Monday, March 1, 2010

Aran Islands

On Saturday, I was reunited with Galway, my most favorite city. We both missed each other, so we had a nice hug and got on with our day. I went with Jack, Melissa, Molly to pick up Jack's girlfriend Robin, and Melissa's friend Amanda (who happen to be roommates--small world!) at the Dublin airport and we hopped on a bus to the west coast. It was their first time being in Ireland, so we gave them the grand tour of Galway since we were old pros by this point. We walked along the water and through the city, played with a dog by the water, and ended up losing his toy when Jack through it a bit too far out of reach for the dog to retrieve. Hopefully the owners never noticed!

While walking through town, we stopped at a little dress and hat shop to look at the ridiculously expensive gowns, reminisce about prom, and wonder what it would be like to have a gown-worthy function to attend. I started trying on a few hair accessories for fun, and shortly realized that they were worth more than the dresses themselves. That white feather headband? 170 Euro. And the purple hat? 230 Euro. I can only imagine what the hats high up on the shelf must have cost!

On our way back to the hostel, we stopped in at a dollar store type place, where I bought some hair extensions for 5 Euro. Did they match my hair? No. Did I actually think I was going to look good? No. But we had had a long day and little sleep, so we were all a bit giddy and excited to try them out. In my defense, they did not photograph well and did look better in person, if only slightly. I wore them out that night and definitely got more attention than usual, but it was mostly from creepy middle-aged men, so the telepathic girl vibes and eye signals to save me from awkward conversations were in full force.

The last pub of the night that we went in was called Coyote's and modeled after the American movie, Coyote Ugly. So there are American flags everywhere and the DJ played what I think he believed to be popular American dance songs, but it was more like a wedding reception or middle school dance playlist. "Hot Hot Hot," "YMCA," and "Cotton Eye Joe" were among the best songs of the night. We showed up the Irish when we started doing the Cotton Eye Joe dance and none of them had a clue what we were doing. But they all had the YMCA down pat.

The next morning, we woke up and hopped on a boat to the islands to the west. Just when I thought I had seen the most rural areas in Ireland, I got off the ferry at Inis Mór and was proven wrong. The largest of the three Aran Islands, Inis Mór only has about 800 inhabitants, one grocery store and a handful of pubs, hostels and bicycle rental places. There is literally nothing there and it's so refreshing.

Although, we picked the weekend of Ted Fest, a celebration of the TV show "Father Ted," to visit. This meant that everyone was dressed as nuns and priests, and occasionally in blackface (I'm assuming it's a character), while they went around their business on the island. None of us had seen the show, but I've just watched the first episode and I've put a link here for you to watch if you've got 20 minutes to spare. It's apparent how it was a bit controversial when it debuted, but it's quite funny.

The first thing we did was pick up a lunch at the grocery store, where they actually had turkey! Woo! Then we packed everything in my backpack and rented bikes for the day. Yes, Dad, I actually rode a bike all day long as I seem to have recovered from the traumatic tree-branch-in-the-face incident of my youth. I even have photographic evidence!

The scenery was just breathtaking, it was nothing but rolling grassy hills, stone walls and the blue water. We stopped just about every two minutes to take pictures, so by the time we got a few miles down the coast, we were already starving. We stopped at a picnic table at a seal colony (we saw one or two heads popping out of the water) and had our lunch. As we sat there, the sunny sky started getting darker and darker, and one by one, nuns and priests were frantically pedaling back to town, in the opposite direction that we were planning to head. Sure enough, just as we hopped on our bikes, it started to rain. Sideways.

We were determined to reach Dún Aonghasa, which was an old fort, but is now best known for its cliffs. They're no Cliffs of Moher, but they are pretty close. You could actually see the Cliffs of Moher across the water, though. From the top of the hill we had to climb to get there, we could see the whole island, both coasts at the same time. It was also apparent just how few people there are, since you could see all of about 12 houses.

And then there were the cliffs. We all ended lying down on the edge to look over the side, which didn't bother me at the time, I wasn't scared at all. But sitting here now, I'm having a mild anxiety attack because I was so close to the edge. Is it possible to have a delayed fear of heights? If you look closely along the edge of this first picture, sent to me by Molly, you can see an itty bitty me in the top left corner.

The rain was intermittent all day, which was annoying until we saw the rainbow. It was the most beautiful sight, we could actually see the entire arch of it!

We made our way back down to the bottom of the hill and got back on our bikes to continue our trip around the island. Of course, we got lost. Now the map we had only had about two roads drawn on and so when we realized there were maybe a couple more roads on the island, we got a bit confused. After biking up an incredibly steep hill, we happened upon two men fixing a stone wall and talking to cows. They told us we were indeed lost and sent us back down the hill and gave us directions. We followed them, but I'm pretty sure we got lost again. Nevertheless, we found a spot where huge waves were crashing against the rocks.

When the sun started to set, we got a bit nervous and headed back, hoping to find our way home before dark since there might be one streetlight on the whole island. We rode for a good 20 or 30 minutes in the middle of the road and saw maybe one or two passing cars to remind us that there were actually other people on the island with us. We really felt like we were the only living souls on the north side of the island. There were houses, but no cars or people to be seen around them. The silence was unreal. Occasionally, there would be a moo or whinny from the cows and horses, but other than that, it was just the sounds of our bikes clicking. (Sidenote: I swear mine was clicking to the beat of Michael Jackson's "Smooth Criminal." Either way, it got that song stuck in my head for the rest of the day.)

As the sun was setting and we were just about back into town, another rainbow appeared in front of us! Then, a fainter one appeared next to it. Three rainbows in one day?! Unfortunately there were no pots of gold to be found. Just some awesome pictures.

We got back into town and happened to ride by the guys who gave us directions when we were lost on the hill, except this time, they were in a horse and buggy, just riding around. It was pretty hilarious, and something that we decided could only happen in the Aran Islands.

We returned our bikes and headed out to dinner at The American Bar. Was this our first choice? Absolutely not. Was it the cheapest place we could find? Oh, yes. We gobbled down hamburgers and chips with ketchup because after riding about 10 miles throughout the day, we were famished. We went on down the road after dinner to Father Ted trivia night at a pub. The costumes were entertaining, but we were all so exhausted that we called it a night and went back to the hostel early since we had to make a 7 a.m. ferry back to Galway in order to make it to our 2 o'clock history class at DCU.

We woke up before the sun and with the feeling that we were all still sitting on our uncomfortable bike seats to catch the ferry. About half an hour later, we were able to see the sunrise.

What a spectacular way to end the weekend.

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