Photo by Jason DeVarennes

Wednesday, October 29, 2014

Ireland - Anthenry to Ross Friary and Cong

We knew when we planned a trip to Ireland in late autumn that our fenders and rain gear would likely get lots of use. And indeed, the weather we encountered this year did not let us down in that regard!

The very wet and dreary forecast for Tuesday seemed to suggest that we stay indoors and work on the blog. Well obviously that didn't happen! Instead we took the train into Dublin city center for some off-bike fun. Our first stop really should have been to get some welly-boots, but instead we made a bee-line for espresso.

Owned and run by multi-time Irish Barista champion, Colin Harmon, 3rd Floor Espresso was at the top of our list of must-visit coffee shops. The drinks not only met expectations, they exceeded them.  So if you are seeking great espresso in Dublin, I can heartily recommend 3FE.

Re-energized by coffee and scones, we dragged ourselves back out into the rain and over toward the Grafton Street shopping district to hit a few bookshops and make some hefty dents in the vacation budget.

We next headed over to Ristorante Romano for lunch and of course to catch up with Romano. Our friend, Romano, is a long-time cyclist and has decorated his restaurant with bike frames and various bike-themed art. Bike geeks will take great pleasure checking out the decor. And the food is excellent too! Definitely include Ristorante Romano on your list of places to visit in Dublin. And tell him John and Pamela sent you.

Sadly we only had a brief visit before Romano had to rush off for a dentist appointment. However, as luck would have it, our friend Declan and his partner Jessica had popped into town for the day and were just sitting down to lunch when we arrived. Monday's holiday also marked the start of school vacation week. As a teacher, Jessica had the whole week off, but with just one short week, this break was to be more of stay-cation for them with mostly local plans on the agenda. Of course great minds think alike as we apparently had the same thoughts for how to spend this particular very rainy day.

After a fabulous lunch (with good food and good company), we headed back out into the rain and across town to check out the 11th century medieval Christchurch Cathedral. Then the sun made a brief appearance as we wandered around the grounds of Dublin Castle, before catching the train back out to the house.

Once back at the house, we had to get busy packing up for the next part of our trip. We were planning to take the train out to Galway the next day to start cycling on the west coast. In recent years, it seems that we make our way over to Ireland almost annually. However with family in Dublin and Carlow, we tend to spend most of our time there. As we talked about cycling on the west coast, we were surprised to realize just how long it had been since we'd traveled to that side of the island. So, despite the prospect of less than ideal cycling weather there, we had made it a priority to get out to the west coast on this trip. In my early visits to Ireland some 20 years ago, we had managed to tour around many of the peninsulas in the southwest and had covered much of the area between Cork and Galway. This time, we figured, we should explore north of Galway. Conveniently, John's brother, David was finishing up some archaeology work in County Mayo, and would be able to join us starting at the weekend. We arranged to rendezvous with him in Westport on Friday.

However, after looking closer at maps and trying to devise a nice way to pedal out of Galway, we decided rather than risk getting caught up in traffic there, that we would get off the train a few stops early at the smaller village of Athenry.

One of the nice things about most trains in Ireland is there are accommodations for bikes. Sadly those bike accommodations are fairly limited (2 spaces per train). And as it turns out, even the purchase of a bike ticket does not reserve (guarantee) space for the bike on the train.

When we boarded our train with our 2 bike tickets in hand, there was already one bike in the 2-bike rack. We put my bike in the second slot and then found seats by an open space for a wheelchair and parked John's bike there. Each carriage had these spots for a wheelchair but there was only the one car with a bike rack on the whole train. So we had to hope that there wouldn't be demand for all the wheelchair spaces before we made it to Athenry. At some point on the journey another cyclist (also with a paid bike ticket) boarded and he basically had to stand holding his bike in the space between two carriages. I hope that Irish Rail will soon improve the bike accommodations (more than 2 per train) as well as the reservation system, so one can do a multi-modal bike trip like this without having to worry about room for the bike.

After many years of touring by bike, I'll boast that we have become pretty adept at traveling light. Although admittedly we could go super light as we were not camping - because that would just be a damp proposition in Ireland at this time of year! John had a small set of panniers and a small bar bag, while I had a large saddlebag and medium sized bar bag. Because David's brand new bike hasn't been fully set up to carry anything yet, John thought he might need to also carry some stuff for David once we got together, so he also attached an additional saddle bag. Between all this, we had the capacity to carry a reasonable amount of warm off the bike clothing, along with spare bike jersey, shorts and tights. Taking advantage of heated hotel rooms, we should be able to dry out whatever clothing got wet during the day. Did I mention it was a bit wet on the wet-coast?

So back to the train and the bikes. Luckily for us there was no further demand for the wheelchair spot where John's bike was parked, so we and our bikes made it to the medieval walled town of Athenry without further incident. We took a quick spin around town to take in the sights, before attending to important business - lunch.

Given the late start due to the train journey and lunch, we had planned a relatively short ride for the first day.  Before leaving Dublin, I had skimmed through an AA travel guide belonging to my sister-in-law and saw mention of the Ross Abbey near our planned route, so I'd included a little dogleg out to this site. We could decide when we reached the turn if we'd have enough time or daylight to divert off route. I'm happy to report that Ross-Elrrilly Friary was definitely worth our detour, and we actually spent about an hour exploring and taking photos.

Photo bombing, with a medieval twist.

When we can, we tend to prefer selecting hotels in person versus making reservations, as this often allows us to find hidden gems. However, since it was well past tourist season, we would have to aim for slightly larger towns if we wanted to be sure to find open hotels and restaurants.  For the first night, we headed for Cong, not quite realizing what a tourist trap Cong actually is.

This village still trades on its fame from the 60 year old movie, The Quiet Man, with guided tours still being run everyday and with signs highlighting various things from the film. The prices for hotels in this town were amongst the highest we encountered on the trip, including at least one 4 star hotel where we stayed later in the tour. In retrospect, we should have reserved a night at the nearby Ashford castle. With a mid-week stay and advance booking, it barely would have cost more than we paid for a room in a run-down hotel in the village. Oh well, next time!

1 comment:

  1. Nice post, look forward to more! Kathy and I got to tour the Galway area a few years back, and just loved it. We had a rental car, no bikes. Someday maybe!