The Emerald Isle - Day Four

After the previous day's lunchtime mishap, we thoroughly gorged ourselves at breakfast, ordering the full Irish breakfast in addition to helping ourselves to the complimentary continental breakfast buffet. This proved to be a grievous error in judgement, as I found myself so full that I required a return to the room so that I could lie on the bed in the fetal position, willing my stomach ache to go away, thereby wasting the time we had gained by rousing ourselves from our slumber earlier than usual, in order to see Galway to the fullest. By the time I felt comfortable leaving the hotel, it was nearly 11:00, and the day was nearly half over.

The guidebooks both had little to say on the topic of Galway, so we set forth on a modest walking tour cobbled together from what little insight we could glean. Sadly, we found ourselves to be the recipients of more of the rain from the previous evening, and that had initially been forecast for the entirety of our trip. Though we'd been blessed with relatively decent, if windy, weather so far, that didn't make it any less of a bummer to face the prospect of touring Galway under the shelter of our umbrellas.

We made a few stops in the historic district of Galway, including Lynch's Castle, a 16th century home once owned by the Lynch family, one of the fourteen tribes that lorded over the city's commerce during medieval times. Though the structure is now home to a bank, its history is quite literally written on its walls in the form of carved faces, heralds, and other crests which tell the tale of marriages, deaths, and power shifts within the family, as well as other real estate transactions that affected the ownership of the building.

Next, we ducked into St. Nicholas' Collegiate Church to escape an especially intense downpour, and though it is touted as Galway's finest surviving medieval edifice, I found the church to be somewhat lacking from an aesthetic perspective. More notable was its history: during the British conquest, the invading Brits sacked the church and turned it into a temporary stable for their horses. Considering the circumstances, it's somewhat of a miracle that the building is even still standing today.

From there, we headed northwest across the Corrib River, which has its delta in Galway Bay, making the city an important transportation hub up until the 1650s, when the east side of the country rose in prominence. We crossed at the Salmon Weir Bridge, so named because it is an important pathway for salmon swimming upstream to spawn. Our target was the Cathedral of St. Nicholas, Galway's most prestigious church, since I am hard-pressed to miss out on seeing a cathedral when there is one to be seen.

Though it was built in a style that suggested it had been built in the 1800s, the cathedral was actually constructed in 1965, using funds that had been collected from the fervently Catholic locals. The only true indicator of the building's age was the style of its stained glass windows, which were distinctly modern in style. Clearly the work of many different artists, the windows offer abstract images of stories from Genesis, the Old Testament, the miracles performed by Christ, and the story of his death and resurrection.

The colors were incredibly vivid, and though they might not have been the oldest stained glass windows I've had the privilege of seeing, they might just have been some of the finest. I'm not sure if it's because they were designed by modern artists for a modern audience, but I found them much easier to decipher than some of the oldest windows I've seen, which tend to rely on iconography that has been lost to the ages.

The cathedral is located on an island between two branches of the Corrib, so we took a different bridge back into the city's historic district, where we headed up Quay Street, the most commercially dense strip of restaurants, pubs, and shops in the city, and scouted out the location of our lunch venue, McDonogh's Seafood Bar. Allegedly home to some of the finest fish and chips in Galway, McDonogh's has been a local institution for a hundred years and running.

We weren't quite hungry yet, given our over-indulgence at breakfast, so we opted to finish our walk down to the Spanish Arch, a portal in the city's old defensive fortifications where Spanish traders would moor their boats and conduct business. The archway conveyed us to the docks, where a number of fine townhouses and office building have been erected in recent years to capitalize on the water views. The ever-present wind was blowing in full force, which made it a rather harrowing and unpleasant stroll, and I was soon glad to be away from the water's edge and contemplating the efficiency of the many emergency life preservers located along the pier.

Back at McDonogh's, we sampled the fried fillet of cod and a large order of chips to share. Though I was still perturbed by the tendency of Irish "chippers" (as purveyors of fried foodstuffs are known in these parts) to not salt their food and leave the seasoning up to the customer, I had to concede that these were the most perfectly-fried fish-and-chips I've had. The fried catfish at the Kampsville Inn will always be #1 in my fried-fish-loving-heart, and the seafood at the Fish Keg back home may be better seasoned, but for beer battered fish, I have never had any specimen quite so shatteringly crisp and devoid of any trace of soggy breading.

After we'd had our fill of fried delights, we slowly made our way back to the car park, pausing to peruse some of the charming little shops in search of souvenirs. At a woolen goods store, I jokingly suggested that Justin try on a tweed flat cap (I like to call them "old man hats"). To our mutual surprise, we discovered that the flat cap is actually the type of hat that suits Justin's head and face shape the best, so we picked up a model in blue (they also had a wider selection of men's hat sizes than I've ever seen before, so we were able to find one that properly fit Justin's large noggin.)

We had some difficulty navigating our way out of Galway, after a wrong turn out of a traffic circle caused us to get stuck in an immense parking lot for a while, but soon we found ourselves on the blissfully wide, modern expressway that connects Galway and Dublin. The driving was so easy, in fact, that, to borrow Justin's "Irish-driving-as-a-video-game" analogy, this leg of our journey was almost like a bonus stage.

Our good fortune, however, was not to last once we made it to Dublin. We were scheduled to make a stop at Abel and Sinead's apartment, where Katie and Katherine (who were staying with them) were planning to host an expat Thanksgiving dinner on the eve of the wedding. Though I questioned the wisdom of making a big meal and having people over when Abel and Sinead had so much to do, it wasn't my decision to make, and I was happy to have any opportunity to hang out with our friends.

Although we had plugged the appropriate address into our GPS, once we turned off the expressway it became painfully obvious that the Irish do not believe in numbering their houses. The GPS led us to an imposing gated community that didn't seem like the right place to us, so we attempted to give Abel a call. Given our limited ability to describe our surroundings ("We're in front of a giant gate that says 'No Tresspassing' and we're between a preschool and a bus stop"), Abel was unable to assist us.

In fact, he wasn't even at home, it turned out, as he had to go emergency shopping for a new shirt to wear to his wedding, having had his previous choice vetoed by Sinead at the last minute. He directed us back onto the main road, and told us to drive until we passed a sign for a solicitor's office, at which point he informed us that we had gone too far, and needed to turn around and go back. From there, he was at least able to direct us to his building, but nobody was there to let us in. Katie, Katherine, and Abel's other American houseguests Ben and Becky had gone grocery shopping, for the dinner. We were left with no choice but to sit in the cold car and wait.

At last, our friends finally showed up to let us in, and the cooking commenced. It was great to be back in the kitchen with my pals, even if Katherine was happier to do everything herself rather than enlist my aid. The meal consisted of Stovetop stuffing, turkey breast, broccoli, garlic mashed potatoes, gravy, and a pumpkin chocolate chip dessert. While she worked, we became acquainted with Ben and Becky, who were friends of Abel's from his time spent in Japan doing the JET program, where he met Sinead.

Eventually, Abel and Sinead made it home, looking beyond exhausted, where they were obliged to open some wedding gifts that were time sensitive, as they were needed to prepare and serve the Thanksgiving dinner. I was mortified, because Abel had told us that we didn't need to bring gifts, considering the expense we had incurred in coming to the wedding in the first place, and we only had a card to offer them. Still, hopefully they appreciated our presence, even if we didn't arrive bearing gifts.

Sadly, Abel and Sinead had to dash out to run more last-minute errands before the food was served, but we still managed to enjoy our modest expat gathering despite their absence. I did miss all the trappings and conviviality of my usual big Italian Thanksgiving spent with Dad's family, but if I had to spend the holiday away from home, I wouldn't have changed a thing. I got to be with the man I love, old friends and new friends, and there was still turkey. In the end, that's all that really matters.

Since the cooking had started so late, Justin and I had to duck out before dessert was served because it was after 10:00 and we still hadn't checked into our hotel. The Ashling Hotel, which would provide our base of operations for the rest of our stay in Ireland, was only about 20 minutes from Abel and Sinead's apartment, and we were pleased to find it the most posh and modern of all the places we'd stayed so far. Despite the late hour, we both called home to wish our families a happy holiday, before turning in for the night after a long day of sightseeing and socializing.

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