Is this the bad dream where you are back in high school, sitting in a classroom? You didn’t do your homework, and you are hoping the teacher doesn’t call on you. Well, it’s Friday morning and I am a full five days behind in writing about our trip. But wait, I have some really good excuses. Umm, I didn’t have an Internet connection some of the time. Umm, Mike was asleep and I didn’t want to disturb him with my typing. Well, you see, we were sitting up late with friends and I lost track of, umm, time. Never mind the excuses and watch carefully. I have nothing up my sleeve. Pick a card.
EVERYBODY OFF THE BUS
Monday was one of those days that you have on every trip. The day’s events didn’t fall into place quite as we planned. The racing was not of much interest to Mike as it was to be only seven races, all on the flat. Translation…no jumps. He thought he would take a pass on attending, but left a window open in case he changed his mind. We decided to take a bus tour of the Burren for the day. That particular tour would take us over a scenic route that I had traveled four years earlier. The tour included the Allwee Caves, the Cliffs of Moher and a lunch stop at a pub in Doolin for a steaming bowl of Irish stew and soda bread. My previous visit to that pub will live in my memory forever as a five star meal. The tour would have us back in Galway by 5:00 and the races didn’t begin till 5:30. Then, IF Mike decided to take in the races, he could hop a taxi and head in that direction and I could either go with him or return to our B&B for a quiet evening. It was a great plan.
As fate would have it, we had the very same tour driver this day that my friend Judy and I had driven with four years ago. He is a wee bit of a man named Desmond. His son, Declan, also drives tours, but he was on holiday, so Desmond was our man. Isn’t it funny how time softens memories? It took all of five minutes for me to remember the things I found a bit tiring about Desmond. He spoke in double speak four years ago and now speaks triple speak. He now speaks triple. Now speaks triple speak. The other difficult thing about him is that, as he has aged, Desmond’s Irish accent has become much heavier. As he has aged, he triple speaks faster and with a much heavier accent. He speaks faster and has a much thicker accent. In the interest of time, I am going to assume that you get the picture and I will not write further in triple speak. So, we are on the bus, we are heading out of Galway and the bus is sort of swaying. Hmmmm? We drive along like this, the bus swaying, and Desmond saying things most passengers can’t understand. We pull over and Mike says to me he thinks there is something wrong with the bus. A few passengers exit the bus for a rest stop and Desmond gets on the phone. Here is why it is important to speak Gaelic. No one on the bus knows what is happening and Desmond is making some sort of deal for our travel day with an unknown Gaelic speaker on the other end. Everyone off the bus.
We milled about on the side of the road for fifteen minutes when an older, much smaller bus pulls up. Desmond asks if any passengers have to be back to Galway by 5:00. If so, they should get on the short bus. I do not know where these people were driven. I am only praying that they weren’t asked to take a shower at the end of their ride on the short bus. Off they go. Soon, a second short bus arrives. It’s Declan, the son of Desmond. He loads those of us who are remaining and says he is taking us down the road for a cup of coffee or a pint and we will wait for our new big bus to arrive. My only prayer at this point is that Declan will drive the new bus because I can understand him. We all take a seat and Declan leads us in some good Irish song. He drives really fast. Really fast. We are taken to a nice coffee shop, slash souvenir stand to await the new bus. When it arrives, we are now two hours behind schedule. And, Desmond is still the driver.
Off we go. We wiz right past the Allwee caves without stopping. Because we are so behind schedule, there are many other interesting sites that are pointed out to us as we drive past. You needed a very fast shutter speed if you wanted to take any photos from the speeding bus. The other reason we were omitting tour stops was pure economics. Over the last four years, Desmond and his son had purchased the busses we were riding in. That meant that the admission fees at various sites had to be paid out of the ticket price we paid for our tour. Also in the last four years, Ireland had upped the admission fees to many of these stops. But, as we climbed up in the Burren, we did stop at the ancient dolman where the dead were laid out 5,600 years ago.
We drove on. Fast. By now it was after 2:00 and I held out little hope that we would be stopping in that wonderful tavern in Doolin for any lunch. We drove right to the Cliffs of Moher. Again, I was remembering what it was like four years ago. Well, the Irish government hadn’t changed the cliffs, but they sure as hell redid the visitor center. The cliffs are still a magnificent site to see. In fact, I am glad that the path up to the edge of the cliffs had been improved. When I was last there, there was only a railing that stood twelve inches off the ground to keep tourists back from the edge. In fact, I remember Japanese tourists stepping over the wee barrier to lie on their stomachs and shoot photos looking straight down the cliff face. I always thought this was a bonus. If they fell over, it was an exercise in jungle survival. Only the smart survive. Go over the edge and all of mankind is better because there is one less stupid person alive. The Irish have added a proper wall of stone slabs standing on their sides all the way along the cliff edge. This wall is about four feet high and protects the stupid. I just hate that.
But, that isn’t the worst of it. We were forced to eat lunch at the tourist center. Close your eyes and imagine you are in a rest stop somewhere along the highway in West Virginia. Not the pretty part of West Virginia. No, the baloney sandwich, pickup truck with no tailgate, Bubba belt of West Virginia. The Irish government spent over turdy million Euros to build the most incredibly ugly cluster of caves into the side of a hill and called it a tourist center. The main bunker is two stories and houses a pathetic, vending machine filled lunchroom that also serves frozen pizza and some other cardboard items. All that is visible are two half moon shaped windows because the rest is in the hill. They spent all that money to drill out a cavity in which to place the washrooms and a souvenir shop. From the outside of this you can walk down a bit further and find about eight more caves that house independent tee shirt vendors, some sort of a music shop and another shop that sells punk regalia. Of course, none of these shops are open.
So, we bid a fond farewell to the cliffs and head back to Galway. Fast. By the time we reach the city, it is 7:30 and there is no thought of Mike getting to the races. We have no recourse but to find a wonderful restaurant and order a really good bottle of wine. This turned out to be the very best part of the day. In fact, when we return to Galway to drop off our rental car, we will try to return to this restaurant. I liked it so much that I asked for their card so I can share it with some friends who will be in Galway next spring. Cookes is a very small venue in a very old building. It is intimate and cozy and the perfect end to some sort of bizarre day.