Galway for a rest

I’ve been invited to spend “as long as you like here” in Galway. That’s a dangerous offer. It’s fantastic here. I don’t want to take advantage of others’ good nature, but I’d be a fool to rush away too quickly. So, I’ve decided to stay through Thursday, and head out Friday morning for Sligo & Donegal.

Yesterday we spent the day exploring Galway’s historic centre. We stopped in a pub for a whiskey, and another place for pot pie. We visited Galway Cathedral, and walked along beach at Salthill. It was a fantastic afternoon.

The Corribh flows through The centre of Galway

After a nap & dinner, we went back into town with Davey & Lin, and stopped for a pint of bitter (and clean the birdshit off of Davey’s new hat from Canada). Davey & Lin got ice cream. It was a lovely evening, even if there weren’t the buskers David had hoped for.

Today I’m taking the bike down to The Burren and the Cliffs pod Moher, and may stop by Yeats’s tower on my way back.

Finding Zen in Galway

I’ve woken in a little corner of paradise on the edge of Galway. David & Lin have a fantastic place, surrounded by a barely tamed garden filled rhubarb, grape vines, roses, oak trees and hawthorns, and much more. The tension between wildness and order is palpable and beautiful.

I rode here yesterday from Ardfert, after taking a detour down through Dingle. There was a light fog in the hills, not enough to impair vision, but enough to put a chill in the air. By the time I reached Dingle, though, it had burned off, and I had good weather the rest of the day.

Dingle is postcard pretty and filled with your buses. I expect it is the perfect image simultaneously of Ireland as it once was and never has been.

I talked to a fellow from Dallas who commented that the riding gear looked overly warm. I said I’d rather sweat than bleed, and he asked where I was from. He said he’d grown up in Seattle, and although he lives in Texas he runs a motorcycle touring company out of Fresno that focuses on camping in the Sierras. He was waiting for a whale watching tour. When he heard I was going to Galway he suggested I tour the Arran Islands, and told me which tour he thought was best. Also, to visit a castle I forget the name of, which he said is “better than Blarney.” I thanked him for the advice & wished him a good time on the boat.

The road up to Galway was mostly dual carriageway (two lanes in each direction) or motorway (like an interstate). The surrounding countryside was beautiful, in a typical Irish way. It was a long but pleasant ride until the GPS started misnaming roads, which resulted in a couple of detours.

When I arrived here, after filtering through the afternoon rush in Galway, David greeted me like an old friend. It’s great to finally meet him, after hearing so much about him from Adele over the years.

We had dinner and walked around the garden, sat outside and drank cider and talked. His son Davey came out and joined us. He’s a great kid. Full of energy & curiosity, and very smart. (He speaks English, Chinese & Irish. I wonder how many people can say that. Not many, I think.)

We came back into the house, and I borrowed the use of their washer, and David and I sat and talked while Lin played the guzheng, and Davey showed how he catches spiders.

Today we’ll head into town for a while. It’ll be nice to have a day off from the road.

Follow me down to Carlow

Now, breakfast…. Breakfast is not a simple thing to find on a bank holiday Monday morning in Dublin. At least, it wasn’t for me.

I walked from the guesthouse I was staying at in Ringsend to Charlotte’s Quay – only about a 10 minute walk, for those of you who don’t want to Google Map it to find out – where there are a number of places that supposedly specialize in breakfasts. Or at least have coffee and baked goods. On a normal day. But today apparently wasn’t normal, so I ended up waiting for the Spar to open so I could get, at the very least, coffee and some fruit.

Even Spar was late opening its doors today, but I got a coffee to tide me over until someplace more promising opened their doors. None did, or at least, not in a period of time I was willing to wait around for, so I ended up going back in to buy a breakfast sandwich and some bottled water and an apple. It wasn’t great, but it wasn’t bad, either.

Before I reached that point, though, a Jack Russell terrier came to me to get some petting, his owner’s pleas to behave himself falling on selectively deaf ears. I don’t remember the dog’s name, and I won’t try to spell his owner’s name, since it’s Irish, and Irish names are never spelled how they sound. Or vice versa. Depending on whether you’re an optimist or a pessimist. We chatted for a few minutes, mostly about the demanding nature of animals, especially cats (she has one, too, but didn’t have it with her). Then she was off to the bank, and I went to the Spar for my breakfast bun, which I took back to the hotel.

Breakfast done, I packed up the bike and headed south. I’d found the settings for the GPS to keep it from naturally shifting me onto motorways, and the result was a route I couldn’t plot on a map to save my life. So many turns, entrances and exits, roundabouts. So many country roads that turned into single track lanes sprouting grass through the paving, overhung with tree branches or hemmed in by hedgerows. Ireland has some of the best motorcycling roads I’ve ever encountered, and I’m beginning to regret not having a GoPro, since nothing I write can convey the experience accurately. Mind you, when I factor in the hours of video editing I won’t have to do, that regret diminishes greatly.

Irish motorists have clearly (and with good reason) decided that their traffic engineers are not to be trusted. When the posted speed limit on a single track country lane is 80 kmh, you know someone was just pulling numbers out of a hat. Fortunately, no one even tries to come close to achieving that limit, though. That, however, may have as much to do with another trait common among Irish motorists: namely, they routinely drive well under posted speed limits. Not all of them, mind you. I’ve had a number of BMWs and Porsches blow past me like I was parked while riding at the 120 kmh speed limit on the M roads. But then, I’ve done the same to the vast numbers of Toyotas, Skodas and VWs that insist on going 90 on those same roads.

Anyway, today featured especially good riding. And today was all about the riding. About 7 hours of it in total. From Dublin down to Carlow, then on Ardfert, where I’m staying for the night.

Carlow because of the old folk song, which I first heard from James Keelaghan (although he wasn’t the first or last to record it), “Follow Me Up to Carlow”:

Curse and swear, Lord Kildare.
Fiach will do what Fiach will dare.
Now Fitwilliam have a care,
Fallen is your star low.
Up with halberd, out with sword!
On we’ll go, for by the Lord!
Fiach MacHugh has given the word,
“Follow me up to Carlow!”

Well, I didn’t have pitched battles with English collaborators, but I did stop for lunch.

The strange collection of roads between Carlow and Ardfert was, if anything, even more impressive that those in the morning. This really is an amazing place to ride a motorbike.

The Tiger has handled everything the GPS has thrown at it (and me) almost effortlessly. I have very few complaints about the bike at all, but I’m going to share them with you anyway, in descending order of seriousness:

  1. There are too many buttons and toggles and switches, especially on the left side. Every time I go to signal, I end up changing the information display. If I try to engage the cruise control, I end up turning the high beams on. Seriously, Triumph, simplify this stuff.
  2. I’d like another inch or two between the seat and the foot pegs. I already have the bike on its tallest setting.
  3. The stock seat is as good as any I’ve encountered, but I’d have to replace it if I bought a Tiger. I’ve been spoiled by my Russell Day-Long Saddle. I can’t get by with a stock seat anymore.
  4. The Triumph luggage is good but not great. If I bought one, I’d have to get it fit with aftermarket panniers.

Other than that, I really don’t have any complaints about the bike. It’s got a fair amount of torque. It’s zippy as hell. It tips nicely into corners, and feels incredibly well balanced.

Anyway, enough about the bike. For now.

After a four hour tour of the Irish countryside, teeming with cattle and sheep, filled with mansions with palm trees in their yards (that made me laugh), and rundown stone farmhouses on the verge of becoming ruins, I arrived in Ardfert, a pretty little village a stone’s throw from the larger town of Tralee. It has both more pubs and more churches than you would think a small place like this should have. (Mind you, so did Dublin.) The place I ate dinner, Katie Browne’s, was excellent. If you’re ever down this way, I highly recommend it. Most of the customers seemed to know each other, and the staff, quite well.

The plan for tomorrow is to ride down around Dingle, and then up to Galway. I’m looking forward to meeting up with Adele’s old university friend David, and his family. I’m looking forward to seeing more of this beautiful country.

Dirty Old Town

Yesterday was much better.

For one thing, I got enough sleep that I felt well rested, even though I woke in the night shivering from cold and had to pull all the blankets around me. The same room had felt like a sauna earlier, but had cooled to a reasonable temperature by the time I went to bed. Then it kept cooling while I slept, on top of the blankets as I usually don’t need them. This time I did.

I went down for breakfast. It included a ridiculous amount of white toast (dry, butter on the side, in the usual British fashion), one fried egg, some Heinz beans, a sausage, one rasher, two patties of compressed potato, floured and fried, and two slabs of soda bread, orange juice and coffee. I did what I could, but that’s more carbs than anyone should eat for breakfast.

The talk among the other guests, mostly older, was about “parades”. It’s marching season in the North. I didn’t participate in that conversation, but said good morning, agreed it was looking to be another warm day, and read the news from home on my phone. Mostly just the latest outrage by or from or about the Cheeto-coloured moron who is running America into the ground, and trying to take the rest of us with him. I tired of that pretty quickly, too.

After that, I loaded up the bike, paid the hotel bill, and set off for Dublin.

Thankfully, I’d figured out the settings a bit better on the GPS, and finding my way out of Lisburn was less problematic than finding my way around it had been the previous day. Soon I was on the A1 pointing south. I rode past places I’d been the previous day when I’d got turned around and took the wrong exit from a roundabout. Passed the point where I’d seen a car with its front end completely engulfed in flames, the driver standing about 50 or so yards away, looking completely unimpressed.

After an hour or so, I saw a sign for an observation point, and another for a “natural wonder”, and I pulled off the highway to investigate. I mistakenly assumed the “outlook” would look out at the natural wonder, for which I never did see another sign, but it did not. When I reached it, I wondered why they’d put up a sign. Mainly it looked at the farmland below, bisected as it was by the highway I’d exited from. It was a pretty enough view, but not really worth the trouble of reaching it.

The route to get to the observation point, however, was worth every minute. It was a twisting, turning, route through narrow country lanes, often no more than one vehicle wide, rutted with potholes, and with grass growing through the asphalt in places. The Tiger ate it up, it’s three cylinder engine whirring happily through it all. It really is an excellent bike.

The GPS said to continue in the same direction to get back to the highway, so that’s what I did. For the next half hour or so, the Tiger and I wound our way through rural lanes, past cows grazing, dogs barking, a horse shying away to the roadside as I moved past as quietly as a motorcycle can, joggers, walkers, a ruined castle, a “chapel” that would have been a cathedral in Canada, a shrine for a saint. Eventually, I came out into a town and noticed the speed limit was posted in kilometres. I’d crossed the border and not even known it. I don’t think the “hard Brexiters” understand the complexity of the problem the Irish border is going to be for them. For that matter, I expect only the Irish really appreciate it, and those in the North voted against Brexit, while those in the Republic had no say.

The town became a small city, with a polytechnic university, and a technology park, and whatnot. I followed the GPS’s lead through it, and it eventually deposited me on the M1. I’d initially planned to avoid M roads, but after an hour or so of rural lanes, I was fine with it. So was the Tiger, which was more than happy with a 120 speed limit. Even with stopping to pay the one euro toll at the toll booth, I was still in Dublin about an hour after getting on the M1.

My first impression of Dublin is that is cleaner and more modernized than songs and movies would have you believe. The city is busy, buzzing, and very cosmopolitan. Old and new architecture blend together without making either look out of place. History is on display everywhere, in place names and monuments, but without seeming pushy or exclusive in its intent. Most blocks seem to have at least one pub, sometimes several.

When I pulled up to my accommodation in Ringsend, which has a pub on the main floor, I thought I’d made a horrible blunder. It looked a bit run down, there was once again no desk to check in at, and this time no indication of where to check in. I asked in the pub, and they directed me to the off-license attached to them.

In fact, once I managed to check in (and pay for the room in advance), it turned out be just fine. Plain, not very large, but bigger than the previous night’s B&B, and with a much nicer bathroom (although the shower is still slightly smaller than a phone booth). Cheaper than the previous place, too, although there’s no breakfast here. I’ll have to see what’s open in this area on a bank holiday Monday morning when I’m done this post.

After I’d showered and changed, I set off to look for a 3 Mobile shop to get a SIM card. I had looked on Google Maps while connected to the hotel Wifi, and saw there was one on Grafton Street, near the statue of Phil Lynott, the founder of Thin Lizzy, and possibly Ireland’s first real rock star. It was only about a half hour to walk there, so I did, and found the place fairly easily.

After inserting the SIM card, I found the statue, and then set off to look for a quiet place for lunch. That’s more easily said than done. Nearly every pub near Grafton street was overflowing with people. I wandered through the side streets, and came out near the Temple Bar area, where I found a relatively sleepy bar in the Bloom Hotel. I ordered a pot of mussels and a pint of O’Hara’s Irish Pale Ale. It was fantastic. At least a pound of mussels in wine and butter, and soda bread on the side. The O’Hara’s tasted very much like a second one, and left the pub feeling happy, which is how one should always leave a pub.

I wandered down the quayside, past some tall ships in town for a regatta, and waited for my good friend Scott to ping me. He had arrived in Dublin that morning, and wisely chose to have a short nap before venturing out for dinner. We eventually met up near the O’Connell monument, and went to fetch him a SIM card from 3 as well. (Canadian cell phone companies could learn from those here. For 20 euros I get ‘all you can eat’ – i.e., unlimited – data in Ireland and 6GB in the UK. At home I pay $80/month for 8GB that I share with my wife.)

The Grafton Street pubs were still buzzing, and if anything were even busier at six than they had been at two, so we went back to the VAT Lounge at the Bloom Hotel. Busy places are hard on people, like Scott, who wear hearing aids. We had Guinness and bangers & mash, and only left when the live music began.

On the recommendation of a friend who used to live in Dublin, we went looking for Grogan’s, a literary pub, and found it on a side street near Grafton. It may well have been the busiest pub we encountered, with people spilling into the streets on all sides. Scott pointed out that was likely because it was the Sunday evening of a bank holiday weekend. I’ll try Grogan’s again when I’m back here at the end of my journey. Hopefully, it will be a little less busy on a Tuesday.

We ended up in a quieter place advertising 100 Irish whiskies. We sat at the bar and had another Guinness each, and then called it a night. I think Scott was fading, as you’d expect after a long flight. He caught a bus near the Liffey to take him back to his hotel. I walked back to mine, which was closer, but still a decent hike.

All in all, it was an excellent day. If I were planning the trip from scratch, I’d have stayed here another day or two before setting off. But I’m happy I’ll be returning in a couple of weeks’ time.

Now… Breakfast.

Now it’s real

That was a long day to start with.

I woke up a little before six on Friday morning in Vancouver, made coffee, eventually got Adele up for work, had breakfast. Made some final packing decisions, and then waited for our good friend Valerie to fetch me to the airport, ridiculously early, so I could wait some more. Actually, it wasn’t so bad. I had enough time to eat lunch before boarding, browse a little in the shops (a whole lot of overpriced crap, mostly), and listen to some music. They started boarding nearly an hour before take off.

I lucked out and got the section of three seats I was sitting in to myself. Actually, I inadvertently sat in the wrong seat, but it worked out for everyone, the plane being only about half full. Because, really, who in their right mind flies Air Canada if they don’t have to? When I booked the flight, I had planned to ship my bike. You get a better rate from AC if you fly yourself with them, as well as your bike. It would have been worth it. But since then, I decided to rent a bike in Ireland. I wish I’d made that decision sooner.

Having three seats to myself was a good thing. I could stretch out by contorting myself just a little, and was even able to lie across them, curled up like a cooked shrimp, and doze in brief, restless fits and starts between the episodic “fasten your seatbelt for turbulence” announcements. Sadly, the entertainment options were desperately limited, and the film I downloaded from Netflix for offline use wouldn’t play.

The flight left on time at 3:20 p.m., local time. They served “dinner” at about 5 p.m. – microwaved chicken in a bland tomato sauce with watery cooked quinoa, a still-frozen roll, hard butter pat included to test the mettle of the plastic knife, some kind of unappetizing salad thing, which I didn’t bother to taste, and a brownie, which it would be nearly impossible to ruin. I ate as much as I could, and wondered why they served food on flights that made you wish you were in the hospital instead. A few hours later they came and asked if we’d like something to drink, and then a couple hours after that, while I was dozing, they left a yogurt, but no spoon. Just before landing they came to pick up garbage, which in my case included the unopened yogurt.

We landed in Dublin around 8 a.m., local time, and I was deplaned, through customs, and bags in hand before 9. There was a shop in the airport that sold SIM cards, but they didn’t have the one I was looking for, so I kept the phone in airplane mode to avoid roaming fees, and set off to find a bus to Lisburn. This apparently doesn’t exist, and I ended up on a bus to Belfast, which stopped at a place where I could get another bus to Lisburn. (It also, incidentally, stopped about 3 miles from Lisburn, but I didn’t know it at the time.)

I gave up on avoiding roaming fees so I could find the bike rental shop using Google Maps. I don’t think I’ll regret the $10, even though Google placed me one street over from where I needed to be. (Something to do with the postal code, apparently.)

I got to Phillip McCallen Motorcycles, in an industrial park on the edge of Lisburn, around 1 p.m. I still hadn’t eaten anything since the crappy dinner on the plane. I figured, I’d get things sorted at the bike shop, then go find something to eat & maybe pick up a SIM card.

The bike was ready to go when I arrived. A beautiful, new (less than 1200 miles on it) Triumph Tiger 800. (I’ll post pictures later. I was too tired to even think about taking any yesterday.) The luggage and gear were in the back of the shop. After paperwork and payment were sorted, I took my things to the back and started the process of fitting my stuff into the cases. This took a fair bit of time, because no matter how lightly you think you’ve packed, motorcycle cases have strict limits and odd dimensions, and you may find it difficult to fit everything as-is. I did end up leaving my duffle bag at the shop, but pretty much everything else was able to be squeezed into place.

They gave me a quick run-through of the bike’s features, and a brief demo of the GPS, and suggested I might want to take a few spins around the block to get used to the bike. Once I was all geared up, and the bike loaded, I headed off to a shop they told me would have SIM Cards. They did, but still not what I was looking for, and more expensive than the ones in the Dublin airport. I decided I’d wait another day and pick up the SIM card in Dublin instead.

By this time – it was about 3 p.m., and I’d been up for most of the past 25 hours – I decided the best thing would be to check into my hotel, shower, go get something to eat, and then pass out for a while. Easier said that done.

Although we’d programmed the hotel into the GPS at the bike shop, the device was set to just kind of point to where you want to be, rather than providing a route to follow. This was a pain in the ass, since I never really knew when to turn, or in which direction. I eventually made it here, without straying onto the wrong side of the road more than once, and without getting killed in a roundabout.

By the time I unloaded the bike and hauled everything up to my room, I was a tired, sweaty mess. I showered, dried myself off with the sandpaper-like towels (have they never heard of fabric softener?), got dressed and walked the just-under-a-mile to the “second oldest pub in Norther Ireland”. The Speckled Hen – “voted Best Pub 2017” – was a fairly nondescript place, with decent food, better beer, and lousy service, accompanied by hard Ulster accents, which bear little resemblance to those heard in the Republic. After eating my fish & chips and drinking one Irish Pale Ale (just tasted like IPA to me), I nearly fell asleep at the table waiting for the bill.

I came back to the hotel and passed out for a few hours. Then stayed up a few more. Then went back to sleep to get myself on a local footing re time. Now, here I am. It’s quarter past seven. I’m waiting for the dining room to open for breakfast (a one hour window, from 8 to 9), and I’ll be on my way back down to Dublin after that. I’ve familiarized myself better with the GPS, and I think I have the route to my hotel ready to go. But if not, hey, there’s a reason it’s called an adventure.