This morning began with our first ever Irish breakfast, made fresh by our hosts at the B&B: a sunny side up egg, two slices of bacon, balsamic tomatoes, and a really fantastic sausage, all on a plate artfully dotted with homemade basil oil.
They also had a delicious spread of “healthy buffet”: homemade muesli, “nutty mix” (sunflower and pumpkin seeds), freshly baked brown bread, yogurt, cheese, and fruit. Fantastic, especially when it’s washed down with Irish breakfast tea (this fortifying brew is quickly becoming my new favorite, particularly when paired with a bit of milk and sugar.)
After breakfast, we set out walking downtown. There’s a bridge for both cars and pedestrians connecting the B&B area to downtown Galway, and a peninsular bit on our side of the water with flowers, greenery, and a walking path looking at part of Galway town. We walked along the seawall for a while, looking out at the colorful buildings nestled together across the water.
Swans bobbed in the waves or preened atop the wall, and rickety boats were moored in the harbor, wind-weathered hulls thumping up against the sides of the canal. In one, a grizzled sailor and his dog peered up at passers-by on the walkway above with equally furrowed brows.
After walking around and taking pictures of the boats and harbor, we crossed to the Spanish Arch. Just beyond it is Ard Bia at Nimmo’s, a very well rated restaurant. Though there’s a more spendy sister restaurant above, the downstairs is more casual-cool with its juice bar/café feel and fresh baked goods on open air display just inside the door.
Its weathered white walls were crowded with unique local art and sculptures and built-in shelves were well-stocked with the Ard Bia cookbook and other interesting coffee table type books.
We got to sit in a more private room off the main part of the restaurant – just one table, hugged on three sides by a cushioned built-in bench. Above, briny sea breeze streamed in through the open window’s wrought iron grate, and animal head sculptures fashioned from antique bicycle seats (a deer, fox, and stag) peered down from the walls.
A deceptively simple but outstanding meal: Jason opted for an open-face crab sandwich on brown bread and a vibrant carrot-spinach-apple juice.
For me, an equally delicious seafood stew with smoked salmon, cod, and mussels, served with brown bread and richly golden Irish butter.
I also had a strong and satisfying shot-sized portion of Turkish cardamom coffee – luxuriously spicy and thick with unfiltered coffee grounds.
Afterwards, we wandered around downtown, most certainly looking like tourists with our heads swiveling back and forth to take in the all colorful buildings and bustling people on the main shop street.
Turning off from the main stretch, we stopped in the St. Nicholas Collegiate Church, a 14th century medieval parish in the heart of downtown. Inside, magnificently burnished wood archways vaulted up toward the ceiling and natural light streamed in through tall leaded glass windows.
Stepping back into the flow of traffic outside, we wound our way through the Sunday Market (unfortunately much smaller than the much larger and livelier Saturday Market, which we’d missed by a day) and made our way to Eyre Square.
A stop at Sheridan’s Cheesemongers was also sadly fruitless, as they’re closed on Sundays. We’ve heard great things about it, so it’s definitely on the list of places to visit when we find ourselves back in Galway. (As an aside: you know it’s been a great vacation when you’re already making a list of places and activities for a return visit.) Walking back down the main shopping street, we stopped in at the Gourmet Tart Shop for a glazed plum and hazelnut tart before continuing on to a used bookstore.
Wandering to a different portion of the city brought us to the Galway Cathedral, an imposing stone structure with oxidized copper roof and minarets. In contrast, this church was much darker than St. Nicholas. The interior was massive, with three wings off the main entrance, each with its own impressive stained glass windows. It was also much grimmer than St. Nicholas, as crucifixion featured heavily into the décor.
After finishing up at the cathedral, our feet and legs were starting to get a little tired, but we had one more stop to make before heading back to the B&B for a quick breather. Since the previous night at the trad music session, people had been abuzz with excitement about the big Sunday hurling match: Galway versus Kilkenny.
Clearly a deep-seated rivalry, as one of the musicians from the previous night professed that, “Being a Wicklow man myself, I’m for anyone who can beat Killkenny.” All the pubs we passed that day at the very least had “Good luck Galway!” painted in the window; some included paintings of the hurlers as well. Banners hung building-to-building across the streets, and maroon and white flags (the County Galway colors) proudly fluttered from building and car windows.
The street had already begun to clear earlier in the afternoon as people ducked through pub doors to get a look at the action. Soon enough, they were standing shoulder-to-shoulder and trailing out doorways of nearly every pub in sight. Even an elderly gentleman out for a walk had a portable radio in hand, the game report broadcasting to all within hearing distance. It seemed that all of Galway city was, at that moment, fixated on the hurling match.
On our way back, we ducked into The Crane to catch a look. No one looked around as we entered; all faces were raptly upturned to the lone sixteen-inch screen mounted in the far corner. Untouched pints sat at the bar. Near-successes were met with a collective intake of breath or pre-emptively victorious cries, and those which fell short were met with groans and thick curses.
Even without understanding the rules of the game or really even being able to see the screen, our spirits still rose and fell with that of the crowd. Sadly, Galway did not win. However, we still walked away from the pub feeling as though we’d had a moment to genuinely see and experience what is clearly a very proud and important part of Irish culture.