So along with the lesson of ‘where the heck is the bus stop in relation to the hostel?’ we also learned to check the music festival calendar of towns before we visited. Unfortunately, we did not learn this before Galway. Sometimes, of course, one wishes to be present for a music festival. But if the rock music Guinness Amplify fest wasn’t quite what you had in mind, (and it wasn’t) then arriving in a major city after a four-hour bus ride to see packed parking lots, crowded green space, and lineups out the doors of hostels is a bit depressing, even though there was a parade full of Irish bagpipes, and pipers from around the world.
Galway has a variety of hostels, mostly reasonably priced, and almost all of them tailored to the music festival-going, drunk-getting, out-til-4am crowd. For the record, that is not us. But we’re not picky, and a small room in a hostel would have been just fine. Instead, because it was music festival weekend, and there are almost no beds left for people without reservations, we got two beds in a full, 12-bed dorm. Our ten roommates were clearly of the music festival-going, drunk-getting ilk.
We got out of there, and found dinner at The Cellar Bar, where we got great seats near enough to the bar to people-watch, but far enough from the pack of screaming girls to enjoy our comfort food. Galway is a bit like Quebec City, lots of cobblestone streets in the city centre, slightly-French feeling with the buildings close together and many pedestrian-only avenues. It was still warm in September, and when we left The Cellar, we walked through crowded streets filled with outdoor seating, every restaurant overflowing.
We found a lovely bookstore that was open late (a great idea!) and browsed there for a while to escape the noise, but finally gave in to the music festival scene. The Guinness Amplify Festival takes place in cities and towns all over Ireland, and gives new, emerging artists the chance to perform in various venues (some stages, and some less professional locations), and audiences get to enjoy mostly free concerts and get acquainted with new music, most of which is native to Ireland. We managed to find seats at a bar and watched a young guitar-strumming performer. It was less than stellar. Back to the hostel, where the door to our room never stopped swinging. The drunk Germans left, sometime in the early hours the American girls brought back some Irishmen they’d just met who had clearly been doing more than drinking. As with our friend from Downpatrick, these guys did not want to stay in their own beds, and came visiting all of ours before one announced that he was simply ‘too high to fall asleep.’ Fair enough.
The morning came so very slowly, breakfast was not superb, and we checked out of there in search of another, quieter place to spend our second night. The hostel next door to ours had no beds, and informed us that no one in the city would, on a Saturday night, during a music festival. We described our horrific night to the man at the desk though, and he told us to wait while he made a call. When he came back, he told us about a little bed and breakfast, slightly farther from city centre, and Betty (the owner, we assumed) would pick us up. Not too expensive, a private room, and quiet. We took it.
Betty did in fact pick us up, within moments, and wanted to know all about who we were and what we were doing. When she learned how awful the hostel was, she apologized profusely, not just for the hostel (which she said is usually very good), but for Galway, and for all of Ireland. She was determined to improve our stay in her city. We were given a lovely room on the second floor of her home, in a suburb full of other older, single people. We shared a bathroom with the girls across the hall, but otherwise, saw no one. Perfection.
We hit the town, managed to find the farmers’ market, an authentic-looking collection of stalls selling everything from chickens to wool to veg and bread. Rachel had read about a cafe by the waterfront, which lead us to a part of town we otherwise would never have visited, and we had the best brunch at Ard Bia at Nimmos, a sweet cafe-restaurant with excellent food, and lovely views of the water, plus a great selection of local and national newspapers.
When we left, we discovered we were right by the Spanish Arch, and almost on top of the Galway Oyster Fest! Not our scene, but the visitors slurping down their oysters looked very content.
Around every corner in Galway was something new – the public library was tall and narrow, with low ceilings and more books than most we’d seen. Down a side street we found an amazing new and used bookstore, Charlie Byrne’s Bookshop, filled with books of every genre, and funky literature-themed decor, like this awesome sign:
When we finally returned to Betty’s to get changed for supper, she could not stop telling us how lovely we looked (a private room and a shower will have that effect!), and wished us well on our night out. We went to the Latin Quarter, with the cobblestones, and though the waitress clearly thought we were not worth serving, we had excellent Italian appetizers and pizza, finished with coffee and cake at a cafe where the waiter looked only slightly more engaged in his job.
So Galway, you had some good moments. Betty was lovely, and the breakfast she served us and the Germans and other Canadians the next morning (more food than anyone could possibly eat) was excellent, and worth the money. We would love to come back when you were not overrun with drunkenness, and your bars had some slightly better Irish music. But we know it wasn’t your fault.