I may not have black hair, but I do have blue eyes and that is good enough for me!
For anyone who doesn’t know what I’m talking about, you need to grab a box of tissues and watch the movie P.S. I Love You. If this movie doesn’t make you cry/want to go to Ireland/want to marry an Irish man and bring him home as a souvenir, I don’t know what will. I know the song probably isn’t very Irish at all, and the movie is a little romanticized, but when I heard two musicians playing and singing Galway Girl in a pub, I almost lost it. Shout out to Madison- you know what I’m talking about.
We decided to head to Galway with visions of old world pubs, live music, and men in page boy hats. What we found was a beautiful little city, bustling with people from every corner of the world, filled with cute shops, restaurants, and of course bars. I was immediately impressed by the amount of flowers we saw and how natural the city felt. The water of the river rushed by us, making us feel at home.
We spent our first day in Galway exploring the streets and weaving in and out of shops. It seems to be our thing to walk the entire city on our first day in a new place (It’s free and then we don’t feel so bad about eating fried food and second dessert). We settled in to our hostel which luckily was right on Quay Street, the bustling center of town. We were steps away from great food, great drinks, and even better music. We stayed at Barnacles hostel, and got a deal because we stayed at their Dublin location as well. If you are hostel hopping, take a look at which hostels have multiple locations- you never know where you’ll find a deal.
The best food we had in Galway was by far dinner at Quay Street Kitchen. We noticed a line starting to form and headed over right away. We were sat at a large dining table that reminded me of a table you would find in a cozy little cottage. The restaurant was small and intimate, and the waitstaff was incredibly friendly. I ordered the fisherman’s stew, and Ashley ordered the lamb shank. To start, we shared a warm goat cheese salad, which is an all time favorite of mine. While we waited for our food we heard an American guy say “awesomesauce” and I couldn’t help but be embarrassed for Americans everywhere.
After dinner we headed back to the hostel where we met our roommates. Two girls from Germany, another from the Netherlands, and another from Switzerland. It is so much fun to meet people who come from such different backgrounds. It’s funny how traveling makes you vulnerable. Our roommate from the Netherlands walked right up to us and said, “What are you guys doing tonight? Can I come?” I’ll be honest here. At first, it was hard for me not to think it was strange that she was pushing herself into our plans. But thats when I realized, to make the most of traveling you have to step outside your comfort zone and do things you maybe wouldn’t do other wise. I admire her ability to come up to us, to not be shy, and to try to make friends. I’ll try to remember that when I’m traveling on my own later on.
Ashley, our dutch roommate, and I decided to walk up Quay Street in search of live music. Quay, by the way, is prounced “key,” which we didn’t find out until we had already told people we were going to “kway” street. Classic. We decided to go into a pub called The Kings Head which, Ashley pointed out, is a bit morbid. We walked in, grabbed a couple of beers called “sheep stealers,” and watched a Rugby World Cup match between France and Romania. This was hilarious to watch because a large group of young Frenchmen were seated in front of us singing their national anthem and lifting their beers in the air. Luckily, they took their party outside after France prevailed.
The band soon came to the stage. They were a young group, with a guitar, a banjo, an accordian, and a bodrahn. The last is an irish drum that is fantastic to watch. Seriously, YouTube it. We couldn’t stop talking about it. The girl playing the banjo was a total badass too, wearing a black lace kimono and comanding the audience. We were so excited when they started to play their versions of some traditional jigs. After about two beers we were feeling some serious Irish pride, which only intensified when two men rushed the stage and started Irish step dancing like I had never seen before. One of them even jumped into a split. It was crazy. We were cheering, laughing, and having the best time. It was so much fun I forgot to take pictures, so try to use your imagination.
After that, we headed to Quay Street Pub which is a three level bar right across from our hostel. There was another band about to go on, and we had met some awesome guys from New Zealand, so we were happy. One of them even talked about “the bush.” (If you don’t know, the bush is what they call the forest so get your mind out of the gutter). We listened to the band, which was just ok until they started playing a song by the Bloodhound Gang and all the Americans went crazy. Irish bands seem to love to cover American music- I can’t tell you how many times we heard “Hotel California” and everything by the Eagles. We later said goodbye to our Kiwi friends, and headed back for bed.
If you haven’t figured it out yet, I am a terrible drinker. I can hold my own, that’s for sure, but if I have one beer I will feel it in the morning. So having had an additional beer or two the night before, I wasn’t feeling so hot. Ashley looked up a place for us to get some food, and we headed over to The Pie Maker.
The Pie Maker was the cutest little shop I have ever seen. It looked like it jumped right out of a Johnny Depp movie. There were old fans and hats everywhere, and there was a door hidden behind a wall of rulers. It was magical. We ordered the steak and guiness pie, because how can you not? It was delicious and helped get me back on my feet.
(p.s. spot the mushy peas #mushypeasforever)
After that, we went on a quest for inexpensive scarves and found ourselve at a store called Penneys. The only way I can describe Penneys is like Forever 21 but with better quality and more of a European style. We tried on a few scarves, picked our favorites, and were on our way. We had a quick dinner (remember we are on budgets here), and then went to bed early to prepare for our tour of the Aran Islands and the Cliffs of Moher the next day.
Want to know what hostel life is like? We were awoken at approximately 2am by our German roommates who decided to turn all the overhead lights on in the room. One of them proceeded to get almost fully naked and run around the room. I tried to be mad but it was so funny I couldn’t help but laugh. If you got it, flaunt it??
Anyway, the next morning we got up bright and early and boarded a bus to a little town called Doolin. It was a beautiful seaside town where we would find the ferry to take us over to the smallest of the Aran Islands, Inisheer. The ferry was about 45 minutes long, and we were glad we had purchased our scarves the day before. The weather was great luckily, but we stood right at the bow and took the brunt of the wind off the water.
Approaching the islands, we could see the landscape start to take shape, and the rocky hillside started to appear. Boats lined the coast, a ship sat wrecked on one side, and an old ruin of a castle stood on top. Back on land, Ashley and I opted to walk the island on foot rather than rent bikes or take a horse and buggy. We grabbed tea and a bowl of soup in a pub to warm up, and then were on our way.
Coming in September was a great decision because it is the end of the tourist season but the weather hasn’t completely turned to winter. We were able to walk the island like locals, without seeing any other tourists than the few from our ferry. The stone walls lead us all around, in and out of neighborhoods and along the coast. It was absolutely beautiful.
We even found a tour guide that liked us so much, she decided to take us around the island for free. Her name was Jenny, and we found her rolling around in the mud up by the ruins. She led us all around, and if we strayed from her path, she was quick to remind us which way to go.
We waved goodbye to Jenny, and got back on the ferry for one of the most exciting parts of the day. The ferry would take us to the base of the cliffs, letting us have a view from the bottom up before we climbed up to look from the top down. It was amazing how close the ship was able to get, although I’m sure the people who got very seasick were less impressed.
By the time the ferry docked, I was ready to be on dry land. Let me remind you, I have now been on three long ferry rides without getting seasick. My mom is going to be very proud. We climbed up to the bus, and drove back down to the little village of Doolin. We were all given the suggestion of eating lunch at the famous O’Connor’s Pub. I was feeling a little queesy, so I went for a salad and some soup, but Ashley got the bangers and mash. It looked fantastic, and the receipt was pretty funny.
Lunch gave us all some energy (as did the pistachio peanut fudge we bought from a shop next door), and we headed to the Cliffs of Moher.
I was excited to see them, don’t get me wrong, but I’ve seen hundreds of pictures of them on facebook from friends who have studied abroad or gone on family vacations. I’ve always been jealous of them, but I figured that I had a pretty good idea of what seeing them in person would be like. I was wrong.
The size of these cliffs is no joke. There is an actual plaque before you enter that pays tribute to those that have lost their lives falling off of them. I’ve never been afraid of heights, but I started to get nervous.
We started off playing it safe, staying on the inside of the stone wall. After about 30 seconds, we had jumped it and were ready to take the risk. The feeling of knowing that one strong gust of wind could send you flying off a 700 foot cliff is like nothing I have ever experienced. There are no fences, no gates, no nothing to keep you from meeting your death. But that’s the fun of it. There’s something to be said for knowing something so beautiful is so dangerous. It is just amazing.
Those little dots are people, by the way.
On the other side of a path was a grazing herd of cows who, most likely, had no idea that they were just feet from a very large tumble. It almost made them even cuter. Lucky for them, they had a fence to keep them safe and sound on their beautiful pasture.
We were amazed and exhausted when we returned home to our hostel. I still don’t know if I’ve processed everything we saw in that one day. I will say though, no matter how tired you are or how tight your budget may be, Galway, The Cliffs of Moher, and the Aran Islands are a must if you are in Ireland. Embrace being a tourist and take all the pictures you can, but don’t forget to take a minute and let it all sink in.
To finish our stay, we enjoyed tea at a tea room down the street from the hostel. Cupan Tae was the perfect place to rest and enjoy tea and a piece of polenta cake. Their tea menu is huge, and we both found the perfect tea for our moods. Mine was a combination of hibiscus and orange while Ashley’s was a spicier, almost fennel like tea. They were delicious.
Our time in Galway was amazing. It may be touristy, but there is a definite reason why. There are so many great spots hiding along the narrow streets, and so much music to be heard. The flowers, the river, and the old time charm make Galway feel homey and quaint, but with the excitement and fun of a big city. Galway will be a hard one to beat. Let’s see if our next stop, Cork, is up for the challenge.