Wednesday, October 24, 2001

Galway Exploration

Galway Exploration

The real Irish breakfast was no different than the Scottish or Welsh breakfast except there was some brown bread included with the toast. We still had the choice of cold cereal, and then eggs with bacon and sausage with fried tomato. Actually, the tomato was probably broiled so that was different. We discussed the tour that we wanted to take tomorrow and then asked Patty to book it. She is very accommodating and pleasant.

It was raining out. We have been so lucky with weather since being in Europe, so there were no complaints. By the time we got our act together to leave the house, the rain had stopped.

We hopped on the same bus in the same direction to go back into town that we took coming in. Going into town is a much shorter trip. We had thought about taking the Hop On Hop Off Tour bus that we had used in Edinburgh and Glasgow, but when we looked at their brochure, we decided it might not be worth it. There were fifteen stops, but among them were one church, one college, and other stops like the salmon spawning ground, the first McDonalds in Galway, and the night school for the Gaelicly impaired. It did not seem to be the most prudent way to spend our pounds, so we went to the faithful tourist center to get the scoop on what there was to see in Galway. There are no museums here and relatively little of cultural significance. I was beginning to be concerned that seven days may just be too long of a time to be here. As long as I have my computer and a couple of books to read, I am happy anywhere, but Ron gets cabin fever if he does not have enough activity to stimulate him. The reason this area is so popular is that it is close to other areas for a day tour. We have hopes of going to the Aran Islands, Connemara, Mohir, and the town of Knock. Each of these will be described further as we visit and I know more about them.

With Mr. Map with a map of Galway in hand, we set out to see the town. Since I have gotten a tidbit of feedback about Mr. Map’s propensity to needing a map in hand, let me address this. I am not a map hater and I wish the International Cartographers Association would quit sending me hate mail. My preference is to find out the things that there are to see in a city, town, village and then to walk around and find it on my own. This gives me the opportunity to explore areas that I may never have seen if I used a map to go directly to the sight and secondly I get to stop people, ask for directions and get to converse with some. Now I have to admit that if your time is short, you may very well want to use a map and not waste your precious time hunting for places of interest.

There really is not much to Galway, but little shops and businesses on many little streets. Most of the stores are tourist stores, pharmacies, news agents, pubs, restaurants, or bookstores. There are more pharmacies and bookstores in a town this size then I have ever seen before. Normally, this would be my idea of heaven, but since we are shedding books as we go due to the weight issues with our other luggage still in London, we can’t buy anything new. Well that turned out to be a lie. I did buy a trilogy of children’s books that won Ireland’s award for Children’s Literature. After I read them, I will mail them home to Daphnee for safe keeping since I collect children’s books from different countries.

We walked down to the bay and partly around it. Galway used to be a major port, but isn’t any longer. There is not a great deal of literature on Galway that is free, but there are a number of thick books on it in the bookstores. Since neither of our ancestors were from this county, we were able to pass those by.

In the city center we found a “heritage pub” called Tis Neactain –Through the Ages, Est. 1894, but the building is from the 16th century. Since it was time for a pint, we felt a sense of obligation to report back on heritage pubs. In order to convince the bartender that we were truly interested in the history of the building, we bought a pint of beer and sat in the corner acting like nonchalant tourists before pouncing with questions. Then Ron hit him with the big question, “What is a heritage pub?” Being the twenty-something that he was, he had no idea, but said he would look around and see if he could find something to explain it.

The inside of the pub is multiple rooms of a corner building. In each room, there are dark wood cubicles where people can sit in private little cluster and converse or there are bigger areas where you can be more social. These cubicles are called ‘snugs’ and were considered the only place for ladies to sit in a pub. Now, anyone can sit anywhere, but only those over eighteen are served liquor. We sat in a corner cubicle that was open to the rest of the room we were in. Right next to me was a piano that was dust covered with a tarp. The piano was in the cramped corner of this little cubicle so our assumption was that it is never played. You know what they say about assuming!

We were drinking our beer observing the other patrons and their interactions when in the blink of an eye, this little leprechaun of a man comes whizzing into our little wooden walled in space and asked if we minded if he played the piano. We assured him that we would enjoy it. It was difficult for me to take my eyes off of him, because he looked like an older version of one of my clients. He was all of five foot five inches, with graying, thinning hair with a bald spot in the back. His ears were too large for his head and his nose was his own share plus more. Within seconds he raped the piano cover off and started massaging the ivories with the song “Sunny Side of the Street”. As he played, he sang along and his voice was not difficult to listen to. He continued with the Beetle’s song “will you still need me, will you still feed me when I am sixty-four” during which Ron kept poking me in the ribs. Then he switched to a Bach piece. The whole time he played, he hit the back heel of his right shoe on the floor. He was using the pedal, but the clicking was distracting me.

When we applauded he turned to talk to us. He was so hunched over in discussion, I was sure you could fold him up and stuff him in an envelope, having the type of body that was more pliable than most. He had more facial expressions than most actors we have seen and was very interesting. But again, the entire time he is talking, I am thinking about my former client and thinking this is what he will look like when he is older. Jerry, our music man friend, then said that he was forty-seven or forty-eight, he has lost track. That took me aback. I studied his face then thought back to my reflection that I saw in the mirror that morning. After repeating this action a couple of times, I could not help but hope that I did not look as weathered as Jerry did. If one were to color in the lines on his forehead, around his eyes and his mouth, it could pass for a map of the London subway system.

Jerry said that he had not played for three days and need to have some play time. When we asked how long he had been playing, he said since he was very young, but his older brother and sister were the real musicians in the family. He did not take it seriously until his twenties.

He then went on to tell us about the ten years he spent working in India and had been to Mother Teresa’s convent a number of times, but never met her. He admitted to working for a humanitarian organization, but we never found out what it was. He also claimed to have lived in Thailand for seven years and Cambodia for another four. Jerry was a source of entertainment through his music and his conversation, but the most interesting aspect for me was his facial expressions. He could morph his face from one expression to the next in ways that most people could never accomplish. We offered to buy him another cappuccino and he graciously accepted, but when Ron ordered it from the bartender, he would not take his money for the coffee and said Jerry gets it free.

Stopping in another shop down the street looking at Irish crafts, I heard this voice coming through the open door that sounded like an angel singing. I am not the most avid appreciator of music so when I notice something melodic, it is a major event. I needed to see where this voice was coming from and hear more of it. When we walked out of the shop, in the cobble stoned street that is closed to traffic was a medium length red haired, pale skinned, thin angelic woman with a cello playing and singing her heart out. She had a beautiful voice and I was mesmerized. We had to stand against a wall and I needed to hear more. She drew a crowd. A child of about nine years old stood in wonder, reached in her pocket and threw a coin into the musician’s case. The number of people who followed suite corroborated her talent. She switched from accompanying her cello with her sweet voice to playing classical music with equal ease.

We walked to the cathedral and could not find the door that was unlocked, so we walked completely around it. Then we realized the door we had started at was not blocked with the donation box for the Afghanistans after all. We walked around and though it was lovely inside, it was not spectacular.

It has been interesting to notice that the majority of the people we have seen in Scotland, Wales, and Ireland so far, are short compared to us. It seemed in Scotland they were all short. It has been comical that we have yet found a bed that is long enough for us. The beds are wrecked in the morning just from our trying to find room for our feet without hitting our heads on the headboards.

Interestingly enough, being the land of the pagans, the Druids and such, we have seen less evidence of Halloween here than in Scotland or Wales. Some stores have some decoration, but a minor fraction of what we have seen elsewhere. Since Halloween falls on a weekday, the celebrations should be this weekend, so we will seem what occurs.

Finally, I broke down and went to a chemist, the Irish version of a pharmacy. This is where people go to get solutions for their problems that cannot get into a doctor. I told them about the Chinese medicine that I had been taking that worked wonders for my post-nasal stuff, but my taste buds never returned. She suggested I try Baconase, a nasal spray, which I could get over the counter. Our friend Bruce had told me about this while we were at their place for dinner in London and I had forgotten about it. I was able to get it for five pounds. I think it is the same medication that I had left in my luggage in London, but by a different name. I will try it tonight and see what happens.

We wandered into a pub that advertised authentic Irish music and sat down to wait for it. I asked Ron if he was sorry that we booked seven days in Galway since there was not that much here. His thoughtful response was that three days would be taken up with established tours and then one day he wanted to visit Knock. Knock is a town where there is a Catholic shrine. This would take up most of the seven days. Then he reversed the question asking if I was sorry. My response was my standard that if I have books and my computer, I can stand any amount of time anywhere. He then decided that he would have to say a novena for the health of my computer and wanted to know the name of my computer. I told him I had never named it. Ron insists that my computer be named so that he can say a novena for continued good computer health. With that in mind, that is our next contest. Name my computer. If you need information to assist you with your creativity, it is a Dell Inspiron 7500 laptop. We will jointly judge the names, but I will get the deciding vote in case of a tie. Again, the winner gets a souvenir from wherever we are at the time. Since I don’t know when this will be e-mailed out, let’s make the deadline for November 10th. We will not be in Ireland at that time, so don’t expect an Irish souvenir.

The e-mail cafés here in Galway are amongst the most expensive we have come across during our travels. They charge a minimum of two pounds for thirty minutes and four pounds for an hour. None of them have discounts unless you get in at 8:00 am to 9:30 am and there are no chain outfits with reduced prices. It takes the good part of a half hour to upload each part of this journal to everyone due to the limitations of Yahoo. That is why you get chapters in parts. Well sometimes it is to keep it as current as possible too.

Later in the evening, we were speaking with Patty the B & B owner about her children’s schooling. She told us that they have to learn Gaelic from the first grade through the twelfth grade and how the kids hate it. She said they have to pass it on their graduation exams or they will fail their ‘forms’. That is a concept I have not quite gotten clear, but anyway if they fail any subject on their final exit exams, they don’t go on to University. She and her husband send their children to a Gaelic camp during the summer for tutoring. There is a section of this county where Gaelic is the only language spoken and some people still dress in the traditional outfits. This is where the Gaelic summer camps are located. Patty complained that she wishes the government would change this since the kids only learn it for the sake of passing their exam and then never use it and forget all that they learned. When they enter seventh grade, they also take French, Spanish, or German. It is interesting to see all of the signs everywhere in English and in Gaelic. It does look like a difficult language to learn. The letters have a number of ‘ makes over them.

Tomorrow we are going to the Aran Islands.

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