Saturday, August 30, 2008

Galway and Cliffs of Moher

And yet again, I learn that I am not meant for group tours...

I woke up this morning at 5AM to do some packing before heading to the train station for my Ireland Railtours trip. I caught a taxi at 6:30 AM, giving me plenty of time to get to Euston Train Station, just 10 minutes away, for my 7:00 AM departure. If only my taxi driver could hear. Because I don't think Euston sounds anything like Connoly. Do you? Right.

I arrive at Connoly station and as I'm about to get out of the taxi, I ask, "This is Euston station?"

"Oh, Euston station! I thought you said Connoly station. Of course, you wouldn't want Connoly station. You would want Euston station!"

I pleaded with him to drive quickly, as my train was going to depart in 20 minutes, and Euston station was about 15 minutes from where we ended up. But alas, I arrived at the station just as my train was departing. 109 Euros down the drain...

But I'm not afraid of independent traveling. Hell, I embrace independent traveling. It was only until this trip to Ireland that I considered taking a tour, mostly because the things I wanted to see were outside of Dublin and I don't *really* know my way around Ireland. So I purchased a ticket to Galway directly, hoping that once I arrived, I'd be able to catch a bus to Cliffs of Moher.

Roundtrip ticket from Dublin - Galway, 30 Euro. Lovely!

It was rainy and chilly on the train, but they served coffee and I was prepared with reading material. I read, snoozed, and took pictures out the window at the green, green, green pastures along which horses, cows, sheaps, donkeys, and goats grazed. But I wasn't all that impressed with the Irish countryside. Yet.

Once in Galway, I found some advertisements for day tours to points of interest along the coast, and sure enough, Cliffs of Moher. Roundtrip ticket on the public bus, 20 Euro. Brilliant! What a fool I was to think I needed to take a freaking tour. I had about a half hour to spare before the bus would depart, so I grabbed some more coffee and tried to wander around Galway a bit. But it was rainy and I wasn't in the mood to deal with it, so I sat at the bus stop waiting for my next departure.

The bus was nicer than I imagined it would be. I took a seat towards the front and had a perfect view of the scenery to come. The rain wore off, the sun actually came out, and the Irish countryside really was splendid. With the ocean in the not too far distant, the small houses, stone fences, and rolling green were beautiful. If only I could have gotten out a bit more to take some good pictures! But, taking snapshots through glass got me across the US back when I made the Cross Country Trek to San Francisco, so I think I'll be able to salvage a few good pictures.

I didn't get to see Limerick, River Shannon, or Bunratty Castle. The trip I ended up taking only covered part of what the tour covered, and it did so in reverse fashion. At one point, I actually saw the coach for Ireland Railtours drive by. But I did ride through the Burren and along Galway Bay prior to reaching the Cliffs of Moher. Lots of small towns with of course, many pubs, and even some bed and breakfasts that seemed to be very relaxing.

The Cliffs themselves are beautiful. Reminded me a lot of Northern California, actually. Only with more green and a little less sun. I was able to get some good pictures, and even met some Americans who were in Ireland on a golfiing trip. (Note to Dad: Golf in Ireland and bring Mom!) I was only there for an hour, because there isn't a whole lot else to do. But all in all, it was worth the 10 hour round trip. And I will keep telling myself that!

We made it back to Galway around 3PM, which gave me some time to wander around more. I found my way to Quay street, lined with pubs and shops and did a little shopping damage. I had a Guinness and some soup and chips, then headed back to the train station to come back to Dublin. Everyone says Galway is a great city for going out at night, but I unfortunately didn't have enough time for that. My flight leaves tomorrow at 6:45 AM!

So lessons learned for Nic: organized tours are not for me. Too expensive and too inflexible. I have learned from LEFS that I don't need to spend a lot of money while traveling to have a good time. And I have learned from my own experience that things never go the way you envision they will while in another country. Sooner or later (I'm hoping later because I am really tired of flying to Europe!) I'll be back in Ireland; and now that I've been here once, I have a better idea of what I want to do next time.

Over and out from Dublin... Cheers!

2008.08.30 - Galway and Cliffs of Moher

Friday, August 29, 2008

Railtour Ireland

I didn't really go into it last week because it wasn't the point of my trip to Belfast. But I got to Belfast by bus, on a bus tour. Now, Mom always takes bus tours. I don't. I hate bus tours. I hate the guide talking the whole time, I hate... being on a bus. I think it brings back memories of riding the Greyhound from Charlottesville to Durham to visit my boyfriend in college who went to Duke.

I better get back to the point before I sidetrack too much...

So, last weekend I booked a Paddywagon Tour. But when the bus came to pick us up, it ended up being overbooked. And because I was traveling by myself, I was the person who had to get kicked off the tour.

Now, I'm living in Dublin for two weeks, working 14 hour days and pretty much running myself into the ground. I want a freaking day of touristing! I almost started to cry. The travel guide tried to find other tours for me, but everything had already left the city. So he let me get on the bus - he was going to drop me off at the Paddywagon office - when I just asked if I could sit on the floor. He was a cool guy, and he let me, but it kind of sucked. Luckily, some nice men from Bass and France (note - not England, as my Irish tour guide pointed out repeatedly) gave up their seat for me, but seriously!

Sorry, Mom, I tried your preferred method of travel and it didn't work for me. I will go back to taking trains, subways, public transportation busses, and my own two feet.

Saturday, I will take a train. Railtours Ireland will carry me to the mid-western coast. "A day trip to Ireland's rugged and unique mid-western coast, through Limerick on the mighty River Shannon and on then to the imposing Bunratty Castle with its lovely folk park. The stunning Cliffs of Moher, the Burren and Galway Bay. A flavour of Galway City concludes the tour before our return to Dublin."

It should be a great day. Lets hope for some sunshine when I'm at the Cliffs!

Sunday, August 24, 2008

Sunday in Belfast

I traveled from Dublin to Belfast today. Dublin is part of the Republic of Ireland. The currency is the Euro. And the people are Catholic. Belfast is part of the United Kingdom. The currency is Pounds Sterling. And the people are Protestant. And Catholic.

And they don't get along.

Without getting into all of the history, the focus of the touring today was on the relationships between the Protestants (UK Loyalists) and the Catholics (from Republic of Ireland). Belfast is a city divided by religion at its foundation, but also politically. To top it all off, the city is also physically divided with walls to separate the Protestant and Catholic neighborhoods.

I have never seen anything like this.

Our tour guide kept trying to say that Belfast is cosmopolitan, and up and coming, ant that it will very soon be another European powerhouse city. But I didn't see any of that. I saw people who don't interact with one another. Bars and pubs named to show which side they are on, and no mixing of Protestants and Catholics. There is so much history in Belfast, but all that stood out to me was hate.

Coming from San Francisco, a city that to me defines tolerance, it was a lot to take in; and I found myself quite inexplicably crying while taking in a photography exhibit outside of the Belfast City Hall. The exhibit, "1000 Families - Building Unity through Diversity" included photographs of families of all shapes, sizes, colors, and economies from all over the world. I have always been more moved by photography - reality - than by paintings, but I don't recall a picture ever bringing me to tears until today. Standing in front of some beautiful photographs, in the middle of a city that didn't feel united in any way, just made me so sad. I cried. I just felt really sad and terrible to be in a place with so much hate over something as ridiculous as religion.

I took a lot of pictures today. Some more upsetting than others. But in total, I feel privileged to have seen Belfast, and even more to know that I will go home to a city that thrives on diversity and acceptance.

2008.08.24 - Sunday in Belfast

Saturday, August 23, 2008

Saturday in Dublin

After a long night working on Friday, I went to sleep and enjoyed eight miraculous hours of rest. I woke up on Saturday morning to a lot of rain, and very little motivation to leave the apartment. Luckily, LEFS is in West Africa, somewhat on my timezone, and we spent a solid hour or two catching up on Skype.

What would I do without Skype?!

When the rain finally let up a bit, I ventured outside and wandered for a while in South Dublin. I had intentions of making it to the Guinness Storehouse, but was given directions to a very small Guinnes Store, not the Guinness Brewery, so I ended up just walking around Dublin and doing some shopping along Grafton Street.

It was a rather uneventful day, but I kind of needed a day of un-events...

Friday, August 22, 2008


I haven't been blogging much lately. Mostly because I really haven't wanted the small amount of free time I've managed to squander at a computer. But alas, when I find myself on the other side of the world, I always seem to also find some spare time - and an itch to blog...

So here I am in Dublin, Ireland for two weeks for work. One week down and I have pretty much spent most waking hours in front of a computer. Kind of stressful, and it's not done yet, but I'm trying to remain positive. I mean, how can you not be positive in Dublin with all this... rain?!

It has rained every day for the past seven days. And probably, the seventy-seven days before that, really. But this city isn't phased. From 11AM - 3AM I find Dubliners drinking and smoking in the streets, laughing. It's rather impressive. Especially when I think back to my drinking days in DC and how the rain was really the only thing that stopped a night of debauchery. Not in Dubl

The city is pretty small - I already have a pretty good sense of direction and can walk almost anywhere. I arrived on Sunday night, worked and did some shopping on Monday, worked and saw Riverdance at the Gaiety theater on Tuesday, worked and worked and worked on Wednesday.

By Thursday, we'd had it with working, so we had a fun night on the town in the Temple Bar section of the city. Temple Bar has an amazing combination of what one considers "Irish" with what one knows is inherently cheesy and touristy. We went to Dougheny's by the office (not so much Temple Bar...) and then headed over to Porterhouse and Ri Ra and had a ridiculous quantity and combination of alcohol. So much so that I didn't make it into the office on Friday until 11:30 AM. But the brilliant thing about our European offices is that 11:30 AM is still 3:30 AM San Francisco time, so no big loss!

Cheers to next week being more relaxed and from a work perspective but packed when it comes to traveling...
  • Saturday - Dublin, Dublin, Dublin
  • Sunday - Day Trip to Belfast
  • Monday -Thursday - Dublin Touring as Schedule Permits
  • Friday - Guinness Storehouse
  • Saturday - West Coast Rail Tour - The Cliffs of Moher, Burren and Galway Bay
  • Sunday - Back to the States!
Check out pics from Thursday night in Temple Bar!

2008.08.16 - Dublin Week 1