Saturday, April 5, 2014

Ireland Getaway 2014- Post 10- Driving to Dublin from Derry

The day we left Derry was unfortunately also the day my husband's cold was at its worst. If we had been at home he would have been in bed all day- it was so awful! I felt bad but we had to get moving, and unfortunately for both of us I have never learned to drive a stick shift. (annnnnd yes, I've heard a million times how I should learn, and what would I do in an emergency? etc...) So that meant that my poor, sick husband had to drive all the way from Derry to Dublin, with a few stops on the way. What. a. trooper.

We didn't have time for many detours, so most of what we saw was from the car. Lucky for me, we got stopped in road construction at a beautiful, picturesque spot that I would not have gotten good photos of if we hadn't been forced to stop.





I was most excited because we were going to be going through County Monaghan, the county that my mother's Irish ancestors came from. I knew that we weren't going to have enough time to detour to the village of Creevagh that my ancestors are from so I tried to take in as much of the area as possible from the car. It was a lovely drive.

this picture with the house in ruins is oddly grayed out. I didn't change anything from the original.




I didn't take as many pictures as I woud have liked, I was distracted by navigating. I definitely missed some opportunities for good photos of villages and the River Boyne.  

The one detour we did make was to go to Newgrange. It was one of the places on my list that I really didn't want to miss. What a beautiful drive to the visitors center. We wound down a very narrow country lane with vegetation covered walls. We pulled into the nearly empty parking lot and it started to drizzle. To get to the visitors center you walk through a beautiful pergola. I saw remnants of some sort of vine, I can only imagine how beautiful that walk would be in the spring. As with any place that has an abundance of water you find a mini waterfall along the walk. What's most impressive is this is just to get to the visitors center!

Newgrange


Newgrange seen in the background of this photo. This is on the walk to the visitors center.





My husband really was at his worst with his cold and decided he just wanted to stay in the car. I made the decision that I wasn't going to do Newgrange alone. The visitors center was empty when we went in and the only way to get to the monument of Newgrange is by shuttle from the visitors center and I really didn't fancy being alone on a shuttle on a wet day with my sweet husband by himself, sick in a car. I don't regret my decision to forgo Newgrange, I know that I'll have the opportunity to go back again. I'm not done with Ireland. 

After Newgrange we got back on the N2 to the M2 with our final destination of Dublin in our sights. Both of us were looking forward to getting to Dublin to spend our last few days without the car. There wasn't a single day that we didn't have our alarm set in the morning, which is not the way you want to spend vacation! We knew that once we were back in Dublin we could rest at ease for a few days with no alarm, no car and no destination we absolutely had to be at. Pure joy.

We parked the car in the car park attached to the Jury's Inn, which cost us an arm and a leg, but we didn't know where else to leave the car. At that point I didn't care how much it was going to cost, I just wanted to be free of that car. We were both ready to walk the streets of Dublin again. 

Sunday, March 23, 2014

Ireland Getaway 2012- Post 9- The Giant's Causeway and Battling the Elements

After being wowed at Titanitic Belfast we jumped in the car and headed to the Antrim coast via Ballymena and Coleraine. It was so fun to see the countryside of Northern Ireland, but I always get excited the closer I get to a coast line. Seeing signs for the Giant's Causeway parking and buses all of the way in Bushmills, I became incredibly greatful that we were there in off season because we were able to park right at the actual site.

on the road from Belfast to Giant's Causeway 
On the road

Bushmills
on the road to Giant's Causeway. Check out that wind pushing the hedges.

Pulling up to the visitors center for the Giant's Causeway you see a Bed and Breakfast called The Smugglers Inn. Now, that is a place I would have loved to stay- not because it's called The Smugglers Inn but because of it's location. You can't get any closer to the causeway and a windswept cliff- it makes me think of a gothic novel. 




calling for help from The Smugglers Inn

As with so many other days on this trip, it was windy and freezing. Just when I think I've already experienced a cold day and I think it can't get any colder, Northern Ireland goes ahead and trumps it! When we arrived it was bright and sunny, but bone chillingly cold. We bought our tickets (please note this is not a free site like many outdated websites state. There is a fee to see the causeway!) and started down the hill. The walk down the hill towards the actual basalt stone pillars that make up the causeway is about a 20 minute walk, where you will encouter the Windy Gap- which is literally the windiest spot on all of Ireland. You could lean into the wind, which was fun when it was bright and sunny- not so fun later...



who knew this bright sunny day would turn to hail and wind like I've never known


almost there

My guidebook warned not to be underwhelmed when rounding the corner and seeing the causeway stones for the first time. I'm not sure what people expect but it was exactly how I imagined it. They're not that tall and they don't tower over you but they are impressive. I don't know what elemental ingredients had to come together to form the columns beyond lava and water, but I found it unique and dramatic.  The thing that surprised me the most about this particular site is the fact that there are no barriers or rails. I appreciated and actually preferred this because it doesn't mar the gorgeous landscape but it's just not something I'm used to experiencing. The US is so about warning signs and keeping people in line, I'm assuming because everyone is afraid of being sued. It was refreshing to just simply have access to something. You can walk and explore the stones. The smaller of the 3 causeways is called The Little Causeway and you can traverse it fully. That is probably the safest of the 3 to explore. It's easily accessible, although I must mention that everywhere along the walkway and the causeway stones is exposed to the elements. Any moment a wave could crash over those stones, so you do need to be mindful of the wilds of your surroundings. 

On The Little Causeway 
no more sun! signs of the storm...



Those surrondings are stunning. You're flanked by the impetuous ocean on one side and breathtaking cliffs on the other. Just as we were admiring those cliffs something hit me just at the edge of my eye. It took me a moment to get over my shock and realize it had started to hail. At this point we had seen everything we had planned to see so we decided to hop the bus back up to the visitor center so we didn't have to walk in the hail and wind. This is where our day turned into an adventure...

My husband and I climbed aboard the bus and presented our tickets. Well, my friends much to our massive chagrin the bus driver informed us that our tickets didn't include the bus!! The bus tickets were an additional pound each. Well.... I spent all of our cash on buying the entrance tickets. We were up a creek my friends- up. a. creek. At this point it is hailing and that hail is quickly turning to buckets of rain pouring down at an angle from the Windy Gap. The bus driver did not take pity on us and we had to get off the bus back into the crazy weather. I felt like crying. I couldn't believe that he wouldn't just let us stay on the bus. He could have just waved us on. No one would have known that we hadn't paid- it wasn't like it was a bright sunny day and we were just being lazy- it was stormy outside. So with our nasty colds still very much in residence we walked back into the rain and hail with very heavy spirits. 

That was one miserable walk. I had my hat pulled down to my eyes and my scarf pulled up to my eyes- with one eye squinted because of my previous experience with the hail saying it's hello. I know I was a sight, because at this point there was also black mascara running down my face! As we walked closer to the Windy Gap we met real resistance from the wind. I mean real resistance! We were bent at the waist and crouched doing our best to battle against it. The wind actually caused me to lose my footing a bit and I stumbled into the road. I'm not exactly a light, delicate flower so this was some force to push me! There is no photographic evidence of these moments- we were so busy feeling miserable and sorry for ourselves to break out the camera, plus I'm pretty sure my husband was being smart and didn't want to get water all over our fancy camera and ruin it. I do wish there was evidence though because it just sounds unbelievable and exaggerated. I know my husband agrees with me when I say that we felt like stupid tourists-  here we both were with horrible respiratory infections, that I for one was very nervous about turning into pneumonia, completely exposed to the harshest of elements all the while walking up a steep hill against a heavy wind. Just brillant. If there was ever a moment in my life that I thought I was going to look back on and think, "Gee, and you wonder why you ended up in a hospital?", this was the moment. You know when people do stupid things and end up seriously hurt or in trouble and you just think, "well, duh!" Yep, I don't even need to say it.

Slowly we made it up the hill- passing people willing to brave the weather and some who turned back before they even began. One girl was in high heels and all I could think was, "this is not a time to try to be sexy for your boyfriend, this is a time for sensible clothes darn it!". I know we looked like drowned rats. I've never been so uncomfortable in my life. My clothes were soaking wet, and I hate the feeling of wet jeans on my legs! My hair was plastered to my cheeks and totally unattractive. I unceremoniously dumped my audio guide in the bin and turned to be greeted by none other than the bus driver. Your ticket is required to get back into the visitors center so my husband and I were both patting pockets to locate ours when the bus driver caught sight of us and waved us through the door- he said he didn't need to see our tickets and to just get inside. I think he finally took pity on us when he saw the state we were in. I really wish I had thought to take a picture when I finally saw myself in the bathroom mirror. This my friends was a moment for a bathroom selfie if I ever saw one. Honestly I was too crabby to take one. All I could think about was peeling my pants off and throwing my soaking wet hat in the closest trash can. 

We hastily bought our souvenirs and high tailed it back to the car. I have never taken a coat and gloves off so quickly. Ick is the only word I can think of to describe that feeling. We sat in that parking lot, steaming up the windows for ages, wasting fuel to power the heater full blast.  What a day.

Finally we got back on the road to head back to Derry for the night. It's amazing how an effective heater can change your perspective on things. We got less and less grumpy as the miles flew by and we dried off a bit. I was even enthusiastic enough to jump out with no jacket to the edge of the road to get pictures of Dunluce Castle. I would have loved to have toured the medieval ruin but it had an entrance fee so I was content to just get photos from the side of the road.




In Portrush we stopped for giant bars of Cadbury Dairy Milk chocolate and cold medication. We were won over by the colorful row houses in Portrush and briefly wished to live there until we remembered how cold it was outside of the car.



The drive back to Derry was lovely and apart from a brief flurry of snow it was pretty uneventful. The Antrim coast and the A2 back to Derry was beautiful. I really wish I could see it in late spring or early summer when I'm sure it's at it's best. 

video

Looking back on this experience even as early as an hour after it happened we realized how amazing it was. It was miserable at the time but we survived it and it certainly was unexpected. I can now say I've battled wind and rain and made it to tell the tale. I didn't even have to endure any, "Well, duh." moments afterwards because neither of us ended up in a hospital. (although we did both endure a horrible nights sleep endlessly coughing, which I'm sure wasn't helped by our exposure.) It was a surreal experience and I fully expect never to have one like it again. I suppose everyone must collect a story like this in their life at some point- it proves a life well lived, although I'd be lying if I said I didn't feel a little like a hobbit on a grand adventure who really should just be home having second breakfast, because well, adventures are nasty things, right Bilbo?

Friday, March 21, 2014

Ireland Getaway 2014- Post 8- Belfast and the Titanic

Waking up our first morning in Derry, we were both exhausted. Our colds were getting no better and we both had a pretty sleepless night of coughing and tossing and turning. How do you make up for a crappy night's sleep? Why, an Ulster fry up! My only other fry up experiences were my trip to England and first trip to Ireland and on that trip I was only in the Republic. The Ulster fry up that Thomas, our B&B owner made for us that morning was delicious! It consisted of: a fried egg, triangles of potato bread and soda bread, half a pancake, sausage and bacon with plenty of milky tea and orange juice. Talk about fortifying! I'm very picky about how my sausage and bacon are cooked- they have to be well done or I get grossed out and Thomas cooked it perfectly! It was a great way to start what would be both a fun and adventurous day!

We set off early for our drive to Belfast. It was a freezing morning, and a little drizzly. It was interesting to cross the river to see the other side of Derry, which was definitely more Londonderry than  Derry if you know what I mean. (and if you don't: the other side is the Unionist side and in favor of staying part of the UK). It always amazed me in Ireland how quickly one can leave the city and instantly be in the countryside. One minute it was urban and the next it was green rolling hills, sheep and waterfalls on the side of the road.





Much of the drive to Belfast was a blur to be honest. I was so tired and really anxious to get to Belfast. I had a very naive and uneducated view of Belfast- I made assumptions of what it would be like based on it's history with The Troubles. I assumed it would be like a large version of Derry- urban, a little dirty and rough around the edges. I was completely wrong. It is a big city and with that comes the normal things that all big cities have but over all Belfast was a pleasant surprise.








Our first order of business was going to the docks to see the Titanic Belfast exhibit. I had no idea what to expect, I didn't really research the Titanic Belfast before we got there, I imagined it was going to just be room with newspaper clippings and maybe some life sized rivets. My husband is the one who knew how fantastic it was and was really anxious for me to see it. He knows I have a fascination with the Titanic- seeing the real artifacts when they toured in San Franciso at the Metreon in 2006. I'm so glad he persisted and made sure we made it to the exhibit. Proof that he knows me so well!





We paid our entrance fee and made our way to the beginning of the exhibit. On our way in they have you stop and pose for a picture against a green screen. There is nothing like having a silly moment while on vacation. When in Rome right?! So, we donned the sea captain hats and posed in front of the Titanic.

This exhibit is impressive my friends. No expense was spared! You've probably been asking what on earth the Titanic has to do with Belfast? Well, the Titanic was built in Belfast in the very dockyard that the exhibt now resides. There are 9 interactive galleries including a ride! The ride takes you through the assembly of the Titanic and shows you in a larger than life way how it all came together. There were screens to touch, fabrics to feel and voices to hear. Each exhibit winds up a level until you end up looking out a huge window to the very slipway that the Titanic rested. A superimposed image of the Titanic in that slipway suddenly appears on the window. It takes your breath away.







There is nothing more haunting than the Titanic and exhibits about it. To hear of it's construction and the certainty of those building it that is it indescructable- unsinkable- only to see the objects scattered on the seabed, proving that it was indeed sinkable. A shoe here, a comb there- a White Star line plate perfectly preserved and waiting for a meal to be placed on it. There is a wonderful IMAX style theater at the end of the tour and you can watch a mini documentary of the search of the debris field- just so eerie but also painfully beautiful, because everything has been preserved in the darkness- a delicate lady's shoe, a child's doll, a man's shaving kit. 





One of my most treasured photos from the trip turned out to be the silly picture of us in front of the green screen. It's just so us! We can be pretty darn silly together and I love that we have this less than serious picture from a trip that meant so much to us in the end.



I can also officially say I've now had the worst pizza I think I've ever had. We decided to have lunch in the cafe at Titanic Belfast, because it was easy and would save us time- we still had to get up to the coast before the day's end. The pizza was so bland but greasy at the same time- how does that happen? Not a fan my friends. If you happen to go, do yourself a favor, take some extra time and just find an awesome pub.





Coming up... our craziest adventure yet- The Giant's Causeway and the most schizophrenic weather I've ever experienced!