World Clock

Sunday, 21 December 2008

a tour and a half

We had been toying with the idea of hiring a car but there were two problems: Christina has a valid licence but because she is 18 wasn't eligible to hire a car, and the other issue; I have my international driving permit but... no licence - I had my replacement licence (stemming from when I lost my wallet all those months ago in Manchester) sent to Lee in Edinburgh because of my lack of fixed address. So that idea was out the window. If we were wanting to explore some of the surrounding areas of Galway (Gaillimh in Gaelic - pronounced like Gal-yiff) we could either hitchhike - not a bad idea usually, but around the areas we were going the roads are very narrow and winding - or take a bus tour. We opted for the bus tour, hesitantly.
We got to experience the contrast in quality of service between two different tour operators and it was very interesting. First of all, we were lied to by the owner of O'Neachtain Tours. Niki (our CSer) mentioned that there was a particularly good guided farm walk on the Cliffs of Moher tour. I asked this particular woman about it and she said that there were no farms out that way and I must've been thinking of their other tour. When we were on the bus, however, we did stop at a farm and everyone was able to get off the bus for the walking tour except for us and another couple. Upon enquiring/complaining to the bus driver (who was actually from a different company called Lears), he confirmed that the woman had flat-out lied to make the sale, and so he ended up driving us around the area to an old monastery and telling us all about the country's various folklore to make up for it. He was a great bloke, very informative and very friendly. Following this we stopped off at the ancient (>5000 year old) Poulnabrone tomb for a very quick photo opportunity - they are attempting to reduce degradation of the site by limiting visiting time to only 10 minutes.
Then it was onto the famous Cliffs of Moher, only the third highest cliffs in Ireland but very spectacular all the same. For the majority of the day, and especially during the drive upto the cliffs, a thick fog loomed and could even be seen rolling down the high hills towards the sea as we passed traditional thatch-roofed seaside villages. This fog was still very much present when we got off the bus. Amazingly, by a stroke of luck as if instigated by some almighty force, the fog dissipated and the snaking cliffs came into full view as we approached the cliffs' edge. Wonderful. Then, to add to the mystery or luck as it were, it all rolled back in again as we jumped back on the bus.
That evening I decided that, although we had thoroughly enjoyed the tour, the way in which we were sold the tickets needed to be called into question. I had a few words to the guy on the desk at the tour office, he agreed it was poor form and took my number for the manager... But never called... What a surprise.
We had a bit of a wander around town later on and bumped into a fellow, you know the type: a nomad, living in a caravan run on vegetable oil, handing out booklets outlining the problems with the world and the ways in which we can change, heading to Africa next year to do humanitarian work with underpriveliged Kenyans... A really nice guy, we chatted for about an hour, and Christina managed to take some inspiration for a similar African trip.
The following day we were feeling amazingly lazy and our time was thus spent indoors watching movies, including a bit of the timeless comedy known as Father Ted, which is set on a fictitious Aran Island of the west coast here.
The other tour we participated in was to the north-west of Galway (the first being to the south-west). My expectation of this tour to an area called the Connemara was that we would be visiting one of the only few remaining entirely Gaelic-speaking regions, or Gaeltachts, of Ireland. Well technically we did visit it when our driver (this time a very awkward O'Neachtain driver) dropped us off at the only English-speaking markets in the area for half and hour while he drove back to the depot to pick up a smaller bus. We then proceeded to drive straight through without any other stops until we reached the first English-speaking town outside of the region. I would have been happy if he'd even just stopped so we could see street signs in pure Gaelic (without English as can be observed in the rest of the country), but we weren't so lucky. From what I saw from the comfort of the bus it looked like a nice area although the weather was certainly against us with the rain almost not ceasing for the entire day.
Dara took us out for another Guinness session that evening and we said our goodbyes early the next afternoon.


Christina and I in front of an early Abbey

Poulnabrone Tomb

good Samaritans - the Cliffs of Moher

you always get the best view from the edge


apparently Michael Jackson has put in a bid for this round tower castle - only about a cool €40m or so...

traditional thatch-roofed houses in the Connemara - to re-thatch costs about €40,000

boglands of the Connemara

a bit of craic with Dara

Tuesday, 16 December 2008


The morning before I left Glendalough was cold. Not unlike any other morning of the past 6 weeks. But this time it held a different feeling. As I awoke at 7:30am following a night out in Lynhams, I looked outside at the darkness (at this time of year the sun isn't showing itself until around 8:30) and decided to go for a run. I had done this only a couple of times previously in similarly cold conditions. As I turned right out of the hostels driveway, the frosted whiteness of the entire landscape hit me. It was absolutely stunning. So serene. I turned into the ancient cemetery and the beauty continued. A solitary man capturing the view down the valley with his camera looked up and smiled at me. Winter had now officially begun.
Christina and I left early the next morning, again well before sunrise, for the bus to Dublin. It wasn't until we hit traffic that I realised I pretty much hadn't seen civilisation for the past month and a half. I was excited at the prospect of being once again part of city life. We had plans for moving on from Dublin later in the day but we decided to spend a few hours walking around. We visited Malin at Shining and spent a couple of hours wandering with her. Then it was onto another bus, this time for a duration of about 4.5 hours to Galway. I had heard from many people that Galway was a fantastic city and well worth visiting - so much more so than Dublin. I'm happy to report that it certainly lived upto the reviews.
Couchsurfing was the way forward again and we found ourselves staying with the fantastic Kiwi hostess, Niki, and her highly amusing Irish housemate, Dara. By the time we had sorted our stuff out it was past 2200hr and we were quite exhausted from the long day behind us. We had plans to see a few of the surrounding areas of Galway but felt that our first day in the city should be spent in the city. By admission of even the locals, the city itself does not hold too many "sights" to keep tourists busy. It is a lovely place but the main drawing card is the craic. There are more pubs per capita than many other places in Ireland and that is very evident with even the backstreets holding at least some sort of drinking establishment overflowing with Guinness. The local music scene is probably second to none, seeing as the city is at the heart of the county that can claim proudly the birthplace of traditional Irish music. A quarter of the city's 70,000-odd residents are students, adding to its vivaciousness.
That first day Christina and I checked out the local cemetery. Yes I know it seems like I have a weird obsession with cemeteries, but I'm finding them quite interesting here in Ireland. Ireland is the first place where the Christian cross and the Pagan circle representing the continuity of life and the sun are known to have been meshed together. This well-known trans-Religious symbol is now the most common form of headstone used in cemeteries, and the cemetery we were in was no different. Apart from the occasional more subtle memorial, the entire estate appears as a sea of these grey stone monuments to the eternally resting.
Following this we meandered through the main shopping area within city before venturing along a coastal path, passing some remnants of the city's early trading days with Spain, to a few sandy yet cold beaches where we were able to watch the sun as it neared the horizon signalling the early end of daylight for yet another day. As most people know, with the death of daylight comes another seemingly more vibrant life. Nightlife. That night Dara and his mate Alan took us to a few pubs and clubs about the place and we had a great time yelling at an ageing Santa to "show us your sack!" in one pub followed by dancing up a storm in the club Karma.


it's Christmas time in the city...

over the harbour

a typical Irish cemetery

neat buildings

Saturday, 6 December 2008

living in the middle of nowhere

The first weekend brought the first of many large young groups to the hostel. I would like to take this opportunity to say that I now officially hate groups of kids! Now, before you start to think I'm a complete bastard, let me put this into perspective for you. I live in a small double bedroom, Room 18, in the centre of the second floor. Groups of kids always book out the entire second floor (apart from my room, that is) and generally don't go to sleep before say 3 or 4 o'clock in the morning. Sounds harmless but when they are running up and down the corridors, screaming, banging on doors - including mine on that first weekend, waking me up at 4:30am with someone shouting, "Trick or treat!" - it can get a bit beyond the pale sometimes. In fact at that point I got up ready to yell at whoever was outside. It was a girl, maybe 17 years old and drunk off her nut. She said that she needed sleep and I could see that she wouldn't be able to get any in her room so I offered my spare bed simply so she would stop running around. Big mistake. Not only did she confuse me for someone she knew and try quite drunkenly to seduce me - not the best thing to be doing with someone who's just been woken up at 4am - she also peed the bed and while I was out of the room in the morning, decided to cover it up by doing a bit of "cleaning", including flipping over the mattress so I wouldn't know. And when I questioned her about it, she said she had "no idea why the blanket was hanging out the window." I left it at that. I think she was a little embarrassed by this string of events, though, and ended up leaving the group early and going home. I found this out at their very well-planned Halloween party that evening at the Glendalough Hotel. Some awesome costumes, including a few smurfs and the entire Tellytubby crew. After the party everyone crowded into one of the hostel rooms and were singing traditional Irish songs at the top of their voices until at least 5am. That, I was glad to be a part of.
After the weekend, we said goodbye to Jamie as she ventured off hitchhiking around Ireland and then onto the south of Spain. And then it was just Ryan, a 22 year old Chicagoan, and I. We had a good bit of craic along with fellow workers Maria, a cute little German lass, and Elena, the voice of reason from Spain. After the roughly 2 to 3 hours of housekeeping daily, Ryan spent a fair bit of his time writing his book, and I spent a fair bit of my time proof reading it.
As for me, it didn't take long to realise that apart from a bit of walking and drinking at the pub (which I very rarely do), there is not much to keep one busy out here at Glendalough. I asked about work at the two local pubs and the organic store, but with no luck. So soon I had picked up my guitar, and I pretty much haven't put it down for the past 6 weeks. If there was any possibility of a feeling of time wasted by staying in the one sleepy town and not earning any money, it has been well and truly quashed by the fact that I've made my first substantial progress on the guitar front - having learned about 8 or so songs and written two more - and for the first time I actually feel confident playing and singing them at the same time, something I've longed for since I started singing many years ago. My fingers are actually aching from playing so much, but again I'm not complaining.
A couple more weeks passed and Ryan's plans of staying for at least a few more months changed when his girlfriend was unable to organise a visa in time to come over, so he made the decision to instead return home for a month to see her. We had some drinks for his penultimate night and it would be an understatement to say that we both felt a little hungover that next day. Soon he too had left and then it was just me.
There have a been a few lovely travellers that I have had the privilege of meeting over the time, from Dutch to French, Israeli, German, Spanish, Irish, and of course Australian. The most recent of which being 18 year old Christina from California. She left Glendalough on Monday to begin her travels around Ireland. And I left with her.


Me as a Tellytubby, Ryan as a person at the Halloween party

the colours were amazing near the start of my time in Glendalough - by the time I left, this same scene was bare

a lovely little bridge

my mate George

this is pretty much the entire town of Glendalough

the only surviving entry archways to a monastery in the country

the Cathedral of St Peter and St Paul

from St Saviour's church to the valley

Gleann dá loch

Glendalough (Gaelic: Gleann dá loch, Pronunciation: Glen-da-lock, Translation: Valley of the Two Lakes) is pretty well described by its name. It's a tiny village sporadically settled about the eastern and northern shores of two bodies of water, known as the Lower and Upper Lakes, nestled in a quiet valley within the rugged and windswept Wicklow Mountains approximately 54km south of Dublin. It was founded in the 6th century by the monk St. Kevin after he retreated into a small cave above the Upper Lake in order to achieve solitude. His solitude was short-lived, however, and it wasn't long before others had joined him and a number of churches were constructed. From that point it flourished as a monastic centre for eight centuries until it was pillaged by English soldiers in 1398, leaving behind the ruins that remain today. Bloody English!
Malin and I met my new housemates, fellow freebies Ryan and Jamie, that first evening and the following day, after a walk around the lakes, the guys took us for a hike over one of the hills for some fantastic views of the lakes, waterfalls and valley below. Not to mention the nearby monastic ruins and cemetery. All quite spectacular really. What I've discovered is that the place is serene and beautiful irrespective of the weather: sun, rain, hail, wind or snow.. That's right... Snow!
On my second day, after Malin had returned to Dublin for work, as I began my first day of housekeeping, it started to snow. For hours it snowed. The sheep in the field adjacent to the hostel grazed in it and the mountaintops were capped white. Everything became white. It was such a shock to see this in late October but I was not complaining. In fact I was thrilled - it was the first snow I had seen in a few years - and although I was wearing my flip-flops I couldn't resist heading outside for a closer look.
Ryan, Jamie and I went for a couple of great hikes in that first week and even took advantage of the remaining high-altitude snow with a snowball fight on the top of Camaderry mountain, on the northern side of the Upper Lake. Deer and goats are bountiful on these mountains and the high-pitched shriek, uncomfortably reminiscient of a small child screaming, used in communication and especially as a warning by the deer can be heard all around the area.

As if somehow prompted by the snowfall, I was able to watch the somewhat gloomy transition from autumn to winter as the foliage of vibrant reds and yellows slowly succumbed to gravity and a number of trees became bare skeletons of their former selves. This is not to say that the landscape has now become desolate or unattractive, in fact the opposite has occurred. With many trees still retaining their greenery and the remaining having turned an eerie shade of purple, not to mention their newly exposed intricacy as having complicated and twisted branch structures and as the home for many mosses and lichens, it feels as though winter has brought a new face to the environment. One prepared for the colder months.
Although the snow melted away from the mountain not long after our snowfight in that first week, I don't think I would go so far as to say that there has been a day of consistent warmness since. Oddly, I have experienced a number of mornings where the sun beaming down will prove to be warmer than the same that afternoon - although the hostel has internet, it's a little expensive and it's not wireless, so Ryan and I would generally make the trek with our laptops to the pub in the next town over, Lynhams of Laragh, to scrounge their wireless from the cold sidewalk - yes, we are cheaps bastards... On these days, it would not be until we were finishing up or walking back to the hostel that my fingers would start to sting from the cold and I would sometimes find it difficult to speak without shaking. Good times. More recently, the temperature has started dropping below zero during the day causing ice to remain on the grass and puddles to freeze over almost permanently. The white caps on the mountains have also returned.


the cemetery with its 10th century round tower - that's the doorway a few metres from the ground on the left-side of the tower

Upper Lake
the view down the valley from Derrybawn mountain



many an evening was spent playing games - I suck at Monopoly but am undoubtedly the Jenga master!

another view of the valley

deer on the mountains

after the fall

it was damn cold up there.. but so good

the long trek to Glendalough

I met Malin, a Swedish girl who worked at the hostel, on this evening out and we got to talking. I found out that she had not been outside of Dublin city for about 3 months and as such was itching to do something. I mentioned the possibility of Glendalough and the plan was formulated for the next day. I had to be her wake up call at 9:30am ready for the 10 o'clock bus but after getting misdirected - by a couple of policemen, mind you - and subsequently lost we must've just missed it by a few minutes. There wasn't another bus until 6pm. What to do, what to do...
Malin had the idea to jump on the DART (rail system) and see a place called Howth on the coast. Sounded easy enough but somehow we again got lost trying to take backstreets and ended up walking aimlessly around the city for a couple of hours with all of my gear, coming across a city marathon before eventually finding the train station.

We only had a couple of hours in Howth but it seemed like it was a lovely relaxing beachside town. I imagined the streets full of holidaying families and the green parks converted into a temporary fairground over the summer months, kids licking icecreams from a takeaway while the parents looked through the window of the local arts and crafts store. Unfortunately this was not our experience. It was cold and it was windy. We rugged up with about 30 layers each and found some backstreets to explore, one of which gave us a nice view over the town's cemetery with its centuries-old collapsed-roof stone church and the ocean in the background. After a bite of lunch at the local pub we had a bit more of a wander, with just enough time to discover another old church hiding away from the town centre before we had to return to Dublin.
Well, we weren't going to miss this damn bus again so we walked straight to the bus stop on the other side of the city (we got off the train a few stops too early we realised) and the bus was waiting. We paid our €20 each (!) for the return trip and were on our way. I think we were both pretty stuffed after our long day of walking with all the extra baggage and we both fell asleep on the bus only to be woken up to the bus driver saying, "Wakey wakey, sorry to disturb your slumber but we have arrived." By this point it was around 7:30pm and it was pitch black outside. The driver pointed us down a dark road, untouched by the glow of street lamps or even moonlight, and shrouded in trees. We followed a small trail of others who had similarly been pointed in that direction thinking that they would know the way better than us - why, I do not know.. They didn't let us down though and we soon found ourselves looking at a homely looking yellow building in the middle of nowhere.
In the reception, out the corner of my eye I spotted an A4 printed sheet pointing out that I could have my accommodation and breakfast for free (including the tastiest muesli you've ever laid your tongue on) in exchange for a bit of work. I had no plans over the next week, apart from the fading possibility of getting work on a farm near Belfast, and so I thought 'why not.' And thus my time in Glendalough began.


a church

Malin and I in a traditional Irish pub

another church

and it begins...

Baile Átha Cliath

I was welcomed to Ireland with open arms. They were my arms, waving in astonishment at the line of us still waiting for the bus to pick us up from the ferry terminal over an hour after we docked. It was about 7:30pm by the time the double decker bus decided to show up and in this time I had befriended a fellow Aussie traveller in the hope that there might be a vacancy at the hostel he was staying at. It was a Saturday night and I had once again neglected to book accommodation.
My first taste of Irishness actually came on the bus when I noticed tiny green confetti shamrocks scattered across the second level floor. Confetti is not something I would normally pay much attention to, but I thought the style of confetti in this case seemed quite fitting. We walked to the Aussie's hostel and within seconds we had discovered that I still had nowhere to sleep for that night. Good old helped me out after putting a coin into the automated internet machine in the Busáras terminal, and it was not long before I was unknowingly walking through the city's party heart, Temple Bar, on my way to my new temporary bed. That evening I did not feel like partying though, in fact doing anything apart from sleeping after my 14-or-so hour excursion sounded quite adverse. So that's exactly what I did. Slept.
The next morning I had to again look for a place to stay as the hostel was full for that evening, so I asked an older gent who was staying in the bed next to mine. He made a few suggestions and then let me know that there really was not much to do around the city apart from drinking and visiting the Guinness storehouse. This same guy managed to unintentionally change the course of my travels for the next six weeks by casually mentioning a place that he had heard was supposed to be quite nice: a little village south of Dublin known as Glendalough. The seed had been planted and as I walked around reciting the name in my head so I would not forget it (I'm not exactly known for my great memory capacity) it didn't take long to find a new hostel, the Shining Hostel, this one a little cheaper than the previous.
The weather was strange that day. It was never warm, but it shifted a number of times between sunny clear skies, bucketing down and windy. The last two usually occurring simultaneously. Actually, what am I saying? That kind of weather is pretty much the norm out in these parts. And by "these parts," I mean the entire British Isles. Dublin is known in Irish Gaelic as Baile Átha Cliath, or just Átha Cliath (it sounds a little like a cross between or and the 'o' in stop, followed by clee-a), which refers to a fortress from back when Ireland was a bastion in medieval times. It was perhaps not too startling to find out that the city was built on and divided in two by the River Liffey. The major shopping focus is on the north side of the river with the wide O'Connell Street and pedestrianised Henry Street providing much spending opportunity and many a busking location. And there were quite a few great buskers about, including a fantastic guitarist/singer and his overexcited dog and a very talented puppeteer. O'Connell Street is also home to the city's famous landmark, the 120 metre tall Monument of Light, or 'The Spire', which is actually meant to be a massive knitting needle in dedication to the most unexpected export, the Aran sweater. Odd.
While on my way to the supermarket that afternoon, in a shopping centre on Henry Street, I came across an Israeli guy manning a small nuts stall who tried convincing me to work illegally with him selling nuts for commission. What a job. I could have even made a few euro extra by working in the beauty stall across the way straightening people's hair. Hmmm. Thanks but no thanks. He did however give me a discount on nuts and offer to practically give me a lifetime supply if he could keep my hat.
That afternoon I spent in the hostel speaking with a guy that took a little bit too much of an interest in me, if you know what I mean. Somehow we ended up eating icecream covered in banana, jam and nutella with a Swedish girl while sitting on the floor of the hostel's bathroom. Not too sure how that came about. But in the evening a big group of us (mainly Swedish) headed out to Temple Bar - which is actually an entertainment quarter as opposed to just one bar - for some Guinnesses (I guess that's the correct plural of Guinness? Not Guinnii?).


Grafton St by night

some Irish guy

there is a large homeless presence around Dublin

The Spire and an example of the English/Gaelic street signs that can be seen all around the country