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The Joy of Socks It’s a shame about rays

Woke up stupidly early on Sunday, wondering where the cat is. He’s at home, of course, and I’m not. We were in fact awake early enough to consider what was once going to be a centrepiece activity of this trip: a day in the Aran Islands. But despite the wind having calmed down, a forecast of constant rain meant a long bus ride, then boat ride, then 6 hours on Innis Mor didn’t really appeal. Thankfully we’d identified stuff to occupy us around here anyway.

First things first: breakfast. Because our hotel doesn’t do food itself but directs guests to eat in the attached pub, breakfast here on a Sunday isn’t served until midday. That’s a little late even for us, though in the event we end up not descending in the lift until gone 11am by which time I am proper hangry. Having researched venues in town Helen has decided we’ll go to The Kitchen, a cafe built into the city museum. It’s only about 25 yards away.

The walk manages to be desperately unpleasant even for so little distance. It’s pissing down and cold, and we contrive to take a wrong direction in the straight line required. Once inside we’re shunted into a small waiting area - it’s very busy and we’re not given a table for 10 minutes or so, by which time there are 12 or so people waiting in a space suitable for no more than 5.

The menu looks decent and we are ravenous. None of the fry up options nor extras include baked beans, which makes it particularly suitable for Helen. Both of us opt for the Brunchbuster and a mimosa, because why not?

The food is simultaneously nice and quite disappointing. The sausages are ordinary, the bacon merely OK, the eggs are fried to perfection and taste great with the pancakes. But, frankly, it’s not as good as the beautifully decadent plate we’d had on Saturday morning.

Outside the museum and cafe is the Spanish Arch. It’s one of the big hitter touristy things in the city; we’d seen it on Friday evening but figured it couldn’t be the Spanish Arch because it’s so small and rubbish. But no, we learn today that it is indeed the Spanish Arch. Getting a satisfactory photo of it is made hard not only because it is in itself so unsatisfactory, but also due to 15 tourists all huddling under it out of the rain - but still holding umbrellas up, which pisses me off no end.

Next to the arch there’s a load of sandbags and scaffolding. It really is pretty bleak.

By now it’s about 1245, meaning we have 15 minutes to kill until our scheduled, once-an-hour, next thing to do. This gives us time to buy a Coke Zero and wander through some alleyways before standing in a doorway next to the Jury’s Inn hotel, enjoying the view.

I’m finding this fucking hilarious, to be honest. It feels somewhat preposterous given the conditions, but we’re stood here in the grim cold wet wind waiting for the glorious Galway Tourist Train to take us on a tour of the city. It turns up right on time.

“Oh, it’s a wet one today isn’t it!” says the driver, as he opens a door into the front carriage to let us in. We have it to ourselves until a minute or so before departure, when a couple of Italian girls also join the tour.

There is quiet background Irish music being played through the speakers, interrupted occasionally through the journey by commentary about historical stuff. The girls behind us seem to talk louder to each other whenever the commentary is on, which is quite annoying.

There isn’t actually much commentary either. They tell us about the Hall of the Red Earl, some excavations of an old hall where... I forget. Trading took place, maybe? Around the way by the church is something of more interest: Lynch’s Window. This is where someone named Lynch – who was, er, the sheriff or some other position like that – hung his own son as punishment for collusion with the Spanish, after which he retreated from public life and was consumed with remorse for the rest of this days. This is, we’re told, the actual origin of the term “lynching”. Hey, I learnt something!

Other facts are less impressive, such as “John F Kennedy came to Galway in 1963 and spoke to people in the main square”, and “numerous bands have sung songs about Galway Bay”. I don’t recall anything else. The journey through the city was mostly zigzagging through roads with which we were already familiar, except for the industrial bit down by the docks. They’re going to massively upgrade it and make it cruise ship compatible, so they say.

It’s a hop-on-hop-off tour with our tickets valid all day but there aren’t actually any stops except for at the far end, in Salthill next to the Aquarium. That’s where we wanted to go anyway, but even so...

So, the Aquarium then. This is Ireland’s national aquarium, and alternatively known as the Atlantiquaria, what with literally being across the road from the Atlantic ‘n that. There’s a long, grim corridor from the external doors to the ticket office, in which we have to navigate our way around young kids playing with toy guns. At the desk the man ahead is buying tickets for himself and his two sons, getting the full SP about the tours and talks for the rest of the day which we happily earwig, though it’s all written on a poster on the wall anyway.

Inside, we’re the only people there who aren’t accompanied by kids. Par for the course I guess, on a bleak Sunday with nothing to do outside why wouldn’t you take them to go see some fish.

There’s loads of fish. It’s an aquarium, after all.

My phone is not great at taking pictures of constantly moving subject matter through glass and water in strange lighting. But it’s not, like, awful either.

Dunno what this one is shouting about.

Because of the gallery on the aquarium website, Helen has been most looking forward to seeing the cheerful rays. But now, inside the venue, she zooms straight past the ray pool barely giving them a chance.

I, however, hang around for a minute or two, and am rewarded with exactly the view she was after. Hello, cheerful ray!

Next to the rays is some really colourful stuff, which Helen also manages to miss out on. Be more patient!

This little guy is a right grump.

There’s a tank with about 15 of these giant, miserable looking things, and it seems way too small a space for them. All the other tanks seem OK but this one feels out of place. But, what do we know? We’re certainly not really learning much, because neither of us are reading any of the accompanying texts.

Hello!

Cheer up!

It’s on two floors, and we’ve seen virtually everything within 20 minutes. But by now it’s coming on for 2pm, and there’s a talk being given up by the touchpools then. It’s in the loudest part of the whole place, not only due to the presence of tons of small kids but also the loud, I dunno, aircon? Something making a constant racket in the pipes/ceiling. So it’s great that the talk is given by what seems to be the member of staff with the quietest voice. I’m stood almost right next to her as she shouts about the fish and stuff, and even I can barely make anything out.

But anyway, again, learning isn’t the key thing for us here. The key thing is that Helen is given some bread and goes to dip her hands in the pool full of toothless fish, who will feed straight from her and also just come up and “kiss” her hand. So that’s exactly what happens.

After 5 minutes there, everyone moves to the pool of starfishes. I can hear a little more here - apparently starfish have no blood, heart, or brains. The invitation to touch here is not to stroke them while they’re clamped to rocks, but instead the handler gently eases them off and then holds them upside down, handing them around the kids who aren’t particularly fussed. We’re not fussed at all, and are done with this aquarium. All in all it didn’t really feel worth the money.

Next, I make a play for going into the arcade and Helen agrees. Yes. This is proper seaside living. I mean, who could resist such an attractive attraction?

Going in the doors on the right we’re instantly in the adults only fruit machines bit, which holds no interest. The left hand half is where all the good stuff is - Coronation Street themed coin shelf machines, a few arcade games, some grabbers, those basketball things. I love those basketball games! So after a few €0,20 goes on the horse racing thing which takes all our shrapnel, we exchange a €20 note for a bunch of one euro coins and off we go.

The basketball thing, then. You get, like, 45 seconds to throw balls and if you score above 30 you get to keep playing, next threshold being 60, then. 90, then you just keep going for a high score. At my first attempt I score 28; Helen scores 27. I’m dissatisfied with my showing and insist on having another go, which is an excellent fun cardio workout and I score an almighty 134! Fuck yeah!

I did at one point manage to throw the ball directly into the cage, bouncing it off my own head and hitting a passing child behind me. Oops.

While my heart returns to its resting rate, it’s Helen’s turn to play one of her favourite games. This means massive violence against sharks, which seems a bit off considering we’ve just been to an aquarium but whatever.

Bang! Bang! Bang! Smack! Kapow! Bang! Thwack!

She gets somewhere near the machine’s high score, and is rewarded with a bunch more tickets. You know, those tickets you can go exchange at a counter for some really, really poor tat.

On the next machine I win 40 more of the damn things. I forget what we play next, but by the end of our time here we’ve got something like 120 of them. This feels like about enough to get a couple of pencil erasers or maybe some sweets. Somewhat incongruously, on the shelves next to all the toys, fake jewellery, and other prizes is a robotic vacuum cleaner for 15,000 tickets. Holy frijoles you bloody what?

Not really knowing what to do with ours, we opt to surreptitiously leave them in the payout shelf of one machine, in the hope of making some lucky kid’s day.

And then we go to the pub. Hurrah! We’re opposite Oslo, the Galway Bay brewery bar where we played pool yesterday. Indeed, we completely reprise our Saturday experience: buy a beer, go sit on the sofa in the smoking bit while Helen vapes, then come sit in the corner of the big beer hall and play pool. Once again we finish 1-1, though Helen’s winning black did require a bit of jumping on the floor and a sudden gust of wind to go in.

We’re thinking of having another drink and a third game when the landlord comes and turns the lights off in that part of the pub, and says no more pool as of 4.10pm. Oh. It’s not obvious why, but, OK then. We take that as our cue (pun intended) to leave.

Outside it’s barely spitting with rain, and there’s no appreciable wind. Having missed “the last train back” I suggest we walk, and walk we do. We’ve researched the opening hours of at least one sweater shop and there’s a few hours of shopping yet, which is good because Helen wants to buy an Aran island sweater and some socks.

In the first shop she’s kind of indecisive. The only sweater she really likes has what appears to be a restrictive neck. In the second, third, fourth, and fifth shops she doesn’t really like any of the designs. In the sixth shop she tries on a sweater she actually likes, and it doesn’t fit well. By now we’re in a shopping mall and we emerge by a multi-storey car park into a back street. This has been an inauspicious retail trip, but I like the sign on the loos.

Inconvenience, see? On a sign about the public conveniences being closed. Which is inconvenient, if you need the loo. Get it? See? Inconvenience. Public convenience. Public inconvenience. It’s inconvenient to close the convenience. See?

Right, anyway, whatever. Back to the hotel just to charge our phones for a bit and drop off bags, and to watch a bit of The Chase. There are no celebrities. Helen’s still desperate to buy some woollen socks and has finally decided which size to buy - her feet being right on the cusp of the available sizings (7.5 - does she buy 4-7s or 8-11s? It’s so difficult). So we venture back out, failing to accurately recall which shop sold the ones she liked and thus revisiting three shops we’d been in not twenty minutes prior.

Finally, with a bag of socks in hand, we can stop looking at wool. We’ve not made a decision about where to eat this evening, and I vote that we go walk to another craft beer bar in a bit of town we’d not yet reached, and see if any menus at any restaurants tickled our fancy en route. I mean, we’re definitely not spoilt for choice in Galway.

Up on Woodquay we find the two places I’d read about - McGinn’s Hop House and Caribou. The former is absolutely full of people watching Liverpool vs Everton and there’s nowhere to sit; what’s more, it smells like a pub where the smoking ban only came into affect a couple of weeks ago, with the odour of years of stale smoke and spilt beer emanating from the carpet and wood now unencumbered by new smoke. Caribou it is, then.

Caribou is actually wonderful, possibly my favourite beer venue of the weekend so far. There’s tons of choice and the vibe is different again to that of the Salt House and Oslo. Here it’s dark and cool and hip, the music isn’t offensively loud, the sound of each table’s guests doesn’t carry massively. The staff are, as with everyone around here, really friendly.

While I’m at the bar, and in fact half the time while I’m sat down, Helen is on her phone figuring out where to buy yet more socks from. I think maybe she wants to start an export business.

Booze-wise, I go for a stout - “have you got one that isn’t 12% please?” – and Helen has a kriek. Next, I go for an IPA that according to her “tastes of soap”. In a pre-Untappd world I would doubtless have agreed, but this is definitely one of those beers which my tastebuds have given up complaining about. She also says her unfiltered kellerbier German lager is bloody delicious.

OK. It’s definitely food time now. On our way to Caribou we’d walked past a crepe place with a very tempting menu, but at the time it was heaving and it looked pretty cramped. On our way back past, it’s almost entirely empty. Hurrah!

Everything sounds fucking amazing. There is a slight wrinkle though: they don’t have any beer. They have cider, they have wine, but no beer. And no spirits either, unless I want them served in a glass of coffee which I absolutely bloody do not. Fucking hell, a booze-selling place in Ireland that has no beer and no whiskey!? Diet Coke then please. Bah.

Also a big crepe with blue cheese and bacon in it, thanks. Oh god it’s delicious. I’ll forgive the lack of beer.

Cheap, too, probably our cheapest meal yet. While we eat a handful of other people arrive though none of them sit down for a meal - they’re treating it like a Starbucks, just coming in for coffee.

Once we’re done it’s a short wander back through town to Bar 1520. It seems busy, but as if by magic, literally the second we reach the cocktail bar at the back a couple up and leave from the comfy seats we’d had on Friday and we plonk right down. It’s great. So, about that bacon-infused-bourbon cocktail... and you know what, since we’re in Ireland, maybe I’ll have a Guinness.

I don’t rightly know whether it was an underwhelming pint of Guinness, or whether I am these days permanently underwhelmed by Guinness thanks to the astonishing array of other porters and stouts available, but whatever the reason it’s safe to say that this pint is underwhelming. The mint julep, on the other hand, is just plain weird. I have one sip and it definitely tastes of bacon.

By now we’re tired, and the pub is very loud and busy. Since we’re staying upstairs we think, fuck it, one more drink but take it up to the room. I have a lager which I don’t realise at purchase time is actually made by Guinness. It’s much nicer than the Guinness. We also get a pint glass just of ice, intending to put it, and a load of cold water, in the bathroom sink in an attempt to make our final off-licence purchases a bit cold. Unfortunately the plug in the sink merely slows down the drainage of water rather than actually puts a stop to it, and our makeshift fridge doesn’t work. Oh well.

On TV there are still no celebrity quiz shows, I guess they take Sunday off. So we’re back in podcast mode until falling a-kip just beyond 10pm, to dream about gardening and a better breakfast.

Created By
Darren Foreman
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