Friday, June 17, 2011

Day 222: Galway and the Aran Islands (Inisheer)

In the wake of a week in Dublin the bustle of the city had me craving the country. Heading West to explore 'true' Ireland, I had no idea that I was in for one of the most memorable weeks of my 8 months of traveling Europe.

Traditional Irish breakfast.

Against my desire, I heeded Rory's advice to take the bus instead of hitch hike to Galway. When I arrived I didn't have any accomodation prepared as all of my couch requests seemed to fall on deaf ears. One surfer said he couldn't host me as he moved out of his apartment, but he was staying in a hostel and we should meet up. I would have loved to meet with him but I couldn't bear to stay in a hostel named Snoozles. Rocking up at the creatively named Galway Hostel, while checking in I had a strange experience.

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The dude behind the desk asked me for my passport and when he read my name he said "That's funny, my girlfriend said we have a CouchSurfer named Ross staying with us tomorrow night. He's also from America." Though striking at the time, when I checked my requests, sure enough, Maria said that her boyfriend worked in the hostel. Unfortunately Maria and I would not get to meet because of two frogs.

There she was, cute as can be– and she was talking– to me. Angeline was her name, and she was not alone. Despite our fascinating conversation, it wasn't long before her boyfriend made himself known. Contrary to my initial dissapointment, we all quickly became friends. Tomorrow they were planning to go to a group of three small islands off the coast of Galway. As both parties had tents, I suggested that we join forces and camp together. Not only did they accept but after exploring Galway with them I knew that we were going to have a lot of fun.

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The next morning I was awake before I had fallen asleep. The bus that would bring us to the boat left at 9:30 from Galway but I had personal matters to attend to... aka, bright and early blogging! Following a classic hostel breakfast of butter, jam, toast, washed down with some pathetic representation of orange juice, we soon found ourselves on a boat.

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please check back soon

Monday, June 13, 2011

Day 217: Top 5 Things to Do in Dublin

Time for a rewind...

My story continues on the night ferry to Dublin from Liverpool, England. Originally I was going to float on the morning boat, but– to my good fortune, it was full and I was delayed. Thanks to the additional 10 hours I had to explore Liverpool I checked out some stuff such as the Tate and St. George's Hall.

Around quarter to 11 I went to the train station and realized I made an American arithmetic mistake. The train times were on a 24 hour time table and somehow I thought the train left 10:45 when it already left at 9:45! Doh! I had missed the first of my connecting trains. Thankfully there was a lot of delay time built into the schedule so I ended up catching the ferry anyway. My second good fortune came in flesh form.

A sunrise over the Irish Sea!

On the ferry I met a triple talkin' jellybean man who had just returned to reality after a brief retreat at a Tibetan buddhist monastery. While I was a bit skeptical of his rituals and consumeristic meditation supplies, he was high strung and fun to listen to. He was telling me about how the monks have been known to be in two places at once or completely understand someone from a glance. He had a book of prayer materials that I had never seen before. Around my neck he gifted me a string in which one of the monks had tied a sacred knot. I'm not sure what any of this had to do with meditation, I gravitate towards fundamentalism. I enjoyed listening to his experience and more importantly, I'm excited to go to the temple myself.

Shane and I talking about meditation.

It was absurdly early as the ferry kissed Dublin's port. I hadn't slept at all because of all the train connections followed by conversations with meditation man. I was meeting my host at a McDonalds at 7 AM but the boat was an hour late. Eventually Rory and I met up and headed back to his flat where I spent the day sleeping. Tomorrow my exploration of Dublin would begin.

Rory took this excellent photo of sleepy Ross.

My host Rory was extraordinarily helpful with showing me around the city and suggesting interesting places to visit and stuff to do. He is the most prolific host on CouchSurfing, having hosted over 1,700 people– he even hosted Casey Fenton, the founder of CouchSurfing! Rory and grew closer than I do with most of my hosts. He works for a triathlon coach, dealing with clients and managing his website. I was happy to help him out by designing a flyer for him.

The view from Rory's apartment window.

Despite its ridiculous law that prohibits the sale of alcohol after 10 PM I had a blast wandering around Dublin and soaking up everything that it had to offer. From the home of the world's tallest statue to birthplace of one of the world's tastiest beers, Dublin has a lot going on.

The biggest prick in town!

Dublin doesn't have the beautiful geography that I became accustomed to in Portugal or the coziness of Italy but because 25% of Ireland's population lives in the city it is rich with history. I arrived in Ireland with little knowledge of its history so I was eager to learn.

During the 9 days that I spent in Dublin I saw much of the city and when I returned I felt like a bit of a local. Before I headed to Galway and Western Ireland I spent a week in Dublin absorbing. Rarely in the past 8 months have I gotten a chance to return to a city where I've spent a significant amount of time. Coming back to Dublin from Galway made me feel at home.

Ross Roams' 
Top 5 Things to Do in Dublin

1. Free Walking Tour
While free walking tours are not new to me, Rory introduced me to Sandeman's Tour Company who gives free daily tours of 12 major European cities. Once I recovered from ferry-lag I joined the 1 PM tour. Since the tour guide is working exclusively for tips, they have great incentive to be knowledgeable. This free tour was an excellent introduction to the city, not only informing me of a handful of Dublin's historic landmarks, but helping me get my bearings. The tour was also a nice way to meet other travelers, which is difficult when not staying in a hostel.

Christ Church. Christ.
Our tour guide asking for a free high five.
When it rains the scales of justice become crooked.
The plan of an old viking house.

2. Guiness Storehouse
I joked with a few friends that "Guiness is the best thing Ireland has ever produced." After a few pints of the 'black stuff' I was convinced. A 7 story monster museum with a maze of pipes running overhead, colorful info graphics, and the robust smell of malt wafting through the air. Touring through the Guiness Storehouse made me feel like I was in Willy Wonka's Chocolate Factory. Besides enjoying a Guiness while overlooking Dublin from the Gravity Bar, the part I enjoyed most was learning about how coopers made barrels.

Welcome to the FACTORY.
The gravity bar was packed, I couldn't get a seat...
Thankfully I could still get a beer :)
Learning about the cooper's craft was fascinating!
One of Guiness' old brewing vessels.
They even have gates similar to Wonka.

3. Day trip to Howth
A heart warming family reunion paired with the lush green landscape of Ireland makes for a day trip to remember. Only a 40 minute train ride from Dublin, Howth provides an excellent escape from the city. If you can't make it to Western Ireland, you can get a small taste for Ireland's landscape from Howth's cliffs. While most restaurants in the harbor are quite expensive, we ate for a reasonable price at Octopussy, a Spanish tapas bar. Tapas are best eaten with family.
Kerstin and Adam just got engaged– how exciting!
After walking through the harbor you can walk up on Howth's cliffs.
There were a ton of birds roosting in the cliffs.
A nice man took this nice photo.

4. Going Out in Temple Bar
Temple Bar is Dublin's hottest night life spot. Flooded by tourists, you can see them taking photos in front of the Temple Bar Pub, which, ironically, was built only a few years ago. Most bars in this area have music and it's definitely a quintessential Dublin experience. If you're looking for a more local atmosphere, Cobblestone on the North side of the river is a great place for traditional Irish music. If you're in the mood for dancing, check out Dicey Reilly's, especially on Tuesday when everything is €2.


5. Kilmainham Jail (Gaol)
Close to the Guiness Storehouse, the Kilmainham Jail is a historic gem. When Ireland was fighting for its independence from England many of the insurgence were imprisoned here. It was fascinating to see the names of people I learned about on the free tour above the cells. While I wasn't able to stay for the whole tour, the most interesting fact was during the potato famine each cell (standard jail size) held 9 prisoners and had no toilet! Ew!

The tour guide didn't look this awful. Sorry, mate.
Not sure, but definitely creepy.
The jail had around 150 or 300 cells, I think.
Unfortunately I didn't get to tour this big room because I had to leave early.

Dublin is best enjoyed super-cold. Don't forget your umbrella.


Friday, June 10, 2011

Day 214: Family Reunion– Day trip to Howth

No blog in 9 days? Uh-oh. It's been a while, my friends. I wish we could have been in better touch but sometimes life has other plans. As I write to you, laying atop a balloon mattress in a Scottish flat, quite a lot has happened since I left Liverpool for Dublin. I explored Dublin for a week before fleeing to the green womb of Western Ireland. Immersed in nature I spent most of my time camping and hitch hiking. If I were to go on – like grandpa reminiscing about the war, I wouldn't be able to stop. Life has been satisfyingly fulfilling the past two weeks and I'm excited to share.

Classic Kerstin and Adam.

I had been exploring Dublin for three days before they came. Celebrating Christmas alone helped me realize how much I missed my family and friends. When Monica visited in Ronda, I felt myself flooded with nostalgic energy. Planning to meet up with people in Europe can be difficult, but sometimes everything works out without planning. This was the case when I heard my cousin Kerstin that she and her boyfriend Adam would be in Dublin.

A globe sculpture at Trinity College.

We met up at a bar late Friday night. We both had a lot to share, themselves freshly back from occupying Afghanistan with the US Army. Being with the two of them made me feel warm and comfortable. Beers disappeared and conversation flowed as they told me about army life and I weaved some tales of my travels. It wasn't long before the big news came out – boy, was it big. So big I'm surprised it didn't cut off the circulation to her finger. Yes, Kerstin and Adam are due to get married. I felt closer with Kerstin than ever before. Fortunately, they were staying for a few days so we could continue enjoying each other's company.

The next day my CouchSurfing host treated us to a tour and suggested that we go to Howth for the day. Originally he was going to drive us up to Glendalaugh but the air inside his car tires had other ideas. Around mid-day we hopped on the train to Howth, blissfully ignorant of what to expect.

Kerstin was ever-so excited to board the train.
Octopussy's Spanish tapas were delightful and best enjoyed with family.
To drive your car into the bacon or not drive your car into the bacon.
Kerstin is almost as tall as the lighthouse.
She said doing this used to freak her mom out.
Buoys and boats.
After the harbor we hiked up this cliff...
... and looked at rich people's yards...
...and then we looked at some rocks and the town...
... until Kerstin got fed up and went for a swim.
The helicopter came to rescue Kerstin from the ocean.
So I took some photos of flowers while I was waiting.
Kers thought that there were penguins in there... somewhere.
So cool. So serious.
We reached the lighthouse at the end of the peninsula and went for coffee.
Ha! What a last name.

Not only did Howth make an excellent day trip from Dublin but I got to share it with my cousin. They've been dating for somewhere around two years now and it's exciting that we will have a new member of our family. Howth's lazy harbor, lush hills, and treacherous cliffs provided an excellent environment for a reunion. Even though I just wrote an article about why I travel alone spending time with family warmed my lonely bones. It was a pleasure to see you two and I look forward to spending more time together on my return. For the rest of you, go to Howth. 


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