pick up two hitchhikers. He said it wasn’t something he normally did, but we seemed stranded and in need. I said hitchhiking isn’t something we normally do either. About that time we saw another guy hitchhiking and the car in front of us pulled over to pick him up. We must just not look right or something. I think asking for a ride outside of a tourist spot from other tourists is a much safer way to go about it, and I would never have tried to thumb down a truck or go any distance over 5 miles nor without someone else – just to clarify. It’s not something I’m going to be repeating either. We got lucky, I realize that. But we also went about it the best way possible. We ended up back in Galway before the bus would have gotten to us back in Letterfrack. Tren and Kate had a GPS, so it took us a faster way than the buses go and we saw more.

They let us out on the corner near the University and made the turn to go on to Kilarney in County Kerry where they were staying. I gave them my e-mail because they said there was a really cool hostel in Kilarney near where they were staying (in a nice hotel, since they have money) that we might like if we were in Kerry. Neither of them could remember the name though. Tren was going to go back to school for physical therapy and wasn’t sure how that transition from college in the military with a steady income to university student with no income would be, but he was up for the challenge.

When we got back to the apartment I got a text from Monica wanting to go to a silent disco. I called her to see what in the world that was. Evidentially, everyone had earmuffs with radio transmitters in them. People can hear different music, but everyone is dancing or singing, and it’s just like a club or party but it is silent without the earmuffs. It sounds intriguing.

Zach made dinner with Thai green curry sauce and egg noodles. He added carrot shavings, onion, peppers, chicken and spinach. It was good, but it was sooo spicy I could barely eat it. My mouth was on fire. There were spring rolls to accompany the dish – another thing I’ve never really tried, but I liked them. I had to get additional bread to help with the spiciness. The bowl was heaping full, so I gave my lips a break from the burn and saved the last half for later. I’d had a full glass of orange juice before dinner and two glasses of water with dinner, so I was quite full. However, the dessert compartment of my stomach had not been satisfied, so I got the individual sponge cake with chocolate drizzle I’d picked up yesterday from Griffin’s and ate that with some ice cream leftover from last night. It was tasty, but I could do without it. I’ve decided to take Griffin’s off the list. Too many people like it and it’s the more expensive place. O’Connors is just as good, but with a more limited selection and cheaper.

250 Years to Arthur

Today was also the 250 year anniversary of Guinness. I later realized how many celebrations were going on all over the world for this occasion, but at the time it didn’t seem that important to me. I’ve had one sip of the stuff and I’m not a fan. At 5:59 you could find free or greatly reduced Guinness pints in many bars all over Ireland. At this exact time I was getting out of Tren and Kate’s rental car and not concerned with partaking in the celebration. Later I saw photos of the crowds that had gathered like it was New Year’s Eve in all of Ireland’s major cities to toast to Arthur. It might have been worth it to witness that, but I had originally thought I’d be on a bus anyway. At least I can say I was in Ireland for the 250th anniversary of Guinness.

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