Monthly Archives: June 2016

Galway city to visit

Situated at the mouth of the River Corrib, Galway (Gaillimh in Irish) started out life as a fishing village, Claddagh, and really took off in the 13th century when it came under the Anglo-Norman rule of Richard de Burgo (aka the Red Earl) and its city walls were constructed. It’s likely the Spanish Arch, which protected moored merchant ships from Spain, is a remnant of the medieval walls. Another surviving portion has been incorporated in the Eyre Square Centre shopping mall. Fascinating archaeological finds are on display at the Hall of the Red Earl, a medieval tax office/courthouse/town hall whose remains were uncovered by accident in 1997. In 1396, Richard II transferred power to 14 merchant-family ‘tribes’; the most powerful, the Lynch family, builtLynch’s Castle, Ireland’s finest town castle (now an AIB bank). More recent history – from 1800 to 1950 – is on display at the Galway City Museum, where exhibits include a traditional wooden Galway Hooker fishing boat.

To appreciate the city’s storied history, book a guided tour with Galway on Foot, which departs from the Spanish Arch.

Character-filled pubs

Galway is famed far and wide for its pubs, most of which are just a crawl from the next. Join the friendly locals as they bounce from place to place, never knowing what fun lies ahead but certain of the possibility. A brilliant starting point is Tigh Neáchtain (or just Neáchtain’s – pronounced ‘nock-tans’ – aka Naughtons), a bright-blue-painted 19th-century treasure that attracts all walks of life beneath its low ceilings and on its tree-shaded terrace. Old-school O’Connell’s, with stained glass, pressed-tin ceilings and a partially covered beer garden, is another enduring gem.

Pints of ‘the black stuff’ (ie Guinness) are popular, of course, but be sure to look out for Galway Hooker Irish Pale Ale, a local success story brewing locally for over a decade. Whiskey specialists include laid-back Garavan’s (garavans.ie).

 

Live music

Galway’s brightly painted pubs heave with live music. You’ll hear high-spirited trad tunes featuring any combination of instruments – fiddle, tin whistle, bodhrán (goat-skin hand-held drum played with beater), guitar, banjo, squeezebox and more – pouring out from inside. It’s possible to catch a céilí (traditional music session and dancing, pronounced ‘kay-lee’) or spontaneous seisún (pronounced ‘seh-shoon’) virtually every night of the week. Cherry-red-coloured Tig Cóilí is a fantastic place to catch music, as is the two-storeyed Crane Bar.

Bands of all genres get their break at legendary venue Róisín Dubh, which also hosts comedy. You’ll catch buskers along Shop St (and its extensions, High St then Quay St) and around the Spanish Arch.

Seafaring cuisine

Seafood reigns in Galway. Terroir-focused Aniar uses local catches in many of its Michelin-starred multicourse menus. Celebrated seafood bistro Oscar’s is a superb place for Galway Bay oysters. Ard Bia at Nimmo’s serves local flavours like West Coast monkfish with spelt, preserved lemon, spinach and sorrel yoghurt or pan-roasted Atlantic hake with braised fennel, clams, beetroot and grilled asparagus. West Coast crab (washed down with Galway Hooker) is a speciality of hip Kai Café & Restaurant. And down-to-earth McDonagh’s is an essential stop for phenomenal fish and chips at its chaotically sociable communal tables.

Galway Food Tours provides a taste of the city’s best artisans, purveyors and dining highlights.

Outdoor pursuits

Shoals of salmon and sea trout surge upriver at Salmon Weir in May and June; tackle shops can provide angling advice, or visit www.fishinginireland.info for permit information. The Corrib Princessruns cruises here in summer. Another favourite outdoor activity is a 2.5km stroll along the Prom to Salthill (be sure to kick the wall near the diving boards in true Galwegian tradition). If you just want to unwind in the sunshine, the lawns of central Eyre Square are ideal.

Timeless finds

One of the joys of wandering through Galway is stumbling across its small speciality shops selling everything from Irish-made fashion to local art and jewellery, including its Claddagh rings (with a heart, signifying love, between two hands, symbolising friendship and topped by a crown, representing loyalty), named for the original fishing village; jewellery shops producing them include Ireland’s oldest, 1750-established Thomas Dillon’s Claddagh Gold. Other favourites include the warren of book-lined rooms making up Charlie Byrne’s Bookstore, and P Powell & Sons and Kiernan Moloney, both selling traditional Irish musical instruments.

Cape Town regenerated seaside

Though there has been no return to bloomer-clad ladies lifting their petticoats to paddle in the Atlantic Ocean, or day-tripping picnickers piling off the train to watch Punch and Judy shows on the sand. Instead the remarkably infectious regeneration, which has spread along the beachfront of Muizenberg and back into the side streets, has lured eclectic customers – long-haired surfers, creatives looking for a casual office and commuters popping in for a bite or a beer on their way home from the train station – into equally eclectic cafes. The intrepid surfers, to their credit, have never actually turned their backs on Muizenberg’s break, but they no longer hightail it out of the neighbourhood as soon as they’d had their fill of waves.

 

Grab a bite

Food and drink have played a major role in the renewal of Muizenberg. These days you can wander from restaurant to bar, grazing on wood-fired pizza, gourmet burgers, vegan treats, sushi and plenty of good coffee and craft beer. The most pumping place on the strip is Tiger’s Milk, a laidback bar serving a local spin on pub grub – with spicy chicken livers and Bunny Chow (a loaf of bread filled with curry) making an appearance alongside burgers and ribs. Further along, choose from seafood and sushi at Live Bait (livebait.co.za), veggie-friendly fare at Yoffi Falafel (Balmoral Building), or if it’s breakfast you’re after, join the families at Knead where great coffee is combined with a kids’ play area. Across the train tracks there is Empire Café, an old favourite known for breakfast and coffee, and the brand new bar The Striped Horse, the flagship of the local craft beer brand of the same name.

It’s not all about ocean views though. Eateries are also emerging in a hidden quarter known locally as ‘The Village’ – an area of narrow streets north of the beach. Grab a latte at Kitch Kombuis (34 Palmer Rd) or sip on fresh juice while browsing for books and vinyl at Roots Bar (rootsbar.co.za). If you’re hereabouts on a Friday evening, wander a few streets further to the Blue Bird Garage Market to sample international cuisine from local vendors.

Art in the streets

Cape Town has a promising street art scene and Muizenberg is one of the suburbs where graffiti-style murals are easily found. Vibrant paintings by local art collective One Love Studio (theonelovestudio.co.za) can be spotted on walls around the region; their best-loved work is the giant surf mural etched on to the side of theStoked Backpackers building next to the station. The station itself is also a work of art, its Edwardian façade one of many reasons architecture enthusiasts are as happy in Muizenberg as surfers are. The renovated beachfront buildings date back to the early 20th century and contain a mix of Art Deco and Edwardian styles – something that developers strived to retain when revamping the buildings. Perhaps most striking of all though are the brightly painted Victorian beach huts that have become the emblem of Muizenberg. These days the huts are empty, but as regeneration continues, plans to give the huts a new purpose are in the pipeline.

Get active

There is one thing that has kept Muizenberg going, even through its rougher times – surfing. The beach break here is ideal for beginners, who come to join a surfing lesson with one of the ‘Berg’s half-dozen surf schools. More accomplished surfers stick to the back line, but Muizenberg is well known for being one of the most welcoming surf spots in South Africa when it comes to newbies. The local outfitters also hire out stand-up paddle boards (SUPs) and offer lessons in both wind- and kite-surfing, which take place at the eastern end of the beach.

For families

If you can drag the kids out of the ocean, there are a few attractions built with them in mind. Behind the beach, some well-established pursuits await – mini golf on the seafront, a pair of well patronised waterslides and a kids’ playground. For something a little more exhilarating, book in advance to try out the blo-karts at Sunrise Circle (blokart.co.za). A cross between go-karting and windsurfing, ‘blo-karting’ is an ideal way to take advantage of Muizenberg’s perpetually breezy weather.

Fun place in DC

The Franciscan Monastery is a tree-shaded oasis of peace in Northeast DC’s Brookland neighborhood. It features replicas of Holy Land shrines – including the Chapel of the Ascension, Tomb of Mary, and Grotto of Gethsemane – as well as the Grotto of Lourdes. Winding, flower-edged pathways beckon leisurely strolling. But the most relaxing spot is hands-down the nearby cloisters, which enclose a formal rose garden with benches ideal for quiet contemplation. The tiny Portiuncula Church here replicates St. Francis’s original church in Italy.

Artful repose

Sit in the alcove in front of Albert Bierstadt’s “Among the Sierra Nevada, California” at the Smithsonian Museum of American Art and you are swept into the depths of this enormous oil painting. Golden sunlight splashes on a glassy mountain lake, surrounded by soaring mountains. Looking closer, you spot a family of deer pausing by the lake shore, perhaps struck by the idealized wild beauty. A flock of ducks takes off in the shadows. It’s the next best thing to being out in the middle of Mother Nature herself.

Waterside reflection

A brick and gravel pathway along the historic Chesapeake & Ohio Canal, the C&O Canal Towpath leads you into a shady, serene realm just steps from Georgetown’s frenetic streets. Find a bench between Thomas Jefferson Street, NW, and Wisconsin Avenue, NW, and reflect on how the placid water mirrors the leaves, listen to the sweet song of cardinals, sparrows, and, in season, chickadees. If you’re lucky you’ll spot a great blue heron, standing statuesque in quest of a fishy meal before taking flight on its broad, graceful wings, long legs trailing behind.

Georgetown Park’s labyrinth

Most people head to Georgetown for shopping or nightlife, not a labyrinth. But there it is, in Georgetown Waterfront Park, a painted spiral path based on ancient methods of meditation and prayer, in the most stunning of scenes overlooking the Potomac River. All you have to do is start walking (or dancing or singing) the labyrinth to its center, then make your way back out again. Your mind relaxes, the world’s chatter disappears, and – who knows? – you may discover inner peace.

Kayaking the Potomac

Hop aboard a kayak at Thompson Boat Center and within seconds you’re paddling around Theodore Roosevelt Island, a woodsy isle in the middle of the Potomac that the wilderness-loving, 26th President of the United States himself would have loved. You can float upstream to Georgetown and beyond, or downstream for a waterborne take on the National Mall’s marble monuments. Wherever you go, the quiet dipping of your paddle and birds flitting overhead are the only sounds you’ll hear.

Cool contemplation

The repetitive shapes strike you first. Circles representing Heaven and squares representing Earth, a design inspired by the gardens and architecture of the sacred, Ming-Dynasty-era Temple of Heaven in Beijing. You’re at the Moongate Garden behind the Smithsonian Castleon the National Mall, a tranquil space centering on a small granite island surrounded by a black granite pool. Sit on one of the surrounding stone benches and contemplate the relationship between the concepts of Heaven and Earth. The water offers a cool respite from hot summer days.

A stunning stroll

One of the country’s most scenic paved trails is the Mount Vernon Trail. It winds along for 18.5 miles along the Virginia side of the Potomac River between Rosslyn and Mount Vernon, providing five-star views of Washington’s marble-clad monuments across the way. Strategically placed benches offer a place to stop and take it all in. Better yet, throw down a blanket (or yoga mat) along the river’s grassy banks and count how many bald eagles you can spot. The most stunning segment is between Memorial and Key Bridges.

Sleek serenity

The Kreeger Museum is an unsung gem in upper Georgetown. It hides away off busy Foxhall Road, NW. Pay the entrance fee and you’ll be rewarded with a nearly empty, über-modern house filled with priceless works of contemporary art. Seek out the dining room where the pretty pastel colors of several Monets can put even the noisiest mind to rest. If it’s sunny, pay no fee and stay outside in the grassy sculpture garden, a blissful, songbird-friendly kingdom where picnicking is encouraged.

Relax among foreign flora

Washington, DC is a hub of international people, places and things.United States Botanic Garden is a beautiful, glass-enclosed garden on Capitol grounds that has a political raison d’être – to assemble plants from military and exploring missions, foreign governments, and government agencies. But there’s absolutely no need to know that as you enter the balmy, birdsong-filled space and wander pathways edged by more than 4,000 flourishing seasonal, tropical, and subtropical plants. In the Garden Court, find a bench, close your eyes, and listen to relaxing ambient music as water splashes in the Alhambra-style fountain.