Wednesday, May 13, 2009

Connemara and couchsurfing!

As we did not get to bed until nearly 3 am this morning, we slept until just before 10 am. Then we put the finishing touches and some photos on before we uploaded the blog for yesterday. Breakfast followed - we are trying to finish the eggs so it was cereal for Michael followed by eggs on toast (with the last 2 mushrooms for me) and plenty of OJ.

Today is bleak and windy with not a sign of the sun. We are so pleased that we did the Cliffs bit yesterday as it would have been a disappointment if we were there today. And even though the sun is only setting now as I type this at 9:26 pm, there is no sign of it - just more and deeper grey.

We wanted to make up some of the lost time to both the weather and the flu, so today headed north west along the N59 towards Connemara. While we knew that this was an area of natural beauty, we didn't quite expect to find what we did. Loughs (lochs, lakes), mountains both lofty and flat, bogs, rivers, wildlife and couchsurfers - but more on that later.

It was 2 pm before we cleared Galway and so we agreed that we would drive no further than 2 hours would take us so we would not be too late tonight. Once we were out of the city limits the speed limit is raised to 100 kph. Who are they kidding? There is no way you can safely drive at that speed. If it is not for the windy roads or the narrow roads then it is because of the terrible condition. While it was not quite as bad as Gort, there is still much improvement needed. To be honest though, we didn't mind once we had travelled as far as Lough Corrib just 28 ks from Galway, the poor condition of the roads was the perfect excuse for travelling a little slower and letting the incredible scenery weave its magic!

This is not the verdant landscape that you will normally associate with the Emerald Isle. Rather it is the high slopes - more barren and rocky, but still coated with a layer of green albeit more a grass green than emerald. But it is STUNNING. To the east are the Maumturks Mountains - not so high and flatter but rising sufficiently to give the most incredible views further west where everywhere you look there are rolling hills with backdrops of tumbling peaks battling to be at the front. This is the area known as Twelve Pins (or Twelve Bens). And Lough Boffin with its small wooded islets is just a picture. Once we reached Maam Cross we headed north and then east again on a smaller road that was (at first!) in better condition than the main road through the area. That soon changed tho!

The views of the mountains changed for a while and we were travelling across the top with the goats and sheep and a lone peat cutter who had drawn the interest of other travellers as well. He explained that the peat once cut, is covered and left to dry out - a process that only takes 3 months. Evidently out of its natural setting it loses moisture very quickly. Not sure what he was selling a bag of peat for, but there was a veritable fortune to be had with the sheer volume of raw product. And like in Scotland, when the road crosses peat bogs, it rises and falls like waves on water!

We meandered across the high country and the small hamlets that brave the isolation (ha ha) quite understanding how people can chose to live in this area. It is actually not all that isolated at all - it is after all less than 20 kms from villages that would supply all the necessities, but high on those slopes it is like you are a thousand miles from cares. Alone with the gorse that here is in full bloom now and rhubarb? BIG rhubarb?? Yep, it is wild rhubarb and at the service station we are told it is a pest weed and growing out of control. Well, rhubarb! What next??!

Eventually, after stopping for hundreds of photos (yep, you know what we are like) we reach Leenaun on Killary Harbour - Ireland's only fjord. We see cruises advertised up the Fjord and so travel a few kms to find that we have missed the 2:30 pm sailing but there is another at 4:30 pm with the ticket office re-opening at 4 pm. As it is now just after 3 pm, we decided it is time for a cuppa so drive back to Leenaun and The Blackberry Cafe and Restaurant. Hot cuppas and a shared Pear and Almond Flan - served warm with strawberry coulis and fresh thick cream - yu-um. It was truly delicious! Just on 4 o'clock we head back to the boat slipway and see the catamaran has arrived. The wind is really picking up so it is beanies and scarves out. BUT, despite the sign on the road, despite the advice on the door that the ticket office will re-open at 4, we are told with no apologies or embarrassment that they are not doing a 4pm cruise at this time of the year. THAT was a disappointment. Still, it means that we can now happily head for home as the weather is closing in more and more.

Rather than just turn around and retrace our steps totally, we push on for Clifden before we head east back toward Galway. We are back on the N59 which does a huge loop. En route to Clifden we pass Kylemore Abbey founded in the 1920s. This was founded for Benedictine Nuns who fled Belgium in WWII. The abbey houses the Kylemore Abbey International Girls' School and the house and gardens are open to the public. Evidently, the nuns have decided to close the school in 2010, although they do not plan to sell the property and will continue to reside there. Well, I know I would too!

So we reach Clifden after an eternity driving behind a French visitor who is obviously very nervous about driving on the left hand side of the road. He brakes at every corner, and every time a car passes from the other direction and I can smell his fear as huge lorries go rushing past! But we eventually reach Clifden and head for home. As we turn, the first thing we see is a couple of hitch-hikers holding a sign asking Galway? Normally the car is laden with one suitcase on the back seat, back pack etc etc etc. But as we are in the one place for the week, the case comes out and so, we just might have room for them. They are cold and miserable and have been trying to get a ride since 1 pm and are ever so grateful. We squeeze them in with their large backpack, sleeping bags, smaller bags and highly decorated guitar. They have been camping for the last three days in Connemara National Park - are they nuts - the nights out here are still truly COLD! Oh, hang on - they are young!!! ;-) Turns out Tom is from Calais, France and speaks very little English. Dom, from Quebec, is multilingual and chats away with us, all the time translating for Tom and making sure he is included - that was nice to see. Like us they are travelling for an extended period and are avid couchsurfers. They seem a little surprised that we too are registered on

We had no sooner got back on the road when the traffic is halted at roadworks by a vehicle parked across the road. A man comes along telling us all that as part of the roadworks they are blasting but there should only be a delay of about 5 minutes. Then we hear 3 long whistles and then the dull roar of the blast that seems so out of character in a place so beautiful and otherwise peaceful. Sure enough, 5 minutes later and we are back on our way. The trip back in to Galway was non-stop, the rain trying hard to fall. And the conversation was back and forward with Dom and through her to Tom sharing our various travel experiences. We let them off in the centre of Galway City where they are returning to the home of two french people living in Galway before heading to Dublin tomorrow.

We are in the centre of Galway and are looking to eat out tonight. Not sure what we want, we walk up and down Quay Street filled with restaurants and pubs, checking out the menus as we go. We finally opt for asian and go in to the Tamarind restaurant. More Thai than anything else and with either an early bird limited menu or full a la carte we decide that the early bird has enough choice. Our choices were:
Martabak of Lamb (Minced lamb wrapped in wonton pastry with galangal and soy flavoured onion compote) Michael
Sweetcorn soup with crisp wontons (tastes of corn, coconut, chilli and lemongrass) Maria
Nasi Goreng (Fried rice dish with prawn and chicken served with a fried egg and chicken sate) Michael
Cashew Nut Chicken (Stir fried in Thai spicy sauce and served with steamed rice and asian greens) Maria
Michael's entree was the star of the meal - a very interesting combination that was really delicious as was the balance of the meal.

So tonight we are now doing one last load of washing and packing to load the car in the morning. We are headed via Adare and Killarney and the Ring of Kerry to Tralee tomorrow where we hope to catch up with Allyson and Leith's niece. See you all next from the south!

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