August 27, 2013. Venice, CA – Galway and Dublin couldn’t match the beauty of the Wild Atlantic Way, but they offered their own, often hidden delights.
From Connemara it’s a relatively short drive, about an hour and a half, to Galway. Galway was as quaint and full of tourists as I expected. The pedestrian promenade is lined with classic buildings and lively pubs, many featuring traditional Irish music throughout the day.
We wandered up and down the pedestrian shopping street, through Erie Square and along the narrow streets in the downtown area, but the best walk was across the river along the canal. Although we were only a couple of hundred yards from the most popular sites in Galway, the upscale neighborhood of Georgian townhomes was quiet and almost completely devoid of tourists.
From there we walked even further, along the seaside promenade to the suburb of Salthill looking for oysters. What we found instead was the best beer in Ireland.
The sign above the door, “Gastropub,” was like a hallucination seen by a man dying of thirst. With the unlikely name of “Oslo” – I’ve been to Oslo and the insipid, overpriced beer is nothing to emulate – it’s one of a series of pubs in Galway and Dublin owned by the Galway Bay Brewery. They feature their own brews plus a selection of craft imports from Belgium, Germany and especially the United States. Maybe its because I was desperate for a good beer, but I think their Voyager IPA, with a robust ABV of 6%, would stand up well against the best of the West Coast (US) IPAs I drink at home. In general, I found that the variety and quality of the draft beers in Galway were the best of the trip by far.
So, here I am in one of the most charming cities in the world and I’m going on and on about a pint of beer. What the hell, you can get all of the other stuff from the Lonely Planet Guide and Rick Steves! Good beer, good food and weird jazz – that’s what you can expect from me.
It shouldn’t surprise you then that we also had one of our favorite meals of the trip in Galway. Ard Bia is in a small, old stone cottage on the river where it drains into Galway Bay. It looks like someone’s rustic country home with lots of old wood and antiques with about a dozen tables tucked into nooks and crannies.
OK, you get it, lots of Old World charm, but what you really want to hear about is the food. We had lobster bisque with clams and chunks of lobster, seafood stew with chorizo, hake, mussels and clams and a harrisa marinated lamb with white beans. This was a meal that cried out for a good wine, instead of beer. Besides, I wanted to leave plenty of room in my stomach for the food.
I couldn’t find any weird jazz – hell, I can barely find it in Los Angeles – but after dinner Katherine had plenty of opportunity to indulge her passion for traditional Irish music. While Katherine walked up and down the seaside promenade ducking into pubs whenever she heard music she liked, I stayed in our hotel room working on my blog and digesting dinner.
From Galway, we drove 2.5 hours to Dublin Airport on Ireland’s version of an interstate highway. After negotiating the narrow, winding roads of the Wild Atlantic Way, this was a piece of cake. I could have been driving on I-70 through Kansas.
We dropped off the car and took a bus to our hotel, The Gibson Hotel is on the outskirts of downtown Dublin on the last stop of the tram that runs through the city and one block from the River Liffey.
It was a big surprise. It looked ultra chic, ultra sleek, and ultra hip, like something from Ian Schrager. I felt like I should be skinny with tattoos to deserve staying there. In New York or Los Angeles the hotel would have been full of beautiful, young, super thin women in wispy black dresses accompanied by nerdy looking guys –- no doubt, upcoming movie moguls or developers of “massively” successful mobile apps. While we were there it was mostly filled with badly dressed German tourists.
If it seems strange to be devoting so much of my Dublin post to a hotel, I agree. But frankly I was a bit exhausted and needed to chill out for a day and try to catch up on my blog. Besides, it rained heavily one of the two days that we were there.
I didn’t hole up in my hotel room the entire time we were in Dublin. The first night we walked along the river, found another outpost of the Galway Bay Brewing Company (the Brew Dock), and went to the famed Abbey Theater to see G.B Shaw’s Major Barbara. I snuck out before the intermission (what was I thinking?) and wandered around the Temple Bar area, the center of Dublin’s nightlife, until the play ended. We then went to O’Shea’s Hotel for Irish music and dancing.
The next day was the rain day. We ate dinner at the pan Asian restaurant at the hotel (pretty good), then went to the movies next door in the just opened and largely empty mall (the very unIrish sci-fi movie, Elysium; not so good).
On our final day we did the tourist thing, walking downtown to Trinity College, Temple Bar, and St. Stephens Green. I don’t have much to add to the usual descriptions in most guidebooks and travel articles, other than to recommend walking a bit further south to Iveagh Gardens. When we arrived it was empty and peaceful, as if all the tourists had been sucked up by St. Stephens Green just to the north. For a good half hour we sat at on a bench between two trickling fountains, enjoying the tranquility and solitude.
After about a half hour of peace three teenagers with purple hair and pieces of metal attached to parts of their faces that are better left to teenage pimples showed up. Despite their potentially off-putting appearance (I’m used to it from living in Venice Beach), they were friendly and we had a brief but pleasant conversation. They told me that they were waiting for some friends to join them to do some mid afternoon drinking. As we left the park a crowd of at least 30 similarly dressed and coiffed kids wandered into the park. The park was no longer peaceful. I recommend getting there early.
That was the final day of our trip to Ireland. I hope that it is not our final trip to Ireland. We still have the northern half of the Wild Atlantic Way to do. Next time we will probably fly into Galway, spend a couple of days in Connemara and maybe visit the Aran Islands, before working our way up the west coast, across the north coast to Belfast. Until then, I’ll just have to make do with Katherine’s CDs of Irish music.