Favorite Moments in Galway

For a city so small – population 80,000 – Galway has a lot to recommend it. Nothing more so than their restaurant/pub scene. Everyone I talked to said I’d love eating in Ireland – and I wasn’t disappointed.

As vegetarians, a lot of the menu items were off limits to us (though I can’t say I wasn’t tempted by the Guinness beef stew!), but what we did eat was incredibly fresh and wonderfully made.

Most of our eating took place in the Latin Quarter. We may have missed the Galway Food Festival by just one day, but we certainly didn’t miss out on great food.

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Specialty pies at the Pie Maker (aubergine, kale, & goat’s cheese and curried butternut squash & carrot), Spanish tapas at Cava Bodega, fresh tacos and Corona at Tuco’s Taqueria, grilled halloumi bap at the Quay Street Kitchen, and a deliciously relaxing brunch at McCambridges.

We were only in Galway for four nights, but we got in as much food as possible. Not to mention the full bag of specialty cheeses I walked away with from Sheridans Cheesemongers! And all the ciders sampled at establishments such as the Crane Bar, the King’s Head, and Tigh Neachtain. Each with its own unique atmosphere, from the quiet Crane Bar (until the live music starts up, I’m sure!), the never-ending space at King’s Head, and the forever busy Tigh Neachtain.

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But Galway wasn’t just a city to eat in. We also did plenty of window browsing in the Latin Quarter, eventually purchasing scarves, local jewellery (ok, made by an Australian while she was living in Ireland!), postcards, and wonderfully calming wooden children’s toys at Wooden Heart.

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Visiting the Cliffs of Moher in Ireland

My last post may have been about Ireland getting a little “too outdoorsy” for us – at least the Diamond Hill Walk in Connemara National Park was. Our trip to the Cliffs of Moher, however, had the opposite effect.

Perhaps this should come as no surprise, given that the cliffs are Ireland’s most visited natural attraction, receiving up to one million visitors each year.

I will say that the Visitor Centre was quite brilliantly built into the hillside, minimizing the visual impact on the surrounding scenery. But the paved pathways at the entrance, while providing access to all, do their fair share to take away from the naturalness of the scenery.

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Which is not to imply that the cliffs are not still stunning. They are. And to be honest, the paved path is probably no more than a 15 minute walk from one end to the other – with a picnic space to the south and O’Brien’s tower to the north.

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But it was nice, once the pavement fell away (and over half of the other visitors), with the mud squishy under your possibly ill-planned shoes (maybe that was just me), that you got to imagine the cliffs as they once were. Undisturbed – except for the tower, that was built in 1835 to accommodate the tourists that were already flocking to the site.

And who can blame them?

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And these photos definitely don’t do the cliffs justice. Even in the mist they were impressive and vibrant.

If the weather had been better, that is to say less rainy for me and less windy for Chandler, I would have loved to have spent more time there.

But I consoled myself with the fact that we’d return (fingers crossed for summer 2020) and give the cliffs a proper hike.

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When a Hill Feels Like a Mountain: Hiking in Connemara National Park

If you follow this blog with any regularity, you may have noticed how outdoorsy we seem while on vacation. This in no way reflects our day-to-day life living in Accra, Ghana, where it’s too hot to comfortably be out during the day and you’re too likely to get malaria if you go out at night.

So, when vacationing, we like to spend some time outdoors. But when I say “outdoors,” I don’t mean just any outdoor space. I mean carefully curated and groomed spaces. Like parks and nice beaches and eco lodges. Even city squares.

But, inevitably, at least once a trip, things get a little too outdoorsy for us.

On our first day out of Dublin we went to Connemara National Park. We had read about different hikes, both inside the park and around it, and had decided on the Diamond Hill Walk. Classified as “strenuous,” the entirety of it is paved, which seemed a lot easier than clomping around on an “easy” hike through bogland.

We started on the Lower Diamond Hill Walk, the first quarter of which was flat, paved, and had gorgeous views like the one below. How “strenuous” could this get, we asked ourselves.

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Next, we came across a noticeable incline, but the path was still smooth and the views still gorgeous. We lost our hiking buddies from time to time (Chandler’s mother, Lesia, and our friend, Erica), but they were never far behind.

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Halfway through the Lower Diamond Hill Hike, we found the base of the Upper Diamond Hill Hike. Lesia and Erica, prepared for a hike, but not necessarily a climb, decided to follow the horizontal path back to the visitor center.

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We, however, had made the decision to start our ascent.

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Drinking in Dublin

As someone who didn’t let a day go by in Ireland without wandering into at least one pub, distillery, or brewhouse, I’d say I got a pretty varied feel of the drinking culture there. Unsurprisingly, it reminded me a lot of England. Hip/historical venues in the city and rustic/informal ones in the countryside.

Our first day in Dublin included a tour of the Teeling Whiskey Distillery. Opened in 2015, it’s the first new distillery in Dublin for over 125 years.

Originally termed aqua vitae, Latin for water of life, the best historical guess is that Irish monks brought the technique of distillation to Ireland from their Mediterranean travels around 1000 A.D.

King James I started licensing distilleries in the early 1600s and by the 1700s, the demand for whiskey in Ireland was up. In 1835, there were 93 licensed distilleries in Ireland. The peak, however, didn’t last long. Due to the creation of the Coffey Still, the Irish War of Independence, the trade war with Britain, and prohibition in the United States, many of these distilleries were forced out of business.

By 1887, there were only 28 distilleries in operation in Ireland. By the 1960s, only a handful of these remained in operation, and in 1966, three of them (John Jameson, Powers, and Cork Distilleries Company) chose to join their operations under the name of Irish Distillers and relocated to Cork. By the mid-1970s they operated the only two distilleries in Ireland.

However, the industry is slowly and steadily reviving. A third distillery opened in 1987, a fourth in 2010. By summer of 2017, the number of distilleries was at 18, with 16 more in the planning stages.

Teeling Whiskey Distillery was the first to open its doors in Dublin in over 125 years: A historically impressive feat. As someone not well versed in Irish whiskey (or whiskey in general) – until this tour! – I was incredibly impressed. Not only with the history that was shared, but the atmosphere of the distillery.

Having previously been to vineyards and wineries and breweries, this was definitely the most informative tour I’d ever been on. And as someone not accustomed to drinking whiskey, even in sampling glasses, I have to say I pretty much swooned over their cocktail: Teeling Ice Tea.

It was a wonderful way to spend the afternoon in an ever drizzly city with wind that can chill you to your bones. Especially if your day before was 90+ degrees in high humidity.

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And if you thought that was the last of our drinking that first day, you’re sorely mistaken. We headed back to Jurys Inn, our home for the night, to drop off the goodies we had previously purchased at the Temple Bar Book Market, the Temple Bar Food Market, the Dublin Food Co-Op, and the Green Door Market. (What can I say, Saturdays are great market days!)

Then we were off to dinner – the oddest Thai food I’ve ever eaten, it tasted like they mixed it with barbecue sauce. But I drank another Teeling Whiskey cocktail, before we found ourselves at Porterhouse Temple Bar, starting our evening tradition of red ales and dry ciders at the first pub brewery in Dublin – opened in 1996.

The next day found us with two more traveling companions – Chandler’s mother, Lesia, and our friend Erica – and we were on our way to Western Ireland. By the end of the week we were wind burnt and ready to be back on the civilized roads of Dublin.

The four of us continued our evening tradition with a tour of the Guinness Storehouse.

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Maker Faire & Why It’s Hard to Blog About Accra

I started this blog as a way to chronicle my life in Peace Corps. Instead of sending individual emails to each family member and friend on a regular basis, I thought I’d just update this website. Partially due to laziness, and partly due to the unreliability of Ethiopian internet.

Since moving to Accra in July of 2016, I’ve written 20 blogs that I’ve tagged locally. Two of which were actually book reviews, I just happened to read the books here.

I just wrapped up 13 posts on our trip to Egypt and Jordan. We spent three weeks there. I’ve spent 74 weeks in Ghana. I’m sure you can see the discrepancy.

Part of it is because our trips are jam packed with new and interesting things to blog about, whereas my day-to-day life consists of teaching, reading, wishing my husband and I weren’t too lazy to try new recipes, and listening to Kesha’s new album.

Even when we do force ourselves out of our apartment, by year two, it seems like I’ve already written about it. Why blog about another dinner at Coco Lounge? And International Festival Day might be my favorite day of the year, but not much changes from year to year. We went on another field trip to the Kokrobite Chiltern Centre and continue collecting plastic water bottles for their building projects.

I guess I never blogged about eating Ethiopian food at Simret for the first time since leaving Ethiopia, nearly three years prior. I’ve since eaten it many more times. It didn’t seem ground-breaking to anyone but me.

Recently, however, I helped my school run their first ever Maker Faire. Self-labeled as “The Greatest Show (& Tell) on Earth,” it’s part science fair, part county fair, and part something else entirely. It’s a chance to showcase invention, creativity, and resourcefulness.

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When You Don’t Learn Your Lesson: Day Tour To Islamic And Christian Cairo

The same day we booked our tour guide for the pyramids, we also booked a “day tour to Islamic and Christian Cairo” through Emo Tours.

After our experience at the pyramids, I briefly entertained the idea of cancelling this second tour. But I didn’t know if we’d get our money back and Ali really was a nice person. Plus…I had visions of how convenient it was to have a car and driver when traveling to different sites in Luxor.

When we chose Egypt as a destination for our holiday break, we knew we’d go on a Nile cruise and we knew we’d see the pyramids. Nothing else was certain. We decided to spend our final week in Cairo because we figured by week three we’d be tired of unpacking and repacking our suitcases (plus, we thought maybe we’d hop up to Alexandria and spend a few days at the beach – forgetting it would be January).

So now we had five days in Cairo and the pyramids only take half a day. We browsed around for some other activities and became intrigued by a tour through the religious sites in Cairo.

Coptic churches, a synagogue, and mosques, followed by a trip to the Khan Khalili Bazaar. It seemed like an interesting way to spend a day.

Our tour began in Old Cairo and our first stop was St. Barbara, the hanging church.

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It was built above a Persian fortress and inside it has the same dimensions as Noah’s Ark. It was hard to picture two of every kind of animal inside. The structure was beautifully made of cedar wood. Abraham is rumored to have been buried under the marble pulpit.

Inside the front doors, but before the church itself, is a quaint garden filled with mosaics. Brightly colored and in all shapes and sizes, it was a pleasant place to pass the time.

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Our next church was St. Mary’s Church. Considered “modern” for having been built in 1,600 (St. Barbara dates back to the 5th or 6th century AD), it was impressive from the outside and dazzling from the inside: complete with an imposing chandelier.

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We had a quick stroll through a cemetery to a 2,000 year-old well that Jesus reportedly drank from with his family. Another “modern” church had been built around it.

We followed the path to Abu Serga, the Crypt of Jesus: A cavern where he lived with his family for three months of his childhood. Throughout the walk I kept thinking back to our time in Ethiopia and their claim that the Ark of the Covenant resides in Axum (though no one is allowed to see it).

Our last stop in the neighborhood was the Ben Ezra Synagogue, formerly a church and no longer used for a functioning congregation. Its tourist attraction is the claim that it is located on the site where baby Moses was found.

Throughout the morning, we were pleasantly surprised by our guide, Ali. A practicing Muslim, he seemed to know much more about Coptic Cairo than he did about the pyramids of Giza. He was a wealth of fun facts.

After that, we were off to the Saladin Citadel. Built on a “mountain,” really more of a hill, it offers impressive views of the city below. With 17 towers and 6 gates, it is a fortress to be reckoned with.

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Disappointments at the Pyramids of Giza

It wasn’t so much the other people, because honestly, I thought the pyramids would be more crowded. It was the overall ambience. It lacked.

Most people arrive by tour bus or minibus. They were deposited at the first pyramid, took their jumping shot or “I’m on top of a camel” shot, and then hopped back on their bus. They were then driven to the second pyramid. The scene repeated itself, before they were driven to the third pyramid, and then the lookout point.

It was actually pretty bizarre.

The Great Pyramid of Giza is the only remaining monument from the original Seven Wonders of the World. Built 4,500 years ago, it was the tallest man-made structure in the world until the Lincoln Cathedral Spire was built 3,800 years later.

It was commissioned by Pharaoh Khufu. The Sphinx belongs to his son, Pharaoh Khafre’s second pyramid. And the third pyramid followed shortly after for Pharaoh Menkaure.

Scholars still disagree on how the pyramids were built, even though I definitely teach my students about incline planes by using the pyramids as an example.

What I’m trying to say, is that these are incredibly complex and interesting structures. And they’ve been turned into some lame theme park without the rides. A giant boat museum has been built to the side of the first pyramid and they paved a road running between, instead of around, them. There are dig sites all around, merely roped off. No thought appears to have been given for atmosphere or conditions surrounding the pyramids themselves.

And so, while I tried to revel in the impressive size and mystery of these structures, I found myself increasingly distracted by everything that was happening around me.

We had hired a guide for the morning, using Emo Tours because we’d had such success with them in Luxor. And while our guide, Ali, was very nice, it soon became clear that he had a tried and true plan that he used to make each of his customers happy.

We normally prefer to explore on our own, but we had been warned by friends (and fellow bloggers) that going to the pyramids solo was simply inviting harassment. And honestly, I can’t attest to the trueness of that statement, because while we were left alone by others, we still had our own guide to deal with.

We were dropped off a short walk from the first pyramid, and instead of getting to stand back and enjoy the splendor, Ali hurried us to the base of the pyramid so that we could walk along and get our photos taken before the crowds arrived. When I decided to keep hold of my camera, instead of giving it to one of the camel owners, our guide left us alone to explore and join him when we were ready.

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But because being right up next to the pyramids wasn’t quite the view we were looking for, we soon continued our walk. Our guide’s next plan was to sit me on a camel and have me pinch my fingers in the air to get some kind of oddly staged photograph. I declined and Ali offered to take us to the car so we could drive to the next pyramid.

But I had other plans.

Instead, he and Chandler struck up a conversation (more about modern Cairo than about the pyramids he was showing us), while I started walking.

I hadn’t come to see a tour guide’s interpretation of the pyramids – I had come with a guide in the hopes that he would help me see what I was interested in. A complete view of all four sides of each pyramid.

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I made my way around the first and began my walk to the second. It was at this point that Ali, very concerned, tried to stop me and take us back to the car. The reason? In his 19 years as a tour guide in Egypt, no one had ever tried to walk with him from the first pyramid to the second.

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