We made it to Galway at about 5:00. In spite of the fact that Cork was having its midsummer festival at the time that we were there, Galway was much, much busier and seemingly more touristy, although it is supposedly primarily a college town. The Irish say that Galway is the most Irish of Irish towns. Lots of shepherd’s pie and tin whistles. I particularly liked Galway because it is on the ocean, and has an extremely mild climate. The temperature rarely goes above eighty or below thirty year-round. The only rough weather that Galway does get is wind, because of what scientists call Atlantic depressions, which means big old low-pressure areas, which is sort of just a fancy way of saying wind.
Thanks to my obsessive planning and printing of maps prior to our departure, and my trusty compass (his name is Red, although his body be Black), Sophie and I found the Salmon Weir hostel without any issues. I actually booked the Ireland portion of our trip last, which meant that I was tiring of spending my future dollars, and so the quality of our accommodations was set to be a wee bit lower on the Emerald Isle than elsewhere. The Salmon Weir was pretty much the bottom of the rung for us: tiny room, bed made of springs reclaimed from World War II, shared bathroom, etc. It’s not that Sophie and I actually have a problem with any of those things; all that we really want out of a room is that it be clean and quiet. We mostly like to avoid other people as much as possible, and a true hostel is designed to make sure you are constantly bumping into people who want to be your friends because they came to Europe all by their lonesome. Also, the walls were thin as paper. We slept poorly.
It took us a long time to find a place for dinner. Not because there weren’t enough choices, but because there were too many and we had no way of knowing which were tasty and which were bunk. We ended up eating at a restaurant called the Malt House, which was very expensive but also very delicious, at least by the standards of Irish fine food. Sophie ordered nettle soup and salad, and I ordered a fillet of beef with blue cheese and a port sauce. We shared a dessert of marinated strawberries and homemade frozen yogurt.
After the Malt House we decided that we had better save our dining dollars for the cities and towns with a higher baseline of tastiness. That is to say, we decided not to waste any more money on fancy Irish food so we could indulge it in France, Spain, and Italy. After dinner we headed back to the Salmon Weir and fell promptly asleep.
It should be noted that a weir is some sort of civil engineering device for the control of water and fish flow. The largest one in Ireland was apparently quite near our hostel. So when I say that we went to sleep at the Salmon Weir, I mean, of course, that we went back to our hostel, and not to sleep on what looks at first glance like a broken dam.
The next morning we wandered around Galway. Our first stop was a bakery. We needed to have Irish soda bread. We needed to. I had heard that it was a lot better in Ireland, both because they know what they’re doing and because the quality of the butter and buttermilk is much higher, and a meal of soda bread sounded right in line with our new cheap food philosophy.
We enjoyed our breakfast immensely. Sophie liked the soda bread best, and I liked the sweet yeasty raisin rolls best. Yum.
After breakfast we continued to wander. First we wandered into their grand, Romanesque cathedral. Sophie got mad at me because I didn’t see the sign that said “No Circulating During Services,” and proceeded to circulate. Didn’t even get any good pictures. Bad light in cathedrals. Especially during services.
Following the cathedral we found a canal and decided to follow it to the ocean, which we hoped wouldn’t be too far away. As it turns out, it was just a little bit past an unbelievably cute family of swans.
Baby swans make just about the cutest noise known to man.
We continued to wander and wander throughout Galway until 1:00, when we met Sophie’s friend Breige and her boyfriend Eoghan. Sophie met Breige on the interwebs, which is the very place that you read these words. Coincidence?
Sophie, Breige, Eoghan and I all decided to go to a very traditional Irish restaurant for lunch so that Sophie and I could have some real Irish food before we left Ireland. We laughed and socialized. Sophie had traditional Irish vegetarian lasagna, and I had the shepherd’s pie.
The food was good, assuming appropriate expectations. The Irish aren’t exactly known for their food. It was sort of like cafeteria food with a big ol’ dose of love. And a healthy dose of culture.
After lunch, Eoghan led us around on an impromptu tour of Galway. We saw in turn: the Spanish Arch, a Pig Made of Sand, and the Creepy King.
Near the Creepy King was a cupcakes etc. store that Sophie and Breige, bound by their love of baking and sweets, decided to stop inside. We ate our cupcakes on the steps of a nearby church.
Breige and Eoghan were lovely, and we are happy to have met them in real life.
Immediately after Breige and Eoghan left us for their home, on the coast near Shannon, I realized I was starving (I metabolize potatoes like nobody’s business), and we headed to a famous fish and chips place (McDonaghs?) that Eoghan recommended to us. There was a picture of Terry O’Quinn on the wall. I ordered cod, which is the traditional fish for fish and chips, being quite fatty and so resistant to overcooking, a favorite pastime of traditional chefs in Ireland and the U.K., and it was really, really good. I mean super good. Part of the deliciousness was the garlic sauce that I ordered alongside, but the rest of it was the fried fishy goodness.
The garlic sauce proved to be so powerful in its tastiness that the man sitting across from us outside kept whispering to his wife things like, “My God, dear, but I wish I had ordered some of that garlic sauce. It looks fantastic.” I only ended up using about half of the sauce, and so, being the good Samaritan that I am, I offered him the rest. “Would you mind?” he said. “I was coveting it a bit, wasn’t I?” As we left, I overheard him again. “My God!” he exclaimed.
Never covet thy neighbor’s garlic sauce, lest it be so delicious that the Lord, almighty in his somnolence, might hear his name cried out in vain. See more under Commandments, Lesser.
For the last bit of the day, Sophie and I decided to walk to the somewhat nearby district of Salt Hill (a mile or two walk along the stark Irish coastline) to see Ireland’s National Aquarium.
It’s a good thing that the walk was totally gorgeous, because the aquarium was a bit of a laugh. I know that Alaska is about nine hundred times bigger than Ireland, but seriously, the Alaska Sea Life Center is much larger and way, way cooler. It took Sophie and I about a half-hour to walk through the whole thing and the entrance fee was E10 per person. The only two perks were the touchable manta ray exhibit and the story about the Salmon of Knowledge. Seriously. The Salmon of Knowledge. Look it up.
This is how the Irish teach their children not to litter.
After the aquarium we walked home and laid in our tiny bed and looked out our tiny window and shut our tiny eyes and had a good, long sleep.