Now, when you all sit at home picturing Ireland, cobblestone streets lined with colorful shops and pubs in equal number, with buskers scattered along playing their hearts out for passerby for a few coins, well, what you’re picturing is Galway.
Unfortunately we didn’t discover Galway until halfway through our visit there.
Our first night, we arrived late off the bus from Letterkenny (a little town near Fahan where the boys dropped us to catch the bus). By the time we got dressed and ready for our evening, we were starving and mighty thirsty for a Guinness. Our hostel (aka Fort Knox… Took a zillion keys and codes to get into the place after 10pm–we weren’t sure how we would fare should we be stumbling in after a wee bit too much whiskey) was located right on Eyre Square which I had heard was the centre of this oh so small town, so we didn’t bother asking for any suggestions of where to head or checking any maps. Who needs em right?! (says the over confident traveler) I was sure it would all be right in the square, within a one block radius. We peaked into a couple pubs on the square, but they were either closed or filled with bands of teens doing lines of jagger bombs. Not the cozy hole-in-the-wall locals we had in mind, that’s for sure. Unsure of the layout of the town, we chanced it and went right off the square. Three blocks up a dark empty street we found a pub with lights on called Crowes and, delighted, we ducked inside… and what do you know, JACKPOT! A pub full of silver foxes!?? (Do they still count as silver foxes if they’re hunched over in old age and are ridden with bald spots?) No joke. We counted. There were 22 pub patrons (including us), 16 of which had snow white hair.
Where were we?! Was this really Galway?! The same Galway everyone had raved about and told us we would love?? We were so confused and slightly disappointed!
So… we ordered up some pints and struck up a conversation with the old coots. We actually stayed there until close, and even shortly after that. The barkeep didn’t really seem to mind and served me another pint when I asked. (I love how slack the rules are in Ireland. It all depends on the bar keeps mood as to whether or not you’re going to get served past “cut off”–a concept I’m not sure really even exists.)
The next day we had decided to force ourselves to be good tourists and get out for a walking tour of Galway. It was free, and started after midday, allowing us ample time to enjoy our stout-induced slumber, so we really had no excuse. We just barely made it, jogging around the corner to join up with the crowd, but we were there (in body, anyway… Kaley mostly lagged behind, her mind wandering to who knows where).
I, on the other hand, found the tour rather interesting! Galway was full of cute historical details and tales of Irishmen from the past. Like The Bridge of Sighs, which was named as such because it was where the prisoners would catch their last glance at Galway (and sigh) before being carried over and into the prison (which has since been restored into a beautiful cathedral). Or taking “a stroll down the old long walk”, the very walk the song Galway Girl references. Making a wish at the Wishing Bridge was pretty mgaical, and it was also on this day we were told about the Claddagh rings and what they represented. (We immediately rushed into the shop and purchased some for each other… romantic, I know.) The best thing about the tour was that out of the main square (where our hostel was located) it took us LEFT! The evening before,if you recall I mentioned, having not consulted a single map or hostel staff member, we wandered RIGHT. And there was our big mistake. Left of the Eyre Square, Galway unfolds around you, seducing you instantly with charm and appeal. Sigh….
**pause for dramatic effect**
About two hours into the tour, as fascinating as it was, we got thirsty. (Guinness addiction?)
We apologized to the tour guide for splitting early, tipped her and skipped off into the closest pub we could find (which was only about three steps away, considering in this area of town, every second store front was a pub). We sat back, sipped our first pint of the day and congratulated ourselves on being so wildly productive. And from there on, the day gets a little foggy.
We were so excited to have finally found the real Galway, we were determined not to waste a single moment on our final night there. We started our evening off on Shop Street, which was cleverly named as such due to the fact that it’s where all the shops were. (Other local street names included Main street, the main vein through the town and Cross Street, which ran across Main street. My friend Darragh, from Cork, loved to poke fun at the rich creativity of the Galway city planners.)
From there, I’m not sure which streets we were on exactly (I blame the Guinness, or perhaps the whiskey, as I do believe at some points I had a fistful of each on the go) but I do know we hit at least three other pubs. In one we watched some Irish set dancing and ate a bowl full of cocktail sausages (this is an actual appetizer on the menu that is simple a fry basket full of about 30 mini sausages, for sharing). There we met a group of men coming from a wake, or maybe out celebrating an upcoming wedding, or perhaps both? I can’t quite recall. The older gentlemen spun us around the dance floor, cheeks flaming red from the drink and eyes ablaze with laughter. I believe it was with them we moved onto the next pub, and I know there was another after that, where I insisted the musician play Galway Girl for me (which I am told is terribly annoying for those that live in the town and are consistently annoyed with tourist girls like me begging them to play the soundtrack to the real life romcom they all believe they are starring in). Cheesy, it was. And lovely as all hell.
When we finally woke up the next morning (with barely enough time to toss our stuff together and check out and completely unsure of how we made it through Fort Knox security the night previous), we felt anything but ready to leave. But our days were becoming very limited and we still had two cities left to see. So once again, we packed up our nine bags (oh did I mention we managed to squeeze in another shopping trip to Primark, which is called Penney’s in Ireland, but is exactly the same thing?) and head off to catch the bus.