Tuesday, April 5, 2016

Diary of a World Traveler

Galway Day 3: "If you can't stop thinking about it, buy it."

Another dawn, another really great day. Galway simply does not disappoint. We might have had classes in a tiny room that basically suffocated us, but it was all worth enduring once we set out to explore more of this beautiful town. Tea, shopping, and a great walk can cure just about anything.

My day began with a bit of a shock—I woke up around 8AM when Diana’s alarm went off, in a daze because I had forgotten to set my own alarm for my usual 7AM time. In a panic, I washed my face and threw on my nice dress in preparation for our tea outing later, then rushed down to get some breakfast before class. To make things worse, our “classroom” is way too small for all 35 of us. We were stuck in this tiny, windowless room for the first three hours of our morning, and things got rough by the end. But finally getting to see the sunshine pour through the windows of our hotel lobby was the best feeling in the world. In a few minutes, we would be walking to get our lunch.

And what a very special lunch it was. I cannot even begin to describe what a magical place Cupán Tae is. The little purple building looks out right onto the River Corrib, and has adorable lace and floral curtains and lots of beautiful china peeking out to entice passersby. It is the epitome of quaint. Inside, it is not very big, and can only house about twenty customers total. They do not accept reservations, so we were lucky to walk in when no one had yet arrived for lunch. Soon after we sat down, however, people started pouring in. It is that great, trust me. Breakfast tea and afternoon tea are available, as well as a full menu of individual lunch and breakfast selections, and a separate bakery section in the front. We chose a large table in the back with blue and pink chairs and a little lace tablecloth. Our china was white with pink flowers, which was fine by me. There are so many cups, saucers, and tea pots lining every vacant space in the entire shop that it was hard for me to calm my nerves. Tea! China! Floral patterned china serving tea and pastries! It was everything I could ever dream of, and probably more. I could not wait for our meal to begin. 

But it could not begin before we chose which type of tea we wanted. This process was a lot harder than usual, since there was a literal book to choose out of. Cupán Tae makes all their own teas and sells them in a small shop in the back, so they have about thirty or more teas to choose from—all in different categories, like herbal, black, green, white, blended, etc. It is very organized and yet very daunting all the same. Poor Katie had to choose on the spot because she didn’t know which to pick between three! She ended up with Champagne Bouquet (a type of light combination of sweeter flavors), Amanda went with the Oriental Chai, Diana got Roses are Red (a darker, fuller blend with a heavy almond taste and notes of rose petal), and I—boring old me—settled for a full-bodied black tea called Assam Dekorai. The teas all arrived in little pots, accompanied by a little tea timer to tell us how long to let it steep before pouring and enjoying it. They also had fascinating little leaf stoppers in the spouts, an ingenious device that I wish I had a tea put to use with.

Along with our drink choices, our afternoon tea order came with sandwiches, scones, and a selection of small versions of their larger desserts. The food came on a beautiful three-tiered tray, stocked with our lunch in progression from bottom to top. First, the sandwiches. We opted for a variety of all three fillings: egg salad, ham, and cucumber. I liked the egg salad the most, although the cucumber and ham were delicious as well. My favorite part of the meal was actually the scones, housed on the second tier and served with butter, raspberry jam, and cream. I do not usually like jam of any kind, but I had a thought similar to, “When in Rome…” They make their own jam on site, so if I was going to try it anywhere, it might as well be here. Surprisingly, I really liked it! I had to layer a bit of cream over it to make it really delicious, but the jam itself did not go down with trouble. The scones were stunning with or without the jam, however, so I was not disappointed in the slightest. I am always a sucker for a good scone.

The last tier of our meal was the best part: dessert. The miniature pastries looked so delicious even before we ate them, all lined up in a little circle and topped with their main ingredient. There was a key lime cake, a lemon pound cake, a chocolate biscuit cake, a plain chocolate cake, a carrot cake, and a blueberry muffin cake. I let the others split the key lime and blueberry ones, so I got to sample all of the others. The carrot cake and the chocolate biscuit cake were great for heavy options, but I would absolutely get a larger slice of the lemon cake some time—so rich, but so flavorful and moist! Chocolate biscuit cake has proved a favorite of mine here, and I am going to make a recipe happen once we get back to the States. We need it back home! And I know a few people who would have died over the carrot cake topped with pecans. It was so cinnamon-y and wonderful, topped with just enough cream cheese frosting to add the taste. They sell that by the slice, and I might have to order one when we go back. Because we have all already agreed that we are most definitely going back. I would recommend this place to anyone, anytime. If Galway is on the list, please go to this tearoom. No regrets, not one. 

After we paid for our lunch portion, we walked back to the shop to look at the pre-packaged teas. They stock all of the teas they offer, so I picked up a bag of the one I ordered (it was delicious—very dark, malty, and flavorful without being too bitter) as well as a bag of traditional green tea for my mom. In fact, as I was paying, the clerk said that the one I picked for her was her favorite tea they sell! So I’m hoping she’ll share, if I’ll share some of mine… 

Our lovely lunch done, we exited the building with happy smiles and on floating clouds. Nothing could stop us now! We strolled along the sunny streets, popping into some shops that we needed things from. We were walking right by the original claddagh ring store and museum, so we all went in to learn prices and try things on. My friends joked that I should get a rose gold one, and I responded by saying that it wouldn’t be right, it wasn’t traditional. But the nice lady behind the counter (who said she liked my shoes—I liked her already!) told me that, in fact, the first claddagh ring was made from 22 carat rose gold. Um. What? Okay then, let me try one on!

She also explained that Thomas Dillon was the original manufacturer of claddagh rings, and that they are the only manufacturer today who can stamp the ring with the artist’s mark T.D. and Original. I was smitten with it, ready to purchase on the spot. But she saved me by telling me, in a low voice, that the price of gold makes that particular ring €250. Whelp. Despite wanting a gold ring to begin with, I cannot justify spending €250 on something like a claddagh. I want to remember my time here, but I am not Irish by ancestry and I don’t think I will get that much sentimentality or use out of it, even if I prefer gold or rose gold to silver. She told me to think it over and come back toward the end of my time here, and to keep in mind that the sterling silver ones are only €45. Certainly a better bargain!

Continuing our stroll, I got some apples at Spar before we all decided to go into this adorable place called Willow. There was a bunch of Ted Baker in the window, so I knew it would be expensive, but there were also some lovely affordable (or, at least, comparable to a boutique or Anthropologie price at home) pieces. Literally everything would be put into my closet if I had the funds, which is just the type of boutique I like to go into. I might not be able to afford anything, but I can just browse and try on a few things and then be okay with leaving them behind. Downstairs had a lot of jewelry, casual cloths, and scarves, which were great in themselves. The bright interior was light up with sunlight, furnished with copper wire lanterns and golden quotes justifying buying expensive things. Again, my kind of place. 

But it only got better upstairs—all of the designer dresses, coats, and bags my heart could ever want. Evening gowns, silk cocktail dresses, and lovely trench coats lined every wall. There was a beautiful fitting room corner with dark floral wallpaper, velvet cushions, and crystal chandeliers. My friends basically made me try on a dress so that they could take my picture in that alcove, and I was not hard to persuade. I picked out a beautiful sleeveless day dress in a blue floral print, deep v-neck, and a huge a-line skirt. I took the one that looked like it would fit me, and it was pretty close. I got them to zip me up, and I felt like Princess Mia ready to greet her Genovian subjects. All I needed was a pair of heels and a nice soft summer hat. Sadly, it was even more expensive than the ring—€450—and I was not about to save in one place and spend in another. But I was so happy to try it on and pose for some pictures. I put it back happily, knowing that someone else would enjoy it just as much as me. 

We made a quick stop back at Tiger in the mall before heading back. I bought more of the unicorn temporary tattoos for a bargain—for some reason, the guy only charged me for two, even though I had five in my basket! Less than a Euro sounds good to me. I can’t wait to use these when I really want to fool everyone into thinking I got a real tattoo… Shopped out by this point, we walked back to the hotel and rested until dinner, which was great once again. I am trying to cut back on how much I eat now, simply because there is so much good food in this city! I can’t waste all my stomach room in one place. We still have some recommended places from our professors to try, where we can get pizza, bread and hummus, and traditional pub food. It’s a whole circuit to complete, and I cannot wait to begin. I love it here more and more each day. I still miss home with all my heart, but Galway is slowly working away at my feelings about being abroad. I feel at home here more than any other city we’ve been to. And that is a great feeling.

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