We have now left Ireland after our three week tour of the little island. Although the weather never permanently cooperated, we’re happy to report that the wind died down and we had one full day of sunshine! In many ways, the colder and wetter weather encouraged us to move a bit slower and explore the Irish towns, and since our last blog we spent time in three noteworthy places: the village of Dingle, the town of Galway, and the city of Dublin.
The tiny town of Dingle sits on the Dingle Peninsula, which is one of Ireland’s main tourist attractions. Looking to shower in something other than raindrops, we took a hostel (and ended up spending two nights due to weather) in Dingle and enjoyed exploring its many shops and pubs. Like everywhere we went in Ireland, pubs abound in Dingle: the town has a permanent population of only 1,000 people and also has 54 pubs. We really enjoyed a famous pub called Dick Mack’s, a pub that doubles as a hardware store. Fix your belt, get a pint, buy some nails! Another highlight of Dingle was we purchased our very first souvenir! With less than a month left we feel more able to carry a bit of extra weight and thus Alec is the proud owner of an Aran Island wool sweater.
Between Dingle and Galway we enjoyed some beautiful coastal biking, through the breathtaking views of Dingle Peninsula (accompanied by its very old anthropological history), up Ireland’s highest paved mountain pass, and through a unique area called The Burren. We found the Burren to be very special and unlike anything else we had seen: layers and piles of sharp, jagged limestone which provided a barren appearance but in reality was home to many wildflowers. The grey weather really added to the otherworldly feel of the landscape. Near to The Burren area was the Cliffs of Moher, steep cliffs sitting 200 metres above sea level which are also an important seabird habitat (although we only saw the cliffs attracting tourists!). The admission to Cliffs of Moher was unreasonably expensive… and thus with the flexibility our bikes bring we decided to go through the back way unnoticed.
After the Burren we travelled along the pretty south shores of the Galway Bay, through some of the sunniest (although still quite windy) weather we’ve had. We really had to thank Mother Nature for providing us with easy terrain and clear skies since our cycle to Galway essentially ended our cycle tour proper (we are now spending two weeks hiking, cottaging and cycling in the UK with Alec’s aunt and uncle). We were luckily able to find some great live Irish music that afternoon, and we thought it the perfect send off from the world of two-wheel spontaneity. Nootka, however, was a bit unimpressed that he would have to start travelling by bus, train and ferry again and thus six kilometres out of Galway he had a flat tire, despite neither bike needing a tube change since Brittany!
Although we arrived in Galway feeling a bit nostalgic, the town soon reminded us that we still have plenty of adventures left on our trip! We stayed in Galway with a really lovely couple (the exact same ages as us) named Marie and Fergal who provided lots of interesting conversation and also let us share in their cocktail and pizza party with some of their friends. They lived in a great location to explore Galway, and we had fun getting to know this colourful student town, full of street music, cafes, pubs, and artsy shops.
Galway will always be a special place because during our visit Caitlin celebrated her 23rd birthday. Alec spoiled her incredibly by finding her a beautiful ruby tear drop necklace from a local shop, which will serve as a true memento of this trip and the way we have grown throughout it. Alec also took Caitlin out for a delicious and fancy birthday dinner at a seafood restaurant in the pedestrian area of Galway. What an incredible way to bring in a new year!!! We went out for some drinks at a highly recommended pub after with some very surprising guests… three of Caitlin’s friends from high school! Completely by luck, Tyler and Colin who were visiting Galway for only three days as well, recognized Caitlin when we rolled into town on our bikes. Another friend, Blair, was coming into town that evening, so the three of them were able to celebrate with us the next evening, making for a fun little birthday party. It’s a small world after all!
After Galway, we started making an epic journey that included a bus, ferry, and multiple trains towards the Lake District to visit with Uncle Byron and Aunt Pauline. We were able to spend two nights in Dublin with a friend of a friend named Mark. On our first evening, Mark took us on a tour of the downtown, which included a little pub crawl in the famous Temple Bar district. Considering it was a Wednesday, this city has a lot of night time energy! We loved that every place we went to had live music of all genres, and most of great quality. The next day we continued to explore Dublin by bike and we definitely liked what we saw of the city. We loved all the brick buildings, and found interesting architecture nestled within the neighbourhoods. We were especially impressed with Phoenix Park, a massive green space just outside of the downtown. The city certainly felt a bit more “rough” than others we have visited but had a real energy and colour that made it exciting and enjoyable.
In Dublin we hit a very exciting landmark… 10,000 kilometres! We were extremely proud to see our odometer click into five digits and certainly made us reflect happily on all the different places we have cycled through, all the people we have met, all the challenges we have overcome and all the fun we have had. What a way to spend the better part of a year!
We would have liked to explore more of Dublin, and had planned to see some of the city’s museums on Friday. However, on Thursday night as we looked into the details of our ferry to Liverpool we realized what the fine print said: no foot passengers or cyclists allowed on board! We luckily were able to make a quick change of plans and take a morning ferry to Holyhead, Wales instead, thus losing time in Dublin but successfully arriving in the UK!
So now, it’s farewell to Ireland. We are glad we visited the country as we were able to learn so much about this island. Despite the old adage, Ireland’s history has not been one of luck, and we wish it all the best as it struggles through their newest challenge of economic trials. We certainly saw lots of evidence of both the Celtic Tiger and this subsequent crash: thousands of new subdivision homes and nice cars, but also a plethora of For Sale signs, half-built houses left abandoned, and a network of roads which remain in quite rough conditions. An economic aspect that struck us personally was the expense of basic items: Ireland was our most expensive country so far for groceries. Apparently these costs are going down and we hope for the sake of the unemployed (15%) it continues to do so!
We are happy to learn that despite a horrible history of oppression, the relationship between Ireland and Britain is improving. It was very interesting for us to be in Ireland around the time of the Queen’s visit. This is the first time that a British monarch has ever visited the Republic of Ireland. Although there were the bomb-scares and although we spoke with people who were disappointed by her visit, in general it seems she was positively received. Hopefully the two countries can continue to move forward in an increasingly healthy relationship.
Ireland also received another big visitor while we were there: Obama! We were really impressed at how well he was received; there was an incredible amount of hype and positive energy, and the Irish people seemed generally inspired by his words (which included “yes we can“ in Gaelic). Throughout the whole trip, we really noted the deep connection Irish people seem to have to the United States and to a lesser degree Canada as well. With the exception of the Celtic Tiger era, Ireland has always had net emigration and thus the Irish have spread out all over the world: there are 30 million Irish-Americans and Irish-Canadians make up our country’s fourth largest immigration group. Many locals asked us about the job situation in Canada, and we met many people who knew someone that had recently moved to a Canadian city.
Onwards we go!
Alec and Caitlin