UK March 2010: Aran Islands

So, the Aran Islands are amazing. As is Galway. In Dublin I loved the sites I got to see, the places I went to, the discoveries. I just didn't fall in love with the city. Paris, New York, San Francisco, London-- those cities can kidnap me anytime. Dublin will not be as successful. Galway and the Aran Islands could easily charm me into repeat visits. I happen to be of the thought that a ferry ride itself is pretty exciting. Then we landed and things got better. I went to Inishmor, the largest of the three islands and the most populated-- around 800 regular residents, more in season. I was still a bit tired from staying out late-ish in Galway and watching bands, so I headed to the b&b with my duffel bag and settled in to my room a bit. Knowing it was the best way to really explore the island, I still declined the use of the bike, I was craving a nice hike and it was a beautiful day. I stopped by the sweater mart first to check out the aran sweaters you hear so much about. I decide not to buy a sweater there. It's an investment and for a bit more you an order online the exact type of sweater you want and to your measurements. If anyone hails from Irish heritage especially the Galway region, you can order a sweater from your clan. If you knit, you can order a kit that comes with the wool and pattern (based on your height/size). Each clan had it's own pattern that was handed down from generation. The different types of stitch work had different symbolic meanings and together made up the clan's pattern. On the grim side, if a fisherman was found after dying on the seas, he could be identified by the sweater in most cases. So if you have an extra couple hundred dollars around and want a warm sweater that shows your heritage, check it out. And if you need my measurements, so you can surprise me for my birthday, just let me know. After exploring the market, I started on my hike. I walked down the road for a bit, charmed by the new houses, the bold Galway Bay, the miles and miles of low, crumbling dry stone walls. Some walls new, some old, they are a way of clearing the piles of rock off the land so that some grass and plants can grow and providing land and area barriers. It is quite a site, the maze of stone walls climbing up the cliffs. Some cows or horses in some, some with new fences, some old and half run down. The patchwork of grass growing between the stretches of stones. People are friendly on the island. Not exactly bustling with activity, I still passed some cars and people on my walk. Everyone waved or said hi. I got into the spirit of things and my the end of the day was taking the lead on the greeting exchanges. There got a point where I decided the real hike would need to begin, bending my map around to what I hoped was the right direction, I found a turn off road and headed up. And then up a little more. And up. The stone walls became less frequent, I was walking on grass, then limestone slabs. It seemed almost purposeful like an expensive, modern floor, but this was just how it had been for centuries. Slab after slab with a little grass thrown in between. The island is known (in addition to the sweaters and knitting) for the stone fort ruins. Dun means fort in Irish. Dun Angohasa is the one most people get to. By the end of the hike, I found myself at a different one, Dun Duchathair or the Black Fort. Hanging on the edge of a cliff, crumbling stone fort on a slate and grass patchwork floor, surrounded by dry stone walls and overlooking the raging sea. I was the only person or creature around for as far as I could see. There was nothing between me and the cliffs. It was a mild day, no wind. I laid on my belly and stared at the sky, then switched to my back and stared down at the wild sea crashing against the rocks. I don't know how far down the water was, the drop seemed endless. And even then, when I walked around a bit, there was a spot on the top of the cliff that was getting wet from the spray. Somehow there must have been a hole or passage in the side of the cliff. One sudden chunk of wetness in the middle of the dry stones.

Two things I tend to do whenever I start to feel out of sorts is look at the water if it's around, or stare at the sky. I don't know what it is, but somehow the beauty and expansiveness of the sky or the waves just stops whatever thoughts are plaguing me and steals them and my breath for a few minutes. Day or night, sunny, cloudy, rainy, I've never not been in awe of the sky above my head. Try it. Downtown San Francisco, crappy day at work, step outside, lean against the wall of some building on Market Street, and just stare up. I then found my breath again, took fifty million pictures and started to weave through the rocks again back down to the road. Those of you that are connected through Facebook have seen some of the shots, those of you that aren't I am hoping to keep going through the and post them soon. When I say I have over 600, I am not exaggerating. But, they aren't all sky and water.

I ended the night with a simple dinner in the pub. I did mention they are a friendly people? I walked in, the women sitting at the tables, men gathered around the bar. As I walked past the bar to grab a seat, an older man grabbed me and pulled me over. "I just need to ask you a question young lass; are you happy?" "Yes". "Well, glad to meet you happy, I'm Owen." Then roaring laughter from about ten, weather beaten older men as I smiled and found my seat. Leaving Ireland involved getting back to Dublin, since leaving from Dublin made things a lot cheaper ticket wise and easier with train connections in London. So, it went like this: ferry to bus to bus to plane to train to train. And then a short walk to Tessa's house and back to my old room.

The next day, Tessa and I just hung out. Went to downtown London to check out some galleries we were running late and worrying about time since she needed to get back in time to pick Patrick up from school. Then at the train station we rain into her ex, Steve. He was able to pick up Patrick from school, so Tessa and I found ourselves with a bigger block of time, walking around Soho, chatting, and running errands. Had one of my favorite days. I'm loving all the sites I'm taking in, but there is something charming about a day with no agenda. Shifting into a shop when the mood hits. Remembering last minute something you needed to do, switching course and just doing it. We got back, Tessa and Janetta had a meeting, so Patrick, Steve and I hung out and talked about dinosaurs. It was nice to be settled back into London, even with the threat of rain looming all around. March is a fickle month for weather.

opefully London will still be kind.

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