Sunday, October 26, 2014

On the Trail of the Galway Hooker and the Doughnut Man

Black, slender, one-of-a--kind fishing boat: that's the Galway Hooker. I fell head over heels and with my camera I chased her down. Morning rays were casting their splendid spill over Galway Bay as I took this shot, though I'm not sure whether this rig was just going out to sea or returning from a venture. If I recall right, this is a smaller one and there are larger versions as well. I arrived in Galway the evening of the 17th and left the afternoon of the 19th, of October. Being on the far west side of Ireland and right on the FAR side of the Atlantic, Galway's weather is not very dependable. I was quick to learn this. Friday when I arrived it was windy and rainy, and I'd already been sitting wet on the bus for three hours anyway. Saturday when traveling out of the city it was quite fair, then Sunday being back in town brought more drizzle. When this photo was taken it was a sunny Saturday morning.

The rest of Saturday involved a bus tour of the Burren. You can definitely tell the difference in the terrain there from my side of the Island; very rocky soil that gives it a slightly 'barren' look. We visited a castle and heard all about the Irish Cheiftains(like the big daddy on Brave) of the land and the onslaughts of the English, at that very castle. Our guide taught us about long bows and what it was like to try and shoot through the ancient slits-of-window in the castle walls, to hit down a man inside. Point being it took great skill to do so. Then we heard about the strong wife of a Cheiftain who would still not surrender even after the English dumped the dead body of her husband into the castle walls. She just exclaimed,"I've no use for a dead man in here!" But this same woman later married an upper hero in the opposing English army after all, and said it was just for the security of her people. Interesting! It's the coolest thing to be on the sight of history; to look at their surroundings, try and play out the figures of history against this land. I do know something: all these castle builders sure chose their spots well!


We went further up the Burren peninsula and heard about the special species of plants there. Apparently scientists and people who are into this stuff go to this area to study the species and such. Along the roadside were colorful cows grazing skimpy grass in rocky fields. I nearly whispered to the girls sitting next to me,"You know this land has a different, neat kind of beauty." She agreed. We stopped at a historical grave site place that is supposed to even older than Stonehenge in England. Not sure what all that means from archaeological and dating standpoints, but I would like to read up some on it.                              
The coach driver next stopped at a place that had had a big connection with Irish folklore and religion. The Fairy Ring. This is a place apparently used by very early people of the land, because all the trees and earth are developed into a big deep circle, or shelter-like place. But some of the Irish have since believed that it's inhabited by fairies, which to them are more like strong, spiritual beings than the fairies we depict of in America. I must admit, I was a little freaked out. The coach driver, though a very sweet man in intentions, was telling us we all needed to close our eyes and 'leave our problems with the fairies.' 

A couple other stops along the way were of course, the cutest pubs. My favorite was one in a quaint fishing village, where there's no public transportation. The Pub was at least 150 years old, so the coach driver said. It looked it too, because it had super-thick white stucco walls, the kind of building you'd imagine in an Irish novel for sure. I didn't get pictures of the inside but they wouldn't do it justice anyway. Inside their was a fireplace that was lit and so comforting. There were old, worn wood tables and chair, things on the walls such as an ocean turtle's shell, and windows that had the most lovely view of the water. The pub owner was so kind too. I wanted to get ginger ale for my twisted stomach, but only had so much change and couldn't use my card there. So he just asked how much change I had and took it, handing me the glass bottle. I'm sure I had quite a bit less change than it should have costed; that's why I felt so blessed. Oh man, I'd go back there if I could, it's so perfect and you know pub food is the best!

The big destination of Saturday, was reaching the Cliffs of Moher, where parts of the Harry Potter movies(I think parts of other movies as well), were filmed. Needless to say, it's an extremely, wildly, beautiful and famous place. Huge too, I hadn't realized there are a number of cliffs, not just a couple. They are grass-topped and cow-covered, super tall steep rocks that fiercely defy the wild sea waves from moving the 'emerald jewel' that is Ireland. People have died there because of getting too close to the edge and falling off, and in truth it would be easy to fall off. The paths that run near the cliff edges aren't all that safe either, but you still see people bring their kids there and trot along. Bu I enjoyed it and found it very stimulating! Thankfully the weather was quite good too and that made it all the better for viewing.

Back in Galway, the next morning, after a drizzly city tour(which involved visiting the school also where Harry Potter was filmed), I enjoyed the local Farmer's Market. Since it was a Sunday morning there weren't too many people there, but what WAS there was totally worth it. The Doughnut Man. And he looked just like one, decked in a cap and long pin-striped apron, humming tunes. I stood in line and watched him work away, fast and without a flaw. I ordered one with cinnamon and sugar on top, then bit into the hot melt. People, you haven't tasted a proper doughnut until you've tasted one of those! Next I got a falaffel, sort of a hand-made pita stuffed with salads and meats. Also perfect take-back-on-the-bus lunch.The sweetest memory I have about standing in the falaffel line was the little boy and his puppy. You could tell the two just adored each other, and they chased each other all around the cobblestone while the little boy's parents ordered. When they practically bumped into me, I asked the boy what the puppy's name was. All the sudden he became shy and backed up to the safety of his daddy. But his dad tried to get him to tell me and he still wouldn't, so his dad walked up closer to my ear and said,"Shampoo. We told him he could name the puppy whatever he wanted, and after thinking about it for twenty minutes, he said he wanted to name it Shampoo." !!!! Now that's the most darling story I've heard in a long time. I'll never forget the curly-haired toddler and his doggie Shampoo. 
These are only some of my memories of Galway.

Tuesday, October 14, 2014

Footprints on the Irish Sea

If you know me well, you know that I have my own "Footprints" story. Life has had handed me a large share of woes, and I don't expect them to be all over yet either. But it is so good to be away from at least some of them for awhile, the ones I have no control over. A friend had told me right before I flew to this island, "I know you've had a hard year, but once you get on that plane, dance down the aisle and leave it all behind you". Rest and peace have been more than a blessing to me, and I've waited a long time. As I walked down to this pure sea beach in the Derryman area of Ireland, some of the whispers of the mysteries of life unfolded for me. Sometimes we're brought to places in life where we have to run forward and forget the pain and tears behind us like the shore and sea. This place of Ireland has so little pollution it's known for having some of the world's blackest skies. Therefore this area of the sea shore was so clean too. As soon as I was close to the water, I ran reckless down to the water and splashed into the waves. I can never outrun this childish delight; it gets me every time. It was as if the water cleaned off the dirt of the long road I've traveled to get here. The water was clean and cool, but not even as cold as Lake Superior. I splashed some on my face and tasted it on my tongue. For some reason ocean salt water taste always surprises me after living by fresh water all my life. Oftentimes dolphins and sometimes certain whales have swam up to this shore, though I didn't see any. The Irish say that last winter there were such huge storms here that much of the beach as they'd known it was washed away. Considering this, I think the storms of my life have certainly washed away some of my old 'beach' too. And now there is a beautiful new. Untouched sand, I have to make new footprints on the soil of my heart.

Lose me to This Land

This one is for the nature lovers. The story behind the photos on Facebook. As you know I'm a poetry chaser and that's what I did this past weekend...wild huge waters, rolling green hills, cows grazing by the sea, sheep on steep hills, rocks and waterfalls. The beauty this time actually hurt my mind, as I took so many pictures with my eyes, at night I couldn't fall asleep because they kept rolling through my head.

This was a Heritage Weekend Trip, taken mostly by international students, and I'm so glad I went because I happened to be in the same group as several other friends I've made since coming here. Among them were Morgan my super-tough-adventurous friend, Lexie my similar-to-me business friend and awesome person, Christina my good-cooker flatmate, as well as some guys & girls from France, Germany, and Austria. I had a moment, while out adventuring with these incredible people where I thought,"Wow, what a treasure, to be be here in this incredible place, at this time of my life, with these very people!" Never can it be repeated quite the same way down the road. Anyway, we left for Co. Kerry on Friday afternoon and it took a little over an hour to get there. After a week of classes at the university here in the city, we were all just so grateful to get out of town for a little. And seriously, the scenery got better and better every few miles for the whole weekend. We drove by the river and cow field after cow field, when all of the sudden we came into mountainous territory, and then between two mountains out of nowhere, popped the sea! Me and my friend Lexie's jaws literally dropped open and stayed there. We couldn't believe our eyes. Pictures don't do it justice.

That was Friday evening. I ate salmon and warm chocolate fudge cake for dinner. The hotel we stayed at, in a quiet little town, was super clean and comfortable. After breakfast in the morning, we all took off across the bridge and stopped on the other side, getting out to the sun just BEAMing in on our faces and glowing all over the fishing village. We went into a tourist place to watch something called the "Skelling Island Experience", which blew my mind. See those islands above? Well somewhere around the 9th and 10th centuries, the Monks boated out to these rocky, steep mountains in the middle of the sea and decided to live there! They might not look too huge right here, but they actually are. Over several years, the monks carved stares out of rock, all the way up to the top. And they build their houses and monasteries out of pieces of sheet rock. I so very much wished to go out to the islands themselves rather than just viewing them, but they were eight miles out, and they said the sea waters can change pretty fast when boating out. Though we didn't do it this time, it is totally possible to book a boat trip out there on your own.  

The next venture of the day was climbing a hill that a farmer owns, where he has cows and sheep and lets tourists walk up road to the top. At the top, their was a massive 360-degree view of Venetia Island, which we were on. And I'd been waiting to see some sheep since I started this trip, and here they were all around me! I was up so high, way above the lighthouse, with vast expanse of the Atlantic on three sides of me, and Irish farm fields and villages on the fourth side. Speechless, breathless after the trek to the top, yet  my heart burst to fill up and pop again. It's like as God told Job long long ago: "Have you comprehended the expanse of the earth? Declare, if you know all this."(Job 38:18). No, I can't comprehend, especially after seeing that! It totally blew what I thought I'd already seen!

The sky and sunshine were brilliant for our adventures, which I hear is more rare in this area.
Especially for October. I felt so blessed. And I didn't want to leave, like ever! But, of course we had to, and it was okay because the next stop was a castle anyhow.And I didn't know this until I got there, but it turned out to be the same castle from the movie "Leap Year". Very cool! Just so you know the movie doesn't show it quite right, but you should still watch it for sakes. For instance, we didn't notice a train station right down the hill, plus the hill going up into the castle isn't big at all. Oh man, it was so awesome to be able to climb up freely into the walls of an ancient castle without guards, rules, and worrying about safety too much. There were a few potentially dangerous climbs, but oh well! The inside of those castles aren't always as big as they look on the inside because the walls are so thick. That's also why they hold up so well after all these years. There were all these cubby-hole 'windows' too in the walls, and it was splendid to look out the very same seeing holes on the same land that kings and lords looked out of hundreds of years ago. We also explored a couple ancient forts, which are also in greatly preserved after so many years. Imagine "Zena the Warrior Princess" type stuff. People hoarding into a circular fort to keep safe from the invaders.

After visiting these sites, some of us, including me, decided to take a long country walk back to our hotel, which took at least an hour. It was totally worth it. Since I still hadn't wanted to leave anyway, it was great just to walk and walk till I was worn out. I was willing to just get lost in this kind of beauty.