Location: Cincinnati, Ohio, United States

Saturday, February 21, 2009

The Emerald Shores of Ireland - Part 4

"The Emerald Shores of Ireland"
A trip journal by David Bowers
Part 4

After driving around the Burren for a while, then returning to drive along the coast line. We did take a rest stop at a place called the Burren House. Jerry told us about some former uses for the Burren House, but now it serves as a tourist rest stop, as it has a gift shop, restaurant and restrooms. I also note it seems to have picnic facilities as well as an ocean overview. The building itself has at least an outer skin of a stone wall, and might even be a stone building to blend into the area. We had a short stop here where we looked about the gift shop but did not buy anything, recall that my DVD says it also covers the Burren. I also invoked the rule of tour groups which is: when offered a rest stop, at least make an attempt as you don't know when the next one will come around. In this case, there wasn't much interest in this gift shop with most people milling about the outside of the locked bus with about 10 minutes left.

Ireland burren house

We continued along the Irish countryside until we pulled into the town of Oranmore. We had been spending the day enjoying nature's beauty, but I had mentioned this trip is a pilgrimage, and part of that is visiting religious sites as well as a Mass sometime every day. This would be our first Mass stop. Jerry mentioned we were going to Immaculate Conception Church which is a fairly modern building even though our eyes were focused on a traditional looking church ahead of us. Someone quipped I guess compared to 1,000 year old buildings, that is modern. We then turned off and headed to a real modern looking church. Instead of the transept and nave design, it s a more square-ish building with the altar in a corner and the rows of pews set out in a fan like configuration. Jerry didn't give us a return time, just that we would return to the bus shortly after Mass. We entered the church and I noted the donation box in the lobby is actually a hefty looking safe with a slot built into the top of it. We then headed into the main sanctuary. As is usual in these designs the stations are on the back two walls, and the front two walls have big stained glass windows. Of interest is an area in the front that might be the baptistry that had a huge floor to ceiling poster that stood out because it looks like it was lit with a black light effect. We took some time to explore the church while Fr. Barry met with the sacristan and prepared for Mass. Father then mentioned the way the masses would work is that we could see him to volunteer to read or distribute at the appropriate times, and that after each service there would be a collection taken up for the local parish in thanks for letting us use their church.

Ireland - immaculate conception church

Ireland - immaculate conception church

Ireland - immaculate conception church

We took our seats and noted that while the kneelers do fold up, the legs that support the kneelers stay on the ground forming tripping hazards. Most decided it was best to just leave them down. I won't go into Mass details except that Father is known for saying a fast Mass, and on this trip was no exception with 20 minutes being the norm, including a homily, general intercessions and an introduction about the saint or other figure of the day. Not having music, and a real short communion procession does help keep the time down. After the service the collection was taken up and a few more minute given to explore the church before we regrouped on the bus.

Ireland Galway

It was time to head into Galway, which would be our home away from home for the next two nights. On our way to Galway, Jerry talked a little bit about hotels, and more about procedural issues. He started off by saying the rooms are probably smaller than we are used to, not cramped just smaller. He also pointed out the rooms will have a coffee/tea service in them, and feel free to use it as it is included. If we would like to make any incidental charges, to leave a credit card imprint with the desk, and not to wait until right before departure time to settle up. On all nights except one, the drop off at the hotel is the end of the days touring, except for perhaps the group dinner. This means as we approached the hotel each night, Jerry would share with us the next days agenda for our planning purposes, then announce the dinner time, the breakfast time, and if we were checking out the time the porters will expect our bags to be out in the hallway. Its all standard tour stuff, including the presumption that a half hour wake up call is sufficient, I prefer the hour wake up myself. A reminder was also given that only one bag per person will be handled by the hotel porters. The other thing he mentioned was about phones. Of course hotels will surcharge you so you may want to use a pay phone. Some of those take coins, and most of them take cards, which can be purchased and recharged in stores where you see a Top Off sign out front. He mentioned that he repeatedly hears people say that they don't have to worry, they have 1-800 numbers to call home. That's all well and good, except you aren't in the United States anymore, so you will need to first call the international operator, at which point you are paying for an international call anyway, which means if the number even works, you would be paying for the call twice.

Ireland - Galway

We then approached Galway and took a driving tour of the city. Galway seems to be the cultural capital, given they are a big university town and all. Narrow streets are still the rule in his fairly major town. We drove around the town, past the Galway Cathedral which we will see later, past some tourist areas, and found our hotel right alongside a fairly fast moving river, right near he Spanish Arch. It is the Jury's Inn Galway. Jerry went in ahead of us to announce our arrival, and make sure everything was in order. He then returned to the bus and I think he channeled Phil from the Amazing Race when he said "You'll find the keys to your rooms on the table in the lobby". We entered the hotel lobby and Jerry helped distribute keys as well as free Galway city guides. We turned around and joined the queue for the elevators, which were on the small side like we expected, but very modern and fully automatic. We rode up two floors to the second floor, recall that European buildings start with a ground floor, then the 1st floor and so on. Some buildings even appeal to my inner computer geek by starting with a 0 floor.

Ireland -Galway - Spanish Arch

On the second floor I see a laundry room, some vending machines near the elevator lobby. We head down the hall to our room. We insert our keycard, open the door and take a look at an Irish hotel room. I actually like the design, it's a fairly modern room . The big difference in European hotels is that instead of putting two double beds in a standard hotel room to sleep 4, they put two twin beds in a hotel room to sleep 2. There was a nice closet by the door, then along the side wall was the coffee service, a luggage rack, then a long desk that can also double as a luggage rack, but has the internet hookup and a lamp for those interested. There was one chair under the desk and one next to the desk. At the other end between the desk and the window was the TV on a wall mount TV stand. On the other side of the room were the two twin beds each with a night stand and a phone in the middle. There was no small round table as is common in American hotel rooms, and when I went to adjust the air conditioner, I learned their was no air conditioner just a radiator, but the windows do open, and can be tilted in to allow for ventilation without letting any rain in. One thing I think is really neat is when you enter the room you have a switch for the main bedroom light, then above each bed you have two switches, one for each persons reading light, and the other is a remote for the main bedroom light. That's nice as you can leave the light on till you get into bed instead of stumbling around a dark strange room. Same thing for when you get up in the middle of the night. I noted this electrical feature to be fairly standard in Ireland. To finish up the tour I looked in the bathroom. Okay, pedestal sink on the left wall with a tiny shelf above it, barely big enough to hold the two provided drinking glasses, on the right wall is the toilet, and straight ahead is the tub. I noticed that the free toiletries we are used to having in hotel rooms were not there, instead there was a liquid soap dispenser next to the pedestal sink, just like a public restroom. A similar looking dispenser held body wash in the tub area. There will be more about this shower later. Oh, and there are also no washcloths in the room, hand towels, bath towels and bath mat, yes, but no washcloths. Hand towels will have to fill in for those.

Ireland - Jurys Inn Galway

So we freshened up as we waited for our bags to be brought up, I also tucked my DVD into my carry on bag. I did go to check out the vending machines. Lets see I can get a canned Coke (330mL can) for €1, or from the next machine a selection of snacks and candy bars, also mostly €1. Since anything under €5 is coinage, their vending machines don't have paper bill acceptors. Their Coke machines must be having problems with the Euros though, as the machine is encouraging people to pay with small value coins as the machine will refuse 1 and 2 Euro coins if the Exact Change light is lit. Okay that was good for about 2 or 3 minutes. I also looked at the traditional notices on the inside of the hotel room door. The maximum rate card was particularly confusing with its array of options, most of which were blanked off anyway. The options start with differing rates depending on if you want to rent (let) a room, or share a room with another guest, then for each of those options broken further by if the room has a private bath or not. The rate card looks to be a standardized card used all over Ireland, so of course has options that may not even apply. Under that it has the rate to add on breakfast. Soon the bags arrived, and we finished freshening up and then headed to the lobby for dinner. We got back to lobby a bit early but noted the hotel offered a restaurant, a pub, a broken internet terminal (seems to be a recurring problem we would experience), restrooms, phones, a cigarette machine. At €7.60 for a pack of cigarettes, that would seem to be a strong encouragement to quit smoking. I noted their method of keeping minors from sneaking a pack out of the vending machine, it does not operate on Euros, rather you need to buy tokens from the hotel staff. I noted the front desk offers post and foreign exchange services. We moved closer to the restaurant where I noted the hotel has a large courtyard with lots of tables. The hotel forms two sides of the courtyard and the river forms the third, which makes it a really attractive setting. Our room has a nice view into the yard. The wall across from the restaurant is glass from floor to ceiling which lets in a lot of natural light and some heat via the greenhouse effect.

Ireland - river alongside Jurys Inn Galway

The restaurant servers directed us to the back half of the room, sit anywhere we see menus sitting out. I noted the table was set for a fancy dinner with 2 sets of silverware plus a set of desert silverware, bread plates, water goblets and pitchers of water. They had a roll at each place, it must be the standard Irish dinner roll as we saw them just about everywhere, and both butter and margarine were on the table, as well as a rare sighting of artificial sweetener with the sugar. I looked over the banquet service style menu. It was of the select one appetizer and one main course type menu. I was happy to see that we would have choices. I looked at my options and saw I could choose between Ceasar salad, soup of the day (later reveled to be cream of vegetable), or hot wings. I went with the Ceasar salad, then looked at the next listing, between three entrees, one of which would always be vegetarian, I went with the Salmon dinner, and noticed that all dinners would come with boiled potatoes and mixed vegetables. Everybody would receive carrot cake and coffee for desert. The first server came around and took orders for the bar, I ordered a Harp (a lager type beer from Guinness) and the server seemed concerned. "Have you ever had a Harp?, I responded that I had and I got a look like "If you really want Harp, I'll get it for you" A second server came around and took the food orders. From there we just had to relax and let the food come to us. Relax being the key word here, as we still needed to adjust to a dinner taking 2 hours. I must say I liked it, the bacon in the Ceasar Salad was a bit strange, but it was good. The main course came with the meat and potatoes but no vegetables. Some time later they brought out family size dishes with carrots, cauliflower and brocolli to be shared. I must say it was a nice size piece of salmon, and since I hadn't had it in awhile it was a really nice meal. Later the carrot cake came out. Ah, no cute carrot icing decoration, and we thought it had more of a spice cake flavor. The coffee came in large mugs, and was nice and strong no nonsense coffee. I did add some sweetener and milk into it, and it was a nice way to finish the meal. I was expecting a server to come around to collect for the beer, and finally asked to be told to pay up at the restaurant cashier where she had all our checks sitting on the counter. €4.40 for an imperial pint of Harp. For the record, Bob also had the salmon, but he did opt for the "Cream of Vegetable" soup which he reported back looked and tasted more like Split Pea soup that had been pureed to the point where there were no solid vegetables left. During our meal one gentlemen had to excuse himself for the restroom and then come running quickly back to get the combination for the door from the server.

Ireland - room at Jurys Inn Galway

After dinner we thought about taking a walk, but considering we had just pulled an all nighter and had a double length day, we and most of the group decided to get a well deserved rest. Before getting that rest, however, I took a shower. Now, I have had some pretty bad hotel showers but I have a new candidate for Worst Shower Ever. The tub was fine, even if it was a shallow bottom water saving tub. (Lets see, water saving sink, water saving tub, and a commode that must take 10-20 gallons per flush). I was planning on taking a standing shower anyway, and I knew I was in for a special treat when a big topic of discussion over dinner was how to use the shower. There are two standard faucets at the bottom of the wall near the tub. Leave those alone, those are only for if you want to draw a bath, for a shower use the one single plastic faucet halfway up the wall. Okay, I turn the knob one way no water, I turn it the other way, no water, I pull it out, and it comes off in my hand, I put it back on. I then notice what looked to be a decorative border turns, and that controls the water flow, and the inner knob controls the temperature. The temerature was reasonable, but I never could get the pressure I wanted. Worse, that sorry body wash dispenser dispenses one stingy drop at a time. I had almost packed a bar of soap with me, now why didn't I?

Ireland - room at Jurys Inn Galway

I got out of the shower and broke the bad news to Bob while I sat and watched some TV, finding the UK version of Big Brother, cool. When Bob came out of the shower he wholeheartedly agreed with my scathing assessment. From that point we didn't stay up to long before experiencing that first night in a strange land, I'm glad I had the double day as it meant I had some shot at getting sleep. Hey though, I did remember the travel alarm clock. I set the alarm clock for 6:30, a time it would seem to grow to like most of the tour, and went to sleep.


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