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July 25, 2015

Galway Week 3

July 13 - July 20

The Monday of our third week we visited the beautiful Aran Islands.  This was one of my favorite trips we have had thus far. We were all expecting another rainy day, and the start didn't look promising as it was pouring rain in Galway.  We packed extra clothes, lots of food, and a towel or two, ready to take on the rain yet again. We boarded the ferry at around 10 in the morning, road for about 45 minutes through the choppy Atlantic Ocean, and arrived to a dry Inis Mor.  The sky was still cloudy, but already our hopes were up.  Our group walked around the small town for a little bit before boarding the buses and driving deeper into the island.  We ended up in a small little patch of beautiful houses, with miles of stone walls wrapping around us in all directions like a slightly confused maze.

We started off on our first adventure, a hike across the limestone to the Worm Hole.  By then the skies had cleared up and we saw the beautiful sun, which we hadn't spotted for quite some time.  We eventually got to a large cliff and hiked along it until we were able to look down and see the worm hole.  This natural landmark was essentially a very large, rectangular hole carved into the rocks down near the ocean.  It looked perfectly carved out, but it wasn't man-made; it occurred from the combined effects of a sea cave collapsing inward and erosion from the water. Ocean water was able to connect from the ocean to the worm hole and fill it up to resemble a swimming pool. Apparently it's popular for people to cliff dive into it.

After spending some time up on the cliffs, we headed back down to find some lunch.  We walked along the small roads through the rolling hills, spotting occasional cows and horses.  We made it to a little village of a few restaurants and stores, ready to eat some good food. For the first time in a while we were able to sit and relax in the sun, soaking up the Rays and recharging for the remainder of the day,

Our next trip was up to Dun Aonghasa, a semicircular stone fort at the highest point of Inis Mor that is more than 3000 years old.  It has stunning views of the beautiful Atlantic Ocean, with cliffs that drop straight down and resemble the Cliffs of Moher.  Our tour guide told us much about the fort, such as that there are some theories that instead of a fort it was actually an amphitheater of sorts where masses of people sat on the bench-like formations in the stone walls.  [find source]

After this trip, we boarded the buses again and headed back to the part of the island where we began. There we were able to shop around some and relax for a little before our ferry set off again.  We enjoyed a delicious Irish coffee and sat back as the beautiful day on Inis Mor came to a close.

The rest of the week flew by as we worked on homework, visited a few pubs, and spent more time with each other.  On Thursday morning we decided to take better advantage of the time we have left in beautiful Galway and decided to head to town for breakfast. We ate some delicious food at Griffins bakery, then walked around town for a little bit.  It was so nice to just enjoy the little quirks of Galway and not worry too much about the schoolwork we had.

The weekend after the third week of classes was the exciting time when many of us took off on trips throughout Europe.  Many people decided to travel to places like Paris, London, or Amsterdam, but Erin and I are traveling through Europe after this program so we decided to stay a little more local.  Saturday morning we boarded an early train to Cork.  My aunt is good friends with someone who lived in Galway for some time and recommended that I travel to cork at some point, so we decided to take her advice and venture off into this fun southern city.
We booked a beautiful house through AirBnB in the heart of the city.  We had a bedroom and bathroom on the top floor of the house with a very kind, welcoming family.  We got to cork around noon on Saturday, giving us two and a half days to spend exploring this city. Saturday we spent time walking around the main street, Saint Patrick's street, and some of the side streets as well.  We walked through the English market, which was a wonderful mix of bakeries, butchers, and other vendors selling wide arranges of things.  We went to a pub for dinner and ate some delicious Irish food.  

Sunday we headed to blarney castle.  I wasn't so sure that I wanted to cave into this particular tourist attraction, but Erin convinced me and I'm glad we went.  We took a bus up to blarney, and headed straight for the castle.  I'm not very fond of heights, and walking up the steep staircase in the castle that got progressively narrower was not very fun. My mind was changed one we arrived at the top, though, because the views were incredible.  Kissing the stone happened in a second.  Once we snapped a few pictures from the top we headed down to the beautiful grounds surrounding the castle and ate our lunches. We spent the rest of the afternoon strolling through the grounds and enjoying the beautiful gardens.

That night for dinner we are a delicious Asian street food restaurant, and then headed to a pub I had heard about called Sin É. Rumor has it that it is the oldest pub in Cork, and once we walked through the doors it definitely fit that title.  It was dark and old looking, with old posters and pictures covering every surface. There was hardly anywhere to sit, with a tiny bar, and a group of men sitting around a table in the corner playing traditional Irish music.  We got to stay for a little and enjoy the wonderful culture in the bar, but we decided to move on after a while because there was no where for us to sit.  We moved on to a different bar with a similar reputation around the town called Mutton Lane.  This bar was much more laid back and we found seats right away. It was fun to be in a small group and just enjoy our time in this new city.

For Monday, our last day in Cork, we decided to explore the city more.  We got a delicious and filling breakfast at a place called the Liberty Grill.  afterwards, feeling full and satisfied, we hiked up into the hills of cork in search of Saint Anne's Cathedral.  We had heard of the Shandon bells before and decided we wanted to ring them.  

We found the beautiful church tucked in between the rows and rows of houses on the hillside. Erin and I paid the small admission and headed up stairs towards the bells.  We decided to trek all the way up to the top of the bell tower first to see the views of cork from the top.  After climbing up another steep, claustrophobic staircase, we made it to the highest part of the tower and were able to see 360 degrees of cork from the top. The views were breathtaking.  

After taking a few pictures and enjoying the beautiful scene before us, we headed downstairs and took our turn to ring the bells.  They have a whole book of songs you can play with the enormous bells [source here], and I chose to play "here comes the sun". It was such a fun experience and I was really happy we decided to search for the special church.

Later on we walked around town, doing some shopping and eating some delicious food.  We had seen the top of a beautiful cathedral over the tops of houses around town, and since we had all afternoon free we decided to search for this beautiful building as well.  We eventually found it hidden on the outskirts of Cork as well, and discovered that it was Saint Fin Barre's Cathedral.  This was one of the most beautiful churches I have seen here. There was an immense amount of detail on the front face of the cathedral, and we spent a lot of time taking it all in and enjoying the artistry.  Sadly you had to pay an admission to enter the church, so we decided to just enjoy the view from the outside.

The rest of the day we spent walking around the city, eating good food, and having one last pint at Mutton lane again. We headed back pretty early, as our train was leaving at 7 the next morning and we had to walk to the train station.  Overall Cork was a wonderful city, and while it isn’t as great in my eyes as Galway it was still really fun.

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