Monday, October 24, 2005

Back to Boston

We dropped off our rented bikes at Rainbow Cycle, climbed into Helen's rented Opel and drove through the Burren for a last look at the Cliffs of Moher before heading back to Shannon Airport and our Aer Lingus flight back to Boston.

Sunday, October 23, 2005

Two Days to Galway

It took two full days of steady cycling to get from Westport to Galway. This is primarily due to the fact that Greg is always one to go the extra 12 miles when planning a route. Why go the direct route when there are more circuitous routes? Why indeed?

We overnighted at a youth hostel in Cong and pedaled the final, triumphant miles into Galway in a driving rain. Helen met us at a hotel in Eyre Square. We toweled off and made for McDonagh's Seafood and the greatest fish and chips in the world.

Friday, October 21, 2005

One Night in Westport

After a few days in Ireland, I must admit that the "Cosy Irish Pub with the Peat Fire" scene can wear a bit thin. Sure, on our first night in Doolin we went to Gus O'Connor's Pub and were invited to drink cider out of a Gaelic Football trophy, but otherwise our pub experiences had been on the dry and boring side. Not that a small town Irish pub is the place to go when you're looking for a rip-roaring good time -- they're supposed to be kind of quiet and living-roomy, owing to their original function as sort of a communal living room. In general, the pubs we happened to visit seemed to cater mostly to pensioners and tourists from America, which got old.

Westport struck us right away as livelier than the other places we'd been -- no surprise, since it is the largest town we've been to for any length of time. Greg and I decided to go to a non-pub bar-type establishment that was hosting a local classic rock cover band, "Jagged Rocks" or "Jagged Stones" or something like that. The place was full of Irish locals our own age and the band was pretty darn good. Although it wasn't traditional Ireland, it was probably the most accurately Irish place we visited.

Clifden to Westport

Last evening in Clifden, after our quick spin around the Sky Road west of town, we made ourselves some spaghetti in the hostel kitchen. Joining us in the dining area / lounge were a half-dozen members of a mild-mannered Dutch motorcycle club who were making a moto-trip through Ireland. (Nothing like those Danish motorcycle gangs, who have been known to employ rocket launchers in their feuds with other gangs.) Greg and I privately dubbed this group "Motosauce Hollandaise."

We also went across the street to Mannion's Pub and attempted to play pool on the tiny little snooker table they had there, with the tiny little yellow and red balls, sans numbers. I wish I knew the rules of snooker. A very brightly-lit place. At about 9:30 some musicians came in, but it was clear that they would be amplifying their performance so we skedaddled back home and went to bed. Greg later reported that he could hear some amplified off-key crooning wafting across the street and into our hostel dorm room. I was apparently asleep during this time.

This morning we decided to abandon the protein-rich Full Irish Breakfast (sausage, bacon, eggs, and baked beans) that we had been eating on a daily basis, opting instead for carbohydrates in the form of danishes for Greg and bread and Nutella for me. I didn't notice a big difference in energy level during our ride today, but Greg said the new breakfast made a big difference for him. But then again I have substantial fat stores on which to draw during vigorous exercise, while Greg has 3% body fat and therefore must either burn what he eats or else he burns his muscles. So nutrition is a bigger issue for him than me.

Today's ride from Clifden to Westport was probably tops in terms of scenic beauty and remoteness. The weather was off and on misty, but we avoided a complete drenching. Our route took us from Clifden to Letterfrack, then off the main road to Tully Cross, past Lough Fee and then the Killary Fjord (Ireland's only fjord) to Lenane (site of filming for the 1989 film "The Field"), thence up the road a piece to Aasleigh Falls and back around the northern side of Killary Fjord for a few kilometers. The road turned north at this point toward Delphi; just past here, at the foot of Doo Lough (Dark Lake), we turned right onto a narrow paved path, barely 12 feet wide. This route took us up through a remote, high-walled valley with a steep climb over a ridge before we zoomed down into Drummin, Liscarney, and and finally Westport, a lively County Mayo city where we'll spend the night tonight at the Old Mill Hostel.

Thursday, October 20, 2005

Motorcoach to Clifden

Today we decided to dash north and west to Galway, the 'capital' of the Connemara region via bus. That will give us more time to explore this region and get back to Galway on Sunday to meet up with Helen. We took a bus from Kinvara up to Galway and then transferred buses, taking one west to Clifden, on the Coast.

Enjoyed a short but sunny afternoon spin on the Sky Road around a high peninsula west of Clifden. Electric green grass, blue ocean, grey rock walls, brown heather. Tonight we'll stay at the local hostel and try to check out some more music while we plan our route back east through the Connemara region to Galway. We may stay here another night and do a day circuit here locally and then head straight back East to Galway. Or, we might leave and take a big swing north toward County Mayo before returning to Galway.

Wednesday, October 19, 2005

A Burren Scramble

Much better weather today. We left most of our gear at Fallon's and headed back to the southwest to criss-cross The Burren, a stark, empty region of exposed karst. About noon, stopped at the Burren Perfumery, a small fragrance workshop selling perfumes and soaps for what seemed like an awful lot. The nice ladies there did turn on the slide show for Greg and me. Lovely photos of The Burren landscape and its attendant flora. Greg and I supplemented the presentation with a shadow puppet featurette. Plot outline as follows: Dog chases Rabbit across the Burren. Duck walks around the Burren on his own. Tyrannosaurus Rex chases Dog back the other direction across the Burren. The End.

The weather was cloudy but bright in the morning, mostly sunny after 2 pm. We stopped at Poulnamone Dolmen, a 5800-year old tomb marker that is featured in the hand-drawn logo of The Burren pub in Somerville, Massachusetts. A great afternoon of chugging up and whizzing down little country lanes with rocky karst highlands all around.

In the evening we heard an accordion-piano-fiddle trio at Connor's Pub in Kinvara. Not one square inch of wall or ceiling space at Connor's was free of some sort of memorabilia item.

Tuesday, October 18, 2005

Doolin to Kinvara

Cool and rainy all day. We swung north out of Doolin, hugging the coast around Black Head and stopped at Glenaigh Castle on the southern shore of Galway Bay. Then the wind-driven rain in our faces began, continuing all the way through Ballyvaughan and Bellharbour, where we turned south to visit the Cloncamore Abbey before jumping over a little ridge and then pedaling our soaked selves into Kinvara. Checked in to Fallon's B&B, had an early dinner at the pub across the street, and later on played darts at the Ould Plaid Shawl, which is the birthplace of Mr. Fahy, an Irish writer and supporter of the resistance against the British.

Monday, October 17, 2005

Boston to Shannon to Ennis to Doolin

My brother Greg and I flew overnight from Boston to Shannon Ireland, arriving at 8 am, just as the sun was coming up. We took a bus to Ennis, the principal city of County Clare, and rented a couple of bikes from Tierney's on Abbey St. Noel Tierney was kind enough to "pint out" the best route to Doolin, on the West Coast just north of the Cliffs of Moher (a.k.a. the Cliffs of Mohair).

The bikes are servicable, by which I mean that they are able to be serviced -- by Greg, to his mild consternation. Just north of Ennis my chain slipped off the front crank; Greg adjusted the derailleur and we were on our way. We cycled west through Inagh, Ennistymon, Lahinch, Liscannor and then turned north towards Doolin, making a brief stop at a windswept Cliffs of Moher. After a short coast into Doolin we checked in at Paddy's Hostel and then walked over to Gus O'Connor's Pub.

A local Gaelic Football club (15 players to a side) was celebrating their first championship in 60 years. They won the tournament yesterday; this was day two of the celebration process. Just after we arrived a guitar player and a flute player arrived. The football players sang along with just about every song with gusto. After an hour or so one of the footballers walked around with the league trophy, a silver jug filled with Bulmer's cider. We all had a swig from the trophy.

After a sleepless night on the plane, and after a Guinness, a Murphy's, a Bulmer's, and a Carlsberg at Gus O'Connor's, the sandman beckoned so we shuffled back up the street to the hostel and fell asleep. In our dorm room with us was another cyclist, Basil from Switzerland.

This morning, after another bike maintenance session, we had breakfast in Doolin and will now set out across The Burren. Our goal for today is Kinvara, which is south of Galway.
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