July 3, 2010
Just arrived in Shannon Airport. Flight wasn’t too bad. Read some, watched part of Invictus (meh), fell asleep for maybe an hour, maybe a little more. Ate some weird chicken teriyaki plate and drank two beers which did the job of making me sleepy. Landed. Customs woman gave me a funny look when I told her why I was visiting. Consulted with the airport tourism agent about buying a bus ticket. Purchased one for twenty euro that should bring me directly to Carraroe, but that remains to be seen. Got to tell Sarah I had landed through the miracle of wireless internet and Google-chat, even though she’d been tracking my flight and knew that we’d touched down. Have to buy a phone once I’m in Carraroe. Hope there is wireless I can grab there. From the email I just read from Lorna, my landlady, the place I’m staying is very close to the village.
So now it is 640 am, Ireland time. Sky is gray but spots of blue are poking through and it’s about 50 degrees, but nice. Waiting on the bus. Acclimating to the new environment. Missing the wife and boy. The flight was full of kids, many of them Kieran’s age. Most were accompanied by both parents, which didn’t make me feel great about leaving them in America. Glad for the four weeks and get stuff done, but part of me would be happy to jump right back on the plane and go home to the family.
It is 756 pm, Ireland time and I’ve been in Carraroe since about 1. My landlady, Lorna, met me at the bus stop, which was fortunate. All the signs in this part of the country are in Irish, and only in Irish. This place that I am staying is much, much more secluded that I expected, though more because I am dependant on the buses than anything else. Galway City is only about 45 minutes away, but today from the time I landed to when I came to my apartment was close to seven hours, due to the wait between buses. This wouldn’t have been so bad if my luggage didn’t have to be by my side at all times. I may have been able to leave the bags in a holding area at the station in Galway, but I’m not sure. It wasn’t the nicest part of town, but are most bus/rail stations, anywhere you go? Four bums were sharing two two-liter bottles of hard cider on the sidewalk on the corner, so at least I kind of felt at home. Based on this experience and depending on how my money is holding up at the end of my stay I may leave Carraroe a day early and get a hotel room in Shannon the night before I leave to make sure I’ll be at the airport in plenty of time.
The bus rides themselves were fine. I was cold during my wait because I was stupid enough to wear sandals. Rain was threatening all day but I only ever felt a few drops. The winds are very strong. The scenery seemed different than I remember from when Sarah and I came in 2004. If this is because the countryside has changed or I have I can’t tell yet. I was aware coming in that the recession has hit Ireland hard. The problems America experienced with the housing market were duplicated here. There are “for sale” and “to let” (rent) signs everywhere, and it was hard not to notice through the bus window a glut of empty or half-finished houses and buildings. Were there more houses and less open country than I remember? I have to think so. It was disappointing. You’d hope that whatever problems existed in the home land would not have made it across the pond. What will happen to all those empty properties? It doesn’t look as if the economy is going to rebound enough that they’ll get sold. Maybe if I come back in another five years, the fields will have reclaimed the space.
But those weren’t the only differences. I recognized parts of Galway, particularly the mouth of the Shannon that opens into the Atlantic and the swans that swim there. But it didn’t look like the college town I remember. A lot of Indian Restaurants (all with signs in English and Irish, which is hilarious) and fitness spas, a lot of billboards, most of them for McDonalds.
All that changed, though, once we rode into Connemara. The landscape opened up and it was just as I remembered it: open, rocky, bare, spotted with clusters of trees and dwellings, cows and donkeys and horses munching in the fields, dogs waiting for cars to pass before crossing the street ahead of their masters. Lorna met me at the stop and drove me to the cottages. I have a nice place with a good size bedroom, a kitchen with a dining area and a small bathroom. Lorna is very nice so far. She let me use her phone to call home. One of her tenants (her niece) has lent me a phone she had just replaced so that I can call home, and the woman who works here for Lorna, Nora, has a son who lives a few blocks away from us in Quincy and knows many of the older guys in my union who came from this part of the country. The three of them gave me lots of useful information. Monday I’m going to Galway to buy a wireless card for the laptop so I can access the internet whenever I want, which will make it possible to see and speak with Sarah and Kieran every day. If this is the case, the stay will become much, much more manageable.
I slept for about four or five hours after showering and getting settled in, but I’m still very tired. I got some food at the grocery and some beer from Holland, which I’m now drinking while watching Spain play Paraguay in the semi-finals of the World Cup. I plan on having a couple more beers, making a sandwich or pasta, and calling it a night. Tomorrow is the fourth of July and I want to celebrate at the pubs after I get some writing done.
Pictures soon to come.