I spent my last evening in Kinsale working out of the cozy interior of the Bulman Bar, powered by delicious warm chowder and soda bread. As the evening moved on and the light faded to night, I relocated from a table by the window to a chair by the fire. By the time I was done with the job application I was working on (for a physical scientist job up in Alaska), it was already half-ten.
Outside, the air was brisk with a salty breeze blowing off the harbour. The stars above were piercing and cold. A forty minute's walk brought me along the dark harbour trail, past the Spaniard pub, through town, out past the rancid smell of the grain refinery, and to the house. Everyone had already gone to sleep; I made myself some toast and did the same.
The next morning I had a succession of good-byes as various of my friends for the past week came down through the kitchen and then headed out to the school. I waited until after 10:30 in case Fergus made an appearance, but, in the end, I had to leave.
Outside, it was sprinkling as I walked past the rancid smell of the grain refinery for a final time and down the hill into town. At the bus stop, I learned that it would still be another hour and a half before the next bus to Cork came by, so I decided to skip that and walked out to the Texaco at the edge of town and put my thumb in the air.
Which is when the rain really began to fall. Many, many cars passed me. To their credit, many of them would indicate with their hands that they would shortly be turning off and not going far enough to be of interest to me, though it was still disheartening. The police parked at the station, filled up, glanced at me, and drove away.
Finally a car pulled up beside me with the window down. Yes, they were going to Cork. They popped the boot and I put my bag in, memorising the license plate as I did so, as some primordial suspicious part of my brain conjured up an image of the car driving off with my bag inside.
But, in reality, this didn't happen. I got in the front and we set out. My driver was a civil engineer involved with power station safety and told me about all the many, many countries he'd worked in. “I know it sounds glamorous, but it's not. They're always located in the sticks. I've spent two years in a place without making any friends; it's why I decided to come back.”
After an earlier stint of work he'd had some cash and looked at houses, and found a nice one too… for 270,000€. But then the economy tanked and he was able to buy if for 70,000. The purchase eventually meant another tour of work during which he let a recently unemployed acquaintance stay in the house. But now that he's he returned, he tells me, this guy won't leave. An act of kindness, turned into frustration. When we get to Cork, he changes his mind about dropping me at the edge of the city and drives me right to the Penrill bus station.
The people in the bus station's office are singularly unhelpful.
“Do you have a bus to Galway?”
“Yes, it leaves in an hour, costs 20€, and will take four hours to get there.”
“I heard there was one that took only three hours.”
“I heard there was… maybe there's another bus station?”
“I wouldn't know about that.”
It's the only time I encounter this in Ireland. Naturally, as soon as I step outside, a taxi driver's more than willing to point across the river and down a block to where the bus I'm looking for stops. He also knows the time, price, and colour of the bus.
I like taxi drivers.
I buy a ticket at the tourist office and they show me a closet where I can stash my bag. Then I head out into the rain and up the hill. I have heard that there is a church up there where I can play the bells. It's irresistable.
But, on the way, I pass a shoe store. The past year and a half have not been kind to my shoes. All the rainy damp in Ireland and England has been a particular problem as there's a bit of a hole in one of the heels. My attempts to repair this by dismantling other parts of the shoe and gluing them over the gap turned out to be fruitless. And my left knee has been hurting a bit, especially when carrying my big pack.
Not to mention they got a little muddy while walking in England. And then Holyhead! I tried to walk across a field to Holyhead mountain and ended up wandering for nearly an hour in a wet, soggy field and along deep muddy trails with a high horse-poop content. At one point, I went in up to my ankles.
In short, the shoes are tattered and smelly.
Early, I'd visited every shoe store and hiking store in Keswick. Most of them didn't even have my size—15 in the U.S. and 48 in the UK—and the shoes which were large enough I didn't like. The closest it had came was a set of hiking boot shoes, but the soles were ridiculously stiff and they must have weighed a pound and a half each… not really my style.
But this store does have shoes large enough. I say I want something cheap and the store guy lectures me about finding the proper shoe. All feet, he says, can be divided into three categories, those that need: Stability, Neutrality, and Motion Control. He examines my feet and tells me that I need Stability™. He's seemingly unaware that scientific studies of this kind of classification have shown that at best it makes no difference and, at worst, can increase injury rates. See, for instance this and this.
On the other hand, there's probably a raft of studies explaining why continuing to wear my current shoes is not a good idea. And I tend to run in my Five Fingers anyway. Problem is, I don't really want to spend as much money as he's asking. So we haggle, and the price of the shoes drops 20€. I'd still prefer to shop at my careful leisure in the U.S., but this is a good enough deal to go for it. I walk out with my new shoes on leaving the old pair behind.
Just up the road from the shoe store I find the church. Inside, the tower attendant doesn't know the range of tuning system of the bells, just that there are eight of them. It's not a lot to work with, but I hand her a five, receive a pair of ear protector muffs, and head up.
It's a good time. You pull out on the cords, getting some force multiplication from a pulley system and, far above, you hear the bells. Each bell requires its own special amount of pull to get the right sound, and I wonder if this means the system is miscalibrated; certainly, it makes playing cords more difficult. I crank out sections of a few shape note songs, cringing at a persistently out-of-tune bell.
The bells cease to amuse me after too short a time, and I wander higher. Then things get interesting.
The clock fascinates me and I spend many minutes staring at it. Finally, I climb up and through the bell frames and out onto the balcony. A stiff and rainy wind assails me as I look out over Cork. I'm unaware at the time, but its population (at 198,582) is surpassed only by Dublin in the Republic of Ireland and, on the island of Ireland, by Belfast (483,418) and Dublin (1,110,627).
As I climb back into the bellframes there's a loud click and, somewhere, a hammer hits one of the bells and the inside of the tower is suddenly filled with its reverberations. I feel them in my stomach and the echoes persist for many seconds as a kind of hum. Thank Bob for ear protection!
Outside, a man gives me directions to the English Market. As I'm finding is common in Ireland, his directions are gloriously complicated, exacting, full of landmarks, and impossible to remember. “Aye, ye go ter t'round buildin' 'n' ter t'left and then ter t'right. Go ter t'gate 'n' down t'stairs 'n' ye'll find t'river. 'n' cross t'bridge 'n' ter t'left along t'shops. If ye go ter t'right 'n' ter t'alley with ter cafe ye come soon enoug' to a wiiide street. Take it ter t'right 'n' then ye'll see t'market clear as day.”
I make it to the river, find a used book shop, and pick up, “The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo”, which Steo has recommended me. Another couple of people give me equally complex and mildly conflicting directions. But, I do find the market. Inside, there's impressive woodwork and a number of stalls. O'Flynn's Sausage Company gives me a delicious sample, and I'm tempting to scarf a whole one, but, really, I'm in search of lunch.
Failing to find it, I jog back to the visitor's center. The girl there and I agreed I'd return at 14:00 and it is now 14:15. She frowns at me and we jog across the room in unison to liberate my backpack. I wave a hurried thank you as I jog out the door. But the bus is still there, and I'm shortly underway.
And underfed. The bus winds for three and a half hours through narrow roads at a good clip and I end up feeling tired, sick, and nibbly all at once.
Eventually the bus does reach Galway. My attempts to find a Couchsurfer to stay with there had failed, so I resorted to read through hostel reviews. Which is a bother because they all seem the same. There'll be nine reviews which read like, “Bestt hostel evar…” or “I've traveled the whole world and I've never stayed in a place as nice as this”. But then there'll be a tenth review, “Cockroaches carried my pack away, bedbugs sucked out my blood, the bedsheets were stained with human feces, and a Satanic Cult of Bagpipers tried to exorcise me.&dquo;
I end up ignoring most of the anecdotes and just choosing the hostel with the highest numeric rating and the strongest descriptual claims of cleanliness: SleepZone. When the bus comes to a stop out side Snoozles, I'm tempted, but stick to my research and lug my body up the hill.
Inside, SleepZone is clean and bright. The base rate is about 10€, but for 2€ more I put myself in a completely different socioeconomic strata and end up pleasantly alone in a four bed dorm. Back at the desk, they give me a list of decent supper places.
Galway ends up feeling a little less friendly than Kinsale. There are beggars on the streets, and survey-people, and people who ignore me because they think I'm one of the aforementioned. But there are also street musicians, seemingly on every block, and they're good.
The first few supper places are too expensive. The last one has a plain hanging ceiling and a TV going. I ask, perhaps a little rudely, if there's also a TV on upstairs. The man tells me that the upstairs is closed and we regard each other for a few seconds before I walk out. I think I'm annoyed because I haven't seen a TV in several weeks and this one, hanging there spewing noise and lights with no one watching it, was quintessentially what I dislike.
Supper then is stuffed ravioli with pesto from the grocery store, cooked in the hostel's enormous, warm kitchen.