Thursday, September 27, 2012

A Chance of Sun, Sept 25

The weather has been desperate to coin a phrase from the Irish. The wind has been blowing steadily from the North Atlantic at around 50 mph and the rain has been pretty steady.

We decided to travel north from Galway to Cong. Cong is where the John Ford film “The Quiet Man” was filmed starring John Wayne, Maureen O’Hara and Victor McGlaughlin. We drove north on the back roads for about 40 km on the east side of Lough Corrib.

Now I won’t say the roads are narrow, but given that we are driving on the left side of the road and the roads are sided with stone walls and vines, I was picking sticks from my teeth. Diana is doing an admirable job but she does constantly say under her breath, “Drive on the left. Drive on the left.”

As we arrived at the entrance to Cong, we turned into the drive of Ashford Castle. The entrance fee is 5 Euro per person and is well worth it. If one wishes, you can stay at the castle as they have turned it into a hotel. The grounds of the castle are well groomed and covered in lush plants, flowers and trees. Ashford Castle is also home to a falconry school which was established in 1999.

  We were most impressed with the view across the lough. It is dotted with small islands and, of course, is covered in mist.

The highlight for me was the small village of Cong. To say that “The Quiet Man” may well be my favorite John Wayne film would be an understatement. I think this is perhaps John Wayne’s best film ever and he should have won an Academy Award for this film.

Cong has turned the location into a cottage industry. As you exit Ashford Castle grounds, you immediately pass through the old Cong Abbey and into the main street of Cong. Turn right and find the Pat Cohan Bar (one of the first scenes from the Quiet Man. Across the street is the The Quiet Man house and Squire Dannegher’s Bar. Those of us who love the film will recognize the names.

To the left is the Quiet Man museum with about every possible spin off from the film from calenders to post cards.
The village is tiny but busy with tourists and we had espresso and yes, Diana found cappuchino at the Hungry Monk. We walked the old tombstones of the Abbey and the gardens behind the Abbey. A few hundred meters beyond is a beautiful river with the Monk Fish House situated on the bank of the river.

One can almost see and hear Ward Bond (the priest in the film) and Maureen O’Hara having their Gaelic conversation. The Irish are justly proud of their ancient language and the signs everywhere are written in English with the Gael translation on top. They are preserving their national heritage with pride and honor.

After a few hours in Cong, we headed west through Joyce’s Country, the Maumturk Mountains into Connemara and the edges of the North Atlantic. I thought the wind was gusty in Galway! The winds, rain and mist increased as we pulled into Kylemore Abbey.

We proceeded to do the Connemara Ring a route that takes you around the coast through some of the most incredible scenery imaginable. Beautiful views of the coast and harbors, mountains and of course, sheep. Sheep are everywhere and cows? (Diana just loves cows. It must be a Dutch thing). The cows are huge.

We have never seen cows this huge. We drove and photographed until about 5 and as the sky was darkening we found a nice little B&B (fluent French spoken) in Clifden. We holed up for the night in the B&B to prepare for another excursion in the Connemara Ring.

Incidentally, the B&B’s are as ubiquitous as the grass. You can’t drive 50 meters without seeing signs for B&B’s. I would venture that staying in a B&B is a better bet than a hotel. They are more intimate and far less expensive than a hotel. We averaged 60 Euro a night whereas hotels range from 89 Euro to 150 Euro. The breakfasts are the same. Everyone serves the “traditional” breakfast which consists of “crisp” bacon (sliced ham really), black and white pudding (little cakes of, uh, uh pudding?), one fried egg, two sausages, toast, a fried tomato, baked beans, tea or coffee and very nice people and conversation.

Tomorrow we will finish the Ring.

Tuesday, September 25, 2012

On to Ireland! Sept 23-24

Ashford Castle Cong Ireland
We left San Diego at 5:30 a.m. on Sunday morning. Of course, we didn’t sleep all that much anyway so the long anticipated journey finally began. Of course, Aer Lingus “owned” our tickets so check in was a bit of a pain through United Airlines and took about a half an hour to straighten out.

I want to get some of the passenger complaints out of the way first for anyone traveling on these airlines since much has changed in the year since we traveled last. I find it more than interesting that United advertises “…more leg room” because unless you are an leprechaun I surely did not see it. We felt it of course, because you feel like a mummy with your legs contorted.

What I really thought was a disaster is that United now has what they euphemistically call snacks on board. There were three, the Tapa, Classic and I can’t remember the third. I opted for the Tapas and Diana the Classic. They are $7.40 each and pretty much consist of prepackaged junk food. I now know how United is recovering from their economic woes. Be forewarned. Unless you really crave really bad food don’t even think about these snacks.
No matter how hard we tried,
this position was unobtainable
Aer Lingus on the other hand, had exceptionally good airline food but the leg room was equally short. Incidentally, a word to Aer Lingus and their partner United. If you are going to show the obligatory emergency procedures (which includes the “duck and cover crash landing” video) it would be incredibly thoughtful if there was actually room to bend over. I am serious, if the Airbus 330 went down, passengers would be stuck in the upright and locked position.

Ok. That all being said, we arrived in Dublin airport in the morning and guess what? Rain. Even the Irish consider this desperate weather. We rented a car and Diana drove us to our first destination, Galway on the left, of course.
The rental rate is 17 Euro a day and insurance is 37 Euro a day! (Complimentary insurance from the credit card companies is non existent, we had called to verify.) So, if you plan on driving in Ireland, plan on high insurance rates. (Do the Irish drive that badly? Apparently.)

I must say getting used to the M50 N6, M6 designations are a bit unnerving but we soon found ourselves in Galway. There is a huge competition going on here, hurling games and the town is abuzz with sports fans. (As near as I can tell, hurling is something like Lacrosse).

 The town is full of B&B’s and there are plenty of vacancies, but we wanted to be in the center of town so we checked into the Radisson. The Radisson is a very nicely appointed modern hotel and at 139 Euro a night quite nice quarters.

We napped for a few hours and then headed for the center of Galway around 8 in the evening. Galway’s city center is replete with pubs, restaurants, stores and people (even on this very rainy Monday evening) are strolling the area. Did I mention pubs? Some are stumbling already from one too many porters.
We stopped in a local pub for dinner and decided a good start for our first Irish evening would be Shepherd’s Pie, a Guiness and (for Diana) a Heineken. Justice, it isn’t our Sheperd’s Pie but it was yummy. They grind the beef, put in green onions and peas and top with mashed potatoes and gravy with a side of chips.
The pub was hosting traditional Irish music complete with guitar, banjo (we will ignore the fact that the banjo is a distinctly America invention), bodhrun, dancers and wonderful Irish tunes. You can see the pictures we did of our first night here.

Tomorrow we are driving around Galway Bay and points north. Our first destination (which could change) is Connaught and Connemara (near the town of Cong where the John Wayne classic “The Quiet Man” was filmed. And our midnight Concierge, Michael, told us about a dirt road on the way to Connaught where thousands of Irish died during the potato famine and are buried there. Even the locals are unaware of the graves according to Michael as there are no markers or memorials as the Irsish do not wish to remember the deaths.

And by the way, rain is predicted for tomorrow. Imagine that!

Incidentally, as a first night footnote, to connect to the hotel internet, one has to enter his room number and last name, After several failed attempts, I called the desk to find out that my registration is not Smith but O’Smith. Too funny.