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Sunday, September 30, 2012

The end of a legendary weekend....


The phrase "sleeping in a hostel" is an oxymoron - you can "stay" in a hostel but you won't get much sleep. Our room mates came in at various hours, some shouting and carousing; others creeping in but inadvertently crashing into someone else or something and creating an almighty racket! Gareth came in quietly and kissed me good night before getting up to his bunk - he'd drank the bar out of Jager; I was so proud of him (for the jager not the quiet). Just as I was dropping off to sleep there was some shuffling and some of the girls came in, giggling, rooting in their bags and then heading out again, trying to be quiet in that drunken way that actually makes you noisy like a rustling plastic bag in a cinema. So, not entirely sated with sleep I got out of bed on the Sunday to see grey skies and drizzle; no Slievemore today then. We were too late for breakfast in the allotted time and we decided that we would follow the Atlantic Drive that day for something to do. Unfortunately we were in a clothing bind; Gareth had literally run out of clean clothes, so we had a stop off in the campsite at Keel to put on a wash, try and find somewhere to serve us a late breakfast. We drove all the way over to Gielty's past Dooagh but we had literally just missed breakfast. Soup and sambo's it was then and we headed back to put the clothes in the dryer and get our walk on Atlantic Drive. We had another stop in Achill sound to pick up some booze for the evening and finally we were on our way.

We stopped at Kildavnet Castle, a legendary look-out for the pirate queen, Granuaile. The weather was clearing so we drove round Darby's point with a superb view of Achill Beg and Clare Island. We stopped twice and walked down towards the cliffs - I know Gareth thought I'd be afraid but I felt much more comfortable here - if the sheep were happy then so was I!
We looked at the stunning rock formations, and how calm the sea was and generally just marveled over the beauty of the island. We could see over the Minaun cliffs how the rain was over on that side of the island and we just enjoyed walking around, looking for crabs and sea-urchins in some of the rock-pools. A handful of cars past in the hour or so we spent there and I just loved being out in the wide-open space with the man I loved so much. We headed back to the Valley for a little rest before driving out to April's family cottage. They have a wonderful piece of land, beside the sea, opposite Inishbiggle island. We had the company of Jody and Patrick, who were working in the Valley for the summer, and they just adored the place. April presented us a lovely fresh beetroot and feta salad along with her tasty spag bol and we got down to the business of drinking and chatting. It was a great evening, new-found friends and laughter and we decided on a nightcap at the Valley around midnight. The bar was packed, we ordered in some shots and started the party but once again I had to shy away (at 3am to be fair) as I'd a long drive ahead on the Monday. Packing and leaving Achill next day was a speedy affair, Jody and Patrick wanted to go to Castlebar so we'd offered them a lift. We barely thought twice about leaving the island, we'd had a great weekend and I firmly thought we'd be visiting again in the future. At least I know I'll always have it to go back to.

Monday, September 24, 2012

Slievemore - or not?


Day 2 in Achill and I was relieved that I hadn't to drive anywhere far. I'd woken up sometime in the middle of the night realizing that two people in a top bunk probably wasn't ideal and managed to clamber out without waking Gareth - this is quite the feat since I usually inadvertently wake him by unusual means such as hitting him in the face or groin or stomach. I honestly don't mean it - I think it's some kind of physiological disorder (although I do laugh hysterically when it happens; maybe I'm just a bad person). Our aim was to climb Slievemore that day and the weather seemed on our side - it was glorious. I said I'd go up the easy side (the other way is much rockier and overhangs the sea!) so we drove to the base part. I noticed a threatening cloud coming down; the mist had already started rolling down the mountain. It can be perilous up on that mountain in the mist, as one wrong step and you're in trouble. We decided to walk across the hills towards Dooagh instead. We had a look at the ruins in the Deserted Village and enjoyed the sun on our backs as we strolled across the hills. Of course, halfway through we looked back to see the mist had cleared but we were two hours into the walk by then so I wasn't eager to turn back. When we got to Dooagh we decided to continue up the narrow road across the cliffs to Keem Bay but exhaustion started to overcome me so I called April to see if she would pick us up. Gareth kept walking, keen to see Lough Acorrymore. I sat watching small boats out on the ocean and gazing across to Clare Island. When April arrived and Gareth returned we drove over to Keem Bay - an absolutely breathtaking inlet on Achill. Gareth even braved the icy seawater! We had a slightly dissatisfying lunch in the Beehive so visited the Cottage for more food.

 Back at the Valley I had a little snooze whilst a session played in the Courtyard and a few refreshing pints were consumed. When I awoke I realized that I had been seriously sunburned on our walk, I had splotches of red in various places and my nose was like a beacon!! It was down to the bar for another session by the fireplace and good fun with my Dad. At one point he leaned over to me and said "Do you know what I hate about Gareth?" Stunned, I looked at him and waited for him to go on - "Everyone loves him!" He said and winked at me. A boyfriend of mine had finally won Dad's approval! After a few creamy pints of Guinness I had to head off to bed at 12.30am. This was met with shock and dismay to a few people - I'm usually one of the last standing. I think the walk and the sun had just taken it's toll. The jager bottle had been opened and the shots were going down as I crept up the stairs to Room 6.

Tuesday, September 18, 2012

A-chilling


Ohhhh, Achill island. I physically pine for the place when I've been away too long. There's a weird disparity about the places I yearn for - the place I live (Dubai) and my favorite place (Achill). Dubai is the desert, where life is fast, transient and sometimes very shallow. Achill is remote, green, good for the soul and full of wandering artists. It's a tonic for me, and re-fuels me to go back to real life when I've left. Gareth was waiting with bated breath to get to Achill; I've spoken so much about it in our short time together and I think he was eager to walk some hills. After a stroll around Galway city and bemoaning the fact we couldn't stay there longer, we hit a rainy, windy road to Castlebar. There we stopped to stock up on groceries and the last leg of the road to Achill. As I drove the last 30km or so, I already felt the air seeping into my bones and the excitement building. We rocked up to the Valley House - http://www.valley-house.com/ A historic building with a bar and hostel that I've been visiting and staying in for years. When I was young, it was Roger that ran the place and could always be found manning the bar; now it's his son Pat, and it's well renowned to be one of the best places to drink Guinness in Ireland, if not the world. It's always the first thing I do - order a pint of their finest and savour each creamy drop. Gareth claims he doesn't like Guinness and he didn't deign to try it that Friday evening. After unloading our considerable amounts of luggage, I took a drive across to Keel, via Dugort. Slievemore was crowned with a cloud; a usual sight as we drove past the strand. Over in Keel, Gareth and I took a little walk along the beach towards the cliff. About half-way in the drizzle started so we headed back towards Keel to meet my parents.
We had arranged to meet Mum and Dad at the Bayside Bistro in Keel for dinner. Their specials looked absolutely delectable so we ordered a nice bottle of Sancerre and waited for the parents to arrive. Gareth had yet to meet Dad so I was a little apprehensive but not hugely; Mum was a fan so I'm sure she'd have laid the groundwork for me! They arrived, a little tired from their journey and ready to be fed. The restaurant did not disappoint. The scallops went down a treat, as did the sea bass. Everyone seemed to be getting along fine! After the meal we headed back to the Valley to catch up with some old friends and have a right old session. The Valley is well known for nights full of music, anyone with a guitar, whistle or banjo pitches up by the fireplace and usually magic is created. Some friends and old bandmates of my Dad were there so the tunes started and the Guinness was flowing. I got into the spirit and did a few numbers myself, even singing lyrics off my Mum's iPad when people had requests! My oldest friend, April was down for the weekend too so I was up for a good chinwag. I introduced Gareth to April and bold as brass she said to him "You're a ride". I don't know what it is about him but the Irish girls seem to love him ;) It was a great night, hazy in the memory but full of melody and smiles....A-chilling again.

Thursday, September 6, 2012

The Cliffs of Moher, Drive-by Burren and a rainy night in Galway.


Another morning, another struggle to leave whatever accommodation we were in and bleary-eyed move on to our next destination. Travelling is fun, but the hangovers aren't! However, in Ireland people honestly look at you as if you have four heads if you decline a drink - you're either pregnant or have liver failure. For breakfast, we decided to have the good old petrol station experience - this is something I really miss in Dubai - in Ireland, (and probably the UK) every petrol station has a deli of some sort with hot food and sandwiches. They will even make you up a sandwich with what you would like in it. So far, so good. Most importantly - it all looks desirable, and they all have PORK! Only other Middle Eastern expats understand how important pork is and why we consume massive quantities of it when visiting home, or anywhere for that matter. So, ham rolls scoffed, we set out the west road towards the Cliffs of Moher.

The Cliffs of Moher apparently auditioned for a place in the seven wonders of the world, but unfortunately didn't succeed. They are the highest sea-cliffs in Europe but aesthetically they really are something to behold that I can't describe. The water smashing off the rocks so far below can't even be heard from the heights of the cliffs, and the sheer power of nature is absolutely overwhelming as you look out at the Atlantic Ocean.
The sky was threatening when we arrived, but we, along with a few other busloads of tourists, decided to take our chances with a walk along the precipitous path. There are signs everywhere exclaiming "EXTREME DANGER" and others advertising The Samaritans (it doesn't bear thinking about) but I decided to ignore my fears and tackle these crags. The pathway is about two people wide at some points, and it's not smooth, and it looks like it falls away in parts. Gareth was gamboling along, frightening the bejesus out of me, until a French family pleaded with him to be careful. Gareth assured me that he's an accomplished rock climber but I tried to reason that he usually climbs UP rocks and that if he went off these, there'd be scant chance of getting a hold on anything before crashing into the rocks below. I think he saw the sheer terror on my face cos he slowed down after that and I made my way gingerly along. At times I got more adventurous and strode on, but after rounding 3 headlands I suddenly had enough. I simply felt like I couldn't go on, and I knelt down and almost wept in fear. I have a serious fear of heights that I really try to control but this was just too much. Gareth was brilliant and suggested we climb over the stone slabs into the neighboring field and make our way back as far as we could that way. The fields were full of cows, but I have no fear of cows so that seemed like a good plan. I encouraged him to go on and I would go back on my own but he was so sweet and insisted he'd come back with me. Once in the field, treading through cow-pat he began telling me stories of walkers being trampled by cows in the UK last year. Super. One life-threatening situation to another. At this point the cows were beginning to notice us; probably hearing Gareth speaking ill of them. One decided to come and investigate. He came right up behind us, and the people walking along the cliffs began taking photos. The cow was suddenly struck dumb - he looked after us, and back at the people - I could hear the thoughts forming "To go on? Or have my 15 minutes of fame?". He stuck with the camera, silly cow! We clambered over some stone walls into more cow pat and eventually made our way back, with only a couple of returns to the cliffs' edge. I'm glad I did it; I would thoroughly recommend it; even if you are a scaredy cat like me.

Back in the car we headed slightly north towards Galway. I didn't realize what a spectacular drive it would be. The Burren is noted as one of the largest karst landscapes in Europe. http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/The_Burren
What that means to you and me is some unique flora and fauna, and spectacular limestone hills. Gareth slept through most of it but I actually stopped the car a few times to breathe in the beauty of the area.

Onwards to Galway and we eventually found our "boutique hotel" surreptitiously hidden under another hotel name? The room was adequate with a lovely big, soft bed - but boutique hotel it was not. We, or rather I, had made a mistake booking ANYwhere in Galway during Race Week; we paid a hefty premium for a guesthouse - that didn't serve breakfast! We decided not to venture into Galway city in the midst of the madness, and had a lovely meal at Da Roberto's Pizzeria nearby. Once again we seemed to strike gold as it had won a couple of Bridgestone Awards and we had a nice bottle of wine with our meal. Gareth was feeling a little poorly though so we retired to bed early after a drink in Oslo's. We needed a little rest ahead of the weekend to come!

Sunday, September 2, 2012

Old friends in Ennis


When we woke up on Wednesday morning, Gareth was curled around me and I breathed a sigh of relief. I immediately remembered the silly argument but hoped he had forgotten it. No sooner had this passed through my head when he mumbled "You shouted at me last night,"....I felt like I'd been punched in the stomach! He had remembered!! Instead of saying "Sorry," like I meant, I actually said "You were being an idiot,". Wow, sometimes I confound myself.

Anyway, we were both in a forgiving mood so it blew over. I attempted another full Irish breakfast; they were definitely begin to show on the hips by now, and we got ourselves organized for the next leg of the journey. On the Limerick road, we got a glimpse of some sun through the clouds and by the time we reached Ennis it was positively beaming - this definitely cheered the spirits although we didn't think we'd have energy enough to do the Ailwee caves or the cliffs of Moher that day.
We checked into our hostel - http://www.rowantreehostel.ie/ and we were really pleasantly surprised. The room was spacious, ensuite and as we'd requested, a private double room. The hostel was large and modern, situated right in the centre of Ennis alongside the river, with great facilities and staff. We went out to meet some friends, Mal & Tony, who used to live in Dubai but now reside in Maidstone. They have a fabulous set of children - Maddie, Rylee and Cayden. Unfortunately Cayden was at home with his granny, but we had some fun with the girls for an hour and a bite to eat. Gareth seemed to be suffering so we thought we'd have a little snooze and a walk around before meeting up with Mal and Tony later for a night out.

We went to the Dining Room restaurant in Market Place, and again got a great early bird deal - this seems to be the norm as a recession-buster in Ireland. I don't normally order chicken as a main course when out dining but the Grilled Supreme of Chicken with potato & zucchini Rosti, wild Mushrooms & pancetta was a delight to the palette after some lovely Doolin crab cakes all washed down with a Pinot Grigio Mal and I shared. I love a good catch-up with old friends and Gareth was subjected to quite a few stories from the days before Mal's brood arrived. Many ladies nights' on the tramp's trail in Dubai (stories for another time!) and even on night's in Mal and I could get upto mischief. We left the Dining Room to find some live music and headed to Dan O'Connell's. Honestly I can't remember much of the music but there was a nice man behind the bar who charged my phone for me! We then headed to Knox's; an old haunt and Mal's former workplace. Of course it was Jager-bomb time, and we had some fun lining up the shots and knocking them into the glasses - without any incidents!
Well, no incidents until Gareth stole one of Mal's jagers! He was so shocked by her expression; it was brilliant. I did tell him not to. However my own behavior wasn't exemplary - I managed to fall asleep in the toilet. This isn't like me, but to be fair - I had done a lot of driving and drinking over the previous days. Not drink-driving - but none the less. So I fell asleep in the bathroom, when I woke up I was in the dark. Initially I thought I was just sleeping weirdly, until I moved and the light came on. Then I realized I was sat upright in a toilet; something wrong with the picture. I'm surprised I didn't get more abuse for this but the jager-thief was still getting grief. They were nice enough to give us an extra drink, rather than kicking us out at closing but I knew that we had to get on the road early again next day so rather than accept Mal & Tony's invite to come back for more drinks (they had a child-free night) I did almost have to drag Gareth home though. Once again it was a slightly hungover awakening, and back on the road.