Tuesday, September 19, 2017

September 16th – Grey and Gallic Galway

I've always thought that Galway was the most fun-loving city in Ireland. Pub life is always busy, the trad music here is the best of any Irish city, and the people are supremely friendly. Being here on a Saturday, I had a slight hope of finding a pub with some music on, but my search was fruitless. Several pubs had sessions that were starting at 5.30pm, but seeing as that was the time that the ship was sailing to Canada (and I didn't fancy a long swim!), I had to miss out.

However, you don't have to go far in Galway to find some music – about every 100 metres along the busy streets, there was someone with a fiddle, a guitar, Irish dancing, or even an excellent pop band (called Key West) promoting their upcoming Galway gigs with a wonderful alfresco show. The toe-tapping atmosphere was infectious.

If the streetlife was fun and lively, it needed to be. Because, the Galway weather was a fairly typical cold, grey and windy – the combination of brooding grey skies and austere grey buildings made you appreciate why the Galwegians need some vibrant music to cheer themselves up.

We did a tour of the main sights – visiting the farmer's market, St Nicholas's Church (it was nice to see that this Protestant Church had opened itself up to the Russian Orthodox and Romanian Orthodox communities), seeing the city walls, the Spanish Arch, the Museum, and visiting the huge Catholic Church.

But, Galway's not really about its sights as such – it's all about the atmosphere and the streetlife. What a great place to be our last sight of land, before we head into the Atlantic for the next 4 days!

September 15th – The Artistic Side of Cork

Cork is famous for its pubs, for its Beamish, for its Murphys, and for the odd pint of Guinness. But, today was decided to be artists of a different kind, and head to the town's unheralded art gallery. The gallery is in the Old Customs House and is right next to the modern Opera House, which shows that there's much more culture to Cork than just pub culture.

Inside the gallery, there was some interesting modern art (which, as ever, I didn't fully understand), some 19th century art, and lots of 20th century art – the most interesting of which reflected the tensions of Ireland's struggles towards nationhood. Seeing the depictions of poverty and the patterns of emigration of the 19th century, and then the defiance of the struggle for independence, and then the reflections of Ireland as an independent nation, was an interesting way to chart Ireland's development over the past couple of centuries.

But, the stars of the show, were a legacy of the time when Ireland was still part of the British Empire. Back in the 19th century, Britain had supported the Vatican against Napoleon, so as a way of thanks the Pope got the famous sculptor Canova to take plaster casts of the Vatican's best classical sculptures and send them to the King. The British didn't know what to do with them, and somehow they ended up in Cork. Of course, they're not quite the real thing, but it was pretty close, and they were displayed very well.

The rest of Cork was very busy and lively – as ever, the indoor English Market was a great showpiece for delicious Irish foods and traditional crafts, while the streets were thronged with shoppers. On the evidence of Cork today, Ireland seems to have recovered from its Financial Crisis very well.

September 13th – Four Seasons in One Day in Falmouth

Up until 20 years ago, the Cornish port of Falmouth used to have a bit of a reputation for being a bit rough around the edges. But, there's been a lot of work in the last few years to improve the appearance of Cornwall's biggest town. The waterfront has been cleaned up, the National Maritime Museum Cornwall has been added, and there's now lots of independent boutiques and restaurants added to the high street. It can't compete on beauty with the archetypal Cornwall towns like St Ives, Polperro or Mousehole, but from the sea, when the sun's shining, Falmouth looks pretty good.

That's the crucial bit – when the sun's shining. When we woke up, the day started depressingly grey, then some black clouds rolled in and it started raining horizontally. At this point, we took shelter in the town's Art Gallery before deciding to give up and head back to the ship. All of a sudden the sun came out, raincoats and jumpers were removed, and it became boiling hot. That's the British weather for you.

So, we made proverbial hay while the sun was shining and headed to the beach. In the blink of an eye, people were swimming and the seas had turned a Caribbean shade of blue – the beach was stunning. So, we continued on the coastal path, and had a good ramble to another beach, coming to the conclusion that when the weather's good, there's few better places on earth than Cornwall.

Sunny Falmouth was a lovely, gentle start to this cruise – let's hope the weather holds for the rest of it!