Friday, July 04, 2008

Moher driving - the long, long trip to Galway and back

If you read Jess' blog (and I'm sure you do), you have already seen pictures of some of our Galway drive. These are some of the shots I took.

The drive was long and arduous. It was supposed to be about 3 hours, but it turned into almost 5, and lemme tell ya, it was very frustrating. The infrastructure of Ireland isn't well developed, so the roads in most places are not like our freeways. On the trip to Galway, we took a "motorway" a good distance. The maps were marked as though the motorway ran from Dublin all the way to Galway, but that's a wish, not reality. Because of construction, we were on the road, off the road, on the road... and when we were off the road it wasn't like it was so scenic that we would enjoy it, it was mainly open fields and rolling prairie. A few sheep and cattle and horses here and there. We were driving to Galway to sightsee, but there weren't that many sights to see as we found after we got there. On the way there, we stopped at a roadside cafe that is actually a chain in Ireland, called Mother Hubbard's. It was really a roadside place...dirt parking lot, hard green tile floor, heavy wooden chairs and tables...very spoartan. Mostly truck drivers, locals and a few sightseers. The coffee was so strong it could have stripped paint. We had to ask for more milk because we used the entire container between us on our first cup. At any rate, we had our first fish and chips of the trip here, and it was pretty good.

So we drove out from Galway a bit north to view the seashore and such, and there we had our first encounter with a real Irish road. One lane, enough room for one car, and very high growing grass (or the road was built into a rut so there were high sides) so that turns were completely blind...and there were many, many turns. It was very stressful, and what's more, being on the wrong side of the road didn't help. It's hard to get your spatial orientation for the left side of the car when you are driving it from the right side. Here's a view, though this wasn't very twisty. However, you can see that it has some blind hills in it, which are every bit as bad as the blind corners.

At one point, we were stuck behind this tractor for almost 20 minutes. The road was too narrow and too winding to safely get by:

Once we had explored north of Galway, we headed for the Cliffs of Moher. We were hoping for decent light that wasn't overpowering. Contrary to the look of the map, it was a loooooooooooooong drive. Lots of narrow little roads. The one thing I will say for all this driving is that the roads weren't busy at all anywhere, except in Dublin. Most roads we drove on in the countryside had very little traffic.

We arrived at the cliffs and it was heavily overcast. So much for good light. However, a friend of mine who went told me that it's always a complete crapshoot and that she knew a number of poeple who had gone and that the skies are almost always that way there. In fact, when she went, she didn't even get to see the cliffs because there was a thick fog covering the area. Now that would have made me mad, because that is no easy drive to get there. It was a long walk up the sides of the cliffs to see them. Here's how they looked:

Don't let the size of the daisies in the foreground throw you off. That's about a 300-foot drop from the top of the cliffs to the water.

And here's a view of the cliffs on the other side...

There were some moo-cows on the cliffs. We wondered how they were smart enough to stay away from the edge.

On the walk back, we saw this shop. Jess thought the name was quite funny, being a play on "Cliffs of Moher". It was closed, so we couldn't go in. I was crushed (not).

So, leaving the cliffs, we had been driving for a long time and we were starving. It was well past time to be eating. I had scoped out a restaurant I wanted to try in (relatively) nearby Lahinch called Barrtra. The guide book praised its seafood and its location, which had a view of the ocean. We went off in search of it. It was about 8:40 when we arrived. Thankfully, they were open.

The dining area was a lovely glassed-in sunroom. We took this shot at about 9:00. You will note that the sun has not gone down yet. All the pics we took here were taken without flash, just to impress upon you how much light there was so late in the day.

A breadbasket arrived. We dug in. There was some white and some country wheat. It was delicious.

It took no time to polish off this basket, so they brought us another.

We ordered from the prix fixe menu. My soup was a nettle-and-something soup. It was very green-tasting, and very bland. I didn't like it, even after I salted it and put butter in it. I traded with Jess, who ate it, but I felt bad that he had to eat it. He said he liked it. I wonder if he just did that to be nice.

I actually wasn't crazy about his soup (I forget what it was) but I ate it all because I was hungry! it was some type of chicken-y, broth-y thing. Again, low on taste.

Yes, keep that bread coming, please.

Jess' salad was mixed greens with smoked salmon and capers. It was pretty good. They had their presentation down on everything.

My salad was mixed greens with scallops and bacon, and a blue cheese vinaigrette. See that scallop on the right? It was raw. I bit into it and got a blast of ammonia taste which means it was bad, and it also wasn't cooked. I was polite and didn't send it back. I should have. Oh, but they knew how to dress the plate.

A gin and tonic sorbet was served in a martini glass between the salad and the meal as a palate cleanser. Even the industrial pine-powered taste of the gin couldn't cleanse the ammonia taste from the bad scallop. I wouldn't dream of using gin as a palate cleanser unless I were Joan Crawford. The taste is just wretchedly strong. They were all about the show.

They were out of the crab and shrimp dish I wanted as the entrée, so I requested the stuffed halibut. It was beautifully presented, but the beauty ended there. It was dry and bland.

Jess chose the fisherman's plate, which had a sampling of many things on it. He graded it as "okay, not terrific."

A statuary cat kept watch over the grounds. Here, kitty! Go catch something nicer for us to eat.

If only the entrées had been as good as the accompanying sides. These were scalloped potatoes. They were not fabulous, but very good.

These mashed potatoes, on the other hand, were fabulous. I am sure they were locally grown.

Ah yes, dessert. Jess had sticky toffee pudding with a sticky toffee ice cream. This was phenomenal. If only the meal would have been this fantastic.

I had chocolate cake that had a little peach fritter alongside. The fritter was better than the gooey, almost bitter chocolate cake. It had almost no sweetness. The ice cream, however, was wonderful.

The sugar in Ireland is usually served cubed. There's refined sugar (white) and raw sugar served in a cup together. We rarely found artificial sweeteners. It's as if they don't believe in them.

Time to leave. It's about 10:45 and the dining room here looks darker than it really was.

So we took this shot outside, to show you, that at ten minutes to 11:00, there was still some light in the sky! Sorry for the blurriness.

Yuck. It's almost 11:00 and we are on the west coast. We have to drive all the way back to the east coast. At night, no less. Double yuck. I am usually bad to fall asleep on any drive of more than 20 minutes, but I forced myself to stay awake for the three hour ride, for Jess' sake. I wouldn't have wanted to drive that at night. But he did a great job. We arrived back at the hotel after 2:00 a.m., exhausted. No more drives like that during the trip.


At 11:49 AM, July 05, 2008, Blogger Jess said...

I'm glad you did stay up for the ride! It was a long way back.

As for Barrtra, despite the Frommer's book recommendation (Arthur really shouldn't let other people write his books!) and the guy eating there who said it was the best seafood restaurant on the west coast, it just wasn't good. If that's the best place on the west coast, God help the Irish. Not good (although it sure cost plenty)!

At 8:00 AM, July 06, 2008, Blogger ATG said...

I lived in London for a while years ago and I remember the sun staying up so long in the summer and then starting to disappear in the winter at about 3pm. I found it all pretty surreal as well.

Mmmm, fish n chips...

At 9:59 AM, July 06, 2008, Blogger Marc said...

ATG: Yeah, we noticed that in London and France when we were there. In fact, Jess shot a stunning picture of Cathedrale Notre Dame against a purple sky at about 10:30 on a July night when we were there. It's one of my all-time favorite shots of his.

While in Ireland, we both wondered aloud how early the sun must go down in the winter. By your account, my guess was closest! : )

So, are you a Marks & Spencer fan?

At 12:17 PM, July 06, 2008, Blogger Greg said...

Fortunately, there's always fish and chips! You're right about the presentations--they must've just harvested a batch of nasturtiums!

Oh, gad, a raw scallop! Bleah...

Thank goodness for those desserts!


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