Saturday, July 22, 2017

Belfast to Ballycastle

I was right to worry about the traffic noise last night. Combined with a lack of curtains in the apartment, we all found it a bit hard to sleep. Geoff & Sophie got up and went for a run around the Titanic Quarter then we made our own breakfast (courtesy of Lidls) and headed to the Titanic Belfast exhibit.
Running track
This is a very popular exhibit and there were already a lot of people, including several school excursion groups there when we arrived. This forced me to put on my school teacher voice a couple of times- much to the horror of my own children. The exhibit covers 7 floors, with information not only about the Titanic but ship building in general, and particularly, in Belfast. Some of it is a bit tedious but all in all we enjoyed it enough to spend nearly 3 hours examining the displays.

There’s lots of symbolism built into the design of the building, with each feature paying tribute to different elements of the Titanic, from the span of the fa├žade matching the width of the ship, to the morse code patterned lines on the path outside. My favourite part was reading the testimony of the survivors and the information dispelling some of the movie myths about the sinking. Given that some of my students are basing their Drama solos on one of the survivors, it was also good research material.
Front of the building reflects the size and width of the Titanic
As luck would have it, the ticket seller at Titanic Belfast was from Ballycastle, our next destination. He gave us a copy of his suggested route along what he called the Causeway Coastal Tour, dedicated to his dad who had coined the phrase back in the 60s. All he asked was that we visit the bench named in honour of his dad on the Ballycastle foreshore, take a photo and send it to him. I love the interesting and helpful people you meet while traveling!

By the time we hit the road it was after 1 and unfortunately it was raining pretty hard so the magnificence of the coastal road was a little bit muted into a solid sheet of grey sky meets grey sea with no discernible horizon and we couldn’t get out of the car. Nevertheless it was majestic and I’d love to drive that way again when there was a touch of blue in the sky.
Road block

Sightseeing in NI

From Casheldun we took the scenic (and incredibly skinny) Torr road. No need to spend money on fairground roller coasters- here was one for free. Up, up, up, then around and down, down, down- repeat. All done on a road just barely wide enough for two small vehicles to pass one another on the straight stretches and a sheer drop on one side to the sea many, many, many metres below. It was a crazily beautiful drive, even in the rain.

We were really lucky at Torr Head that the rain let up long enough for us to climb to the top for a view across the Mull of Kintyre to Scotland. No doubting where Sir Paul McCartney got the inspiration for that song.

Mull of Kintyre

Top of Torr Head

Another big win with the accommodation awaited us at Ballycastle. At the An Caislean guesthouse we have been upgraded to a little family suite; two separate bedrooms, a bathroom and vestibule. Up on the top floor of the beautiful Victorian building we have a lovely view down towards the sea.

Taine was running low on fuel so we walked to the sea front in search of a snack and then took our ice creams for a stroll around the harbour. There were some hardy Irish families swimming at the beach (it was 14 C), people playing tennis on some lovely grass courts and lots of fishing boats coming in with their day’s catch. Altogether a very pretty vista. We stopped long enough to take a photo on Jack O’Kane’s bench and to skip a few stones across the river mouth and by then it was time to search for dinner.
Jack O'Kane's bench

We’d been given a few suggestions from the B&B and another one from my geography class at home (thanks Liam) but they were all chockers except for the Diamond Hotel who luckily had just one table for 4 left. We’ve had terribly bad luck on this trip with fish and chips but ever the optimists, we all ordered the cod and sweet potato chips. Hallelujah! The fish was fresh, huge and crisply battered. The accompanying salad was just enough and the beer was cold. Lucky there are 3 flights of stairs to take the edge off before bed.

Friday, July 21, 2017

In Dublin's fair city

I’m not sure about Dublin. We’ve just come from the pleasantest (sp) place on Earth and it’s been raining since we got here so that makes it hard to be objective. I love the Irish accent- everything sounds like a song. I don’t like the amount of rubbish in the street or the number of blazed people we’ve seen on the tram or down by the Liffey. I love the architecture and the history and the music coming from every pub. I don’t like the second hand smoke or the price of bottled water. It feels a little bit edgy, like Glasgow but it’s very walkable and that’s bonus. I wish we had longer here to truly explore.

Our hostel is actually amazing. When I told them Sophie would be staying with us tonight so I could pay for the extra person I was told the charge was by the room, not the number of bodies. When we went down for breakfast this morning it was like stepping into 1940. Flowered tablecloths, baskets of bread and little jugs of (warm) milk on the table. The place is central and close to transport. I would definitely recommend it to anyone looking for affordable accommodation in Dublin

I guess 24 hrs without sleep has some benefits. Despite being right by the road, we slept like lambs in our tiny room and the next morning we were ready to tackle our only full day in Dublin. The Guinness Storehouse was in walking distance so we headed there for the 10am tour. The building and the business is an iconic part of Dublin and they've done a great job in promoting it through this tourist attraction. Over 7 floors you can learn about the production of guinness, the history of the company (the founder signed a 9000 year lease – how’s that for forward planning!), learn how to taste test the brew, pour your own pint (and drink it) and get a fantastic 360 degree view of the city. I enjoyed my pint, even if it was a wee bit early to start drinking. When in Ireland etc…


Because Tipperary House is so central we were able to call back in and recharge our phones and drink some coffee ( to counteract the guinness) before we left for our tour of Kilmainham Gaol. The gaol is the number 1 tourist attraction in Dublin and they run tours every 15 minutes of every day and we were lucky to get the only time slot left today at 3pm.
It felt very like the Old Melbourne Gaol- so much sadness and suffering.There are no happy stories in the history that echoes in every nook and cranny of this building. When the tour ended in the rock smashing yard, where 14 Irish political prisoners were executed by English firing squads, I realised how little I understand about the political uprisings in Ireland, something I hope to rectify before the end of this holiday.

I was really keen to get out of town to the sea at Howth for lunch but we didn’t have time during the day so we decided to go for dinner. This involved using our Leap passes to take the tram to Connolly Station and then a DART train to Howth. Seemed simple. When we got to Connolly we looked at the board, found the right platform and headed off. As we got close we could see people running to catch the train so, of course, like lemmings, we ran too, jumping into the train just as the doors closed. We were busily congratulating ourselves when another passenger, overhearing our conversation, enquired as to our destination. Turned out we had jumped onto the wrong train, going in the opposite direction. 

Oops! Lucky we had a helpful Irishman! Off the train at the next stop, wait awhile for a return train, try again to get the right one, finally arrive in Howth at 8pm; definitely worth the trip because it’s a beautiful spot, especially at sunset. A restaurant near the station had a Thursday special offering fish and chips and mushy peas for 10 E. Unfortunately after we’d been seated and gave our order the server told us they’d run out of fish. Awkward- we took a tram and 3 trains for fish and chips – probs should have taken the specials board down! Second choice was across the street at a place boldly claiming to have Ireland’s best fish and chips. If that's the case, I will not be eating fish and chips anywhere else on this trip because the fish was bland and the chips were ordinary.

Back on the train and then back on the tram we settled in to wait for the best part of the day, the arrival of our daughter Sophie who was flying in from London to join us on our Irish leg. Her plane was delayed and the buses had stopped running so she didn't arrive until 1.30am.
A very late night meant some tired travellers this morning but we managed to get ourselves up and dressed and back to the airport to pick up our rental. Geoff was pretty excited to be driving this one on the 'right' side of the road and we set off for the next destination on our whistle stop tour, Belfast.

We took the long road via Strangford because it's always more interesting than the freeway. We wound our way through pretty little villages and along narrow country, roller coaster roads where you had to breathe in every time you passed another car. This isn't called the Emerald Isle for no reason. The whole place practically glistens with green.

Strangford is Game of Thrones country, with many of the scenes set in the area. I was surprised by the lack of 'cash in'. The only reference we saw was a few tired looking t shirts in the gift shop in Strang(e)ford. There wasn't a lot else to hold us there, so we took the ferry across to Portaferry where we wished we'd stopped instead because they clearly had a festival happening with dress ups and floats but we resisted the urge to join in and kept driving to Belfast. 

Our accommodation tonight seems like another good find, a two bedroom apartment overlooking the harbour, complete with a kitchen, a washing/drying machine and excellent wifi.
Its also beside the freeway and the train line and there are lots of planes flying overhead so I'll reserve my judgement on sleep quality until tomorrow!