Friday, January 28, 2011

Beating the Icy Fields

Leaving a city is an easy thing. How quickly you leave the city can be quite a different matter. We left our hotel in Athlone around mid morning, helped ourselves to the continental breakfast and headed to our next destination of Kilnaborris House in Banagher. We found the correct road to take out of town thanks to a city center map next to Athlone Castle and began to walk. When hitchhiking it's best to walk to the road that leads to your destination and then start thumbing, otherwise someone might pull over take you one mile and dump you at your turn off. Not the ideal situation. The walk to the turn off was a bit further than we anticipated (I don't think that map was to scale) and along the way a professor at the Tech College gave us the directions we needed. He then went even further, got in his car and drove us to the turn off we needed because he knew how long of a distance it was. I'm pretty sure he saved us at least twenty minutes.

When the professor dropped us off, he advised we stay there at the intersection and hitchhike there as the road ahead was narrow and curvy. Colleen and I did as he suggested for about ten minutes, then decided to start walking. (Would you rather pick up someone who is standing still, or someone who is walking determinedly to their destination? This is a debate between us that is still unresolved). So we walked and the further down the road we went, the more we realized our lives may have been more jeopardized with each step we took. A couple of times we had to step off into the hedge to let large trucks go by. Once a big truck didn't even bother to move over, despite the lack of oncoming traffic. I think my nose was three feet from being roadkill.

About thirty-forty minutes later, we decided to stop at a place where a driveway into a field provided a safe place to hitch. About five minutes passed before a car pulled over. We were picked up by a welder on his way to a job, but had to stop at his house first. We were in no rush, so that was fine by us. He invited us in for tea, where his place was not as filthy as Jimmy's in Glen Colum Cille, but probably will be in about 30 years. We continued on and felt our way to the Kilnaborris House.

Michael and Louise are very warm people, easy to get along with, great parents and busy between a dwindling business, an aspiring PhD, a second business getting underway and four children. They handle it all remarkably smoothly. They make it look easy. Our job while we were there was to turn the flower patches, and weed the herb garden for 5 hours a day. Turning the dirt was more difficult than usual as the ground was frozen at least one inch deep. We felt like our five hours a day were not being used efficiently as it took us to three days to get all the patches done, when usually it might have taken one.

We ate dinner with the family every night, and cooked for them on our final night there. All the kids are very friendly towards each guest, and their youngest daughter, around age 5, couldn't get enough attention. She attached herself to Colleen, which I'm sure she didn't mind at all. I would play games with their eldest, and got used to the feeling of being shot in Call of Duty when we played against each other.

Michael drove us to Ballinsloe so we could catch the bus to Galway. Galway has been an entertaining city, with incredible structures and lovely walks along the River Corrib. We spent some time in Garvey's Bar last night, wrote in our journal and listened to a few comedians. Some were okay, some forgot their bits and walked off the stage. I guess that's show business. Today we shopped a little (finally a place that sells men's hats and gloves) explored the city thanks to a lady who was inspired to paint by the local surroundings of Galway and ate the best fish and chips in town.

Tomorrow we head to Drogheda so we can see the ruins at Newgrange. I'm looking forward to them. Anything bigger and older than Stonehenge should be pretty cool.

Tuesday, January 18, 2011

Not Exactly Tourist Season

We had a great time in Dublin but the city is a little busy for two still jet-lagged travelers. We booked two bus tickets to Donegal Town in the county Donegal set up on a peninsula in the northwest. I had visited here once with Kelsey when we were on our way to Gleanncholmcille a few years ago. The weather was great up until we walked to our hostel but even then, just a light rain. We stayed with Linda at the Independent Hostel 1 km out of town and somehow I think a name change might make for good marketing. It was a cute house set up on a little hill and Linda had a peat fire going for us when we arrived and served us hot chocolate. We chatted for a little bit about the winter and the bad economy until she headed to her family's wing of the house for dinner with her husband. She even upgraded us to a private room.

We grabbed some sandwiches in town for dinner and had a couple of pints before turning in early, trying to kick the last of the jet lag. I slept and slept until Matt gave up on waiting around 11. I'm glad he woke me. After that, I think I was pretty much cured. We still wake up at around 4 am every morning but we're getting back to sleep sooner and sooner. We were planning on leaving for Gleanncholmcille that day but the bus service is spotty on Sundays and we resolved to stay another day in Donegal Town. When we told Linda we'd like to stay another night she recommended we hitchhike. I have always considered it but knew Matt wouldn't be confortable doing it so I had never brought it up. We were assured that it was still common in Ireland and Matt seemed willing.

We spent what was left of the morning eating a triple-decker tomato chicken sandwich in town before heading out. Linda recommended a spot for us to stand and we gave that a try for a little while but gave up and started walking and thumbing. We had probably walked about a kilometer when it started to rain. We were pretty well committed by this point and the rain wasn't bad. We could see the cloud break ahead. But it turned out for the best. A nice old man picked us up in the rain and we chatted as he took us 1/3 of the way we needed to go. We thumbed it again from there and were picked up right away by a middle aged man who was going most of the way. It was a really great day for a drive, sunny with big clouds drifting by and we stopped by Killybeg's beach to get a view of Sligo across Donegal bay. He didn't mind the scenic drive so he took us the rest of the way into the Glen as it is affectionately called. He dropped us off in town and we took off to the hostel that was given glowing recommendations in the guidebook Jesse got us for Christmas. It is actually built into the cliffside and has great views of the beach, but it seems the host has fallen ill and it is locked up while she is away. We flagged down a driver and asked him about accommodation and he mentioned another hostel. It was also locked. We asked for accommodation down at the Gaelic school and Liam called over to the second locked hostel. He got a hold of Charlie on the phone. Turns out that Charlie had locked himself out of his own business and was waiting on a locksmith. I'm not sure how far out a locksmith is from the Glen... but it is a place with far more sheep than people so I'm thinking it might take some time. Liam called to the local bed and breakfast, but Margaret was out with her daughter for her birthday. Her son, Jordan, offered to set up our room though and Liam gave us a lift down to the house. Lodging at last.

We spent the rest of the night down at Biddy's, one of the three pubs in a tiny little town where were met a committed old bachelor who had always lived in Donegal county. It was interesting to hear his stories but we got wrangled into coming to his house for a cup of tea. It was absolutely filthy inside, but he was so happy to have visitors over, we chocked down a little tea from a couple of grimy mugs and looked at some old photos. We made our excuses eventually and were happy to be home and to bed. I don't regret it though, so far no ill effects from the bit of the chicken sandwiches he forced on us.

The next morning we enjoyed a traditional Irish breakfast of black pudding, white pudding, three sausages, and egg, and a slice of ham butchered in such a way that there is bacon on the end. All protein and a little toast or brown bread on the side. I tucked away some of it for lunch. We said goodbye and enjoyed the scenery as we hiked up out of the valley. The only bus of the day had been long gone. Not many cars were around so I imagined we were up for a hike but a nice old lady picked us up in no time. We saw the most beautiful shifting of a gossamer sunlight between clouds over some of the most breathtaking scenery, not only green, but very stark and lovely. We were planning on going to see the Slieve League cliffs and she decided to take us most of the way there. It was a great walk up to see them and the view was much more enjoyable that way I think.

There was no hitching back into the nearest town, Carrik, which was about 8 km away as there are few houses and fewer cars on the road by the cliffs. More sheep though. Margaret from the B and B had recommended the pub in town for lodging so we were glad to see it in Carrik but they don't provide it in January and February. We met a nice old fisherman in the pub who was from the Glen. He told us about when he used to fish on Canada's west coast. We have a standing invitation to stay with him.

So we took off once again, and I felt a little discouraged. The nearest town with a decent bus system was Killybegs, an all day walk away and so many cars were passing us by. A van pulled over when we were not too far out of town, and it was Margaret! She was taking her kids and one of her longer lodgers into to town for shopping. Her young sun got into the back and we had a great talk all the way to Killybegs. She dropped us off right at the tourist info center who called around for us for places to stay. The hostel was closed but the hotel in town wasn't a terrible price and I felt a head cold coming into full swing. I enjoyed a great long bath and we had a fine dinner at the hotel. Chicken Goujons are apparently chicken fingers but come with a sweet chili sauce. Matt had the cod fish and chips. Killybegs is a fishing town and it tasted great.

Today we took an early bus into the middle of the country. We arrived in Athlone at 2 pm and I really like the town. It is larger and has a huge modern shopping center and seems busy but with the old charm still present. We had trouble finding our hotel - no hostels here - and an older soldier walked us most of the way. My head cold is stronger today but I'm hoping this might be the end. From here we go to Banagher, just south of here, to work for our room and board at a couple's stable turned self catering house rental location. They say they would like some gardeners for a while and I think we'll enjoy it. The weather isn't very cold at all. Wish us luck!

Friday, January 14, 2011


Arrived in Dublin yesterday after uneventful flights. Many movies were watched. We've started off on this thing for real now and I'm excited. We started with a whimper when we arrived in Dublin, sleepless and with a full day ahead of us. We had a carvery pub lunch, a bit like a buffet, bought a computer case as our other sorry case for it was already slipping out the shoulder strap, and took a nap. We were both happy to be here, and because it was off season we had our hostel dorm to ourselves. We woke refreshed enough to take a roundabout walk (I might have led us astray) and settled down at a nearby pub for a couple of Guinness. Matt tried the Smithwicks but wasn't too keen.

Today Matt went in to see the book of Kells and it was a fortunate day as the pages are turned every day and both of his pages were turned to the full page illuminations. Beats the small doodle I got to see last time I came through this town! We saw a wonderful collection of illuminated manuscripts and such in a museum nearby and then spent far too much time looking for the Guinness Storehouse. Dubliners are terrible at giving directions, but it's hard to hold it against them, they are so eager. Matt figured out that the huge building in the skyline was probably it, despite my reservations. We had a great time going through the presentations. I especially liked the display room concerning coopers (cask-makers). Hilary had told me before that it was a dying art and I can see why. The labor is long, the skill is exacting. Their long leather aprons to protect their legs are really charming though. At the end of the tour we enjoyed a pint at the Gravity Bar, a 360 degree panorama bar at the top. It was very fun and we stayed till an early closing time. We wanted traditional pub food for dinner but everything seemed to be beer only. Too busy for food I guess. So we settled for some cheesy American 50's diner. Oh well. Much love to everyone!