During the first two weeks in Ireland, although fun, was extremely overwhelming. I never quite felt like I had the time to relax and explore the city in which I am to live for the next five months. From the very beginning I was bombarded with numerous orientation activities and retreats, and once orientation was finally over I had to focus on scheduling classes and getting the lay of the school. Usually when I move to a new place one of the first things I do is throw on my headphones and just go wander aimlessly for hours. Exploring through walking has always been my favorite pass time, which is why I was more than willing and grateful to test out Simbach’s orientation exercises.
For this exercise I decided to go with my new roommate Paige and walk into the heart of Galway city and along the Bay. Luckily the day we decided to do this exploration we were blessed with one of the rare sunny Irish days, which only further emphasized the beauty within the land. We first started in Eyre Square, which is the center of all public transportation into the city. From there we walked along shop street, where I have spent countless nights. Yet it is amazing how a place, and the life within in it, can change so much from night to day. At night, shop street is filled with the sound of lively young adults and the echoes of irish pub music and American pop music from the surrounding clubs and pubs. By day, shop street is filled with hundreds of people, of all ages, ethnicities and gender. At any given instance you can always hear at least four different languages: Spanish, French, Irish, English. As we walk deeper into the cultural hub we call Galway city, we begin to hear the sounds of street performers, all of varying styles: you have the traditional folk singer in one nook with their banjo, then a little ways down you have a young man putting his heart and soul into a karaoke machine, and amongst these two you have a variety of dancers ranging from step dance to robot dancing. As I walk by each one, I am filled with awe and admiration because it doesn’t appear they are doing it for the money, but simply for the pure joy of it and to bring entertainment to those around them.
Usually when walking to campus and to the grocery store, everyone seems so distant and on a mission, walking as if their life depended on it, yet as I stand in the center of shop street everyone seems to be at a standstill, a place of peace and joy. You have people having a casual drink outside of a pub or restaurant, laughing with their friends, then you have people strolling about each store, while others simply stop and admire the street performers. Even the ones who do walk through with purpose, do so with leisure. As I stand in the center of the city, you can’t help but fall in love with it: the beautiful sites of the hanging twinkling lights and the rustic pubs intermingled with the pastel walls, the mouthwatering aromas that come from the bakeries and gelato stores, and the beautiful hum of music and languages that resonate from every corner. No matter what time it is or how gloomy the weather, Galway city is a bubble of life, energy and history.
As we make our way through the lively shop street, Paige and I begin to head towards the bay area and Salthill, which is where our apartments are close too. Salthill is a long strip of town that runs along Galway Bay. This part of the city is the complete opposite of that of shop street. In Salthill there are no street performers, or shopping malls or pubs, there is simply the water and the road. Where as a second ago my senses were overloaded with music and the smell of food, here I am lulled with the sound of water crashing against land and the fresh salty smell of the water in front of me. There are few people, but the ones who are here, all do the same, sit and stare out at the horizon. At this instance Paige and I say little to each other, there is no need, we both feel the same sense of awe and bewilderment. How can one place so small have so much life, beauty and personality within it.
After a day like this, of pure observation, exploration and amazement, I begin to realize how I have seriously mislead myself while abroad. Before coming to Galway, I read a travel story called The Creaky Traveler In Ireland, by Warren Rovetch. This book revolved around the stories and experiences of an elderly couple, Warren and Gerda, who decide to explore the west of Ireland. Unlike the usual travelers who attempt to partake in all adventurous excursions and tourist attractions, these two go to Ireland well aware of their inability to do such things, which results in them simply wandering around small rural towns, such as Clare, Kerry and Cork, getting to know the locals and the history. Every town they visited they always made sure to stop at a B&B or a pub and simply sit and chat with the locals, learning about their lives and how they and the city they live in have become what they are today. Each place always had a story, whether it was Fenore’s “War of Mullaghmore” or Ennistyman’s annual Matchmaking Festival. The only time these two were disappointed, was when they decided to do the “typical” tourists adventures, such as the Cliff’s of Moher, which was filled with tourists and warning signs, inhibiting their ability to fully absorb the beauty and history of the land. After going on my own adventure through town, I began to realize I had a lot more in common with the “creaky travelers” than I thought. The first few weeks I was so caught up in doing all of the tourist attractions and always being on the move, that I never really took the time to stop, appreciate and absorb the land around me, which is why I never really felt relaxed or connected to the place I am to call home for the next five months. In chapter seven of Becoming World Wise, Simbach states, “ The effort you exert walking drives a place into memory. When you’ve walked it, it’s yours” (p.182). It wasn’t until going on this walk did I truly understand what he meant by this quote. This journey has helped me open my eyes and my heart to the city around me. Now when I walk through these streets, I feel a sense of pride and connection, I want to protect and preserve its beauty as if it were my own.
The picture below is of Salthill bay. I chose this because it represents the pure natural beauty of the land. This picture reminds me that I do not need the manmade attractions or outside influences to guide me and to tell me what is beautiful. Like the bay, I will stay connected to those around me, but I will also stay true to my own beauty and purpose.
Slimbach, Richard. Becoming World Wise: A Guide to Global Learning. Sterling, VA: Stylus Pub., LLC, 2010. Print.
Rovetch, Warren. The Creaky Traveler: in Ireland, Clare, Kerry, and West Cork. Boulder, CO: Sentient Pub., LLC, 2006. Print.