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May 27, 2006: Ireland Trip - Galway

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The nice thing about touring a country the way we are doing it is that we can change our plans at any moment. We keep working out tentative itineraries for the remaining time we have left and then flip things around and decide to do something else entirely. It's kind of nice to have it be this flexible, although we have made reservations for two nights in Dublin at the end, just to make sure we'd have rooms.

And this is why today we ended up having a rather relaxing day strolling around Galway instead of driving off to another historic site as originally planned. The rain finally stopped and a few moments during the afternoon we actually caught glimpses of blue sky up there amid all those clouds.

Once again, our timing seemed to work out well, since there's a little farmer's market in the pedestrian areas on Saturdays, and they were having a big musical event in the center of town to celebrate the grand reopening of Eyre Square (the recent renovation of which seems to still be a sore point, based on the comments a few people have made).

Our host gave us a lift to town since he was heading in the same time we set out, so he dropped us right at the corner of the square and then, armed with two maps that were both actually useful (a rare thing in city maps, we've discovered), we set off to do a bit of exploring.

The little farmer's market is set up in a narrow little pedestrian-only alley behind Saint Nicholas Cathedral, whose claim to fame is that Columbus supposedly attended services there before he set off to find a new route to India and got a bit lost on the way. One of the booth vendors suggested we go inside and wander around, so we did, picking up one of the very helpful brochures that highlighted a number of the more interesting bits of the interior, including actual gargoyles above the windows.

The farmer's market itself wasn't very large, and a bit crowded, but we saw a cheese shop behind the stalls and on a whim decided to go inside. They very nicely allowed the gaping American tourists to take pictures of all the sausages and such hanging from the walls, and the stacks of cheese wheels just sitting on counters and shelves. My boss had mentioned that Ireland has some really good cheeses (since I love cheese) but we'd not found anywhere to test that theory until today. The very friendly young woman behind the counter was more than willing to offer us a few samples, and package up four selections of various local cheeses for us to purchase for later.

We decided that bread and cheese would make a marvelous lunch, so we picked up a round loaf of the brown soda bread that's so popular over here. And our final purchase in the market was at the donut booth, where a man was making fresh donuts, which he would whisk out of the fryer and coat in sugar with either a sprinkling of cocoa or cinnamon. I couldn't resist the allure of freshly baked donuts, so we each got one, and they tasted even better than they looked.

Galway seems a newer city, even though it's old enough to have had a large stone wall around the city (back when it was much smaller) - the streets are wider and it just seems more open and less cramped than some of the places we've been. One of the locals we spoke to noted that there is always something going on in Galway, and that certainly seems to be the case, based on the lists of upcoming events we saw posted here and there. We also passed a number of street performers, including one young man done up all in grey who was doing an extremely good imitation of a statue (he would only move, very briefly, if someone tossed coins into his hat), and a pair of young women who were playing the guitar and singing, and joined by a very young boy in tails and top hat who was very good at working the crowd for donations.

We ate our lunch in Eyre Square while they were doing final preparation for the big musical celebration, perching on cement walls and eating our bread and cheese. We wandered through the streets as the sounds of Big Band tunes wafted by (you have not heard Big Band music until you have heard Mac the Knife sung with an Irish accent) and I found another store with another sweater's worth of wool that had to come home with me. We made our way through the Eyre Center, which is a shopping mall built, quite literally, around a large chunk of the old city wall, including two of the watchtowers which have been renovated and serve as little shops. One of them, in fact, held a fortune teller, which amused me far more than it probably should. And we picked up packing boxes on our way back to the B&B, which I proceeded to stuff full of yarn and other things we've bought which won't fit in the suitcases and need to be shipped home.

We headed back into Galway later in the evening to find dinner. Richard decided he wanted to go off and find somewhere with local music, but I stayed back in the B&B, mainly because this afternoon he discovered that there is a wireless network somewhere in the vicinity we can tap into. So I've spent an hour or two catching up on two weeks worth of journals and email and news, looking up possible B&B's for our next destination, and checking weather forecasts for the next few days. All fingers crossed here, but it looks as if we might get to see that bright shiny thing in the sky tomorrow too.

Pictures from Galway are here.

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