Monday, April 30, 2012

Galway, Part 2: Lots of Stones

The inspiring experience with Al and Sinead over, we trekked up the hill to Aillwee Cave, a quirky (and much more heavily promoted than the bird walk) attraction in the Burren.

I'll admit right up front that childhood visits to Carlsbad Caverns has ruined both Jenny and me for other caves; the tour guide for this one didn't help the case, either. He was not happy to be working, and led us and a group of a dozen or so others through the cave at a rapid clip, flipping on lights in each new section and going through the limestone formations by rote. (You could call it the bare-bones tour, especially because in the cave are real bear bones! Of course, Jenny and I didn't get to see them... because we walked right past them before the guide bothered to say anything -- and no going back for us!)

These biases aside, Aillwee Cave is still a fascinating bit of geology. It's carved right through the solid limestone that comprises nearly all of the Burren; an ancient underground river carved a perfectly semicircular roof through the whole cave, and then went bonkers eking out other crevasses and chambers. The limestone is particularly suited to little stalactites and stalagmites, as the calcium components in it will practically leak out. Very lovely, if brief -- but don't worry, Carlsbad!

We must have been feeling pretty confident in my driving abilities, because rather than head straight back to Galway, we opted to continue several kilometers into the Burren to find the Poulnabrone portal tomb. Think one of the Stonehenge structures with a deeper entryway. We lucked out completely -- for a chunk of time, we were the only tourists there! In this karst land of melted tombstones (for so Jenny decided the limestone looked, and she's right), filled with clints and grikes (what are those? Look at our pictures and learn!), we felt transported back 5000 or 6000 years... and could not imagine who would have managed to live in this barren and windswept rock shelf!

Yet live people do... and cows, too. Never underestimate the cattle of the Burren. Real men eat stone-fed beef.

If we thought life in the Burren would be difficult, we were in for a real treat the next day when we took a ferry out to Inis Mor (pronounced IN-ish more), the largest of the three Aran Islands. We took a bus from Galway to the ferry docks and sailed out to the islands visible in the distance. The sea was calm, and surprisingly the air out on the open was warmer than on windy land! On the island, we met our pre-arranged tour guide at his van. Oliver was his name; Patrick Oliver, but he said that everybody on the island was named Patrick, so he went by his middle name. His family has lived on Inis Mor for seven generations! He drove us around, stopping at every scenic place to point out the landscape and the features of the island. (The island, I should say, is not by any means large; seeing it all by car in 2 hours was more than doable, and that includes our little stops!)

Our favorite stop by far was at Dun Aengus, the ancient circle fort atop the hill. What we didn't know was that the fort loomed atop a sharp cliff that slices into the ocean some 300 feet below! We could have laid there for hours, peering down over the edge, lulled by the distant sounds of crashing surf and seagulls far below. (Once again, I say: to the pictures!)

The next day we had the e-book launch of A Thoroughly Good Blue, so we decided to take it somewhat easy. We walked further out of the Galway city center than we had yet ventured, and we had a lovely (if windswept) walk along the beach, discovering different seashells than we find "back home" on the east coast. When the sun would come out, the water looked nearly Caribbean in its clearness, with white (limestone) sand and tropical hues of rich light blue and sea green. What a treat!

We enjoyed a great square meal in one of the city center pubs before getting ready for The Launch. The event could have gone wrong in so many ways, but thanks to some last-minute organizing it went off nearly hitch-less! Nuala Ni Chonchuir, an Irish writer, said some lovely things about our writing, and the readings all went wonderfully well! We celebrated with my classmates until a respectable hour (I'm definitely one of the "old farts" in my class), and then crashed back at the B&B. (For the final night, we were put in a properly-placed room upstairs. Oh, to wake without the sounds of the morning kitchen staff!)

The next morning we took the train back to D-town: tired, exhilarated, and educated. Which means that a wonderful time was had by all.

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