Off to the Races

We picked up our rental car (we’re calling him Otis cause he’s an Opel, though it probably would have been more appropriate to go with something like Seamus) and hit the open roads en route to Galway City. We figured out (more or less) how to drive in Ireland on their teeny tiny roads. So narrow! Their two lanes are what would be one in the States. Upon arriving we discovered to our delight that our home for the next few days had an absolutely lovely location, up on the top floor of an apartment looking out over the river with a view down to the church. Fantastic. Not to mention it could not be any closer to the action in downtown Galway. Highly recommend the spot!

And the downtown area was bumping. Actually craic was everywhere. Did I use that right? I still don’t understand these Irish words. I’m trying. I’ve got slainte down, that’s about it. We wandered around Shop Street and the surrounding blocks, which are chock full of pubs, restaurants, shops and street performers (including this awesome Irish-Klezmer fusion type group with a solid tap dancer).

We discovered a delightful tea spot, Cupan Tae, which is pretty much the stuff of my childhood fantasies. Mismatched chairs and tablecloths and a different set of china at each table. The pots of tea come out in other mismatched pots, and the scones and crust-less cucumber sandwiches come out on the daintiest tiered plates. To top it off, the waitresses are all wearing the cutest frilly aprons over their dresses. And the tea menu is legit, several pages of teas for all your tea party fantasies. We went with the Creamy Dreamy Galway blend and it did not disappoint.

Also, Alan found an Irish friend who loves the Giants too. This photo made all of our days.

After a seafood dinner at McDonagh’s (can’t believe it took us this long already to order fish n’ chips… which by the way tasted like donuts in the way that the onion rings at Mastro’s in Los Angeles do. Anyone here know what I mean!?), we hit the pubs for pints and whiskey sampling (on Alan’s part). So it took me exactly four days in Ireland before I got buzzed enough to chat up an Irish person and trade impersonations of each other’s accents. Naturally, in my Irish accent I led with “’ave ya ever been to Yogurtland?” Anyway, in exchange for my embarrassment we got the tip to check out Taaffe’s for live music, and it was a solid scene, with a fiddle player who looks exactly like Cory Monteith. Also, I’m almost embarrassed to rave about this, and it was a late night fourth meal after many a pint so the judgment here may be a wee bit clouded, but the pizza at Napoli was sinfully delectable. Also worth a shout: Swing Sundays at Kelly’s pub. We walked in and had a quick meal and a Smithwick’s while listening to a fantastic bluesy band.

It took some dragging ourselves out of bed the next day, but we got up to drive out to the ferry and head to the Aran Islands. The best way to get out and explore Inishmore (the largest island) seems to be by bike and so that’s what we did. (I seriously think we’ve biked more in our first week in Ireland than we did in one year in Los Angeles, crazy. Must bust out the bikes more back home. Also, can we get city bikes in Santa Monica!?). The island is just big enough that to get around to all the sights would be too long on foot, and just right on bikes for the day.

This cute little spot we stopped at for lunch was adorable (look at that thatched roof!) and delicious (tomato soup and brown bread were spot on, as was Alan’s ham).

The highlight of this island is the cliffs and view near Dún Aonghasa. Pretty impressive if I do say so meself.

This little beach did not disappoint either. How tropical looking!

Less impressive was the worm hole we biked and walked in search of for quite a ways, only to discover it isn’t much of a show at low tide. Womp womp. Supposedly it’s like a four-sided waterfall when the water is high enough. Though, to be fair, I’m not quite sure how accessible it would be when the water is high!?

Our last day in town happened to coincide with the Galway Races. (I say happened to coincide, but really Alan plans this all meticulously, so we actually extended our stay a day to catch these famed horse races). It was grand. Though we learned the hard way that we are pretty much the opposite of good betters. We were too sober to bet our money on the first race, but of course when I learned there was a horse called Ridestan, it brought back memories from our trip to the ‘Stans and I rooted for him. He placed second. So we bet on the second race for one to place, and he got trampled. Then we sat out a race again because we are big fat loser gamblers. And we chose the horse that won on 17:1 odds! And then Alan picked another first place winner without betting the next round. We got all hot headed and bet three ways on the next race…and of course, our horses came in near the back, with Alan’s a dead last, way behind all the others.

So, we totally suck at horse races. But that’s OK, because we really enjoyed it, and I took particular pleasure in watching the women who came dressed for the “Most Appropriately Dressed Lady” competition. Think big ole hats and proper dresses. I can only imagine what ladies’ night is like.

The next day we were off for Dingle with a pit stop at the Cliffs of Moher. Stay tuned!

Practical Info

Before I get started, huge thanks to Sean who wrote an incredibly detailed and helpful email as we were in the planning phase! Galway is the name of the county and also the main city, but if we don’t specify we are always referring to Galway City. Note that some of the street names change midway, so e.g. I think Quay Street and Shop Street are basically the same?

Transportation: We drove from Dublin, see that post for info. Galway City is not the easiest town to drive in with all its one way and pedestrian-only streets. You certainly do not need a car here. You might want one for day trips, but there are plenty of tour options.

Accommodation: We stayed at an Airbnb place with an amazing location (and parking spot) on the river, just by Kelly’s pub. There are tons of options, I think you’d do fine to stay anywhere within easy walking distance of Quay Street, Eyre Square, etc. Our friends recommended Hotel Meyrick. The seaside town of Salthill is nearby and you could in theory make the walk but it’s a couple miles away.

Food and Drinks: Jenni’s new favorite spot may be Cupan Tae. McDonagh’s is famous for seafood. My fried fish was tasty, but in general we were a touch disappointed. The chips were not cooked enough, but on the plus side they tasted remarkably like high quality steak (Jenni called the taste like Mastro’s onion rings). And I got to enjoy a Galway Hooker. Pizza Napoli has some terrific and large slices. Ard Bia has a good rep, and Aniar has a Michelin star.

Perhaps the most famous pub is Tigh Neactain; we had but one pint there. It is small and packed. Taaffe’s had good live music. The Dáil Bar is spacious and the bartenders were friendly. We loved the bluesy Sunday night band at Kelly’s, and the burger and pint special put me on to Smithwick’s Ale.

On Inishmore (Aran Islands), Teach Nan Phaidi right by Dún Aonghasa is cute and a great lunch option. Ti Joe Watty’s closer to town has a good rep and often live music.

Activities: The main activity in Galway City is strolling the pedestrian-only heart and drinking in pubs. There is ample live music. This is a popular base for day trips. We visited the Aran Islands one day. You have several options for this. We drove to Rossaveal (aka Ros a’ Mhíl) and then took the ferry to Inishmore. Parking cost €5 and the return ferry costs €25 each. We reserved our tickets at the office on Eyre Square. Once on the island, we rented bikes at the pier for €10 each (plus a €10 each deposit, cash only). It is a little too big to walk everywhere. Horse and carriage rides are available, and some choose a fully guided van tour but this did not seem appealing as biking the island was a big part of the draw for us.

Entrance to Dún Aonghasa (a cliff-top ancient fort) costs €3 and visiting entails walking up a long path with uneven stairs. We did not see any seals at the Seal Colony. The Worm Hole requires biking on a gravel road and then a substantial walk over deep grass and rocks along the coast. The scenery is lovely, though at low tide we did not see the ocean flowing in and out of the hole as depicted in the tourist brochures.

Our host recommended the Galway Tour Company’s day trip to Inishmaan, a smaller and less visited island. Staying a night in the Aran Islands is probably very peaceful. There are B&Bs all over Inishmore. Note that you can also fly to Inishmore.

Day trips to Connemara and The Burren are also popular. Many visit the Cliffs of Moher from Galway, but we stopped on the drive to Dingle and cover this in our next post.

Our visit to Galway coincided with the famous Galway Races. You may need to buy tickets in advance for ladies’ night, but we purchased them on arrival for the hefty sum of €20 each. Shuttle buses leave from Eyre Square and cost €9 return. There are plenty of food and beverage options at the races.

July 26-29, 2014 (Saturday-Tuesday)

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