On Friday the 27th of March at around 23h our plane landed at Dublin airport. There my two travel companions and me got on a bus that would bring us from Ireland’s east coast to it’s west coast, and three hours later we arrived at our final destination: Galway, City of the Tribes, a city of seventy-five thousand people on the River Corrib. We were staying in the Bunk Boutique Hostel, which has the seeming advantage of being located across the street of the bus station: so very easy to find. The three of us had booked beds in a shared dormitory of six, the smallest room available, and we where hoping finding it empty. But no, three of the six beds were taken. Two of the available beds were solitary ground level ones, but the third was the top level of a three story high bunk bed. Agreeing that this one was the least desirable, we played rock-paper-scissors to determine the unlucky owner. I can only imagine what our roommates must have thought, seeing three men playing this game at three in the morning, in the semi-dark, to determine the bed ownership. The advantage of being close to the bus station turned sour when the buses started coming, waiting and going very early in the morning, especially because the windows next to the other occupied beds were open. At around quarter before seven I noticed I was not the only one among my friends laying awake, so we got up, got dressed and got out exWP_20150328_07_03_01_Proploring the city. The sky was grey and it rained a little: the dominating weather conditions of the trip. We walked to Eyre Square and then through Shop Street, the main shopping street, towards the River Corrib and Galway Bay. Breakfast was included in our stay and was served from eight ‘o clock onwards, so made sure we were  back at the hostel by eight. It was basic but sufficient: there were three types of cornflakes, brown and white toast, three types of jam, milk and coffee available.

The goal of trip was to visit a friend, Willem, who has been working and living in Galway for the past nine months. So after breakfast we set out to achieve our goal and walked for about an hour in eastern direction to Doughiska, a suburb of Galway City, passing the Greyhound racing track where we refrained from placing bets. We arrived in a sort of gated community of a few hundred similar houses called Fiodan, where our friend lived: quite a nice neighborhood, with a lot of well maintained green. I rang his bell, twice, and on his first floor a window opened where an old lady appeared asking what we wanted. I had the address wrong, my cell phone’s battery was dead, and to make matters worse none of my travel mates had his current number. We walked a bit the streets of the neighborhood and asked passersby if they knew a bearded Belgian guy living nearby. Non did however. We had come a long way and were so close but it seemed we were stuck. My travel mates might not have his current number, but they had his mothers number, and she guided us to the correct house, which was just around the corner.WP_20150328_10_33_01_Pro It’s a small three bedroom house with a spacious balcony and a nice view. We got a tour of the place and noticed our goodbye gift to him, a signed Belgian flag, which we gave him when he left Belgium some years ago, in his room. Against all agreements there was no cider in the fridge but our friend corrected the situation and jumped on his bike to get some.

Once all the cider was processed, we took the bus back to Galway City. We had lunch in the McDonald’s of Shop Street and afterwards explored the city further. Walking back to the River Corrib and following it upstream towards Galway Cathedral. The light drizzle had changed into a downpour, getting us all soaked. We waited out the rain in the Cathedral, which is quite ok, but since it’s only fifty years old, it lacks history. Since I wore a leather jacked, I didn’t have a hood, so to keep my head dry, I went looking for a Sou’wester, and Galway being a fishing town, I expected to find it. Easier said than done, it took us several stores and several trips crisscross the city, in the rain, before our local friend remembered a small fishing and shooting shop, Duffy’s, where they would certainly have what I was looking for. Ironically we had passed this store already WP_20150328_17_07_06_Proseveral times that day, before looking for a hath, without paying any attention to it. They did have what I wanted and with the joy of a small child I walked back to the hostel, along the way going through a shopping mall which has parts of a medieval castle incorporated into it.

We refreshed ourselves at the hostel and scoured through TripAdvisor to find a good restaurant with local cuisine nearby. We decided on Oscar’s Bistro, a little but cozy fish restaurant across town, just on the other side of the River Corrib. We had some difficulty finding it, mainly because of the piercing wind numbing our senses. We arrived shortly after the restaurant opened and we were the second party attending, but it wouldn’t take long before the restaurant was full and people had to be refused at the door. I counted myself lucky being, for once, early. WP_20150328_18_22_17_Pro As appetizer I had oysters, fresh from Galway Bay, and prosecco: these were the best oysters I ever tasted. Great structure and flavor. The shellfish was followed by Gambas prawns in garlic and lemon butter: the dish was nicely presented and tasteful. Monkfish, or sea-devil, was to be the main course: one of my favorite fish for its big and meaty structure. To put the devil to rest, we moved on to rhubarb crumble with vanilla ice. And concluding the meal with, of course, an Irish Coffee. Of the entire meal, two things stick out: the superb oysters and the attentiveness of the adorable waitress. We were really taken in by the restaurant, it was also not expensive, we paid around €60 each, and were planning to comeback the following day for other fish and more oysters. Sadly Oscar’s Bistro was not open on Sunday evening.

We walked back to town and in Shop Street we went into the Coyote bar, looking for a bit of fun. We found only a handful of men watching the Netherlands – Turkey football match. We ordered a Guinness and joined them. Then a hen party came in, and another, and another until the bar was filled with partying women celebrating the wedding of their friends. Quite the turn around, apparently the bar advertises for its stag/hen party location. There was a cocktail bar, but the waiter was quite incompetent and the cocktails contained almost no alcohol. Around midnight we left the bar and walked to the hostel. At the Eyre Square we said our Goodbyes to Willem and lent him some bus money because not all bus drivers give change,  after which he got into a cab.

On Sunday morning we had breakfast at the hostel and decided to take the Cliffs of Moher bus tour. This tour travels south of Galway, to the other side of Galway bay, over the limestone covered hills with its grikes and clints to Doolin and the Cliffs of Moher. We met Willem at the bus station across the hostel and the four of us set off for a day of sightseeing.

Our first stop was WP_20150329_10_50_13_ProDunguaire Castle, a 16th century tower house on the southeastern shore of Galway Bay. It was a quick 15m stop, a mere photo opportunity, because it was not possible to visit or enter the castle. Our bus driver talked ceaseless, first about the state of  Ireland’s economy and people of the years from the potato famine, to the Celtic tiger years which ended in the recession, and the now the recovery. Then about every detail along the road, including local folklore and historic events. He did his job well.

WP_20150329_12_18_19_ProAnother highlight before the cliffs was the Poulnabrone Dolmen, a portal tomb of around six thousand years ago in the Burren. The structure in the desolate limestone landscape is quite beautiful, it gave me a sort of melancholy feeling. We continued to Doolin, a small coastal village where we had lunch in a local pub. There are walking trails from the village to the Cliffs, which are situated around 8km to the south, but we stayed with our bus.

The cliffs themselves are spectacular, rising up to 200m above the Atlantic. The ocean pounds them violently and I’ve never encountered a fiercer wind then on the edge of those cliffs. We saw and felt upside down rain: water drops taken by the wind and pushed up along the cliffs until at the top edge they form little geysers. And it was not even a stormy day, only a bit grey. WP_20150329_15_53_50_ProThe cliffs have featured in a number of popular films, probably the most memorably of them is Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince where they are the setting of the sea cave in which a Horcrux is hidden.

We had an hour and a half free time at the cliffs, and we made good use of them, walking along the top as far as we could in the time provided. Strangely, we met our hostel roommates along the trail. When we left our room they were still in bed, and what is even more strange, when we got back to our room after the bus drive back to Galway, they were once again in bed, at around 6 ‘o clock in the evening. That evening no Irish fish was to be on the menu, but Irish steak. we had found a promising restaurant on TripAdvisor, but it was full, and there was waiting queue of three parties in front of us. They suggested leaving our mobile phone number and waiting, but we were famished. Willem advised us to go to Maxwell’s in Shop Street, he had been there before and was quite pleased with it. You could catalog it as a family restaurant, a clear space with lot’s of light, several tables were occupied by parents with small children. And one table was now occupied by four Belgian boys. Maxwell’s doesn’t have a liquor license, which became apparent when we tried ordering a Gin-Tonic to kick off our meal. The Irish steak I had was good and the Chilean red wine accompanying it was decent. We spent the remainder of the evening in Sonny’s, a pub in High Street, drinking Guinness and watching the Irish football team draw against Poland. Once more on Eyre Square we said our Goodbyes to Willem, this time it would take longer than a day to see each other again.

Monday morning at eight ‘o clock we were faced with a closed breakfast room, the attendant had overslept, probably not expecting anyone to be so early eager for food. But we were in a hurry, we had a bus to catch. Check out was simple and quick and we got on the Dublin bus at 8:45. A bit before noon we got off our bus at O’Connell bridge, we went up and down O’Connell street, crossing the River Liffey, moving thourgh Temple Bar towards Christ Church. At the cathedral we changed course to the National Gallery. This museum can’t be compared to its sibling in London, it is much smaller but nonetheless it has some works worth visiting such as Caravaggio’s The Taking of Christ. We had some coffee and a brownie in the cafeteria of the museum. While discussing the things we’d seen these last couple of days we became aware that spread around the room three woman were busy breastfeeding their babies. Thinking of the hens parties of the first evening it appears the Irish do things separately together. When we left the museum rain was pouring down, we headed to the shopping street, Grafton Street, but decided against another march through the rain. In Suffolk Street we saw a pub O’Donohgues and wanted to take shelter there for the remainder of the afternoon drinking Guinness.WP_20150330_16_16_20_Pro But we still had to figure out how to get to the airport, so after some beers we headed into the rain searching for a tourist info point, we found one at the end of Grafton Street and there is an airport shuttle that had a stop nearby. Glad with this, we returned to the pub for some more Guinness. A bit before five ‘o clock we headed through the rain to the bus stop and after waiting quite a bit in the rain, the bus appeared. We still had an hour forty-five before take off so there was little stress. Dublin rush hour however raised our stress levels. The bus trip that should have taken us about twenty minutes now took us well over an hour. We got to the airport five minutes before the official closing hour of our gate. We ran to the security check where there was luckily no queue, we passed and continue running to our gate were we arrived in the nick of time, only to see that our plane had yet to land. No stress.


Op zaterdag 10 april werd ik wakker zonder zin om te blijven liggen. Ik kon niet wachten om de dag van start te laten gaan, want ik verwachtte bezoek van Bieke, Jeoffrey, Joeri, Timothy en Willem. De eerste twee zouden zowel zaterdag als zondag me op hun aanwezigheid trakteren, de laatste drie kwamen voor één dag. Ik ontbeet, bracht mijn kamer wat op orde en maakte me een weg naar het station, alwaar ik de zaterdag jongens trof. Hoewel de twee groepen per auto naar Straatsburg reisden, gebruiken we het station als trefpunt, omdat het makkelijk te bereiken is van de autosnelweg en er veel parkeergelegenheid is, zowel ondergronds als in parkeerhuizen.

In afwachting van de tweede groep, wandelden we naar Place Kléber en van  daar naar l’Ancienne Douane voor een Picon bière. Ik ben hoegenaamd geen fan van het mixen van bier met andere substanties maar voor dit maak ik een uitzondering: het is erg verfrissend. Nauwelijks hadden we besteld of ik ontving een sms dat mijn andere gasten zich op twintig kilometer bevonden: ideaal. We dronken ons bier en wandelden via de Grand Rue terug naar het station. Na de hartelijke begroeten besloten we te lunchen, het was immers al tegen één uur. In Rue du Maire Kuss aten we een tarte flambée: een streekgerecht en prima als lichte maaltijd.

Na het eten wandelden we opnieuw naar de Place Kléber en langs de Place Gutenberg naar het Amitel alwaar ik mijn kamer toonde aan mijn nieuwsgierige vrienden. Aangezien het een kleine kamer is en er geen zak te beleven valt, verbleven we hier niet lang; hoewel het gezegd moet worden dat Willem verdiept was in mijn poëzie collectie en met name in de bundel The Rose That Grew From Concrete. De wonderen zijn de wereld nog niet uit.

We volgden het water dat de binnenstad omringd richting Pont Kuss en kochten eclairs in Au Pain d’Elise, een salon de thé. Een waar genot om eclairs te verorberen zittend in de zon op een wijds plein. Nu was alle honger waarlijk verdreven en het volgende op onze tocht was de kathedraal, die van ver en dichtbij indrukwekkend is, maar van binnen niet echt wauw. Er zijn heel wat mooiere kerken op deze wereld. We kuierden door de steegjes rond de kathedraal tot we besloten onze opkomende dorst te lessen in op het terras van New Montmartre.

De namiddag naderde haar einde en we brachten de tijd die ons restte tot het avondeten door al slentert door de winkelstraten, mijmerend en herinneringen ophalend over ons gemeenschappelijk verleden. Ik had voor 18u45 gereserveerd in Maison Kammerzell, een oud en gereputeerd restaurant in het hartje van Straatsburg.  We komen binnen en de receptioniste leidt ons naar de sale d’attende. We zetten ons, babbelend en het interieur opnemend, tot een oudere vrouw die op enkele meters van ons zit, verschrikt opspringt, vragend kijken we haar aan en haar antwoord zal me nog lange tijd bijblijven: une sourire. 😀 Ik heb ze niet gezien maar dit was niet meteen de ontvangst die ik me voorgesteld had. Niet veel later werden we naar onze tafel op het eerste verdiep geleid. Ik koos voor de tarte à l’oignon als voorgerecht, de choucroutte Strasbourgeoise als hoofdgerecht en als dessert îles flottantes. Drie uitstekende gerechten, in een uitstekende omgeving; bon, de muis zullen we maar vergeten.

Na het drie gangen maal wandelden  we naar de Irish Times Pub voor een goed glas cider om onze gevulde magen te laten zakken. Dit was reeds de herfst van onze zaterdag, het einde was immers nabij. Rond elf uur wenste ik mijn vrienden en veilige reis en wuifde hun uit terwijl ze via de Boulevard du Président Wilson de stad verlieten.

Zij die restten, Jeoffrey en Bieke, wenste ik een goedenacht en een spoedig weerzien, wat ook gebeurde. Zondag om tien uur liepen we elkander helemaal toevallig tegen het lijf in de lobby van het Ibis hotel. Deze dag zouden we niet doorbrengen in Straatsburg maar wel in de streek boven Colmar. We reden naar Kayserberg, een klein en gezellig stadje, waar ze erg lekkere appeltaart verkopen.  Vervolgens begaven we ons naar Riquewihr, een klein en gezellig dorpje met een leuke hoofdstraat waar ze erg lekkere makarons verkopen. Een zakje van 200 gram voor zes euro. Vers gebakken en in een waaier van smaken: pistache, banaan, citroen, chocolade. Het weer op deze dag was minder mooi als voorgaande, en af en toe regende het lichtjes. Maar aangezien het niet donker was, waren deze in feite overbodig.  Ribeauvillé was de volgende stad op onze route, deze is groter dan de twee voorgaande en is de mooiste, want er liggen verschillende kasteel ruïnes op de heuvels die de stand opgeven. We klommen via een aarden pad, bezaaid met keien naar een uitzichtpunt over de stad. De zon was vanachter de wolken gekomen, wat de dag opfleurde. In dit uitzichtpunt zaten we een tijdje: genietend van de rust en van de schoonheid rondom ons, beseffend dat dit het hoogtepunt van de dag was. De namiddag liep ten einde, we wandelden naar de wagen en reden naar Straatsburg, waar we aten in de Mc Donnald’s. Ik hield het bij een Big Mac en een Mc Chicken. Na hun vertrek, begaf ik me huiswaarts en sloot de dag af door mijn zevende activiteiten rapport te schrijven.

Je vous prie d’agréer, Monsieur, Madame, l’expression de mes salutations distinguées.