No cell phone. No car. No keys. No itinerary. No reservations.
Jetting off to a foreign country with no agenda is both an
intimidating and liberating experience. It's an education in
resourcefulness where the curriculum is to get around the world while
maximizing experiences and minimizing expenses.|
On June 27, Tomas dropped me off at the Boston airport, where the pack
that I will carry with me for the next several months weighed in at 12
kg. From Boston, I took the red-eye to Shannon Airport in Ireland -
the cheapest transoceanic flight I was able to find.
The town of Shannon is little more than an airport, so I immediately
headed north to a larger hub. On the map of Ireland, Ennis appears to
be a substantial urban center, so I was a little concerned about being
able to find the tourist office; but as it turns out, the walking tour
of every road in Ennis takes about 15 minutes - even while wearing a
bulky backpack. The city does, however, have a great tourist
office whose helpful young ladies encouraged me to head to the village
of Doolin as a good base camp for some hiking and biking.
During my five days and four nights in Doolin, I met some fascinating
people at the Rainbow Hostel and was able to immerse myself fully in
the culture of rural Ireland. My tour started with a 60km bike ride
north through The Burren, taking me through a sparsely populated
landscape past countless dilapidated cemeteries, abandoned farm
houses, crumbling castles, and ancient tombs.
Claire County is exactly what you might expect of Ireland - green
rolling hills, nearly devoid of trees and criss-crossed with
meandering stone walls that blanket the country. In every aspect,
Ireland has been tamed. Mountains have been ground down by glaciers
into gentle mounds, pastures have been divided up by thousands of
miles of stone walls, and nearly every fresh water spring has been
boxed up and housed in a stone enclosure. Even though the country
currently only has some four million residents, a quarter of whom live
in Dublin, every inch of Ireland has been inhabited at some point in
time, as evidenced by the density of archaeological artifacts dating
back more than 2000 years.
During my 20km walking tour from the village of Lahinch to Doolin, I
saw yet more castles, as well as the spectacular Cliffs of Moher,
which rise 200 meters out of the ocean. Unfortunately, most of my
walks and rides have been spoiled by the constant drizzle, dense fog,
and howling winds that characterize the summer weather of southwest
The tiny village of Doolin apparently has addictive qualities. Five
of the guests that I met at the Rainbow Hostel planned to stay for no
more than three days, and each ended up in the area for two weeks or
more. A couple of them had even found jobs and decided to stay
indefinitely. Personally, I found the pace of life to be far too slow
for my liking. At my own pace, I rapidly exhausted just about
everything there is to do in Doolin, as evidenced by my new found
ability to answer just about any question a local tourist can throw at
me regarding pubs, restaurants, attractions, directions, and bus
schedules. After my five days in Doolin, I was happy to take the bus
to Galway, one of the larger cities in the area.
Regardless of where you are in Ireland, the pubs play a pivotal role
in the social culture. In small towns, it's not unusual to see four
generations of patrons frequent the pubs, including young children
accompanied by their parents. In Galway, the pub scene is driven by a
younger, more raucous crowd. Guinness is omnipresent and is both
advertised and consumed like Coca Cola.
Tonight is my last evening in Galway, after which I will fly to London
to visit my cousin Stephan, whom I haven't seen in nearly ten years.
After that, I may visit Spain or France - possibly with friends I met
in Doolin - before heading to Slovakia around July 20 to rendezvous