Thursday, January 30, 2014

Sticks and Stones May Break My Bones…Wind and Hail Might Kill Me

Hello again!

Now that I'm mostly recovered from the plague, I can get back to blogging about the good stuff! Last weekend was the first time that we got the chance to explore outside of Galway. We love our city but it was time to get to adventuring! So the three of us (Sarah, Lauren, and myself) booked a two day tour to see the Cliffs of Moher and Connemara.

The first day, the bus left at 10:00am so we all begrudgingly got up on a Saturday morning, skipped the farmer's market, and headed to the bus station. After a few turnarounds, we realized the station was just around the corner and let me say that the bus station here in Galway was so nice. And so clean! I detest the Buffalo bus station with it's shoddiness and grossness and unsafeness so I was delighted to find this was not the case over here. Keeping with the usual, the people who worked there were helpful and accommodating and quickly got us on the right bus.
So began our journey.
I know you guys in the States are having some serious weather. Trust me, I know. None of you will shut up about it on Facebook. It's cold, it's windy, it's cold, it's snowing, it's cold. I get it. But you have not felt wind until you bus is shaking back and forth on the side of the cliff as you drive next to the ocean. 
Our first stop was to Ailwee Caves. By now we were high up in the Burren (even though they told us it was the lower part). The Burren is a region of the land that is covered in limestone, sparse in population, and very beautiful. Well, I imagine it was beautiful; I couldn't see much out of the rain-streaked windows. Back to the caves.
           My childhood claustrophobia came back the second I walked into the dark entrance and the iron gate closed behind us (was it really necessary to close the f-ing door?). It took all my energy not to turn around to Sarah and Lauren and go Guys, what would happen if this whole thing just caved in?
You would die, Marie. You would die.
Some Irish dude discovered the cave in 1940 when his dog chased a rabbit into it. Thinking that this miles long hole in the side of a mountain wasn't a big deal, he kept his mouth shut until 1975 when some British cave-lovers came by and that's when he revealed the big secret. The coolest thing was that there were 2000 year old Irish Brown Bear bones just lying there. Next to a big indentation in the cave dirt floor where the bear slept. Again, I had to stop myself: Hey guys, what if the bears aren't really extinct?

Toward the end of the tour, the guide announced she would be turning off the lamps that lit the wall and that all cellphones should be turned off and put away. Is everyone okay with this? she asks, as if a bunch of college kids are going to say they are scared of the dark. Pssh, I’m not afraid.
If you’ve never been victim to 100% darkness then I envy you. Keep it that way. It was the craziest and most frightening thing I’ve done in a while. Here I am, standing on a rickety bridge over a ten meter drop into a cave and I couldn’t even see my hand waving an inch in front of my face. Of course, my basic instinct was to curl up in a ball and cry and wait to die but then the lights came back on and as the trembling subsided, I realized it had only been about thirty seconds.
No big deal or anything but at the end of the tour, the guide said she would not be accompanying us out and gave us the type of directions all good Irish give (go left here, then right, then straight for a bit, then left again. You can’t get lost!) But we got out and jumped back on the bus to head to the rock thingy.
I’m still not sure of the rock thingy’s significance or purpose. I do know that it was some type of monument and that a guard stood outside at all times to stop people from lighting bonfires beneath it. Stupid people. Then I got outside in the ferocious wind and the rain and I thought, Actually, a bonfire wouldn’t be a bad idea.

By this time, we’re starving and tired and just been told that the Cliffs have closed due to the 75 mph winds and the bus driver was sorry, but we couldn't go. Ugh, whatever, I thought, lamenting the loss of my thirteen euro. We pulled into this small town to eat at a pub and found no less than four other tour buses parked outside. Everyone else had the same idea. Instead of taking us somewhere else, the bus driver gave us forty minutes, lined us up, fired the gun, and off we went, to battle for a place in line for food.
Seeing that I have no luck anywhere I go, we were last in line, and stood for forty-five minutes, praying and hoping that the bus wouldn’t leave without us. Note of interest: someone came up to me while I stood in line and was like "Oh my god!" It took me a second to realize it was a girl from high school. In New Jersey. And here we were in the same tiny pub in Nowhere, Ireland. Life is weird. The bus didn't leave without us and we ate out of take-out containers on our knees while sitting on the bus. It was still the best food ever. After living off of egg sandwiches and tuna melts for three weeks, the pasta and three different kinds of potatoes tasted like heaven. I wasn’t even mad about the thirteen euro anymore.
Our driver decided that even though the weather was dangerous, he would drive us to the Cliffs and we could go in the back gate. Great.
We hit the wind head-on as we get off the bus. Of course we were walking straight into it. We kept getting blown to the side and backwards and forwards and basically had no control over our bodies. Which is why that rock barrier along the Cliffs was so important. In the pictures, it looks cool and in person it is cool but we were just not at the best angle and time of the day and the sun was right over the Cliffs in our eyes so we could only see dark outlines. Not to mention, we were getting tired and it was getting easier for the wind to knock us around. Back to the bus.

Our last stop was to the mini-cliffs. I’m not sure if they have a real name or not but everyone just calls them the mini-cliffs. The actually Cliffs of Moher are about 700 feet high and the mini-cliffs are half that. Still, the ocean was shooting up spray over top of them and one of the waves caught us when we weren’t looking! It was a much better view though and probably my favorite part of the trip.

Day Two.
            This time we picked the later pick up time at 11:30. Thank goodness! We weren’t really sure of what we were getting into or what the attraction was but we were game for anything!
            Turns out we traveled from Galway to Connemara, which boasts some pretty impressive mountains. The driver kept stopping and letting us out to take pictures. Don’t get me wrong, but, uh, all the mountains started to look the same. Wow, yes, impressive. Let’s move on.

            We got to the main attraction, Kylemore Abbey in the afternoon. I was in Ireland during summer of 2009 and as we rounded a corner and caught sight of the Abbey, something about it seemed so familiar. The castle is breathtaking, one of the most beautiful things I’ve seen while being here so far. And I was sure I’d seen it before. A chat with my mom the next day confirmed my suspicions: we had driven by the Abbey almost five years ago.

Take note, future-husband-wherever-you-are. This is what our house better look like.

            We got some lunch and perused the souvenir shop until two which is when we bought our tickets to get into the Abbey. I know Kylemore also has some impressive gardens but we didn’t get a chance to see them (this time) so I won’t be talking about them. But the castle enough was incredible. Sarah, Lauren, and I spent a lot of time inside, reading everything and taking too many photos. From the 1920s to 2010, Kylemore was actually a girl’s boarding school, so there was a lot of information on it during those years. Me, a total history nut, was in nerd heaven as I imagined all the girls who had come and gone over the years and all the history the castle held within the walls. Because we had a bit of extra time, we decided to make our way to the Gothic Church (no, that’s really what it’s called). It was cute and old and historic. Outside was a graveyard where all the previous nuns were buried (ten still live in the Abbey).

The real adventure began we tried to walk from the church to the bus because it started hailing. Ever been caught in a hailstorm? No? Let me help you out.
It’s like being pelted with rocks. In Ireland, where the rain blows sideways and not down, it was like being pelted in the face with rocks. And even though we had our scarves up, covering our faces, the rocks hurt. Not to mention I couldn’t see and was really hoping not to fall in the lake we were walking next to. Wouldn’t that just be the icing on the cake? The three of us were shouting promises to God the whole way, negotiating our grades, our vices, our first borns, anything as long as he would make it stop hailing. He must have heard because the hail stopped and the torrential sideways Irish rain started up right on cue. I imagine God sitting up on this throne in hysterics, Hahaha, Marie, I don’t want your first born. Only you will be able to handle that creature.
We made it back to bus, faces stinging, completely drenched but also exhilarated. There’s just something about walking through a hailstorm that brings people together. I’m pretty sure I fell asleep on the bus ride more than once, wet hair and all.

It was definitely a weekend to remember, between the wind and the hail and the rain. So I know it’s cold at home folks, but hopefully my suffering makes you feel a little bit better. At least I have some cool photos to show from my struggle!

The lake in front of Kylmore

Inside Kylmore

Signing the guestbook! So exciting!

Gotta love the rolling hills.


White girl mirror selfie!

*Reminder that you can make the pictures larger by clicking on them.

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