If I have to summarize the trip to Galway in two words, those would be “expensive disappointment”. No need to be torn away by these words as I could not say this without an explanation, and I will explain, in order to clarify where those words come from, and what I will do next time in order to change them. Don’t get me wrong, I enjoyed the trip quite a lot, though some issues need some improvement.
For us Galicians, a trip to Éire is something like not leaving home, as in a certain way, Galicia and Éire are related since ancient history. Breogán (Breoghan) is remember in both places, as well as his sons, though them appear more clear on ancient Irish writings. One of the sons of Breogán/Breoghan, Ith went to Ireland from Brigantia, where he was executed by the Tuatha Dé. Another son of Breoghan was Bile, Bile had a son named Milidh whose sons would conquer Ireland.
“Bile mac Breoghain blaith bil,
as do roba mac Milidh;
ro ba ceann toisech is treabh,
d’fine noseach nert-Ghaoidheal.”
Two sons of Milidh (Mil), Donn and Aimhirgin where the ones who finally conquered Éire. Donn drowned before reaching the shore, and Aimhirgin defeated the Tuatha Dé invoking the land of Éire:
“Ailiu iath nErend.
Ermach muir mothuch,
mothach sliabh srethach
srethach coil ciothoch,
ciothach ab esach,
eassach loch lionmar,
lindmar tor tiopra,
tiopra tuath oenaig,
aenan righ Temra,
Teamair tor tuatha,
tuatha mac Miled.”
Therefore, that Éire-Galicia connection comes from thousands of years ago, and can be still seen in some places around the emerald island. So when the taxi driver asked how I felt in there, the answer was “feels like home”. It always rains in Galicia, so people say; it always rains in Éire, also so people say. Mountains are old and round, everywhere is green, traditional music and dances are similar, just the food is quite different. So overall, besides the different language and driving on the other side of the road, every other thing feels the same, but the food.
Traveling is not just about sightseeing, also gastronomy plays an important role in every trip I take, and in this case, mixed feelings.
Traditional Irish breakfast is nice, Irish stew goes from good to crap depending on the pub, and fish and chips, mmmm… cod fish fillet, just plain, nothing fancy though I wasn’t expecting anything from fish and chips, so that’s ok. Other than that, I really liked the seafood chowder, in fact, I think was the best dish of all. Bacon with cabbage is something similar to Lacón con Grelos, with a very different taste, but does the trick. So overall the food was not as good as I expected, but quite expensive (expensive disappointment comes from the gastronomy part of it).
Going to a supermarket (Dunnes Stores), the only fish I could find there was cod fillet, mackerel fillet, and then prawns, mussels, maybe some crab, no other fish. Being Éire a country surrounded by sea, I can not understand the lack of all the other fish at the supermarket. Weird. Only on Saturdays, on the street market, a fish peddler would offer some other different fish than cod and mackerel. Vegetables are too expensive too, and when asking a tour guide why Irish countryside lacks vegetable gardens surrounding the houses and cottages, he replied saying that is cheaper to buy them than to grow them. Hard to believe for someone used to see people growing all kinds of vegetables and fruits in small pieces of land, even in the suburbs, and after seeing the price of pepper, tomato, lettuce, carrot, whatever, at the supermarket.
It really drew my attention to notice that looks like all Pubs offer the same standard menu, at least in Galway and Dublin. Hamburguer, steak, chicken nuggets, fish and chips, Irish stew, chicken wings, pasta, bacon with cabbage… It looked like the menu on those restaurants in the midwest inside a road movie through the Route 66. Next time I should try to find a different kind of eating place, not the “pub” kind.
Then there is Guinness. It tastes good in Ireland, maybe because the weather, low air pressure, humidity, but it also tastes good here. I have been drinking Guinness for a long time already and, in fact, the worst Guinness I had, I had it in Galway; apart from bottled. Of course, different waiters pour beer in a different way, and not every waiter cares as much about what they are doing as others, which was why that awful Guinness tasted that awful.
Galway is not a big city. Population circa 80.000 inhabitants (my Galician hometown has a population circa 100.000 inhabitants, so more or less the same thing), and being mostly flat, makes this city small enough and good for walking around. Bus ticket is expensive at 2.4€, but taxi is relatively cheap, compared to the bus. But walking the streets is the best way, and the cheapest, to get to know the whereabouts of the “galwaynians”.
It says you can get all seasons in a day in Éire. Well, I won’t refute the wheather forecast, though I got all summer days in a week but two. It always rains in Éire, so they say. Nah!.
Narrow alleys, pedestrian streets, form the core of downtown Galway. If the weather allows it, High Street and Shop Street will populate with bands playing live music. After sunset, live music moves inside the Pubs where it can go on and on until closing time. Many styles can be listened to, as different bands, solo singers/players, duets, trios,… but mainly Irish folk, or Irish folk versions of other styles’ songs.
It looked like Galway is an important tourism destination, as almost everyday downtown was crowded as… Once you move away from downtown, and depending on the time of day, it becomes quieter, and can not feel a “fast pace” on anything, if it can be called “fast”. One can choose calm and quietness or crowd and live music. On a common day, the pace is not that fast; I like that.
Sorry. I don’t care much about the shopping thing, so I did not pay attention to any kind of store. Can’t talk about that.
Important though, is to wear good shoes for walking. The orography of the city invites to walk around, and the layout of the streets hides surprises at every corner. Beware where you order your Guinness, you might be surprised, really. And, actually, walking is the only way to get to know the place, any place. Well, a bike would do too.
The similarities between cities are mainly in the downtown area, stone buildings (different kind of stone, and different heights), narrow streets and alleys, pedestrian, plenty of Pubs in Galway, plenty of “Bares de Tapas” in here. Whenever the weather allows it, all bars would set up tables on the street, same thing here.
I am not very fond of guided tours, but as a first timer in Éire, and given the issue of driving on different side of the road, I opted to give the guided tour a try. Well, one day tours are, oh well, good and bad. You don’t need to worry where to go, how to go, which road to take, the bus driver takes you, but you have to worry to get back on the bus on time. So one can not choose to stay longer at this site or that other nice place. Also eating is “arranged” at a certain spot along the trip, so maybe one would want to stop at that tavern seen by the road, but cannot. Instead, the meal will be planned at some other place as for example, a self-service facility at a high demand tourist spot.
When taking a look at the landscape of Éire, I just see the translation of Galician landscapes to Éire, or Éireann landscapes to Galicia. They look about the same, rounded old mountains with naked stone, fjords of the west coast similar to the Galician “Rías”, the green color everywhere, cattle grazing on the green fields, be it cows or sheep. Even the Connemara ponies are of the same size as Galician horses, both even sporting some same qualities.
One issue that I’ve noticed while traveling is that those tours are mainly focused on tourists coming from the United States of North America, maybe Irish emigrants, whose sons and grandsons come back to visit the home of their ancestors. (in the emigration issue Galicia and Éire also do look amazingly alike). Or those citizens from the other side of the Atlantic ocean who want to take a look at the emerald isle where the fairies play hide and seek, still nowadays.
At least for me, the only differences I found are: language, driving, food and houses. Someone told me that houses in Éire are colored because the weather is mostly gray, so color is not used only to draw attention but also to make spaces more livable. Traditional ones, as here, are made of stone, and with slate or straw roofs too. So the difference in houses is mostly found in buildings within the city, not in the countryside.
Tour guides take you everywhere from a Dolmen to an ruined abbey, to a picturesque scenery, to a famous movie location… It is a well organized business that highlights the different spots that were and are an important part of the history of Éire. I wish back home we would have something like that, as the “Ribeira Sacra”, the Sacred Riverside of the Sil River, is filled with abbeys dating from the Romanesque to the Renaissance and Baroque, Celtic cities, and even the same ancient round houses with straw roofs that the tour guide told me on the trip, those are still in use here in the highlands of east Galicia. And those “Irish roller coasters”, hum, same here. So while other tourists felt amazed I felt I was at home, but some degrees up north.
Landscapes are very enjoyable, at least all the ones I went by. I rather see less tourists, and take some time to enjoy longer some places that I could not because of the tight schedule of the tour. Next time I “must” rent a car and go my own way, that way I can get to places before the tours reach them, enjoy them more, and in a different way.
Still many places left to go, which means I should go back and visit again. But next time, I will try to avoid the Pub food and tour guides, and drive around here and there, which is the best way to find the most interesting places. Sure I will need to do some planning, because lodging may be an issue depending on the time of the year at the place you intend to visit, but there is always some degree of unexpected when traveling, that is the spice of it.
I will be back, for sure. Being abroad and not being abroad at the same time is a nice feeling. I was expecting cool weather and I found it warm, I was told it was too sunny and too warm those days, so who knows, maybe the fairies did something to show off the emerald island during that week, because when I boarded the plane to come back, it started to rain again. Do you believe in fairies? Even if you don’t you should go to Éire and enjoy.