June 28 - July 4, 2005

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 Ireland.

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 with Tomas.

Flying in on Aer Lingus Flying in on Aer Lingus
Cycling through The Burren Cycling through The Burren
Quantum at the Poulnabrone Megalithic Tomb Quantum at the Poulnabrone Megalithic Tomb
Gleninagh Castle Gleninagh Castle
Sunset over the Aran Islands Sunset over the Aran Islands
Wild foxglove Wild foxglove
Willow, the young child of a crafts vendor, wanders into an Irish pub. Barfly
The colorful city of Galway The colorful city of Galway

© Copyright 2005 by Rob Jagnow.