This past weekend a rag tag group from Boston University ventured west to the far off city of Galway. While there we would sample the local flavor, shops, the Cliffs of Moher, the Burren, and ride the Aran Islands. I stayed in my first hostel (not like the movie Hostel fortunately) and enjoyed a nice weekend away from the stressed of the town we call home (UCD Belfield/Dublin).
Galway is in many ways just like a little town in Maine known to the world as Freeport - the home of outlets galore and the headquarters for L.L. Bean. Unlike Freeport, there wasn't any sort of huge anchor store, but much like Freeport, there were tons of little shops, pubs, eateries, classy hotels, and B&B's. Whole streets, "shop street" for example, were closed off for pedestrian traffic only and sort of resembled the Diagon Alley of Harry Potter fame. We explored many of these shops the first night we were there, Friday. I've come to the conclusion that I enjoy a certain measure of touristy stuff but only to a point. I really don't like playing the tourist with camera in hand and city map in pocket. I don't like feeling like an outsider in this country. Slowly but surely, it's starting to dawn on me that we're here, that we're actually living here in the country and little by little I'm gravitating towards the local spots. For the first time, we've been able to find an organic Irish session where musicians sort of show up and play great music together. It was a wonderful time eating a late dinner while listening to some musicians jam away with a fiddle, pipe, drums, and banjo.
Saturday started early with our group getting some food before departing on a bus for the Aran Islands. Weirdly enough, Galway itself doesn't have a ton to do, but it's a hub for all the other cool places around - the Burren, Aran Islands, and The Cliffs. After the 45 minute bus ride to the docks, we climbed aboard a large ferry amidst the ever present haze and set off. Upon arrival on the island, a salty 30 minutes later, there was some dispute about how we should see the island. It was very much like the Bahamas with some vans cat calling and trying to get us to come on their tours. We opted for the road bikes. It would so much more intimate to see the island under our own power than to go flying by it in a van. That said, our entire group wasn't ready for that. Needless to say, we made it out to the ruins and the cliffs at the far edge of the islands. Let me tell you, it's a rather heavy hit to look out from a 300 vertical drop, see the horizon and know that the next landfall would be your country.
We climbed back down to find my bike's tire had gone flat, though there is suspicion that someone had switched their bike out with mine. Though, this would be the first of two flats in our group of 7 - I don't think they took good care of the tires... We took the coastal route back to town and saw seals in the bay though they weren't out on the rocks as promised. This was very disappointing but inevitable I guess. Finally, it was back to town, the sweater shop, the boat (sleeping), the bus (sleeping), and back to Galway for a nap.
The whole hostel situation was interesting too. I had been dubbed the accommodation booker/trip leader (I wonder why?) and therefore organized all of the rooms and such. I made sure the girls (4) were in a 4 person room with their own bathroom - this ended up being a great move for them. Unfortunately, I wasn't able to get us 3 guys into our own room so we were sharing our accommodations with 3 other people who all woke up before us. So the rule of thumb was go to bed early because the last 2 hours of sleep sucked as others would hit the shower, slam the door, rustle through backpacks and leave. In any event, it was cheap, the place was clean and welcoming, had great service and generally didn't live up to the negative stereotypes that we sometimes hear. I definitely think that hostels are going to be the way to travel, except for that 5 star hotel Brian agreed to pay for in Amsterdam.
I'm pooped, I'll write more tomorrow and finish this off.