02 August 2006

a day at the races.

Ireland is everything I imagined it would be. On the bus from the Shannon airport to Galway on Tuesday, we drove through the Irish countryside, which looks exactly like every stereotype about the country. Chilly winds and overcast skies threatening rain, greenery everywhere, quaint little houses with picket fences and wrought iron gates, flower beds and manicured hedges, and more pubs than even a seasoned Gator would know what to do with. Joey met us in Eyre Square, just outside the bus station, so we didn't even have an opportunity to get lost in Galway. He took us out to his flat in the Galway suburbs (which are as adorable as the rest of Ireland), where we met his two roommates and a handful of the other random people rotating in and out of the place. Over a homemade dinner of curried vegetables and rice, we watched an episode of the Simpsons that couldn't have been more appropriate for our trip. Subliminal navy recruiting, war in the Middle East, and, as Homer said, "phrases that don't really mean anything, like 'blah blah blah' or 'give peace a chance.'" Ahh, j'adore irony. After dinner, we headed back into Galway to visit one of the ubiquitous pubs in the city, where I was pleased to discover that Ireland has far better beverages to offer than Guiness. Bulmer's is a delicious Irish cider, and Kupperberg is a more flavorful Swedish version of alcoholic cider. Both are highly recommended, and considering this comes from the girl who hates beer, that's a pretty special endorsement.

Joey had a half-day at his laser lab on Wednesday (don't even ask me to explain what's going on there), so we met him for lunch at Food for Thought, a fairtrade and vegetarian-friendly cafe in Galway. For those Gators out there, imagine if Maude's served a full menu and was more socially conscious than hipster. As luck would have it, Erin and I are here just in time for the annual Galway Races, so we took the bus out to the racetrack for a little cultural immersion. Like any good Irish person or cheap college student, we stopped by the convenience store to pick up a six pack of Bulmer's for the afternoon. At the track, we encountered complete chaos. Apparently these races are a bigger deal than we ever imagined. Enroute to the entrance, countless families of white-trash Irish (or "knackers," to use the parlance of the region) sold toys, drinks, and candy to race goers. The races are a socially universal event - everyone goes, but the upper classes get decked out in suits for the men and dresses and hats for the women to sit in the grandstands, while the lower classes hang around the fence on the outside to avoid paying admission. We went with the cheap option and grabbed a section of fence with no idea what to expect. Jumbotrons allow racegoers to follow the action since we weren't sitting near the starting gate. Countless bookies set up shop around the grounds to take bets, and everyone from young boys to mothers to old men bets on their favorite horses. We decided not to partake, but instead sat in amusement when everyone cheered on their horse. Without money on the races, it was more of a cultural experiment than anything else, but it was hard not to get caught up in the excitement when the horses raced by our section of fence. On the bus ride back, we were entertained by a group of very drunk, very excited Irish youth celebrating their victories. I love this country. One of Joey's coworkers is leaving next week, so we're checking out another pub tonight for his going-away party. Tomorrow we're taking a ferry out to the Aran Islands in the Galway Bay - I'm finally going to see those gorgeous Irish cliffs.

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