Sunday, April 3, 2016

Diary of a World Traveler

Galway Day 1: "You went to a hurling match yesterday!"

What an amazing day spent in an amazing town! I thought I liked the rest of Ireland, but Galway has certainly delivered that and more. Lots of cute shops and cafes, the bay right across from our hotel, and music from buskers all over the streets. It’s truly a great place to spend two weeks. I couldn’t be happier with the way it kicked off today!

First, I just have to talk about the breakfast here—it is a welcome change from processed cheese sticks and pre-packaged scrambled eggs. They have fried eggs, granola, cereals, fresh fruit, yogurt, bacon, sausage, mushrooms, scrambled eggs, black and white pudding, croissants, pastries, pan au choclat, bread, sandwich cheeses and meats, freshly baked rolls and brown bread, and even pancakes to order. Quite the difference from the Holiday Inn, that’s for sure. I cannot wait to eat two weeks’ worth of breakfast here.

After breakfast and some homework, we set out to complete the scavenger hunt at noon. Though we abandoned the idea of winning, we still wanted to see the things on the list and acclimate ourselves to the city center. Our hotel is about a two block walk from the major dining and shopping street, so it is really easy to get anything we could ever need. Buildings nestle right next to each other on the pedestrian street, a little lopsided from their long lives and constant use. The sound of music from buskers echoes off the walls, bouncing in the slight spaces of the narrow streets. There are endless amounts of cafes, restaurants, pubs, and food stalls, as well as vintage shops, boutiques, and an entire shopping center right in the middle of town. In fact, part of the medieval wall of Galway is displayed in the Eyre Square shopping center—literally a part of history housed within the modern. Amazing! We stopped there to do some quick browsing and to grab a bite to eat from a little stand that smelled amazing. I got an apple puff pastry for less than €2, and it was absolutely delicious. 

Our little stop though, we wandered back out into the misty rain to find the Galway Cathedral. This is a unique church because it has a copper dome on the top, which is not typical of other cathedrals in Ireland. It is also in the middle of a busy intersection, so we crossed the River Corrib on the bridge, took a peek, and then left to come back on a day other than Sunday. It was only a ten minute walk from our hotel, and that is the furthest we would ever go, so it is definitely worth trying to go back to see the inside! From there, we just wandered back toward Shop Street. We saw Nora Barnacle’s old house (aka James Joyce’s wife), walked through the Galway Market, saw an awesome looking busking pub with a live swing band performing, lots of historic pubs, the original Claddagh ring store, the Druid Theater, and the famous Powell’s music shop. All of this is packed into about a square three blocks, so that should illustrate just how intimate and compact this city is. We had to leave to make the departure time for the hurling match, but we plan to go out again to do some more leisurely shopping and exploring. 

At 2:45, we set off for the hurling Quarter Finals between Galway and Cork. I had never been to a match, nor had I seen a match, nor did I know anything about how the game works. I still probably don’t. As far as I can tell, goals can be scored either in the net or above the net, but between the two goal posts. A net goal is worth three “points”, whereas above the net goals are only worth one. There were about twenty above the net points, but only a few true goals in the entire game. Also, the players can run with the ball, but only for so long. Other options include using the paddle as a bat and hitting the ball somewhere else, using the paddle like a hockey stick, or balancing the ball on the paddle itself. There seem to be fouls as well, and those fouled are afforded a free goal (like a penalty shot) from wherever the foul happened.

Even if I did not go in knowing anything, I certainly am glad that I got to see such an engaging matchup. Some other students went to see a soccer game in Cork and said that Cork had a very good team, so it was no surprise that immediately, Cork seemed the better team. From my naïve eye, I thought that Cork was much better at technical maneuvering and agility than Galway; for example, their pickup rate was much higher, as well as their scoring average. However, Galway had a strong team bond—they worked well together, even if individually their skills were not as good as their Cork rivals’. At one point, Galway was even defying all odds and leading by two! The crowd was very happy about that. But then Cork brought it back with two net goals, which basically sealed the score for Cork. There were some diehard fans in the audience who were pretty upset about Galway’s loss, but there were also come incredibly fanatic Cork fans who were vocal about their support. Random interjections were frequent and passionate, from both sides. The crowd would also build up as an important play began to happen, or if two players started a fight. There were no real hockey-level fights, but there was one time where pushing and shoving had to be stopped before someone whacked another with a stick.

The thing that amazed me the most about the way this match worked, however, was the involvement of the spectators. Kids were not only used as ball boys to collect runaways, but they gathered at the ends of the field to try to catch the balls that went over the net. They were the ones on the fence at the edge of the field, with their own miniature sticks at the ready, engaged completely in the game. At half time, the field almost immediately flooded with children and parents, all wanted to play a little bit before the start of the half. And at the very end of the game, the spectators again flooded right out onto the field, directly interacting with the players, refs, and coaches. This kind of commraderie would never happen after an American sport of the same caliber—imagine regular spectators being able to talk to Aaron Rodgers or Jay Cutler right after an important playoff game. That just would not be allowed, nor even possible at times. But here, even though there were over 6,000 people at the stadium, it was fine to interact with the players and with the field at that close level. And a lot of the time, the kids just wanted to be back out on the field to play again. I was astonished and also very happy about that particular discovery.

The walk back was beautiful, as the sun had come out about a third of the way through the match. We walked past the Spanish Arch and an amazing little tearoom that we will definitely be going back to at some point. The harbor was bathed in the soft light of the lowering sun, making everything look that much more picturesque. Tomorrow, we plan on going out and just strolling around, not worried about seeing anything specific—we will stop for anything that catches our fancy. It is going to be a great time. I almost don’t want to sleep tonight because I want tomorrow to start to soon. But alas, I must get some rest before another big day like today. Be sure to check back for some more in-depth photos of this great city!

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