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Epic fáilte EI EI EI O

Happy Christmas!

Well, or more accurately, happy St David’s Day. Not today, but yesterday - March 1st 2019, the day I’m about to recount. But Christmas is relevant because in 2018, as with the previous 3 years, Helen and I bought each other mystery holidays. This weekend is my present from her. Previous instalments have been:

We’re back on planes this year, and so it is that our alarms were set for just gone 5am with a cab due at 6.45am to take us to Heathrow, Terminal 2. While getting ready we put Radio 4 on, which pipes up with the seemingly standalone statement “People are increasingly disappointed.”. Well, OK then.

It’s a smooth journey to the airport, with not much traffic until we get close to Hatton Cross. My intention had been to arrive at about 7.30am and we’re almost exactly on time. I’m not familiar with T2 at all, I’m reasonably sure I haven’t been here since it was reopened in 2014, in fact I’m not sure I ever flew from here in its old incarnation anyway. But, whatever, an airport terminal is an airport terminal.

The gates like my boarding pass but not my face, and I’m diverted to the manual desk. His machine also doesn’t like my face, until I take my glasses off. I don’t normally have to do that. Huh.

Queueing up for security, there’s some oddness ahead of us. A short subcontinental woman has an enormous piece of luggage, genuinely more than half her height. She’s looking confused while two members of staff frantically shout for someone else to come help them, to escort her back to the check-in desks where her bag should obviously have been surrendered. Eventually a bloke turns up, sees the woman and her suitcase and exclaims “Jesus Christ! How did you even get that through the gates to here?” and leads her away.

When it’s my turn, I’m the middle of 3 consecutive men who set off the metal detector and have to submit to extra screening. The display on their monitor seems to imply that something has detected a bunch of metal around my cock. While testing my shoes for drugs the guy asks me if it’s cold out. It’s all very confusing.

I’d already scoped out the map of the terminal and identified which lounges we had access to. Because we both still have shiny cards courtesy of BA’s extraordinary generosity a couple of years ago, we’re able to avail ourselves of Aer Lingus - for ‘tis them with whom we are flying today. We’re not flying business class but they’re owned by the same parent company as BA and despite not being part of the alliance, there’s some moderately confusing relationship which grants us access with the BA cards.

It’s quite an airy lounge, there aren’t many people around, and it seems to be directly above at least one gate used by Aer Lingus, evidenced by a plane of theirs being parked there - and being replaced by another one when it buggers off.

It’s about 0745 when we get in and we’d quite like some breakfast. But there’s no hot food. There’s a fridge with Guinness, (how stereotypical) Carlsberg and wine, and another with a selection of mixers but no spirits are in sight. The cold food selection is pretty tiny. We each get pastry and I also have a banana, yoghurt, and some cheese and biscuits.

The seats aren’t that comfortable, though I have a bit of an explore and there’s a nicer sub-room across the way. But with Sky News annoying us on TV, no hot food, and another card in my wallet, we bugger off across the terminal in search of the Plaza Premium Lounge, via WH Smith whose self-service tills require a boarding pass in order to buy BBC Wildlife magazine. The lounge itself is hidden around the corner at the end of a corridor by the transfer security desks, and there’s a queue of 5 or so people ahead of us.

It clears quickly and we’re in. It’s much more crowded, but instantly more attractive - despite the lack of natural light, there are a range of seating options, a large hot breakfast buffet, and a staffed bar. We get seats at the far end and load up on scrambled egg, bacon, delicious sausages, mushrooms, and potatoes. I go to the bar and once the lady there has stopped talking to her colleague, she turns to me with a brusque “Yes?”, making my request for a Carlsberg much meeker than I’d intended on approach.

Helen has a G&T - required preparation ever since the Cessna adventure in Costa Rica - and with much time to spare, we each have a second. Just after 9am, an hour before take-off, we learn our gate. I like how the Heathrow iOS app provides walking directions inside.

There are three consecutive gates with Aer Lingus flights taking off within 15 minutes of one another: Dublin, Cork, and Shannon. We’re the last of these in all senses - Shannon, furthest gate, last to take off. Boarding starts literally as we arrive at the gate and after shuffling forward a bit in the queue, we realise it’s the priority queue and we’re not allowed in it. Swapping to the much smaller general boarding queue, we end up getting onboard pretty damn early anyway.

Seats 8E and 8F are ours, the furthest forward we could choose when check-in opened (a strange 30 hours earlier) without paying, like, 17 quid a pop. Seriously. There’s magazines in the seat backs ahead of us and we already know what we’re going to order should the trolley manage to reach us - flying time is only an hour and the first 6 rows are busy.

We pull away from the gate on time and taxi for bloody ages. It’s a grey day so no views are particularly great. The flight is, accordingly, pretty nondescript. Flying over Wales on St David’s Day, we can’t see the country at all. Mostly we just see clouds, though there are some gaps as we come over the Irish east coast.

We order a Hophouse 13 beer and a Hendrick’s and tonic at precisely the moment that a load of turbulence hits and the seatbelt signs come on. This makes the need for gin even more pressing. A woman manning the trolley in the rear of the cabin comes up to our fellas and demands cheese from Tony.

We land almost exactly on schedule. There are three planes parked at gates marked as Omni Airlines International, who I’ve never heard of. As we wander down the corridor there’s a nice view of the retro livery on the plane we just got off.

A leaflet in the seatback pocket had been pimping the all new Aer Lingus planes and livery, being particularly proud of how many shamrocks they’ve managed to include.

I’m not really sure what the Common Travel Area/CTA means in practical terms, but I do know we brought our passports with us and needed to. The two blokes manning the immigration counters are super friendly, having nice banter with each person ahead of us in the queue. Then, neither of us are spoken to except for a hello and a thank you.

The bus ticket machine is a piece of piss to spot in the arrivals area, and I buy two tickets to our final destination: Galway. There’s a bus in 20-odd minutes, giving us time for comfort breaks and liquid purchases. Also some tourism: Shannon apparently was where the first ever duty free shop was? Outside the weather is bleak. Very bleak. But a pied wagtail is nice to see, near the smoking area.

The bus arrives on time but leaves late, as the driver seemingly doesn’t understand the pre-bought smartphone tickets some people ahead of us in the queue have bought. It’s not hugely busy, nor hugely comfortable. Pulling away from the airport we go through bleak housing areas and along a bleak motorway. It’s raining and blowing a gale. There’s a sign that says KEEP CLARE CLEAN, but mostly the two or so hours north looks like this

When a lady gets on with a couple of loud kids, and sits directly behind us, at Ennis, that’s our cue to put headphones on and zone out. I spend the rest of the journey dozing through a wrestling podcast, occasionally waking up convinced I can hear Becky Lynch behind me. Of course, it’s just one of the thousands of women who sound just like her.

I don’t really understand Irish public transport. I get that we’re on the bus for longer than we were on the plane, but what I don’t get is that the train from nearby (to the airport) Limerick is even slower than the bus. How is that a thing?

Anyway, at Galway we get off the bus next to the train station, in the absolute pissing rain. It’s properly horrific. We nip inside just to consult Google maps on my phone so we know which direction to go, and then set off. It’s not like Galway is big, we probably only walk for like 10 minutes to get to our hotel and by the time we’re there we are completely soaked.

A super-friendly lady at reception checks us in at the Residence Hotel, in the heart of Galway’s Latin Quarter. Up on the second floor in our room, we hang up some of our wet clothes and take stock. The TV remote control works only within 2 or 3 feet of the TV, basically from the foot of the bed but not from the head. Furthermore it has a button called “magic” which, when pressed, does nothing. Unless it’s doing something in an entirely different room or country or dimension, depending on how magic it actually is.

Power sockets are numerous and intriguingly placed - on a trip up north a few months back we stayed in a hotel in Shipley, Yorkshire, where no plugs were reachable from the bed, making it annoying to charge our phones or iPads. But here, in Galway, there are two plug sockets and a USB socket built into the headboard of the bed.

Just before Helen’s requested post-siesta wake-up call, there’s an unexpected knock at the door. A member of staff apologises for, er, us being in when she knocked, and hands me two vouchers for free booze at the bar downstairs. Well OK then!

With the weather slightly better than when we arrived, and us being hungry again since it was around 8 hours since that lounge breakfast, we decided to set out, get our bearings, and find somewhere to eat. TripAdvisor told us a bunch of the best places in town were nearby. Immediately outside our hotel there are about 6 pubs and restaurants within, like, 20 steps or so. Exploring a little further afield we discover that Galway Latin Quarter is absolutely teeming with places to eat and drink.

A quick circuit around just one block of the mostly-pedestrianised bit and we arrive at The Pie Maker, a pie shop.

There’s very few people in there and we’ve got our pick of seats. Extravagantly welcoming staff take our food and drink orders, though Helen’s first choice of pie is currently unavailable.

I very much approve that every pie on the menu includes booze in its filling. Yeah, I think I’ll. have the sausage, black pudding and Madeira pie please.

Oh nom. Oh fucking nom nom nom.

Along with pie I have a bottle of out of date local stout, which tastes delicious nonetheless.

We also debate, at length, Saturday morning. I’ve packed my running kit, taking up a good 25% of my luggage, and have been very much looking forward to turning up for Knocknacarra parkrun on Saturday morning. Indeed, part of the reason Helen chose Galway for my present was due to the proximity of a parkrun - she knows how much I like doing the tourism thing, ticking off boxes. But, well, the local weather has been shocking for a couple of days and is still pissing down while we eat pie. What’s more, the forecast for Saturday is absolutely dreadful: an essentially 100% chance of rain and ~60mph winds. It’s going to be a crazy muddy windy wet difficult run. The venue is 5-6km away from the hotel with reasonable public transport to get there but not to get back, especially if I’m covered in mud, which also would be bad to traipse into the hotel. Regrettably, I’m forced to conclude that parkrun is not happening. Bah!

With that decision made, we now had to work out what to do with the rest of our Friday. With the wind and rain being present but no longer deeply unpleasant, we went for a bit more of a wander around town. Our plan was to head up to the next or second bridge, cross westwards, have a pint, then come back across the water and go claim our free cocktail.

Through town we weave our way along pavements too narrow for the number of people around. Soon we’re by some water - there is a lot of water around here. The river Carrib goes through the town, but next to it are, seemingly, 5 or 6 canals. Most things are really fast flowing, with weirs and waterfalls and stuff. Around here there’s a cathedral, but it’s so misty we can barely make out the top of it.

There’s a sign to a convent, and I say to Helen “we’re on Nun’s Island”. She thinks I’m taking the piss, until I draw her attention to this sign.

See?

Everything’s pretty fucking bleak to be honest. I know that we’re now in the West End of Galway, and memories of 2004 come ... well, not flooding back, but at least a little more clarity arrives. Because, y’see, I’ve been to Galway before, on a stag do when I was best man to my friend Loz. There’s lots I can recall, but lots I can’t; this walk, however, has encompassed Sally Long’s - the grotty metal pub we, if I recall correctly, spent most of that Saturday in - and after leaving Nun’s Island we happen across the Roisin Dubh. This I definitely recall – we had it recommended to us, and one of our party popped out for a smoke and was too drunk for the doormen to let him back in.

More memories come back: across the road is the bar which several of us went in on that night and got roaringly drunk watching the Eurovision Song Contest take place. But none of this is of interest to Helen. Well, that’s not quite true; we had actually considered buying tickets to see Hayseed Dixie at the Roisin Dubh this very evening but decided against it. What we really want to do – well, what I really want to do – in this neck of the woods is visit the Salt House, a pub with a good reputation for beer.

Finding it is trivial, but we go straight past; with the weather still being clement and light enough to not waste, we carry on up to the main road which proves remarkably difficult to cross. After a few minutes failing to do so between traffic we go up to the junction where there are lights, and stand there long enough to realise that the sequence of changes the lights go through literally never involve the red man turning to green. So eventually we take a more Vietnamese approach and just wander between a couple of cars going at less-than-threatening speeds.

Going past more bodies of water, some deadly calm and some rushing like rapids out into the Atlantic, we towards the mouth of the river and admire the housing opposite. I am a little confused by seeing swans in salt water. They are mute swans, apparently.

Working our way back, the river stays incredibly choppy. The city’s only big chain hotel looms on the other side of the bridge, looking tired and grim.

Crossing the road is easier at a second attempt, and it’s time to see if the Salt House lives up to its own reputation. Best place for beer in Ireland, eh?

We’ve arrived at, what, 5.30pm or something. It’s busy on the tables but no-one is standing; we have to, for a bit, but then a local couple vacate their table and we’re able to nick it. This involves a really nice small chat – they’re instantly in love with the fact that a couple of folk from London have turned up to the best city in the world, but they also love London. We only talk for, like, 2 minutes or so but they are ludicrously welcoming, including the advice that this bar is good for beer but it’s mostly “foreigners like yourselves”, and Taylor’s down the way is the place to go to hang with the locals.

Beer wise, I’ve inadvertently bought a stout I’ve had before. Helen, justifiably expecting a decent selection of craft cider, has to settle for a pint of Thatchers that she doesn’t particularly like. But the atmosphere is nice and the seats are comfy. Behind us there’s a few people with a young dog which evidently lets off one of the worst farts in canine history, causing about 6 or 8 people to laugh and screw their faces up and bring their shirts up over their noses and stuff. Helen witnesses this to much amusement; I miss it all, and in fact the smell never reaches us.

Leaving after just the one drink, we nip to the cavernous off licence round the corner and go dump our purchases back in our room, despite the lack of a fridge there. Because we’ve been up since 5am or so, and have been boozing on and off since 8am, both of us think that perhaps we’ll be running out of steam soon but a nightcap never goes amiss. That said, we also want to use the free booze voucher so downstairs to Bar 1520 we go.

The main bar says we have to go to the back, where there’s a dedicated cocktail bar, to redeem. In an excellent turn of events we grab two very comfy seats next to the fire, and I go to the bar. I know we’re allowed either an Old Fashioned or a Whisky Sour; we go for two Old Fashioneds and I’m asked if we want them smoked or not. I know next to fuck all about cocktails but I do know that I like my booze smoked so yeah, one smoked and one not, please.

Oh my god! That’s how you smoke an Old Fashioned?

Colour me impressed. It tastes pretty nice too, but I’m far more interested in how its made. On the wall is a video screen showing rolling footage of other cocktails on the menu being made, and one of them features a bacon-infused bourbon. Whoa. Just over the way is a table full of screeching-laughter locals, though the worst offenders go outside for a smoke frequently and for long enough each time that it isn’t too distressing.

We stay for a second drink. I move back to beer, Helen has a Claddagh Sunset cocktail. The two tables nearest us remain steadfastly empty: they are marked as reserved and, apparently, are meant to be overflow seating for the screechers’ party. Everyone honours the RESERVED signs for a good 90 minutes until it finally becomes inescapably obvious that no-one is actually going to turn up and use them.

I go up for a third; Helen has a Pomme Star Martini though without egg, which the barman tells me is kinda weird because the egg is a pretty key ingredient. We have a moderately involved conversation about cocktails, since I’m so ignorant and anyway, it takes him a while to prepare each one so we kinda have to talk about something. The only drink which features the bacon bourbon is a Mint Julep and I don’t really like mint, but perhaps I’ll try it one day. For now though I’ll stick with the beer.

Midway through this drink I am suddenly desperate for the loo so go squeeze past the people seated behind me. A lad holds up a bottle of tonic water and says something I don’t catch, but I’m too single-mindedly dogged in my requirement for a piss to properly engage. I think I mutter something like “er I dunno mate”; whatever just happened, the entire table erupts in laughter. Weird.

The pub has live music. Back when we’d checked in we had been given the full SP: there’s no breakfast provision by the hotel except they would, if we wanted, put a small bag with, like, a school-style breakfast pack outside our door in the morning. Otherwise we should use the pub which serves from 10:30am onwards. In the evenings they stop serving food at 8pm, and there will be live music until 11pm after which there’ll be a DJ until 2am. The Irish take music very seriously, it’s completely ingrained everywhere. I don’t think there’s even the concept of a quiet pub in this country.

The music we’ve been treated to has been a solo guy on a guitar. He started off mixing up pop/r&b in medleys, later moving on to spitting some serious hip hop over his acoustic - he sings Eminem’s 8 Mile faster than the man himself. He just seems really talented, and the crowd out front are getting ever busier and louder. I only know this because Helen pops out for a couple of vapes; me, I’m happy sitting back in the comfy chair.

After 3 drinks though, we’re both wiped out. It has been a long day and do you know what, we might even be a bit drunk. Not so drunk that we still don’t take a nightcap; sitting in bed at 9.30pm with a bottle of smoked stout and watching Celebrity Catchphrase is how champions spend Friday night, right? We’re unable to change channel even if we wanted to, thanks to the afore-described frailties of the “remote” control. Ashley Banjo is a lot taller than Lorraine Kelly, isn’t he?

Created By
Darren Foreman
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