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Day One

May 29, 2003


We arrived at Shannon Airport pretty early this morning. US Airways deposited us here without event, though without much sleep either. There were clearly those among the passengers who had no intention of sleeping, and of those, there were some close enough to us and with voices that carried that sleeping was, while not impossible, certainly difficult. After some initial attempts at sleep failed, we tried Sonata, a sleep-drug that Carolyn's mom's (former) company, Wyeth makes. It's hard to tell if it helped, though we did at least doze, we were far from well-rested as we came into Shannon.

Getting through immigration was fairly trivial. There was a short line up to a customs agent who took our little arrival card, glanced it over, asked how long we planned to stay in the country ("about two weeks"), and stamped our passports. It was a minor thrill to actually get a stamp. Much of our travel from one European country to another frequently didn't even garnish us a friendly wave hello, much less a stamp in our passports. But now, smack-dab in the middle of our passports we were stamped by Immigration Officer (9) and "permitted to land in Ireland for three months"!

We picked up our bags on one of the 2 (3?) luggage carrousels in the airport and set about seeking money, transportation and food in that order. We'd heard that the best exchange rates came from using an ATM or credit card because the local exchange folks don't have to take their cut. We got €200 hoping that would hold us for a good long while considering that during the days when we'd be cycling, lodging (and breakfast) had already been taken care of, and we figured for most meals we'd be able to use plastic. It almost worked.

We then went to the bus ticket window and got tickets for the bus to Galway (€13 ea) and then grabbed some food and drink (brown bread, cheddar, an orange and a Fanta) from the little convenience store in the airport. You can start to see the way that our €200 didn't quite hold us. We went out to a bench where we ate and watched people. It was fascinating to me how small the second-largest airport in Ireland was. We feasted on our bread and cheese (what was to become a common meal for us) for a little over half an hour before heading out to the bus stop. At the bus stop, a sign caught my eye as it said "Way Out." Not quite as good as "Far Out," but unique enough to catch my eye.

Language is fascinating that way. It's still "English" but it's pronounced differently and there are different phrases turned. Nor does every word have the same set of meanings. I had no problem finding a "taxi", but asking for a "cab" got me some very odd looks. Ireland seemed to be an odd mix of things American and English. Sometimes "french fries" were just that, other times they were "chips". For that item of food, we'd have a condiment choice of vinegar or ketchup which in turn we heard called tomato sauce. Sometimes, the hot water tap would be on the left, but other times it would be on the right. Distances would be in kilometers, but speed to cover those distances would be in miles-per-hour.

The prevalence of Gaelic was also something of a surprise, because I did not remember seeing or hearing so much of it when I was last there in 1985. Indeed most of the signs are bi-lingual (though there were places where there was only English, and others where there was only Irish!) I also didn't know to call the language "Irish" until this trip either. We learned a couple of phrases while here, but more on that later.

As we departed Shannon Airport on the bus, we passed a large "Welcome to Ireland" sign (see photo) which seemed quite odd to me. How did they know I'd just arrived in Ireland? There are certainly no "Welcome to the USA" signs leaving Philadelphia International airport! But a little more thought of scale brought the answer quickly. Of course if you were already in Ireland, you wouldn't fly to Shannon. You can drive from one end of the country to the other in a scant 4 hours. Nowhere in Ireland is more than 70 miles away from one coast or another!

The rest of the trip into Galway was uneventful discounting of course the newness of zipping down a narrow road, on the "wrong" side past walls of stone and tree half-heartedly trying (and rarely succeeding) to conceal a beautiful, green, undulating foreign countryside.

In Galway, our mission was clear. Learn our way around well enough to find our lodging. At the bus station, we asked for a map of the City, and they sent us to the tourist center. There we located a suitable map and started trudging along the 1/4 mile or so to the A Aaron House B&B. One wonders if they wanted to be at the beginning of the B&B section in the yellow pages. Our room was empty, though not yet ready, it being at this point still only about 10:30 AM. We dropped off our luggage, packed up a backpack with sundry items including the bread and cheese, and headed out for a day of trying to stay awake in Galway.

Back in the center of town (well, it felt like the center to us), we came across a park that we'd seen on our way to the Information center, so we plopped down in the middle and had a bite to eat -- the now famous brown bread and cheddar cheese (see picture on right). This was Kennedy Park in the middle of "Eyre Square". The park was named for US President John F. Kennedy. Good thing we were getting the "foreign country experience". On the left here, we have a view of the activity in Kennedy Park.

After that, we decided to do some more exploring. We found Saint Nicholas's Cathedral, as well as Saint Nicholas's Church (though they are on opposite sides of the Corrib river [see picture]). We wandered the pedestrian-only areas of Shop Street and High Street, and meandered along the riverside walk where we collapsed and read. Fortunately, it was a beautiful sunny day. That more than anything probably helped our biological clocks readjust to a 5-hour time difference. Still, we were tired early.

As we struggled to stay awake, we made ourselves a deal. At 5:00PM, we'd return to an Indian restaurant, Bombay Palace, that we'd seen as we wandered around. We'd have dinner and afterward it would be late enough that we could return to the B&B and crash. Just so that we wouldn't be there too early, we arrived at 5:05 PM, only to find out that they didn't open until 5:30. So, we spent another half an hour wandering around Galway City, now both hungry and tired. But then we sat down to a meal that almost made it all worth while. We were surprised to need to order rice as a side dish to go with the meal, but it was really scrumptious. Once we'd finished, we completed the rest of our plan. We returned to the B&B and crashed. It was still faintly light as we went to sleep. And boy, did we sleep -- almost 12 hours worth.

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