Galway

I’ve never been the best at travel blogs. (Or, any blogs for that matter. In grad school, I started a cooking blog and wrote all of maybe five entries before the semester started again and the blog died a sudden death). I always seem to get behind at the very beginning, amidst all the frenzy that inevitably seems to accompany settling into a trip, and then it’s a bit of a lost cause. Do I go back and start from the beginning, even though I’m weeks in? Or, do I just pick up from wherever I’m at at the moment, and go back to the beginning later? Add the question of trying to upload and post pictures, and the whole venture is just fraught from the start. 

Probably the best course of action is to realize that no one else really cares all that much what course of action you take (as is probably the case with most things in life), and to blog about whatever strikes you at the moment (again, an attitude that probably would serve me well to adopt more often).

So. I’ll write about today and go back to the post-Dublin adventures later. Today is all Galway, and it’s rushing, inky black river, the Corrib. All of these coastal cities have rivers running right through the middle of them, rivers that, in many ways, seem to define the character of their cities. And Galway is, in fact, at least to this outsider, quite rushing and vibrant. Certainly my favorite of the Irish cities we’ve hit so far (Dublin, Cork, and Limerick among them), Galway is full of students and artists and just feels so, in a word, friendly. It is not very big at all, and thus very walkable, which was wonderful. We didn’t really head in to the city center until around 1 or 2 today, and we managed to walk through pretty much the whole city by 6 pm, at which point we struck out along the ocean road that circled back to the Salthill area, just across the river from Galway and where we are staying with our host M. and his partner, for dinner and drinks.

If you stand on the Salmon Weir Bridge, on the north end of Galway, they say you can see salmon hanging out right there from sometime in May through early July, before they make their way upstream. I didn’t spot any salmon, but there was one Irishman wading through the river with his fishing pole, and at least two or three more fishing from the banks, so some sort of fish was there. I did eat salmon the past two nights in a row, as I had heard salmon fishing is a huge industry in this area, and was rewarded both nights. The salmon is delicious. 

As you walk down from the Salmon Weir Bridge into the city center, the river Corrib runs along your right side, and a smaller canal runs along the left. The grassy area in the middle is full of students eating, relaxing, and reading, and looks like a lovely spot to spend an afternoon or evening. 

By the time you get to where the canal and the river meet up, you’ve hit the city center, with Shop Street full of pubs, restaurants, and shops, which curves into Market Street, on which resides (you guessed it) Galway’s outdoor market. J. bought a wool hat, I bought a wooden citrus reamer, and Mom, you’ll be getting a little something from a shop there too. No hints.

I’ve learned in my time here that Ireland has had a large influx of Polish residents in just the past ten years or so. I had no idea. In fact, our host’s partner is Polish, and also an artist. He had his first exhibition just weeks ago and sold 11 paintings. At his second exhibition, soon after, he sold none. He’s not discouraged, though. These are the ebbs and flows of making a living as an artist. We happened to be in town while the Galway International Arts Festival is in full swing, and stopped in at a gallery on Market Street. A large part of the gallery was taken up by an Odyssey exhibition, created by an artist who came to the Odyssey the first time not through the Odyssey itself, but through Joyce. Thus, an artistic interpretation of Joyce’s artistic interpretation of the Odyssey. Art twice removed. I must admit I always feel a little lost in contemporary art galleries. I enjoy the work, and I can tell you on a gut level what I find aesthetically pleasing versus what I don’t, but I always feel a bit like I’m missing something. Like I need a more skilled guide than I to explain what I’m seeing to me. The stroll through the gallery was, nonetheless, enjoyable. At least it always helps me to remember when teaching poetry to students that they probably feel a bit about poetry the way I do about contemporary art – I like it, but I need some help understanding it. That’s ok, I think. I hope. 

And so, Galway. Tomorrow, through County Sligo and up towards Donegal, where we’ll be staying in a village called Gortahork, a name I’m always tempted to pronounce in the Muppet’s Sweedish Chef voice, but will try to refrain from doing so while there.

Part 1, Dublin – Just the Highlights

  1. The Long Room at Trinity College. It’s as beautiful as all the pictures. The Book of Kells, too. But  the Long Room even more so. Also, the Trinity College undergraduate who, seemingly very bored without a job for the summer, insisted on showing us around campus. image-3image-2
  2. Merrion Square and St. Stephen’s Green. Both really pleasant green spaces in the middle of the city and a nice mid-day break. Here sits Oscar Wilde in Merrion Square and James Joyce himself in St. Stephen’s.image-4image-5
  3. Joyce’s signature on a 1930 copy of Ulysses at the Writer’s Museum. It’s been a few years since I’ve read it in grad. school. Maybe time for another read when I get home? You know, actually reading all of it this time?image-1
  4. The little neighborhood park tucked in front of St. Patrick’s Cathedral. And the nap that may or may not have been had on the grass there.image-1
  5. A great grocery store and cafe called Fallon & Byrne. The made-in-house wild boar blood pudding the guy behind the meat counter let us sample was fantastic.image-7
  6. The doors. Parts of Dublin were quite pretty, other parts felt drab and dirty, but the doors – unfailingly colorful. image

 

The verdict? It’s always hard to know how much of your feelings about a place are fair or not, but to be honest, I didn’t love Dublin. I didn’t hate it. I just didn’t love it. Maybe because it felt so expensive, maybe because I got sick one day, maybe because of the stress of reworking the budget while we were there… but for whatever reason, though there certainly were some wonderful highlights, as a whole I didn’t fall in love with the city. Maybe I’ll try again at the end of the trip, give it another go.


Addendum: 7. The bog men at the National Museum of Ireland. Probably tied with the Long Room for my favorite Dublin experience. I’ve always been fascinated by the bog men – getting to see four of them in person was very exciting. Absolutely incredible the sheer amount of information the forensic scientists can figure out about how these people from thousands of years ago lived and died.

 

 

In Another Life

When I was little and would travel with my family, they never sold the souvenirs with my name on them. You know the ones. The mugs or the keychains or the magnets or the buttons. The ubiquitous tourist destination monogrammed souvenir items. Sometimes they had my sisters’ names, sometimes they didn’t, but never mine. Never. I came to accept it. Begrudgingly. So my name wasn’t a particularly common one – oh well. 

But, for a few nights near the beginning of the trip, just after we left Dublin and started traveling south, we stayed with a couple named  C. and Janelle and their two small girls. (And one absolutely adorable little white kitten. Who loved J. and ignored me, no matter how nice I was to him.) Janelle and C. are from California, but a few years back they moved to Ireland and opened a coffee shop. They live in a long bungalow style home, right on the water, and a ten or fifteen minute drive out from the nearest town. They have a beautiful wrap around back porch, a dining area that is pure window (all around the sides and the roof), and chickens in the backyard. Their home isn’t numbered because it isn’t on a street with a street name anyway – each house has its own individual name to identify if, with a small sign out front, and plenty of wide open space in between theirs and the next house. C. and Janelle’s bungalow is named “Tradewinds.” 

It felt strange to greet Janelle only to immediately introduce myself, too, as Jannell. “Hi, Janelle, I’m Jannell!” I almost never get to do that. And as if it isn’t already tempting enough to superimpose the lives of those you meet along the way when traveling onto your own, imagining whether your own life could or couldn’t look similar, if you wanted it to, staying with someone with the same name as me and only a few years older – it’s suddenly even easier to imagine yourself into their life. 

Sitting in a rocking chair all evening, facing the wheat fields and just beyond them the expanse of water, watching this other family go about their life, it can get easy to get carried away with all that imagining. Five years from now, could it be me and my husband, our two kids, our cute cat, our chickens, our laundry hanging up to dry in the beautiful dining room, light streaming in from all sides, succulents happily sunning themselves in the corner? Our coffee shop in town? (That has always been the backup plan, after all.) Our current life in the middle of Boston traded in for what seems like a much quieter one on the outskirts of a coastal Irish town?

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It’s easy to imagine it could be. At least for a day. And then, a second day goes by, and you remember why you kind of like your life the way it already is. And all the things that make your life your own, and this Janelle’s life hers. Not to say that traveling doesn’t have the important potential, I think, to open your eyes to other ways of living, but just also to say that sometimes it might be just as important to stop and take stock of the ways in which your own way of living might be unique and wonderful in its own right. In all the ways that it is easy to forget when you’re living it on a day to day basis.

Irish Janelle’s life looks beautiful, at least from the outside in. But Boston Jannell’s life is pretty good too. She might not own very many monogrammed souvenir keychains, but that’s ok. She’s lucky in so many ways. Ways that are worth stopping to think about every so often, even if I have to imagine myself into somebody else’s life first to remember that.

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The Beginning

These first days in Ireland have been, as travel can be I suppose, a bit of a rough start. Having heard so often that this is a country best traveled by car, we decided that would be the best way to cover the most ground, to really have the freedom to get off the well-beaten tourist trail. And, while this may be true, once we arrived we found the car to come with lots of added expenses that we hadn’t anticipated, and so I’ll now be coming back a bit earlier than initially planned to make up for that mistake. That unexpected challenge coupled with some sort of bug that we picked up somewhere, first myself and then, as soon as I was feeling better, my traveling partner and husband J., made for an exhausting and somewhat frustrating beginning.

But, the days are cool and beautiful here and the light is very long, and since we’ve left Dublin and struck out for the southeast coast, things have started to look up again. We are staying tonight somewhere in between the coastal fishing town of Bantry and its slightly northern neighbor Glengarriff, hosted by the most gracious and enthusiastic A., as well as what seems like a whole herd of dogs and cats, in her quirky 300 year old home that she completely restored from the inside out. It is cluttered and a little crazy in just the right ways. Ways that would surely irk me if it were my own place, but that I find easy to overlook when it is someone else’s, particularly someone so warm and inviting. Tonight, after a meal of take-away fish and chips in town, we sat outside with A. and her friends, slowly sipping very sweet elderflower wine, until the sun finally set close to ten o’clock and watched the lightning off in the distance over the ocean light up the whole sky as it got dark.

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Ireland is, thus far, full of the unexpected. And I am a planner. A planner who isn’t always so keen on sudden changes in plan. Ireland seems determined to beat that tendency out of me, at least a little bit. I am very lucky to be here, in a place whose writers have caught my imagination for so long, even if the plan changes a bit as I go. The best plans usually do.