More Galway...Plus the stunning Ashford Castle in Ireland - with palm trees!
CONG - It's a strange name, methinks, for a lovely village in Ireland. "Cong" just doesn't roll off the tongue
like Kinvarra or Doolin or Galway, where I spent the a fine morning checking out the shops in and around Kirwan Lane and the lower part of the town. Some have labelled the part of old-town Galway down near the
river as the "Latin Quarter," but my tour guide dismissed it as tourism nonsense.
Anyway, it's a fine place to wander about. Judy Greene has a lovely pottery shop with all sorts of knickknacks that even guys might like. Around the corner is Sheridan's wine shop and cheesemongers, where they have perhaps two dozens types of Irish cheeses alone. One has cow's milk and seaweed, and it's actually pretty tasty. You barely taste the seaweed, to be honest.
I was shocked at the heavy traffic heading out of Galway towards Cong in the evening, but luckily I had a beer down in the Salthill area along Galway Bay, stopping at a low-key "Cheers-like" pub called Lonergan's for a pint where everybody truly seemed to know each other's names. Salthill isn't the best part of Galway but it's got a fine waterfront promenade that's perfect for the summer-ish weather Ireland has been experiencing ever since I got here.
Got to spend the night at a ridiculously sumptuous spot called the Ashford Castle, which dates back to 1228 or thereabouts. It's got a moat (it has to have a moat to be a castle, my host at breakfast, Martin, told me today), and my room has cilings that are rougly 20 feet high, not to mention a four-poster bed,
intricately carved, wooden furniture, a gorgeous view of Lough Erne (the second biggest lake on the island of Eire) and endless gardens. My room was in a corner, and there were two bits of exposed stone and stained glass...in the shower. Best shower I've ever had! They've got a small golf course, fishing, archery, tennis and more. They even have a falconry school. They offered me a lesson but I've never much liked birds flapping around near my face, so I opted to try the boat ride on Lough Corrib, which looks a bit like the Irish version of Muskoka. Or maybe it's the other way around.
The hotel has a great afternoon tea, a spa and a couple very nice restaurants. I opted for the basement spot, called Cullen's in the Dungeon, which has a very, well, dungeon-like atmosphere with deep red walls, barrel-arch ceilings and flags of various Irish clans hanging from the walls and ceiling. Excellent food and a breakfast to die for upstairs in the King George V dining room.
They had pineapple at breakfast, and it seems to be a theme around here. I've had pineapple often on this trip. At a great shop in Galway called McCambridge's I bought some local honey with mango. And the whole area of western Ireland is dotted with palm trees; not mighty coconut palms but smaller, slightly scrubbier versions that stay warm thanks to the Gulf Stream waters that swirl up the eastern coast of North America and then across the north Atlantic.
Driving today up through Sligo to Donegal. Five days driving on the left side of the road and maybe I've runinto the side of a bramble bush just once so far. Turning takes a bit of thought, and a busy Galway roundabout at rush hour isn't much fun, but I don't really understand folks who refuse to drive in the U.K. or Ireland or Australia or some such. It's not a big deal, folks. I managed on some really, really tiny roads in Barbados last June, so Ireland hasn't been an issue at all. Mind you, I've probably just put my foot in it and will end up running into some poor, stray sheep today. Or, heaven forbid, a giant lorry (if that's the term in Ireland as well as England. You never quite know, and I'd hate to insult the Irish by using an English phrase that they don't have in their vocabulary).