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Report 1922: Coasting Through Ireland on Pints of Cider

By Green Dragon from FL, Spring 2011

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Page 11 of 21: Saturday, May 21st: Close the Door, You're Letting the Weather in

We had an early start today, out at 7am and off to the ferry at Rossaveal to get to Inis Mor. It was a gloomy, rainy morning, lowering clouds and a bit depressing. We packed only what we wanted to bring on the island, as there was no need to bring seven days of clothes when two would do, and we couldn't bring our car on the island – only residents could do that. It was a 1.5 hour drive to the ferry dock, and we met very few cars on the road on the way. We stopped at a Spar in Rossaveal, got some snacky bits to make up for missing breakfast. While scanning the items on offer, we saw Spam – selling for €4.99. We figured we could buy a bunch and bring it over, make a killing.

While we waited for the ferry (we were about an hour early, just in case something had gone wrong), we decided that Ireland is a bit of a contradiction. Everyone drives fast, but does things slowly. Things may say they will open at 7 (if hours are posted at all), but not really open until 8. Perhaps they just want to hurry and get off the roads so they will have to pass fewer people on the road? Debe had mentioned things don't really get going until 9 or 10 in the morning, but many stay up late at night. In the US, if a place is closed, that open sign is turned off, turned around, but definitely gone. They seem to leave them up everywhere in Ireland, even when a place is obviously closed.

We went in to where the ferry parking lot was, confirmed our prepaid tickets, and headed to the dock itself. It was pouring rain at this point, with high winds, so the umbrella was useless. I couldn't even get my poncho on due to the strong wind, it threatened to fly away, so I just pushed through, carrying my smaller bag (without wheels, unfortunately). We boarded the ferry amidst a group of American teenage tourists, one of which, sitting behind me, seemed so vacuous I was afraid my brain cells were being siphoned off due to extreme osmosis. The trip was very choppy due to the wind, and one woman a couple rows from us lost her breakfast, and was almost carried into the back of the ferry, where the rocking up and down wasn't as pronounced.

Luckily for us, both V and I have iron stomachs, and considered this to be a roller coaster ride and rather fun. When we docked, it was still pouring and the wind was still raging. We rushed in (with everyone else) to the tourist office. I wasn't sure if our B&B host was going to pick us up, so I tried to give him a call – busy. The very helpful lady at the tourist office said the jitney tour buses lining the dock doubled as taxis, and they would be able to take us out to the cottage (which was about five miles along the nine mile island). That was great in theory, but the first driver we approached (an older man with a blue van) said he wasn't interested. The second driver (a younger man with a red van) was also reluctant, but finally agreed to let us at least sit in the bus until he got a full load of tourists. We got the impression that, if he was able to get a full tour-load, we would be asked to get back off, and try a different taxi driver.

The driver waited about 15-20 minutes, while I continued to try our B&B on the phone. I finally got through (I was worried that our host was out there looking for us) and was assured by Maura, our hostess, that Joe wasn't there, and that we should go ahead and take the taxi. Meanwhile, the driver had started gathering a larger group. He dropped some off at other B&Bs (turned out he had a taxi day rather than a tour day, after all), and then picked up some others to do the same. One of these groups had Jeff – an organizer of a tour group of some 40 people from Dublin, here for the weekend. One sat next to me, Ken, and we started chatting. He had been to the US, even lived in NYC for a year.

With everyone else nearby dropped off, our driver started the tour for the four people left in the bus, and headed towards the center of the island, where our B&B was, Man of Aran Cottage. When he made it to the village near Dun Aengosa, he dropped off the tour folks and then down the street and around the corner, dropping us off at our place. Warm, safe and dry at last!

The cottage was charming, lovely, and nicely restored. It had been used in the film Man of Aran, a 1934 film about life on the island, thatched and comfortable. Our room (#5) was in the next building, nicely done with wood floors, a decent sized room with a window overlooking the water, and a rather tiny bathroom (by US standards – normal by European standards).

V and I were both thoroughly tired of the rain and gloom, and since we couldn't use our car to get around the island and stay dry, she decided to stay put for a while and read. I went in to the dining area, and chatted with Maura a bit, taking her up on her offer for tea and biscuits. We talked about island life, politics, crime, jewelry (I dragged out my stuff again, and she was kind enough to buy a pair of my gingko leaf earrings), depression, finance, weight, etc. It was a thoroughly enjoyable alternative afternoon to slogging through the rain.

She told me that Joe Watty's, a pub I was looking forward to visiting, served food from about 6pm to 8:30pm, and I went back to the room and checked my email and Facebook (yes, they have WiFi, yay!). I started getting stir-crazy then – I didn't travel 3000 miles to stay inured in the B&B! So, when the sun started burning through a bit, I put on my rain poncho and went walking to the nearby village. I remembered it from last time I was here, and they had hearty soups and wonderful Guinness chocolate cake.

I ended up walking the same way the bus had come, which I discovered later was the long way around, but it was a nice enough walk. The rain came and went, but I was thoroughly ponchoed (the umbrella was useless in the wind). I got into the village, did a little shopping in the shops, and traded a few phrases of Irish with the locals. They all seemed impressed that I even tried, and I was gratified that my accent could be understood.

Once the tour buses filled back up and took all the extras away, I wandered into Nan Phaddy's to find a warm, welcoming, toasty fire in the fireplace, hot vegetable soup on the menu, and a seat near the fire waiting for me. I met a girl from Malta who was visiting, she was part of the group from Dublin. I can't now remember her name, but we talked for a little bit then and later on as well. I also heard another of the Dublin 40 speaking Spanish, and was delighted to discover I could understand every word she said. Since I grew up in Miami, I speak Spanish passably well, but Cuban Spanish is much faster than some of the other accents, and it is difficult for me to understand when the words stop. I concluded that she was from Spain, as her words were well-enunciated. I asked her 'ΏEres tϊ de Espaρa?', and she answered yes – it was great! I spoke two foreign languages that day, and was understood in both. We get our little joys out of life in odd ways, don't we?

Jeff came in after a while, and extended an invitation to join them at Joe Watty's later, even giving me his cell number. Since I was planning on going there anyhow, I told him that would be great. With V feeling unsocial, I wanted to have someone I knew already there. While I don't mind going in blind, it's much nicer if there is at least one person you've met before.

I headed back to the B&B via the shorter route, which was only about ten minutes to walk. There was no rain for the first couple of minutes, and then it returned with a vengeance. When I got back to the room, V was happily playing on her iPad, and I set my clothes and jacket on the radiator to dry. That's when the sun decided to come out and start shining through, even revealing some lovely, much missed brilliant blue patches in the sky. I decided to take advantage of the unusual weather and set out to walk the 4.5 miles to Joe Watty's. I could have called a taxi, but I wanted to absorb that rare sunshine.

Since my sneakers were soaked, I put on my other shoes and started out. The walk was long and windy, up and down hills, in and out of sun and rain. I did develop a small blister on one toe, but made it in about an hour and a half without problems. I saw several folks driving, another walker, and a biker. I saw a ship anchored off the island, and was later told it was a National Geographic vessel, doing a story on the local wildlife. Along the route I also saw two donkeys, about a dozen chickens (the most we had yet seen in Ireland), several horses, and a gang of young hostelers.

When I got to Joe's, I saw several tables marked Reserved, and concluded that this is where Jeff's group was planning on sitting, but no one that I knew was there yet. I went up to the bar, and got myself a pint of cider and a Smoked Mackerel Salad. The smoky, salty flavor of the fish worked perfectly with the sweet balsamic dressing, it was delicious. There was a game on television, and everyone was very excited about it – Leinster was playing, and they won. This was evidently a good thing, judging by the cheering and other reactions. I'm rather a dunce about sports, but the mood was infectious.

Jeff and his crowd started trickling in a bit later. They were all part of a group called "New and Not So New in Dublin", a social group that did all sorts of meet-ups and gatherings. I sat with and talked with several people. Fernando, who was from Mexico and just moved to Dublin a short while ago; Maria who was from Belgium, originally; Jeff, the social butterfly who flitted from group to group; Louisa, who had a huge plate of stone crab claws, and was somewhat apprehensive about being able to get them open; Ken, the gentleman who sat next to me on the bus, looked like a younger version of Ian McShane, and was an accountant like me; Declan, who had lived in Thailand for a year teaching English, and was about to embark on the same job in Barcelona. Declan and I actually got along quite well – we both loved trivia and history, so we chatted a lot. I showed off the jewelry once again, and got lots of compliments.

After everyone else finished their dinner, the pints started flowing. Ken got Declan to start drinking Gin & Tonics, which I wouldn't think would mix well with the cider, so I stuck with my Bulmers. The singer started up, and we all danced and sang to songs like The Gambler, Country Roads (really? Is West Virginia so popular in Ireland??), Piano Man, With or Without You, Daydream Believer, Fields of Athenry, Molly Malone, Stuck in the Middle with You, Galway Girl, etc. The place was now packed, with at least one hen party, several groups of guys, and with a couple outright stumbling drunks.

I went outside for some cooler air, as the wind was still whipping about with bits of rain. There was a pub dog playing fetch with whoever was willing to throw the straw (we couldn't find a proper stick for him). The wind was raw and wild, so it drove me back inside for more fun.

As it neared 11, I decided to try to find a ride back to the cottage – I didn't want to get stuck walking back in that weather. I made my way through the dancing crowd to the bar, and asked one of the girls to ring up a taxi for me. When I went outside, the guy in the blue van was there again – he wanted €15 for a five mile drive. I thought perhaps he wanted to haggle, so I offered €5 (Ken had told me that €2 was more normal, but it had been €5 that morning). He said that wasn't even going to pay for the petrol – now shut the door, the weather is coming in. Well, I went back into the pub, and asked the girl if that was really the going rate, or was he trying to gouge me? PJ, the owner of the bar, heard me, and got very upset. He said it was a ridiculous sum, and that he'd take me himself.

Now, the pub was stuffed with people! He had a great staff, but for him to leave his own pub in the middle of a Saturday night crowd just to take a tourist home was incredible. He was livid about the taxi driver, and wanted to make sure that this wasn't the impression I took away about Irish hospitality. PJ, you more than made up for that man's attempt to gouge the tourist. Your kindness and help is what I will remember, and pass on to everyone who will listen. Thank you!

I am very glad I didn't attempt the walk back, as it was by now pitch black, and there is NO light on that route. I would have used up what was left of my cell phone charge to try to see and not stumble on some unsuspecting donkey, or tumble over a dry mortar wall.

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