When I arrive in Galway, it is dark and rainy. The moment I step off of the bus, I start looking for a place to stay. The boy-band, West Life, the American version of the Back Street boys, is in town tonight and every place is booked. Desperate, I try the tourist office that finds me a B&B with a recent cancellation.
Villa Maria looks almost identical to the neighboring houses along St. Francis Street, many of which have B&B signs hanging in front of them. My welcoming host, Francis, seems much like a long-lost aunt. She has one foot out the door as I am coming in. “Off to have drinks with friends. Make yourself at home,” she tells me. I try, but can’t quite figure out the boundaries of a strange American houseguest. Am I just supposed to stay in my room or do I have free reign of the house? I feel a bit intrusive wandering around, so I decide to go to my room. After the last two nights in a hostel, I’m really happy to have some privacy for the next two nights, especially for only €45 per night.
Galway is the Irish version of Annapolis, Maryland, a place I lived for quite some time. The city is bustling with activity and I should be anxious to get out and have some fun, but I can’t bring myself to do anything except lay in this extra firm bed. The outside fog has taken over and is now residing in my head. I can’t seem to shake it. Maybe I’m just jet lagged and still adjusting to the five-hour time difference or maybe its the weather- chilly and rainy with no end in sight. As I flip on the news, I wonder why a weatherman is even necessary, the forecast never seems to change. This is not the country for those, like me, with weather-dependent moods. When skies are gloomy, so am I. My near-death mountain climbing exhilaration feeling from Doolin is long gone.
Sunday mass at The Abbey lifts my spirits. The sermon, about fearing the unknown, captivates me. The sun is shining and all feels right in the world today. I walk to one of many Internet cafés in the city to check in with the real world, the family I left at home. I lose time as I spend hours browsing in all of the stores. I stop to chat with a clown making balloon animals. He recommends a locals’ favorite- Kings Head Tavern for lunch. It’s a rustic, large two- story place right in the heart of the city. There’s a band stage in the corner by the bar. My waitress suggests the fish chowder and brown bread (€7), which turns out to be rich and creamy with hunks of fresh delicious fish.
Back out on the street, I strike up a conversation with a friendly-looking Irishman. I ask for suggestions on great places to go. “Are you looking for some good crack,” he asks.
Shocked, I reply “What? No.”
“Well, what do you want then,” he asks, wearing a puzzled expression.
“I don’t do that stuff,” I say.
“No. Not drugs. Fun,” he says.
To the Irish, craic, as its spelled correctly means good fun. After figuring out our miscommunication, we have a good laugh.
After dinner, I go into the crowded Tig Coili (pronounced Chee Coli), the place my craic-pusher friend suggests. I order a Guinness and am immediately pegged for an American by the bartender. Seems most locals drink American beer, but I didn’t come this far to drink Budweiser. The sun is still bright and shining through the big window, illuminating the pub. I’ve grown accustomed to thinking of bars as they are in America- seedy and dark, not places I would ever go during the day, and definitely not places I’d ever take my family, but here is different. The pubs seem to be the center of life, places where people old and young gather for- good craic. A smiling, singing, toe-tapping lady spots me and pats the chair beside her, right next to the band. Matt Keane, one of the musicians, introduces himself. I’ve never felt more welcomed by strangers. This place feels like home.
The contrast between the two towns I’ve visited so far is remarkable. Doolin was a sleepy little town, while Galway is lively and bustling with so many things to see and do. I decide the next town I visit, will hopefully be a cross between a remote village and a big city.
After a little research at the Internet café, I decide on Inishmore (the largest of the Aran Islands). I buy a round trip bus and ferry ride from Galway for €25. The bus from Galway passes through Connemara, a charming little town where both the sea and mountains can be seen from almost anywhere and where most posted signs are in Irish. I’m told its one of the few remaining places in Ireland where English is not the primary language.
After a few minutes aboard a large ferry, I’m convinced I’m going to die. The giant swells in the sea have the ferry rocking side to side for most of the 45-minute ride. I decide to stand on the top deck, in the never-ending drizzle, just in case the boat tips. After realizing no one, but me seems concerned, I start to relax a little. As soon as the ferry docks on Inishmore, the rain stops and the clouds part. By the time I make it to the end of the pier, the sun is shining once again. I am smiling.
WHERE TO STAY:
Villa Maria- 94 Fr Griffin Road Lower Salthill +353 91 589033
Kinlay House- Eyre Square The Docks, Galway +353 91 565244
WHERE TO EAT:
Kings Head Tavern- 15 High Street Galway
Busker Browns- Lower Cross Street The Docks, Galway