Day 1 (August 22nd, 2014)
After 14 hours of flying, compete with an 8-hour time change, I arrive in Shannon, Ireland exactly one day from when I left San Francisco. It is 6:30am and I’m beyond haggard, still trying to recover from the epic two weeks in San Francisco. Still, the impending sense of adventure motivates me forward as I have planned a 60 mile bike ride to the Cliffs of Moher, arguably Ireland’s biggest natural draw. All I need to do now is grab some food, assemble my bike, and store everything I don’t need for the week at Shannon airport so I may pick it up when I fly to London.
Alas, no bike bag shows up on the carrousel as I’m waiting to go through customs. The feeling of panic, which most all travelers have experienced at one point, engulfs me as I wait for the last bags to roll off. Dejected, I head to the luggage department of Aer Lingus, hoping that they may have some answers for me.
The kind attendant informs me she has no idea where my bags are but assures me it is a good sign that both my bike bag and small saddlebag that I had to check are missing together. If it was “just one or the other you should be worried,” she says.
As much as I want to embrace her steadfast logic, I realize there is a slight chance my bicycle tour across Europe could be cut short before it even started. Still, since everything was at this point out of my control, I figure the next best thing from a ride would be a nice pint of Guinness… However, its 7:30am now and while the Irish are, well, Irish, there is no way that I could get one at the airport at this hour.
Enter Clare from Clare County, who provides me the first insight into how wonderful and kind Irish people can be! When I walked up to her information desk at the airport, she not only sympathizes with my plight, but books me in the best hostel in Ennis, tells me where they pour the perfect pint in the city, shows me where and when to pick up the bus there, and gives me the “secret number” to the baggage service as the one I received would get me nowhere. I’ve been to a lot of information booths over the years and am downright shocked at how much she has accomplished for me in 10 minutes! To bad that in the States this position is typically held by someone who could care less about their job…
Armed with Clare’s recommendation, I take the bus to Ennis and get checked into the most beautiful hostel I have seen, the Rowan Tree, which sits right in the heart of Ennis at a bend in the river. Ennis is a small, yet beautiful city know for its live music and never-ending pubs. After my bags and everything else are sorted, I decide to tour the city to wait for the first pub to open at 10:30am so I can finally have an Irish Guinness, “cuz its good for you!” After a few quick stops to pick up a SIM card for my phone, mobile wireless device for internet, and power converters for my devices, I finally settle down into Brogan’s Pub for a pint or two.
After a few glorious pints that taste way better on their home-soil and a proper Irish breakfast, I feel rejuvenated and ready to tackle the day. This enthusiasm quickly wears off however, when I remember that I don't have much to do but wait for my bike and realize I haven't really slept in 2 days. Therefore I decide a good nap is in order so that I can enjoy a Friday night in this great city.
4 hours later, I awake and immediately go down to see what the craic is… (Irish people use craic to symbolize a good time, so it would not be out of the ordinary to say, “oi what a savage craic we had last night.”) The head of the hostel has assured me that I will not be disappointed with the live music in this city as some of the country’s best musicians get their big break locally. Then, he hands me a map of the 30+ pubs in the city, a city no bigger than Coronado mind you, and circles his favorite ones.
At the first one he circled, I meet some friendly Dubliners who are down to see what Ennis has to offer. I buy a round and they return the favor and in no short order we are chatting with the band during their down time and they tell us where to go next. At the next pub I run into a group I meet earlier while walking the city. They are locals and say this place only gets good later so we all pub hop across the local spots (all with impressive and intimate musical acts) for the next few hours.
Finally we settle into the main place where the most well know musicians go late night. At this point we are approaching 2am. This seems odd to me because everyone told me Irish bars all close at midnight. Apparently the good ones stay open until the music stops and the bouncers just stage a shut in, where they don’t let anyone else in and close the doors. If a police officer walks by and asks if they are open they say, “no we closed at midnight.” Despite the obvious loud music coming from inside and the apparent fire hazard these closed doors could create, the officers are contented, most likely because they are playing there later in the week.
After a savage craic on my first night in Ireland, I decide it’s time to head back around 2am. I know there is more of this to come, especially considering TJ and Kelly’s wedding is coming up in less than a week.