And so we arrived in Galway city and hurried to leave our bags in the secure room at the Galway Sleepzone so we could get exploring.
Galway has a fabulously compact city centre. The stretch between Eyre Square down Shop Street as far as Spanish Arch might have a reputation as tourist central but it defies all stereotypes and is an amazingly pleasant place to spend an afternoon. The shopping centres have all the usual suspects, Shop Street is littered with old favourites like Brown Thomas, Boots and Eason but it also has more unique finds like ‘Wooden Heart’ a gorgeous toy shop full of cute toys for young children that you wouldn’t find most places.
Venture down the side streets for gems like Charlie Byrne’s bookshop. Selling mostly second hand books in excellent nick it is one of those places where you can lose all sense of time and end up not breaking the bank. Trying to fit my 1800s edition of the ‘Pilgrim’s Progress’ and a lovely hardback copy of ‘Alice Through the Looking Glass’ into my rucksack was an interesting experience the next day though. T and A were having similar troubles after leaving the sci-fi and fantasy section’s well-stocked shelves.
Friday’s afternoon saw the streets fill up. Buskers and politicos clung to available pieces of pavement each one as desperate for the attention of the passing public as the next. Never a dull corner.
We ate dinner Fat Freddy’s on the Spanish Arch end of the road where Shop Street become Quay Street. This was a childhood favourite of mine. The interior, or the menu for that matter, have changed little in the many years since I’d first gazed around at its colourful walls. Coloured waxed spilled down the sides of the green glass wine bottles that held the candles to light the room. Red and white checked table clothes covered the tables that were squished into every corner of this popular eatery. A word to the wise; make reservations or arrived before six or you can forget finding a table at all. To be honest that goes for nearly every restaurant in the area in the summer.
Fat Freddy’s is an Italian restaurant named for a cartoon that adorns some of its ceiling. However it is hard to see past everything else that has been hung from the roof or stuck to the walls. From 60s Beetle posters, the 19th century workhouse signs; “no swearing or blaspheming” is my favourite of those though “meals will be eaten in silence” has a certain humour given the usual din in the place. Old 50s cigarette or soap ads are added here and there as well. The menu is broad and simple but there’s always something worth eating. Even with two vegetarians and a vegan with a wheat-intolerance on our trip we all found something to our tastes (the falafel is particularly good).
The hostel was one I’ve stayed in many times and I’ve never really had a complaint. The reception desk always has someone on it, they don’t charge you for towels or the luggage room, there are secure electronic room keys, the kitchen is modern and huge, the dining area even more so, a pool table and plenty of places to sit and relax if you have the time – which to be honest I never have so far but you never know. There’s even a computer room if you need the internet. They run day trips out into Connemara and down to the Cliffs of Moher in Clare.
Of course pubs are what Galway city is really famous for these days as it has got itself a reputation as a party town in recent years. We headed off to one of our favourite Galway pubs, Fibber Magee’s in Eyre Square. Now for any Dublin residents reading who are familiar with the infamous Fibbers of Parnell Street, be aware that the Galway spin-off is a little different from the original. It attempts respectability in the guise of pub-grub and an extensive cock-tail menu. It was here that I taste my first cosmo: is it just my or do they just taste like pink?
Róisín Dubh’s is the most famous Galway pub, especially for live music. I would recommend to everyone to call in at some point, but be prepared for serious crowding in the summer.
Now I’ll admit it, I’m much, much, much prefer a lively music bar to a night club any day. But in the interest of fairness I will mention that nightclubs are not difficult to find in the Eyre Square region. In fact the streets are usually littered with club promoters in bright jackets all promising free shots and cheap entry. Dignity is the best known Gay night-club I know in Galway on Shop Street and it’s free in before 11pm. Coyote’s is another well known club which I would recommend everyone to avoid like the diseases you will probably catch in that poorly ventilated hell-hole.
There is a wonderful atmosphere of the medieval town that Galway is on a Saturday. If you’re up early enough you can stroll down a nearly empty shop street, watching the shopkeepers and restaurant workers power hosing Friday night off the pavements in front of their establishments while stall-holders set up for the market.
Which brings me to my favourite restaurant of all time which I like to incorporate into these Galway Saturday mornings for breakfast which is Ard Bia at Nimmos. The buttermilk pancakes are to die for. There’s a huge range of veggie food but also meat if you’re that way inclined. The juices are fresh made in the kitchen and the kitchy mismatched tea cups and patterned plates give the whole place a comforting feel of your granny’s kitchen only trendier. If you can, get a seat by the window on the river side where you can watch the multitude of swans drift by parting the seas of their subjects, the ducks and gulls. This is a place where if you plan on eating dinner you really need to book in advance in the summer because it fills up fast.
After a delicious breakfast we had over to the famous Galway market of a Saturday morning (well morning to mid-afternoon). Here you can find yourself anything from fresh vegetables, to handmade jewellery, pottery or clothes. Crafts, foods and anything you can think of line the side streets and there’s always something new to find.
When you’re done there you could go for lunch in Food 4 Thought, a lovely fair trade cafe/restaurant with an imaginative menu for all dietary requirements or wander through the Eyre Square shopping centres old medieval street or many head up to Salthill’s notorious fairground rides and get yourself a ninety-nine, sit and look at the sea while pretending its sunny.
Then you can get yourself an express bus to Dublin, Cork, Limerick or Belfast from €10. But whatever you do be sure you go back, and then go back again. You won’t regret it ever.