Sunday, December 6, 2015

Ireland, Day 6: Galway for the birthday boy.

The interminably slow travelogue continues:
My fiancé had decided he wanted to spend his birthday in Galway, so that morning we made the 45 minute drive around Galway Bay and into the city.
We walked into the bustling pedestrian area, and I was immediately struck by the AIB bank in a fortified medieval building called Lynch's Castle. I think this is a gargoyle, but it looks like a creature eating one of its own young.
Our first order of business was finding our wedding rings, something my fiancé specifically wanted to do on his birthday. We browsed at several shops in the jewelry district, but had done research online prior to our trip and had decided that Foxford Jewellry was where we wanted to go. It had unique designs, a good reputation and reasonable prices. But we could NOT find it, even though we walked up and down Williamsgate Street. Finally we stopped at Logue's shoe store and found out it was in Corbet Court, a little indoor shopping area a few doors down.
It was a tiny shop but we went on in and were greeted by Ann, a friendly soft-spoken woman. After describing what we were looking for, she started bringing out rings and then asked the young jeweler, Lorcan, to show us some newer ring designs he was working on. He told us he would make us whatever we'd like, scaling mine down to fit the narrow band size I wanted. We settled on a Celtic pattern we both liked, one that looks like flattened knotted hearts to me, in 14K white gold. The recessed area was a little whiter. Lorcan does the design and the initial work on it and his father does the finishing work using traditional tools. It turns out that we would save more money on tax by ordering online so Lorcan created the item listings for us and ordered them through the website, but he also gave them to us at the lower in-shop price. We chatted with Ann while we waited and when my fiancé (who shares a first name with her husband) mentioned that it was his birthday, she gave him a sterling silver pin with an Irish pike on it. She also offered to polish my diamond ring for me, and it was almost absurdly sparkly. She gave me a polishing pen to take with me and told us the wedding bands would be shipped to us when they were ready. It was just a lovely experience all the way around.
We had lunch afterwards at McDonough's on Quay street, which Ann said is famous for its fish and chips. They don't sell beer but told us we could bring over pints from the pub next door.
Along with the fish and chips and the requisite pints of Guinness, we got half a dozen oysters. My fiancé has never had them and had agreed to try. Just the one, because he didn't like them. Good thing I do!
A couple with a tour group shared our table. Originally the woman asked if the other seats were taken and when she sat down I asked where she was from. She told me Newfoundland originally, but they live now in Myrtle Beach, South Carolina. I told her we were from Tennessee and she said, "Oh, I took you for Irish!"
Then back to shopping. The city is a little bit of a maze and we kept re-tracing our steps. Musicians were out in full force, including this gypsy group. Not all the musicians were as good - one was simply a guy beating on plastic mayonnaise tubs with drumsticks.
We really didn't venture out beyond the pedestrian area, but managed to fill the whole day.
We shopped for gifts to bring back to the kids, to go with the stuffed lamb for the younger daughter and the necklaces for the girls we'd bought in Dingle. We bought an Aran island wool cap for my older son's girlfriend, a recorder for the younger daughter, tin whistles for the older son and daughter, a Guinness shirt and pint glass for my younger son, and leather bracelets with Celtic charms for all of them (and me). I also bought a long cream colored Aran island sweater that fastens with a toggle at the top and some really pretty Celtic knot earrings we found at a thrift store, made by a woman in Anascaul. My fiancé managed to find two nice sports jackets in thrift stores.
One shopping break involved stopping for a chocolate bomb and hot tea at Elle's cafe. Delicious.
In another store, I was looking at t-shirts with Irish sayings on them and read them aloud to my fiancé:  "Tá mé" and "Is maith liom." A woman who was shopping asked me if I could translate them for her. When I told her they just said "I am" and "I like" she decided not to buy them. Good decision. I believe I was "mistaken for Irish" yet again.
Another break, this one for a distiller's whiskey flight at Garavan's, a pub that has been in business in a 16th century building since the 1930's. I no longer have the tasting notes, but our favorite was the Green Spot whiskey. Our least favorite had rum notes.
After all the shopping was done, it was time for dinner. My fiancé chose the King's Head, located in a medieval building on High Street, in the Latin Quarter.
We started with the Redbreast 12 year old single pot whiskey. They had three unnamed kinds of red wine on the menu, but an extensive and descriptive whiskey list.
My fiancé ordered the Irish stew and I had really good crab claws in garlic butter, salad and a bread to dip in the sauce. Both with a glass of malbec.
We had decided we'd better get back to Ballyvaughn before dark, but live music coming from inside the Tigh Coili Pub on Mainguard Street stopped us in our tracks. We decided to pop in for a whiskey. When a corner seat opened up, we started for it and then saw that an older Irish couple had the same idea. We told them to take it and they suggested we join them. They told us they were from central Ireland and had come down to Galway just for the day. We sat right next to the musicians. The unspoken communication between musicians who work together fascinates me. The mandolin guy would play a little bit while the guy with the accordion watched.  Then he'd start tapping out the tune while the mandolin player would listen to him to make sure it was what he wanted, then they'd both play, along with a guy with a bodhrán. The crowd enjoying the music was irrelevant - they were clearly playing for the love of the music itself.
We drove back along the bay and saw a fox lope across the road and into the brush. When we got to our cottage, we dropped our bags off and headed right back out into Ballyvaughn. It was dark now and chilly, so I got a chance to wear my new wool sweater.
We had a couple of whiskeys each - a Paddys (not very good) and a Jameson's black barrel (much better) at Clanahan's, a crowded pub.  There were mostly North American and German tourists here, so we headed over to Greene's, a pub with a smaller local crowd, for a couple of Green Spot whiskeys. I was accused of being "a little loopy" by then, but that's the beauty of having a cottage within walking distance, isn't it? All in all, I think we agreed that it was a pretty sweet way to spend a 49th birthday.

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