Europe 2015: An Irish Hiatus - Dublin, Galway, Donegal, and Derry
In less than 48 hours, all the welcome tastes found in my grand Lisbon "homecoming" come to an all-too-quick and abrupt end: it's already time to head to Ireland. Thus Lisbon culminates all-too-quickly in my leaving gear behind at the hostel and heading to the airport for my first Ryanair flight ever. The immediate and expected bad news, of course, is that my surname is not eponymous with this famously thrifty airline of strict rules. It'll evidently do me no good whatsoever. The good news, though - and one which leads me to sigh with palpable relief - comes when I manage to board the packed flight. Carrying both my trumpet and an ancient drybag that I've scrounged from the hostel and compressed beyond all reason - plus gads of stuff jammed into every pocket and crevice of my jacket - somehow pass within Ryanair's carry-on regulations. No surcharge!, I gasp, making a peace sign before passing out and falling backward into my seat.
Granted, my legs'll shortly be severely cramping up - a price to pay for having to squirt them through these same items - but that's just to be accepted, all things considered. Such an uncomfortable sacrifice doesn't amount to true suffering when the flight's only roughly two hours. Finding virtually no compartment space available certainly can't be a shock since I'm nearly the last sardine to board the can, but I AM rather put out and inconvenienced by the fact that the seat backs don't even decline. Yeesh.
It's *that* which makes me ponder how many pennies my downgrade to Ryanair saved for a $200-ish roundtrip ticket. What happened to the days of yore, when one heard tell tale of brag and boast about how most Ryanair flights were freebies or a mere $10? Ah, just legends of yore, those, m'laddie, just like leprechauns - but keep your eyes open and you might spot one, I'm told by Portuguese friends who suddenly sport Irish accents (hereabouts, anyways). In place of such fare savings, us passengers are nowadays apparently to be regaled by the bold, primary blue and yellow colors in the cabin - which can't help but remind me of an airborne variation on the McDonald's color scheme. Certainly the comparison fits the fast food nature and reputation of the airline, and I'll be quite happy to get out of this crappy tube almost upon entering its garish clutch. So I'm more than a little pleased when I'm able to peek through the gray skies we're cutting through to discern the wettish, cool green that Ireland is famous for.
The airport in Dublin isn't that large compared to other capitals, I quickly discover, but as a likely consequence it doesn't take long to find a local bus to the city center. I'm out of the airport almost as soon as I've entered it, next journeying for over nearly an hour in passing through mundane-if-pleasant neighborhoods. There's seemingly nothing above two stories in height in this town, I'm immediately judging (not as negative, just a reality), and this de facto vertical delimiter doesn't even change much when I get let off in what's just about the exact heart of the city. That'd be by the river and O'Connell Street where, as I hop off the bus, on first glance I can already ascertain why the city has a reputation for being livable and homey. Yes, there's a bit of bustle in the heart of the Irish universe, but there are no surging - let alone teeming - masses here at midday. Is this as urban as things get in Ireland?
Yup, it is, but it does help to consider that this is a place best known for its poets and writers - what I consider THE hallmark for a developed culture. "People of letters" hardly ever invoke Times Square or the Champs-Élysées, but this... exactly fits. Soon enough, too, I'm charmed to discover an inspired alley right behind my rather surprisingly industrial-sized hostel (Abigail's), a few blocks worth of a painted tapestry that's formed of murals dedicated to literary heroes and their works. Now here's an emphasis for the likes of me to admire, whatever poseur I might be behind pen or keyboard notwithstanding. It doesn't hurt, either, that this wall (and thus my hostel) is based in the Temple Bar district, the nightlife zone that at least half of that name might (quite correctly) imply.
For my part, however, such a grand setting won't lead to any impressive nightlife hijinks. I don't know a soul here, nor do I typically head alone to bars nocturnally since it makes me feel a bit too much the nerd when I huddle over my beer with a book. I have no such issues with coffees OR beers during the daytime, though, and I almost immediately make the plentiful bars fit into this altered motif quite handily. Call it a local concession to continuing my recent coffee/wine routine of Spain and Portugal. Yeah, I shift to be down with the local culture and all that. Woo. Actually, I'm quite serious: wine is off the menu, but stout's most definitely on it. Surely I completely blend in this way, impossible to be guessed for a tourist. (Insert smiley-face emoticon here, if you please.)
Okay, whatever. In any event, it *does* seem that just about every pub I'm stepping into, and right from the get-go until the end, has a certain amount of coziness and welcome that can't help but be appreciated. Although 5-6 Euros for a pint is a bit steep for an American used to about 75% of that price (for a typical microbrew back home), a chewy stout isn't a thing to exactly rush through, either, easing the minor price shock. Given the charm of such establishments, certainly it's no surprise that THIS is the very thing - the Irish pub - that this country seems to export more than any other known thing beyond leprechauns. And those haven't been the same since they unionized, as everyone knows. So universal pub exporting makes complete sense, although I'd be for exporting the lovely, lilting accent as well. It always sounds like there is a good story or a "winsome lass" behind it.
Central Dublin, meanwhile, doesn't lack for tourism or a tourist agenda, that's for sure, and that's particularly the case in Temple Bar, its most touristed of districts. On the down side, and likely on account of the common language and the size of the country, it's also not shocking to see just how well-represented many U.S. chains are here in the city center. What a shame. They almost overwhelm the local choices in the pedestrian shopping zone, but since there are more Irish in the U.S. than there are in Ireland by many accounts, I guess this all makes sense - if a bit disconcerting and unwelcome for the tourist such as myself, who's specifically NOT looking to enter them.
I make more appealing plan in instead making it a point to only try pub grub or the offerings of the many ethnic restaurants in this rapidly-changing, suddenly multicultural city. So I get my coffee from the Venezuelan woman who enjoys speaking Spanish with someone who actually knows her homeland. Or there's the Afghani who makes my tasty kebap/kebob, or, well, there's the most Irish of Irishmen concocts my Japanese noodle soup. It's all good, and there seems to be only a welcoming atmosphere here for all ethnicities, even if I know this might be a mild mirage when noting that this worldly atmosphere probably disappears not far from Dublin's city center - and I'll soon enough find that to be quite true. But I like this for now, even as I AM interested in getting to know some actual Irish folk. Well, not leprechauns, not since their union mandated shouting them so many pints a night.
As for reality checks, there certainly are more than a few beggars about the streets, I'm noticing. But I frankly won't pretend to know or even want to know their stories outside of observing an omnipresent paper bag with a beer or whiskey bottle inside being their overwhelmingly present one. Combine their substantial presence with the generally wet weather and cool temperatures, and it doesn't make walking these streets as joyful an experience as otherwise is my mien. For one thing, it's downright hard to find a public bench to sit on without someone being passed out or drinking on it already. This is a pain since I, too, am all about sitting around and watching the world go by. I nevertheless still manage to do so any number of times on the riverfront in order to play my trumpet quietly. I don't park my rear near anyone to avoid conflict as a general rule, but when the random homeless guy or tourist sits down somewhere nearby all is well.
Regarding the rampant tourism, I'm only able to stomach lightly engaging it in doing things like walking a few times through the beautiful respite from Dublin's hubbub (such as it is) that is the emerald jewel named Stephen's Green. It's like a scene out of Mary Poppins - almost - but I vastly prefer it to the main commercial streets where the buskers congregate. Typically such street performers are my peeps, and here they are quite talented to be sure, but it's also true that here they're so strongly working a schtick in gathering crowds that I can only tend to shy away from such raw capitalism. I guess that properly explains why I don't busk such spots, or in such ways, myself.
The National Museum, unquestionably a major tourist draw, is nevertheless deemed worth a look to break my tourism-wary patterns. And it IS worthy, too, even if only to be surprise me over the ancient Irish skill in working metal - or learning about the bogs that historically have covered a good amount of the island. I had no idea that the Viking influence was so palpable, either, but the very professional and appealing displays in the National Museum leave little room to doubt. There's also the oddity that is a number of actual "bog people", cadavers found in those formerly extensive zones of muck-bog that must have been almost immediately submerged upon death. Some are so well-preserved as to still have skin on them, the result of a lack of oxygen and being tightly enveloped almost immediately upon expiration in the slop. They're not quite stomach-turning to behold, no, but they're not completely far away from that reaction, either, with each of the several on display having undoubtedly met a violent end - before being stuffed into an all-too-convenient hiding place for the eons... and for us to poke, probe, and point at later. I'm sure that was their last thought as they gulped their final gasp of air: "Someday I'll be a star...!"
A slightly disconcerting aspect of strolling about Dublin, meanwhile, is the expected opposite-side street driving for cars thing. Yes, my nine-month Australia experience is helpfully keeping me out of any local hospitals, but it's not that I don't seemingly try at times. Old habits die hard. Safer spaces, of course, are where such metal beasts don't go, like the grounds of Trinity College. The ancient Book of Kells is kept there, a beautifully illustrated manuscript from Medieval times (the 9th century), but using the modern online miracle called the internet suffices to limit any in-person discovery of what the hell the book is actually about when I learn it's just another rendition of the Gospels. Such knowledge well satisfies my curiosity when I learn that the fee to see said tome with my own live eyeballs equates to a few healthy pints of stout. So THAT's a decision easily made, just as I'll skip on entering Dublin Castle for all its external appeal.
I AM impressed with Dublin Castle's humble presence, however, especially after all the jacked-up grandeur taken in in each of Madrid, Istanbul, Lisbon, Sintra, Porto, and even Salamanca and Santiago. Such a lowered scale of ambition or glory in this, the country's main castle, might well also explain the Irish character in not making too much of themselves - although being under the boot of England for so long probably could just as easily have had its effect. That's an evaluation I'll happily leave to the Irish, any of whom would delight in taking the piss out any of my theorizing regardless of which direction I go with it.
Anyway, such wanderings serve to eat up the few days that comprise my first steps on Irish soil. All too soon am I already heading out of this bemused capital to see something even a bit *more* low-key than the most low-key of capitals outside of Bratislava (or so I hear about that place, the so-called largest village in a country of villages). One BIG reason to move on is that big cities can be lonely places when traveling, and even modest, gentle, and calm Dublin is no exception to this rule. So it's off to Galway with me, eager to give a listen or ten in what I hear is the MUSIC capital of the island. I'm game.
Unfortunately, my Galway-an excursion has an annoying start, where I have the truly bad luck to sit in front of several college-aged Irish kids. I'm forced to listen to an unending conversation centered around vaginas, being gay, doing drugs, and being transexual, topics in and of themselves hardly boring - until they're emitted from the most adolescent of mouths. I almost surprised that the bus doesn't erupt in cheers, then, when they finally step out of our sizable rolling chariot a little before Galway. Ah, silence! Seriously, with no particularly interesting countryside outside the window to helpfully distract, nor the quiet necessary to read a book, it's been a few hours of torture that, even from the beginning, us innocents knew we'd have to endure with nothing better than firmly rolled-back eyes. For a few hours, each of us has been obviously hoping for a second person to ask them to keep their commentary to themselves, but we've all sufficiently turned coward (or at least anti-confrontational) after the first one who put up any resistance was emphatically retorted with "Tough!" Sometimes, just sometimes, I really should think about renting a car...
Then again, no car is necessary in tidy Galway, a city that's much smaller than anticipated. Like Dublin, it's rather unimposing and unimpressive on first glance, but that'll improve somewhat when I get to walking about - which I immediately do, if not without a caveat. That comes in the form of the weather over here on the west coast. Amazingly, it's even crappier than in Dublin, but now such a poopsicle is accompanied by a typically heavier rain - one that's furthermore pushed by an ocean wind to get its point across... which means that I quickly learn to anticipate proper soakings of at least one side of my body. An umbrella in such a gusty wet breeze is of little use.
The pubs and their live music, however, almost immediately serve to recompense any such nastiness - exactly as advertised. That's a good thing, too, because the idea is to be here for an entire week of relaxing (beyond my normal lazing about). Not that it still wouldn't sure be nice if the sun should decide to say hello at least every *once* and awhile. I guess, in the interim, all such dreariness dropping down from above will have to be held off by a prescription of steady coffees with accompanying soups. Oh, and a nice hunk of brownbread, that's for sure, too.
True to my typically grandiose plans, I don't do a whole hell of a lot in Galway outside of making it a point to listen to live music each night. The talent IS here, fortunately, and each night offers multiple venues - all pubs - within which one might sample the sounds. I usually stick my head into each of them in series, staying at the first one where I hear notable musicianship inside. Quickly determining which pubs best promote traditional Irish music and talent, usually I find myself seated with stout in hand by the first or third such stickybeak each evening. That's called efficiency, m'friend. As a rule, too, conversation can be easily had in these friendly places, but truth be told I'm most happy when just zoning out to appreciate the music. Yes, there is some real skill at work here, so Galway's music-rich reputation is secure with me. Completing the picture, too, I'm happy to note that even those busking the streets are pretty impressive. Their acts are all usually found in progress on the widest pedestrian zone drag which is located between the main square and waterfront.
Architecturally, Galway has some fine buildings as well, I'm happy to recognize, although as usual almost all are mostly found in the oldest (here medieval) district. Galway's historical area is ultimately determined to be only about several blocks squared, but there are some notable outliers beyond it like the main cathedral and the buildings fronting the main plaza, Eyre Square. Also unsurprising is that there's no shortage of tourists here, either, especially that we're now unquestionably in high, high summer season. Fortunately, though, the greater number of them stay perfectly focused in only the most obvious areas where one can see, be seen, and do all the official items on the Galway Tourist List: Walk the waterfront, stare at a waterwheel, eat a fish-n-chips, stand in front of a busker for fifteen minutes, have exactly one pint of beer while listening to Irish music, etc.
I do a version of all of these as well, although I try to do them at odder hours or places. It's true that I'm frankly not entirely sure why I'm in Ireland in the first place, outside of the easy remit from the Schengen Zone visa regulations, but I AM determined to at least give the place a fair go for the trouble. One thing I already know is that, if this is what the weather is typically like in the best of seasons (August) - and the locals assure me it is, although this summer's crappy climate is worse than the usual crap - I doubt I'll be returning! Well, unless some poor Irish lass has won my heart or something. But even then I'd be suggesting sunnier places to move to, undoubtedly slyly "compromising" on the requirement that there be a necessary pub nearby, of course. I'm not comPLETEly callous.
As regarding that last item, Irish pubs abroad, certainly that's a much easier thing to find these days, a fortunate reality for the entire world as far as I'm concerned. This is a likely consequence of the EU having dumped money into the country... and the Irish immediately responding in taking to traveling and often not coming back. An offshore pubs apparently is almost always their first occupational idea. Even now, after this the so-called Celtic Tiger was brought to its heels with the financial mess of 2008, The Irish Times states that things are already getting significantly better economically. So look for more Irish pubs in even more out-of-the-way places, in other words. No complaints here. I've had too many a cruddy water beer abroad to count.
Meanwhile, in opting to stay a bit true to thinly-veiled tourism intents, I decide on a couple of outings. Each'll keep me overnight for one night each, both a happy consequence to my hostel all too conveniently having connections with two other hostels nearby. One's a hair south of Galway, down the coast at Lisdoonvarna, plus there's another somewhere in the boonies of the Connemara region to the north. I'm easily convinced of their potential charms.
Not for any particular reason, it's to the south that I head first, catching a local southbound bus. The idea is to primarily check out the Cliffs of Moher, although I'm not sure if said formations have any worthy claim beyond being humongous cliffs with the sea's edge making a helluva backdrop. Certainly the ride down is worth any price of admission in and of itself, as we generally hug the coast and I take in a rugged coastline that's handsomely jumbled with boulders or consisting of plains that are made of even more flattened-top rocks that drop to the sea. Along the way, there's the random old Irish house still sporting a thatch roof; these are far exceeded by the number of sheep and cows. But mostly it's rocks and more rocks in a field of green huddling under drizzle - which is a description, by the way, which might represent the sum of Ireland to some (which includes me, more and more, if this mold-inspired climate doesn't change much, and soon).
One large and particularly barren feature here on Ireland's central west coast is called The Burren, a massive hunk of pitiless limestone. It's sheer enormity entails the bus needing a good number of kilometers to make its way around, over, and through it. Soon I'll hear tell that folks sometimes go on hikes into The Burren never to be found again, but this makes eminent sense when you take in what can easily be described as an unending, relatively featureless landscape. How it got to be called The Burren instead of The Barren (or The Barren Burrow) I can't guess, but the sound of the name feels quite apt. This rugged landscape is pretty in its way, of course, even if it's hard to imagine living in a moonscape however modestly terraformed it might be with clumps of brilliant Irish green. The Burren's otherworldly features end, in any event, more or less around Lisdoonvarna - which is where I hop out to take a night's residence in a large, mostly vacant hostel. It's cold outside, it's cold inside, and I surely do wonder why I've come, but here I am.
"I guess I'll take a hike" is shortly about the only idea that comes to mind regarding activities beyond quaffing beers (a given), so with hopes of warming up I forthwith take to walking the modest chunk of kilometers necessary to encounter Doolin, a fabled and teeny town on the coast just shy of the renowned Cliffs. The directions I'm following to get there are simple, but I quickly find that these roads hereabouts ain't made for a-walkin'. They're exceedingly narrow, generally hemmed-in quite tightly by rock walls and dense, uniform shrubbery, with the random car I encounter zipping by without much care to worry about grazing any idiot out for a stroll. Watch it, buddy! I mean, mate! Laddie?
I'm quite happy, then, when my course takes me off the road and onto, well, another road, this one of dirt but, more significantly, far less traveled. This'll lead me all the way to Doolin, where in so doing I've seen a bit of countryside, yes, but I seem to be missing the point where this is all so amazing. As for the town, yes it's cute, but there's not much more to it than a cluster of old Irish-styled houses and commercial buildings along the one main road, plus a few pubs and places to hawk trinkets - and that's about it. So I'm left to my pint and fish-n-ships as a means to shrug my shoulders. Huh. Fortunately there's a bus from Doolin back to Lisdoonvarna, and it's there where I can much more cheerily make even more pints disappear - this time to live music at a local pub. Then it's a buzzed return to the cold grip of the hostel, effectively chilling any remnant cheer to be had from the live music. Sure, the music and beer at the pub was a proper make-up for this nipped-in-the-bud romance, but I'm still not feeling the magic. I might have to strangle the first leprechaun I see: SOMEONE's gotta pay, if only for the shite weather.
Come morning, I adjust my tourist visor to make the obligatory trip to the Cliffs of Moher. Again boarding the one and only bus servicing the coast, it soon deposits me there - and I'm immediately wondering how long I'll stay. The wind is howling, it's wet, and... okay, the cliffs really are beautiful. But the reality is also that I seriously force myself to make some tracks to the main lookout, next making even faster tracks in either direction of it for different views. Check, check, check goes whatever checklist accompanied by the requisite photos, yeah, but mostly I'm cold and wet and already noticing that what had been an empty parking lot just minutes ago has filled with a veritable fleet of buses. Wow, that was fast! So the check's on me: I really should be thanking myself that I've been fortunate enough to have had 15 minutes of looking about before the masses' descent. This is a LOT of people.
Nevertheless I'm really more than ready to let any and all others take my place as I next huddle back at the visitor's center before shivering off the rest of the experience inside the bus back to Lisdoonvarna. If there ever was a moment when I've felt like I've been checking a box on a tourist or bucket list, this has been it, so I'm more than mildly chuffed to find a cafe back in Lisdoonvarna to slouch over soup and coffee for a goooooood while before getting on the bus back to Galway. This rain is positively unending, to be certain lending a drama of man vs. nature, yeah, but this isn't what I signed up for. SUN! Where's some SUN?!?
Not in Galway, where I catch my breath by walking from cafe to pub and checking out more traditional music laden with fiddle and guitar... before already deciding on another excursion into the countryside. What a sucker I am, or an optimist, or just merely resigned. I dunno, but this time I'll be moseying up to the Connemara Region, an even MORE barren land (in some senses) than the Burren's offerings. Indeed, its landscape has historically been so notoriously difficult to survive in that it's long been known for outlaws and fugitives, a particularly useful place to disappear... and die. It was also literally a place of banishment, voluntary or otherwise, and it especially served this purpose during the harsh days of Oliver Cromwell. In those days there was a saying about the area, something like "There is not enough wood (in the Connemara) to hang a man, not enough water to drown him, and not enough ground to bury him." Harsh stuff, and this was compounded by not being allowed to live within three miles of the sea, either, so forget the easy fishin' life while you're at it. So make the Connemara *extra* harsh and nasty, not crispy in the least.
What makes the Connemara so inhospitable? Well, the main issue is that here it's just one bog after another, a fact which hasn't and doesn't allow for any proper farming. Worse, the bogs subsequently don't allow for much grazing, either - unless the animal is light enough to not begin sinking into the muck to break a leg. This explains the loads of sheep found foraging about ALL of Northern Ireland, by the way, but the Connemara in particular is still an intensely unpopulated land - beyond being miserably wet (of course). The good news is that it's frankly gorgeous as well, and it's THAT which explains why I'm on a tour bus.
Actually, the tour bus "option" is taken because there's almost no other way to get to the Connemara: the local service is worse than spotty, probably not a surprisingly consequence of it being an area where almost no one lives. The good news is that, being a tour and all, the driver has loads of information; the bad news is that his jokes are bad, even as he's convinced that they're mostly good. Think of John Candy with an Irish accent. But he duly notes the noteworthy items at the side of the road in his friendly and informative way, noting things such as the clumps of dug-up bog heaped in piles to dry for l-o-o-ng periods of time in piles at the side of the road. They'll invariably be used later as primary heating fuel in most houses. As vast as the bogs are, however, we further learn the consequence of this usage: they've actually mostly disappeared on account of it.
As for the unavoidable subject of the Famine, which necessarily comes up a good deal as well, we're apprised of the numerous abandoned "famine houses" we see, plus why rock walls are where they precisely are - mostly on account of the English forcing some rather harsh rules on who got to use the land for what. He leaves no doubt on which folks always got the "wrong end of the stick" (precise etymology unknown - I've checked). As for the Irish language, to add insult to injury it was forbidden to be used, too, but that's a mistake that's being rectified of late. That's especially true here in the Connemara region, where its resurgence has come with a minor vengeance (if it ever truly left). It's probably the one area where it has the most use.
Being a tour and all, meanwhile, we make obligatory stops to get out and shoot pictures. The biggest such pause comes at Kylemore, an estate originally built for one of the few English that was known for being nice to the Irish. It's now an abbey and, moreso, it's a monstrous tourist attraction. Given the large number of folks aggregating from the parking lot to the gift shop, I almost instantly pass on herding inside or joining the conga line to its gardens. I'll skip as well on checking out the remnant opulence found inside the main building, or gape at the stained glass windows of its chapel, but there's no denying that the place has some presence. Instead, my paean to its loveliness will come in the form of buying a coffee and shortbread cookie - before walking back along the road with my trumpet for a ways to obtain a different view livened with some truly local music - mine. Such jadedness is no apt measure of this region in general, however, as the hills or mountains in found all 'round are the real standout of the tour. They engender a mysterious backdrop of no promise while nonetheless beholding a stark beauty.
Eventually the tour bus stops briefly for another reason: to let me off at the side of the road. That's because my hostel is somewhere down a lane that backs up to a large lake with fish farming, something to only briefly ponder as my thoughts quickly become precisely concerned with walking among these hills... until I abandon that thought when, in the short kilometer of a walk ahead, what's been a rain's teasing with drizzles suddenly turns into a belly laugh of a drenching. I'm positively drowned by the time I make my way through the mucky muck to check into the darkened lodging ahead. Then, criminy!: This hostel's as cold as the one in Lisdoonvarna!
Then there's an added insult: my room's in a separate building. I can only sigh my way through the requisite slosh of access, one where I'll traverse mud below while getting to consider the dumping bathtub above each time I go back and forth. Needless to say, any treks in the hills to sing glorious sounds of music have gone completely out the window. Instead I opt to reserve my corporal presence for the comfy chairs found inside this cold den, resigned to holing up amidst coffees and teas which I'll dutifully prepare in unending succession. The only movement I'm willing to ponder is that of flipping the pages of the books that I can only thank allah, buddha, and the trinity that I've wisely thought to bring along. The handfuls of others also stuck in this hostel are of similar mind, unsurprisingly, so all of us hunker down to read when not getting up to dry out more gear or angle for a better seat. (A number of my fellow hostelers have been trying their hand at camping, or doing some adventure-course stuff offered by the hostel in the form of ropes or obstacle courses. They're the living definitions of "not a happy camper".)
The next morning I'm again back at the side of the main road, mildly broken in spirit while more than ready to reboard the bus exactly where I left off the tour. In none too long I'm back with the same driver doing his schtick again; now I get to hear the rest of the story. Fortunately, the only available seat in the bus this time is all the way in the back - where a German is happily breaking the "no drinking onboard" rule with a vengeance and, furthermore, is happy to hand me cans of beer. This gets us through the small town of Cong, where we're "allowed" to do independent walkabouts of what was used as the set for the John Wayne film "The Quiet Man". A few rock-based ruins with Celtic crosses later, we're next stickybeaking our noses some kilometers away at an old monastery now being taken over, seemingly, by cows. This is picturesque stuff, all of it, but what I'm frankly *most* thankful for is that the rain has merely been threatening on this (as always) cool day. Sigh. I think this'll be enough "touring" about for me, thank ye.
With such dampened expectations, I return to Galway for a final night, attempting to achieve dryness again on the outside if not somehow within. At least now I do find some good company at the hostel, all sharing my room, and first coming in the form of a Northern Irishman whose brogue accent is an interesting challenge to cut through. Contrasting him is the crew of Brazilians who I can jibberjabber with as they speak Portuguese and I reply in Spanish, a fair exchange as far as I'm concerned (and one that works reasonably well). So I get a bit of a primer on The Troubles from someone who lived through the horrible nonsense in Belfast - and who spends a lot of time in California these days as a result - while simultaneously getting to reminisce a bit about traveling in South America. Otherwise I'm mostly back to shlepping off just outside the hostel for a bit of horn playing in the rain, often reduced to stepping into the staircase of a nearby parking garage to air out a somewhat drier version of what's become my new Irish Concerto: "It's raining, it's pouring,..."
Such misadventures pretty much put a capper on Galway, then, notwithstanding the given of a final night of Irish music and pints where I stay true to trying every stout that I might encounter. They're all good to a one, even though it's usually Guinness that's the only offering, but I'm up for next seeing what's on tap in a different town: Donegal. So back onto the infrequent west coast public bus I go, where we start by cutting briefly through the Connemara to shortly later move significantly north through Ireland.
Several few hours later, once again I'm left at the side of the road and looking for a clue. The good news this time is that I'm smack dab in the heart of small Donegal, a burg with a quaint center and, if I must say so myself, a fine pub or two for a pint. Satisfying this liquid requirement forthwith, in accompanying some sole and brownbread, I next walk just outside of town to encounter my next hostel that doesn't believe in heating. Okay, there's a radiator in my room - I'm very thankful for that - but apparently we're past fireplace season for the rest of the place, weather outside be damned. At least there's the customary - if always oddly customarily short-lengthed - comforter that evidently comes with all Irish hostel beds. All I know is that I'm still only receiving one end of what seems an inevitable climate equation: rain, more rain, sometimes less rain, but always rain.
The good news is that this time 'round there's an event, A Taste of Donegal of somesuch, to wander into town for. It's got fabulous eats and drinks of an artisanal nature to sample, even if such sampling only gets you so far or wide in breadth. One can only eat so much, however much I try to push that possibility to its limits. Besides, what I've really come all the way to Donegal to see is what's the what in this neck of the woods. So that's exactly what I set to doing: Pray tell, do I hear that there are some cliffy cliffs here? Some idyllic country roads to stroll on?
Yes, there are, but as usual there's no convenient way to get to these places. The on-and-off-grouchy owners of the hostel suggest thumbing it, however, so that's what I get to doing straightaway. And, for a first go-round, I actually get pretty lucky: an ex-pat Pole picks me up, eventually taking me further than he'd planned - all the way to Carrick. I learn on the way that he's happy to live here now, mostly on account of the work available here that most definitely isn't the case back in Poland, but he doesn't fit in, either. Then again, he muses, at least you can still buy vodka here, and the ubiquitous meat and potatoes are up his alley, too. True dat. Come Carrick our exchange comes to an end as he pulls over in the middle of the tiny town, helpfully indicating where to walk over to the cliffs called Slieve League. They're a mere seven kilometers down a side road to the coast, nothing doing he says. Which is true, although I'm almost immediately back to thumbing it with quickly fading hopes. Well, I guess I *will* be fine if I have to make it on foot.
A bit of luck comes my way eventually, however, as I get a ride for the last third of this pleasant walk where I've been bidding hello to only startled sheep. Picked up this time by a proper local's local, I'm shortly receiving a quick take on the "wee people" thought to inhabit this land on which I'll soon be treading as a bit of an uninvited guest. He tells me this only with welcome, however, and he, too, takes me further than planned, this time depositing me all the way over at the small entrance lot of the small park. I thank him, then spend the next hour or so strolling along the park's sole path to a number of lookout points, stopping to eat the lunch I've brought while otherwise contemplating the numerous sheep which are somehow managing to make their way along some excessively steep terrain. I couldn't imagine climbing down to them if such were necessary, no, but why I should ever care to when I can instead properly behold the highest sea cliffs in Ireland and Europe is beyond me. I'm duly impressed with the precipitous formation, indeed, although it's also a fact that I'm wondering if I actually care. Well... I don't, but it's a nice walk in the countryside, plus there's a new stout to try back in Carrick that I'll give a whirl as a reward for the effort. I should write down the names of these brands of suds, I'm well aware, but then again it's really quite pointless to do so when there's such pride in crafting a proper stout here that I enjoy them all. Who needs branding in a situation like that?
Hitchhiking BACK to Donegal is much more of an ordeal than making my way out, meanwhile, something I discover both when I try to hitch further down the coast and then when I turn around in defeat to stroll again through Carrick and beyond to begin making my way toward Killybeg and Donegal. I try a few spots where some locals tell me people are usually picked up, but an hour of such dillydallying assures me that a better choice might be to start walking the uncoverable (for a day) kilometers back and hope for the best.
Eventually I again land a ride, but the amiable fellow who's supposed to be my savior only deposits me several kilometers further down the road. This leaves me *really* in the middle of nowhere proper, so I sit with trumpet in hand and to mouth on a low wall for a spell, hoping such a detour from the thumbing serves as some form of advertisement. It does, too, as some time later I'm picked up by a chatty woman who's happy to run me at least as far over as Killybeg. We arrive there to find her already changing her mind, fortunately, suddenly offering me to stay in her car as she runs errands before shuttling me all the way back on to Donegal. That's not a bad price, of course, when otherwise only having to listen to how much she adores America and how her dream is someday to go to Boston. The latter conversation is no harsh matter to suffer when she's such a pleasant sort, so I engage with the idea and try to offer suggestions on U.S. travels. Eventually we get back to things Irish and local as she further relates to me how tough things have been with the economy, especially in this backwater, even if underneath she obviously can only betray an unmistakeable love of the area. Not a bad day's outing, and with a bit of luck of the Irish (or Polish) to thank for the trouble (spelled without a capital t or a trailing s, mind).
Now with one day's successful hitching under my belt, I naturally quickly decide on another one, this time past Slieve League out to Malin Beg. Luckily, no hitching'll at least be required to *get* there: there's exactly one bus that heads over each day. The trick'll lie in hoping that there're some cars coming back! I'll trust that to the luck of the Irish, the Wee People, or a stiff pint. So it's this timely (kind of) one-way schedule that finds me aboard a large bus that manages to only pick up a few passengers for the hour or so it takes to get to Glencolumkille. By far the most notable item on the journey is the school girl we pick up who sports an almost impenetrable accent. She's nominally speaking English to the bus driver, sure, but it's mostly the raucous familiarity and aplomb with which she does so that makes me wish I were recording her - which I could've, had I pondering that my minitablet might have a microphone, which it does. But by then she's been dropped off, and inside us remaining two passengers are reduced to the quiet of a bus's tires traversing wet country road until we arrive at the loneliest of intersections in the middle of nowhere near Malin Beg. Here the bus deposits me as it picks up the same professor and daughter I met in Donegal on my first night at the hostel - they found it too "city" (!!!), decamping for Malin Beg the next morning - before turning around to return to Donegal. The only way back'll be to thumb it.
Alone at the crossroads, I look down the road toward the sea and Malin Beg, then I look up to the sky. Well, this'll be fun...! It isn't, but it's not bad, either, or not at first. I wander down the empty road toward the sea, stopping to play my horn in the loading area of a - perhaps you've guessed - lonely-if-closed pub. Such a doing startles the beer supplier who soon arrives for his daily or monthly delivery (who can tell?), nevertheless giving me a friendly greeting, and soon I'm ready to properly continue.
Trundling along, I next spot a large beach area and what looks to be a ruin above it that evidently offers an overlook of the sea. So I make my way into the broad and sandy plain which separates us to try and figure my way across. A purportedly helpful sign on the way gives some hiking possibilities for the area, but nothing seems to quite line up, so after a hefty trek through sand I instead find myself resigning to make my way to the nearer coast in the other direction and thus am forced back up and onto the road to Malin Beg. There's next a tourist attraction of a tiny ancient village (also called Glencolumkille) to peer at, which I do over its low wall, but I can't see the point in stopping for a long appreciative glance inside when I only want to take in the thatch roofs more than anything else - which I can already see. Besides, it's starting to rain.
Soon enough it's raining some more, and this walk is suddenly turning into a proper soak. The only saving grace is that a car pulls over not much later (although already too late for my jeans), and a window is rolled down a slit to offer me a ride out to Malin Beg should I want one. Duh! Happily inside this dry bubble on wheels, we in no time cover the last kilometers to get to the end of the road. Here at Malin Beg we take in the remnant area of cliffs (connecting back to Slieve League), a pretty enough view to be sure, and then I'm offered a ride back toward Donegal or at least to some unknown point along the way. The couple I'm now traveling with don't really have plans, but since our mutual heading in the direction of Donegal is mine first and foremost, away we go.
On the way we stop for pints in Killybeg, an Irish requirement of pause for all occasions, no doubt, before subsequently detouring further on the way. Stop #2 comes when we turn off to walk the point near the lighthouse at St. John's Point, a 7km promontory near Donegal I've been debating a stroll out to. Talk about some timely luck! Moreover, my new saviors are good company to spend time with, having just returned from a life in Australia to recommence their old one in South Ireland. They're currently only doing a bit of a loop of the island before looking for a house and jobs down south. As for me, I'm just an idiot who walks in downpours and hopes folks will allow me to drip inside their cars after mucking up their seat and floorboards.
Adventure #2 wraps it up for Donegal, anyway, although I do count it a major success when the hostel owners finally come around and become quite friendly and talkative with me in the end. Befriending hostel staff is usually a given of a goal with me, so I'm glad to ultimately make the connection. I can understand their reluctance, however: They've been doing this biz a long time, starting back when in converting this old house into a hostel for the short tourist season that comes each year in Ireland, but nowadays they're mostly rueing how much things have changed with the internet and folks renting cars all the time. They feel like they're merely flipping beds now, with travelers staying ever more briefly and allowing less for the kinds of connections they used to make with the guests. These are all points I can fully understand, someone who's long debated the idea of opening a hostel myself while wondering how long the bloom would stay on such a rose.
At least in the very present they're suddenly doing a bit more business, what with the slight uptick in folks spending more than a night like the several people come from Belfast who've arrived for their annual trip to the Taste of Donegal. Plus there are a few guys working the festival, staying here when not hawking their homemade Mediterranean picklings in olive oil. But this moment is an exception, I'm told. Yeah, in general the sense of travel adventure is disappearing in all too many respects all around the world, we concur, all a consequence of getting all those conveniences we bemoaned when these travels were more daring - and interesting. The concept of tourism is becoming ever more packaged and delineated in its highlights; we're becoming a planet filled with checklists instead of serendipitous experiences.
My travels, meanwhile, will next take me to Derry - or Londonderry, as they would prefer to say back in London, where currently there is final say on the matter. Just on the border with Ireland, but lying barely a few scant kilometers into (British) North Ireland, Derry is one of the two spots (Belfast is the other, the big city (by far) of the north with its thus mixed population related to jobs) where "The Troubles" really set in in a nasty way. A mostly Catholic town, Derry's traditionally been more related to the west coast of the island, with places like Donegal, and thus it's historically been more connected with what's generally seen as today's Republic of Ireland. Therein lies this town's version of The Troubles, anyway.
The real shame, and what would have likely avoided The Troubles here, is that the border wasn't drawn right on the river when the Irish state was created. The river rather significantly separates the much larger Catholic part of town from the Protestant one, so that would've been an obvious choice. Sure, there's a pocket of Protestants on the west side, too, but I'm guessing that the conflict would pretty much have been avoided in this town if such a line had been drawn not all that long ago. This is effectively confirmed as I'll soon hear from locals that, in the smaller towns which effectively make up most of Northern Ireland's territory, there were essentially no Troubles t'all. As for Belfast, well... yes, it was, is, and likely shall be, ever screwed by its demographics in this matter. Until this connection with religion takes a much greater step toward the back seat, anyway.
From a slack-jawed tourist standpoint, however, Derry offers something else: a number of handsome old buildings in an ancient walled city that's the only completely intact such in Ireland, indeed one of the most impressive in Europe: "It is one of the few cities in Europe that never saw its fortifications breached, withstanding several sieges including one in 1689 which lasted 105 days, hence the city's nickname, The Maiden City." Hmm - not going to touch that. Anywho, even at first blush it's apparent that, for all its fame, this town really isn't that big. Only about 90,000 souls in all call this burg home as of this writing, but somehow it's nonetheless the 2nd biggest in Northern Ireland and the 4th largest urban area on the island. Huh! I wouldn't have guessed that.
Indeed, such facts keep surprising me, all serving to reinforce how small things truly are here - while also conveniently perhaps explaining the Wee People, Leprechauns, and Fairies sufficiently. I dunno. In any event, Derry's got some universities to show for its vaunted population ranking although, if only in spite of such a hopeful reality, it still looks pretty downtrodden. Such is my initial impression as I look for my hostel, anyway, eventually finding the place to be only several blocks from the bus station. In the process I realize that there IS some life on these streets, if but barely, but... maybe it's just the gloomy sky and rain that's making everything here seem so muted.
I naturally am most curious to learn about the Troubles here, so right away I'm walking about the town to get a lay of the land and see how its geography might frame the discussion. In no time I'm crossing the river in traversing the modern, pedestrian-only Peace Bridge (constructed to celebrate the Good Friday Accords, which stilled the violence for the most part) that effectively separates the two factions for all intents and purposes. I wander through what looks like a parade ground to make my way over to the core commercial area of the Protestant side. It's here where I run into its famous main street which sports Union Jacks, a few inflammatory wall murals (the one with the warlike and evilly grinning "skeletor" figure looks copied right off of a hard-rockin' Iron Maiden cover), plus some of the street curbs (kerbs as they say here) which are painted red, white, and blue. All work to complete the picture/vibe that "We're Brits!", although a lot of this stuff looks pretty weathered. I wonder if the real sign of the end of The Troubles is whether someone touches up the paint or not. My take: probably. As for the very few people I see or speak with, like at the optician's shop where I try to obtain a screw for my reading glasses, all seem quite pleasant and impossible to imagine getting involved in any of the nasty shenanigans that have passed here.
The same appraisal will go for the Catholic side, where I spend much more of my time and where the primary cluster of pubs offering Irish music are. One would get the impression that the next horse race is of far greater concern, especially seeing as the TVs in each of these places seem only tuned to that sport and the betting parlor looks to be a popular place. Mostly, though, I get my Troubles info from the great staff of four old friends who run the hostel. They make a convincing case that nowadays the problems are mostly related to young hooligans, invariably the same ones who suffer little of education while simultaneously a bit too much to drink. For the most part, people want to get on with their lives.
And that's exactly what it looks like people are doing, too, although the number of murals relating British brutality and sins committed on this side are much greater in number than across the river. Almost all are clustered along a boulevard below the walled city, with a centerpiece of a monument/statue declaring "Free Derry". To properly match and face off to the color scheme of the other side, meanwhile, there's no shortage of orange and green flags here - or splotches of paint in agreement with those same colors. I guess - and this is confirmed - that, in certain areas and at certain times, certain colors are avoided for safety, much like the Bloods and the Crips in Southern California. This is sad to see in 2015, but it is what it is.
The Walled City is naturally the other center of attention here, and the good news is that it's handily accessible through a number of entrances and, even more convenient, allows for a nice (if short) loop in walking along its outer walls. Views are afforded to every direction, allowing a taking-in of the steeples beyond the walls when not peering within them to check out the grand church inside. Actually, the interior of this grand-sounding "walled city" is a quite small affair, roughly a mere few blocks by few blocks which is essentially centered like a cross, but it does represent the nicest real estate around while harboring the most traditional architecture. Such historical bent doesn't run too far beyond these walls, either, although a lane running just outside and along the walls is the area which houses almost all of the town's nightlife with live music. Of course, there's practically a pub every so many meters or so in the commercial district to attend to any needs of stout, so what limitations the town might have in its historical offerings are more than covered by what it will put up in suds.
As for the outside of the walls which lies exactly opposite the pub lane across the walled city, this is where the Protestant enclave on this side of the river sits. There are very high metal walls which partition it from its neighbors, accessed only via gates that can be shut and locked down should things hit the fan. For now they're just facts of life that can be ignored, but on significant event anniversary days - when folks get to "marching" for their causes, maybe (likely) a bit loaded with drink - I wouldn't doubt that there are plans at the ready to shut them in a hurry as need be. This is verified back at the hostel.
For all this history, there otherwise isn't a lot to do in Derry, even as I do like my time here spent wandering. About the best I can come up with of local interest beyond the walled city and The Troubles is to take in some photo and art exhibits based on the hostel staff's recommendations (they're involved in the local scene). Okay, there's also the small museum at the grand community hall, housing a monstrous organ and perhaps the most masterful and massive collection of stained glass I've ever seen. Of this I'm frankly impressed, I must say, and that's giving props a bit for a jaded traveler who always has an eye out for architecture and such detail. There's also the main building at the older university in town that's worthy of a stare, plus I wander by and even enter (now THIS is a rarity!) some of the churches. The verdict: I still like them much better from the outside. Yeah, I'll take a gargoyle over a gilded chalice any day, but I'm sure glad these massive and ancient edifices are around - if only because they serve so well as architectural novelties and landmarks for making one's way around.
For my 3-4 days of Derrydom I only line up one excursion, deciding to check out a bit of the north coast that specifically and intriguingly is named The Giant's Causeway. I hear that a lot of filming for the popular show Game of Thrones is done out there, undoubtedly because it provides quite a stunning backdrop. So why not shove my nose in it when it's so near? Thus I'm jumping on the bus one morning to shuttle out to Coleraine, next hopping onto a rambler hop-on-hop-off bus to run the coast. We pass by a few castles of note, each providing troubleless options to trouble with, plus there are a few beach towns which are each fighting off rain in hopes of more business, but it's at the end of the line where I get off to later figure my way back after taking in a few sights.
First up is something right where I'm at, some kind of island I'm told, so I join the other tens of folks making their way along a path to peek at the pictursque-ly hunk of disjoined land. It's got a footbridge to it that crosses high over a bit of a chasm - it's sole claim to fame, as best as I can tell - but I don't see the point in needing to cross it in order to lose two beer-pints of cash. The view *of* it is pure eye candy, though, and it's this humble access bridge which leads to some ancient fishing spots which has become an official highlight of the coast. Nevertheless, I can only wonder if those fisherman of yore ever could've had an inkling of this touristic future when they troubled themselves to build this thing before crossing it for eons to haul in their catch. My guess is that each day they were more hopefully thinking only of returning to the mainland without falling to their deaths on the rocks below.
From what I can tell, most of us tourist-type folks just do the tiny walk out to the island before turning 'round to their car to return to a castle or pub, but I decide that I'd like to see a bit more coast while I'm here. Helpfully, there's something of a trail here back to the west, so I avail myself of it... until I can't. Putting a limit to my adventuring, I only make it as far as the nearby cemetery in the next "village" before a few officers of the law indicate to me that the beach which I want to access to (in order to continue my stroll) is off limits. Sigh: It looks like today is a filming day for Game Of Thrones, a boon to perhaps everyone else on the planet spare me. Since I can't even see any of the action, there's not even a proper gawk to be had, either. As a recompense of sorts, though, at least the graveyard in front of me is a quaint relic - so I spend some time reading final quotes, inscriptions and the like before trudging up to the main road. I've got no hopes for a bus for at least an hour, so I might as well walk... and get rained on. And then dumped on: I'm once again officially drenched.
The good news is that a couple of Belgian girls in a rented car stop by to take pity and pick me up, albeit only after I've walked a soaking kilometer or two, but life's good when I ever-so-briefly have some companions and dry interior weather. Rather surprisingly, they've actually no idea why they're on this stretch of road as they've decided to tool about by car for a day in the Irish countryside, so I give them a few highlights that I recall passing by on the bus before handing them one of my maps to orient themselves. Soon I'm let off at the Giant's Causeway to leave them to their newfound destinies, though, and thus it's back into the drink - continuing its siren-less song from above - I go (but not after first being required to skirt the visitor's center, which gives the impression that a few more pints of cash weight need be dropped to access this slice of nature found below by the sea).
Donations to the greater Giant's wellbeing aren't officially necessary but are only made to seem so instead, I fortunately know, so I'm happy to further skip the visitor center's small shuttle bus to cover the less-than-kilometer stroll which I take down with quite a few others to see the famous rocks. The actual clusters of famous rocks, those which sport the eye-catching hexagonal flat surfaces seen in many a tourist shot, aren't that large, it turns out, and it's this scarcity of material which logically necessitates a clusterfart of us folks in trying to snap shots without someone else's body, arm, or leg in them. Meanwhile, the sea crashes here to lash the coast most impressively in adding dramatic effect - enhancing this spot's obvious appeal - but the rain is also making this a bit of a slippery mess. Thus it is that I find myself doubting if such rocks would be all that forgiving to a skull should it decide to crack itself on them, so I shortly try to find a few places to take in the scene from patches of dirt nearby which I deem immeasurably safer... with a hundred other folks. Hmm. Guess it's time to head back to the road...
...where I'll try my luck again at hitching. Fortunately this time around it'll only entail the usual walking effort to start - the rain has paused! - before, after a few kilometers of trudging and hoping that no one clips me on yet another narrow Irish country road, I'm picked up. Of all people, my new host is from Texas, but such a supposed conviviality of shared nationality doesn't help the fact that his car reeks of smoke. Fortunately he'll wait until we almost get to the nearby town of Bushmill before lighting up. In the short period of time I have to get to know him, meanwhile, I realize that here again I have the odd ex-pat who both knows why he is here and yet doesn't, an enigma. He's of the right age to have been a draft dodger, even if he doesn't offer many clues nor very much of a remnant Texas accent, but mostly all I can tell is that he seems just weary of life. In any event he duly drops me off in town, shrugging as if to ask why I'm even bothering while simultaneously showing that it's all evidently of no difference to him - and leaving me to wonder if there's a story to be had here. The car sputters away indifferently.
The town of Bushmill, meanwhile, is completely given over to tourism, perhaps a given what with the eponymous distillery at one end of town. But Bushmill's thankfully not Disneyland, either, even if it is mostly seemingly comprised of a main street that's lined with informative posters of famous (mostly American) folks who've hailed from Northern Ireland (specifically, from this area). I duly read each brief offering, then check out the old house with its waterwheel on the river - a very photogenic spot, to be sure - before passing on a distillery tour (enough winery and brewery tours have apprised me of the fact that such processes aren't all *that* interesting). Besides, I don't even like whiskey. So I find myself turning around at the distillery to retread the length of the town while again taking a gander at the informative placards I missed just minutes before before giving a proper stare at the lone, ancient tower that bespeaks the town's antiquity. Then I settle down to a proper soup, sodabread, and coffee: Now *this* is the Ireland I'm far more interested in.
Eventually the hopaboard bus rumbles by on its afternoon schedule, picking me up to next unceremoniously dump me at the last of my points of interest, the hugely appealing Dunluce castle. This relic's seafront pose IS dramatic, imposing, and appropriately gloomy - no doubt aided by the absolutely howling wind and (naturally) returning rain. I slowly walk around it for numerous vantage points, impressive all, before giving in to the small, lonely cottage resting above it for a final coffee and pastry on the day. The few folks inside are finishing the day by enjoying the building's cozy interior, one replete with roaring fire for once, so I'm quite happy to imbibe in some whiskey pick-me-ups which I'm offered. Maybe I should have just come here for the entire day, I'm thinking, shortly settling in for a mix of reading and chatting to while away a good hour. This is *especially* the Ireland I'm interested in, more than a little grateful to see a fireplace finally in proper use.
Getting back to the road to ultimately flag down the remaining bus for the day, I'm soon back in Coleraine and waiting for the train back to Derry in the combination bus/train depot. I spy a couple of schoolboys with violin cases to yap about music with for a while, informing them of Django Reinhardt and his violin-toting buddy Grappelli before bidding them adieu when the train makes ready to depart and the fussy conductor relents to let us hurriedly board. The train is sleek and modern, if sparsely occupied, but most importantly - just it was suggested to me by the hostel staff - it gives a worthy and improved scenic view for the return trip than the bus had given. We smoothly glide through only a few stops, soon making an extended slice along the coast and its deep mud flats, before ultimately reentering Derry with dusk dropping wet and heavily. Now *that* was a train ride, a lovely impressionist work of green and gray, with still-lifes galore and just the right amount of nearly-silent clickety-clack of the wheels below to provide some rhythm. If the world only traveled by train, it would be a happier place. Of that I'm sure.
And then, just like that, it's time already to leave Derry behind. I summon the courage to down some last pints and take in a final round of local Irish music for a last night in town, hold a parting chitchat or few with my new acquaintances working the hostel, then jump on one of the nearly hourly buses to Dublin sometime in the next morning's later hours. Back in the city, I again make my rounds on foot to take in a final few sights of architecture, then I decide to spend a final day on the island in the distant suburb of Dublin located on the coast, Howth. Some cliff walks there later, accompanied per the usual by pints and even a notably excellent fish-n-chips, it looks like I'm ready to be leaving this island behind.
Yes, this has been the coldest August of my life, completely and sadly true, but I'm glad to have finally made a visit to Ireland and enjoyed the hospitality of the people. But it's time to spare them of anything beyond the beginnings of the feeble Irish accent I've already started to take on, unable to stop my natural tendency to mimic accents - however badly - while thus always running the danger of either a punch in the mouth or a wisecrack. So far I've managed to avoid both, but I've got to catch a return flight to Lisbon to properly ensure the matter. Meanwhile, looking at the sky, I'm doubting I'll ever return: I'm done with this cold wet.
My all-too-brief return to Lisbon is much like my brief return to Dublin, if of a wholly different flavor. In Lisbon I'm overjoyed to be back to the comforts of pasteis and shots of coffee, plus glasses of wine and bacalao again before sampling final meals of foods from the Subcontinent. Better than those, though, is reconnecting with my pleasant host at the hostel, where I feel that it's like I was just here yesterday. How funny, too, that after such a long trip of 4.5 months, it's here that is my favorite place.
This time in Lisbon, unfortunately, I'm on the eve of saying goodbye for at least a year, so in between culinary indulgences I'm on the lookout for some port to bring back. Easily finding success, I next turn to the local fleamarket to complete my shortlist of random souvenirs - which comes in the form of cork changepurses. Cork and port, the best known symbols of Portugal, seem fitting parting remembrances, one unlocking the other with promise. Yes, THIS place I will be returning to, and the sooner the better. As for the "hows", well, I'll figure those out later.
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