After two coach tours, two days in a row, I was really needing some time to explore on my own. I think that guided bus tours can be handy, but they still feel like a manufactured experience. I’m happiest when I can wander at will and go wherever my senses take me.

Yesterday, I left Killarney for Galway — a lively college town in western Ireland. During the day/evening the pedestrian streets bustle with activity and can get very crowded. But, in the morning, they’re beautifully sunlit and peaceful. It’s my favorite time for a stroll.

Galway is very compact, walkable, and easy to navigate. The River Corrib runs north to south and divides the city in two. There are several canals weaving through the western side with pedestrian bridges every few hundred yards.

If you keep walking south, you’ll eventually hit Galway Bay and the city’s beautiful waterfront. But don’t feed the swans. Yikes!

DSC09610

Cool story: On my way to the bay, I happened upon an area void of other pedestrians. It was just me, the swans (don’t feed them!), this pretty blue boat, and a long stretch of river basin …

At one point, though, I noticed two men in the distance. They were standing on the walkway next to the basin. As I got closer, I recognized them. A few days ago, while staying in Killarney, I took a coach tour of the Dingle Peninsula. The two men on the walkway had been on the same tour!

They were a father and son from Salt Lake City. We swapped travel stories and questioned the odds of crossing paths again, three days later, in a new town more than a hundred miles away. They also shared their experience renting cars in both the U.K. and Ireland. Not only did they say it very expensive (with the required insurance fees), they also said it was pretty nerve-wracking, even with them sharing the driving and navigating. I’ve really been questioning my decision to not rent a car while in Ireland. Hearing their perspective put my mind at ease. Looks like more coach tours for me!

There’s one more thing I want to mention about my morning walk — visiting Galway’s Magdalene Laundries monument.

If you’ve never seen the film The Magdalene Sisters, it’s incredibly moving, haunting, and well worth renting. The film Philomena focuses on the same topic: Ireland’s Magdalene Laundries run by the Catholic Church. These “laundries” were basically forced labor institutions for women who were deemed “fallen” because they were prostitutes … or because they had been abused, raped, orphaned, gotten pregnant out-of-wedlock or were considered promiscuous. While imprisoned in these institutions, women were subjected to physical, emotional, sexual and spiritual abuse. According to this article, the last of these laundries didn’t close until 1996.

I was so happy to learn that this monument existed and so sad and disgusted for the reason it exists. Here’s the memorial, along with its accompanying text. I hope you’ll take a moment to read it.

You can read more about the laundries here. You can stream The Magdalene Sisters here on Netflix.