Monday, June 11, 2012

may 2012: Ireland vacation

the mister & i took a trip to ireland a few weeks ago. i knew i'd better write down some highlights, memories and stories from the trip, lest i forget. what follows are the somewhat-mundane highlights of the trip, because it was mostly a walking-around-and-soaking-it-all-in sort of trip, not an action-packed adventure.  not to say it was boring, because it wasn't AT ALL. we truly enjoy just hanging out, talking to the locals and getting a sense of the culture.

why ireland?
due to R's crazy schedule, we're rarely able to plan vacations far in advance. a brief window popped up during the end of may, so with about a month's advance, we decided to plan a trip. i wanted to go somewhere in europe, he wanted to ride his bike. i thought about someplace like denmark - we could rent bikes and poke around the city. he was thinking more all-out road riding. so we found a "sportive" that was taking place in ireland the week we were free, and that was that: ireland! i came up with a rough agenda for the first part of the trip and booked lodging, and we left the last few days open and unplanned. we were to be flying/traveling with his bicycle in tow, so we had to map things out accordingly.

monday, may 21
we arrived at the nashville airport and grabbed a bite to eat at noshville & spotted brian setzer. delta has individual tv screens where you can watch movies and play games, so we played trivia, which made the 8 hour flight (from atlanta to dublin) go quickly.

tuesday, may 22: dublin
arrived in dublin at 7:30 in the morning and took a bus to the city center. we walked a few blocks to the hotel, the kingfisher lodge.  they let us check-in a couple hours early, which was a huge blessing. we ate breakfast at the restaurant next door while they cleaned up our room; afterward, R was anxious to re-assemble his bike. all was good (and we were happy to have a room large enough to assemble the bike) and we took a little nap (jet lag!). we grabbed dinner at a place called crack bird - it was essentially a fancy chicken wings restaurant.  we walked around a bit and loaded up on snacks at a nearby market (hob nobs and mint kit-kats!)... went back to the room and conked out. then we both woke up in the middle of the night and couldn't get back to sleep (jet lag!)...

wednesday, may 23: travel to galway
...but i guess we did get back to sleep because we woke up around 1pm, and our checkout was supposed to be noon (oops).  we made our way to the train station (him on bike, me by tram with all the luggage) and took the train to galway (it's about 2.5 hrs away). the trains have a bike rack, which was helpful. we sat across from some teenagers and listened to them talk about pop culture, parties and politics. we arrived in galway around 6pm and walked (about 30 minutes) to our b&b, the kiltevna house.  on our walk we passed a sweet boxer named lily, so the mister had to stop and pet her.
we checked in to our itty, bitty room and immediately walked back toward galway for dinner.  our grumpy b&b hostess showed us a short cut (only 10 minutes to walk into town...which we rarely used the remainder of the trip in hopes of seeing lily again on the long route). we ate indian food for dinner, then found a cool pub/bar for a nightcap (can't remember the name). R tried a few different irish whiskeys and i had my first guinness of the trip.
thursday, may 24: galway
R got up early and went on a bike ride. we had a nice breakfast at our b&b and went out walkin'. the waterfront was across the street from our place, so we walked down a long pier/road toward a lighthouse.
we walked into town and grabbed coffee, then just walked around some of the shops of galway. R asked around and learned of a secondhand book/record store called bell book and candle. the lady at the shop was super nice & R was happy to have found sting soul cages on LP (as well as a francoise hardy record and a random band called angel witch). dinner was good that night (he got a burger, i got beet risotto) - we had tried to get into an awesome seafood place, but they were booked up for the night. we sat by the sea some more (R thought he spotted a message in a bottle {the sting record must've inspired him}, but it was only a beer bottle).
we stopped in another grocery store for some more hobnobs and gummy candies to take back to the b&b.

the weeks leading up to the trip, i constantly checked the weather forecast for dublin, galway, and clifden on my iphone. it had been in the 50s and low 60s and raining, pretty much every day. so naturally, we packed rain coats, sweaters, and waterproof hiking boots. we get there and every single day was perfectly sunny, temps in the 60s and 70s. all the locals were super excited about this awesome streak of weather and remarked that this sort of thing only happens once every year or two. we were just incredibly lucky to have been there during this time.
friday, may 25: travel to clifden
woke up 9:30 and our hostess had already put breakfast away; she only offered me toast. R immediately headed out on his bicycle to make the 50-mile trip from galway to clifden. me and all the luggage took a bus. the scenery along the way was AMAZING. R's ride went well; he stopped at a castle and got a more first-hand look at everything being out on two wheels like that. i fell in love with clifden the minute i stepped off the bus. i got a cab to our b&b and did a bit of reading outside while i waited for R to arrive. the b&b (the faul house) was amazing.
it's about a 45-minute walk from the town, off a little road out in the country. 
sea views and sheep and horses and rolling green fields are all around.  the proprietors were amazingly kind. they gave us one of the big rooms since we were to be staying 3 nights. (the whole experience was night and day from the b&b in galway...that lady just made us feel like our mere presence was an inconvenience to her). we walked into town and ate a late lunch at the derryclare restaurant. we walked around some more - went to the two big churches in town.
there was a little graveyard and some chickens at the church of ireland...then we walked to the catholic church and sat on the wall and rested/talked (all that walking is exhausting! and of course R was a little beat from that bike ride). on our way back the mister spotted a neat hill, so we hopped a fence and made our way up. i was complaining a bit since i wasn't wearing my hiking boots and the terrain had quite a few prickly bushes, but once i was able to relax and take in the view from the top, i was glad to be up there.
we were hungry again, so we went into cullen's bistro & coffee house. R got a huge bowl of irish stew and i got a grated cheese sandwich (i was kinda expecting a grilled cheese, but it was literally grated cheese on bread). we stopped and visited the connemara ponies on the way back to the b&b.
pony kisses!
saturday, may 26: sky road
breakfast at our b&b was delicious. R decided to make today a recovery day in anticipation of sunday's 140-km ride (85 miles).

on our way into town, we stopped to look at some sheep and R met an interesting dog (an irish deerhound) named brittany. she looked like a longhaired greyhound and was amazingly sweet.
the town had a craft fair, so we walked around that & bought some wooden buttons. we enjoyed our food at derryclare so much that we ate there again (shared a pizza and salad). R checked in for his ride the next day, and we learned 800 people would be participating!  later that day, i rented a bike and we decided to ride on sky road.  we knew it was about 9 miles and we just went for it.  it's worth mentioning that we were completely unprepared for what was ahead. i was wearing blue jeans, a black t-shirt and hiking boots. my rental bike was heavy and the tires were under-inflated and i had the backpack strapped to the back rack. we had one small bottle of water between us. it was probably 75-80 degrees that day. it was apparent early on that this road had a hell of an incline, but we made our way up up up. we stopped and looked at the sea cows (there's something so odd about the juxtaposition of a cow by the sea...right?):
when we made it to the top, we sat and rested/talked/enjoyed the view.
it was amazing - these words and my pictures cannot even begin to give it justice.  there was something so gratifying about reaching the summit on a bicycle rather than catching a ride on a tour bus...
instead of going down the way we came, we continued the sky road loop and faced REALLY STRONG HEADWINDS coming down the mountain.  again - it was a really tough ride. i walked my bike up the world's biggest incline and i had nothing left in me (water or energy or will to live) at that point. then the ride closes out on a super busy road and cars are whirring past us - we spotted the church steeples, so we knew we were close to town. our first stop was the grocery store for water. we sat outside and re-hydrated and talked to this kooky old man for about an hour. we ate incredible spicy indian food for dinner and went back to the room...R needed a good night's sleep for his big ride.
sunday, may 27: tour de conemara/sick day
we woke up and R ate a quick breakfast and rode into town. i felt pretty nauseous that morning but i wanted to see him off (and i had to return the rental bike) so i also rode into town. his ride started at the station house hotel and the scene was a sea of carbon fiber bikes and lycra. (side note: R rides a 90s-era steel frame bike and wears a wool jersey, because that's what he likes. this could be the subject of a whole other blog post, but now's not really the time or place to go into how he fits in the world of modern cycling, which is: he doesn't, and he sticks out like a sore thumb. many of those guys belong to teams and he's just more of a hardcore enthusiast). off he went! here's the route.

at that point it was obvious that i was really ill. i returned the bike walked back to the b&b. i most definitely had a fever and slept for hours. took a shower and slept some more. i drank some water and 7up but could not stomach the thought of any food. i wanted to go back into town to see him come back from the ride, but i couldn't even get out of bed. when he got back, i was happy to hear that the ride went well. he told me about the midges that attacked him during one of the stops and about the guys he ended up riding with.  he went back into town to eat dinner (again at derryclare) and i told him to get me some saltines at the store. apparently saltines are a premium cracker in ireland (called "mediterraneo" and significantly more expensive than typical irish crackers)...he was such an amazing caretaker. i felt like a schmuck because he had exerted himself so much that day... i was able to eat a little and my fever finally broke. we slept soundly that night.
monday, may 28: back to galway
thankfully, i was feeling better the next morning. we ate a good breakfast and the mister hopped back on his bike for the 50 mile ride back to galway. i told him to meet me at the bus station in galway - little did we know there were 2.  our sweet hostess got her daughter to take me into town and i got on  the bus. despite the bus station confusion, me and R found each other back in galway and grabbed some lunch before getting on the train back to dublin. on the train, we looked at a map and figured out where the hotel was - i'd take a cab with the luggage and R would just ride there on his bike.  easy. me and the cab driver passed him halfway there. i got to the hotel and figured he'd show up within 10 minutes. 30, 40 minutes go by and at that point i'm very panicked. i realized he didn't have his wallet - no money, no identification - on him. he hadn't written down the name of the hotel or directions. finally, after an hour and fifteen mintues, he arrives. in retrospect: at the very least, he should've written the name of the hotel on his arm. he should've had his wallet or at least a little money. AT THE VERY LEAST. it was one of those things where there were several different streets with the same name, and the address we had found was actually for a different hotel that was part of the same complex. anyway, we were stupid and learned our lesson. it was late at that point - almost 11pm - and we had a hard time finding an open place to eat. we stopped some people on the street and they were so nice - called up a bunch of places and begged for them to fix us some food. no luck, so we ate at burger king for dinner.
tuesday, may 29: bike box and walking
our first goal was to find a bike box to pack the bike in for the return flight home. stopped to grab food at this amazing little grocery store place (we got take away sandwiches, fresh juices, awesome yogurt, cappuccinos...) we took the tram to joe daly cycles- the whole experience was easy, fast and convenient (we were both a little worried about finding something). we brought the box back at the room then spent the rest of the afternoon/evening walking around dublin...grafton street (busy shopping area), temple bar area, and around the trinity college grounds.
trinity college
we ate italian food for dinner and found amazing ice cream for dessert. back at the hotel, R disassembled and packed up the bike.
wednesday, may 30: guinness storehouse
we got food at that little grocery store again (we're creatures of habit) and went to the guinness storehouse for the tour. in all honesty: it was pretty lame. there's a bar at the top floor where you get to enjoy a pint and amazing views of the city.
we walked by st patrick's cathedral and through st stephen's green park...

we did some shopping around grafton street (since most of the shops were already closed when we walked through the day before...i was happy to find a shop that carried some orla kiely wares). we found a few used LP shops (i got 2 they might be giants LPS!) and also went into tower records - which had a well-stocked selection and reminded us of ye olden days of shopping at the nashville tower as music-hungry teenagers. we ate a hearty meal at a vegetarian restaurant called cornucopia. back at the hotel room we watched a hurling match on tv (read about it...crazy sport!)

thursday, may 31: home!
the first and only rain we saw the whole trip was during the cab ride to the airport.

in summation:
ireland is an amazing country. we were blown away by the kindness of all the random people we came across...they were patient and helpful, relaxed and laid back. we noticed (and appreciated) the lack of chain restaurants (especially in the smaller towns - it's evident that small businesses are able to thrive). the elderly people seem active - you see them riding their bikes and walking through the town. the countryside was untouched and beautiful. we were so happy to experience all this & it was an incredible vacation. yay, ireland!

lessons learned:
-get international SIM cards for the iphones so we can communicate with each other