On our second day in Ireland, I took breakfast early, to ensure the accomplishment of an early morning shopping mission (the tea!), before saying farewell to The Dubs, the splendid Shelbourne and our fine hosts. When we got to the Hertz rental office at the airport, the line was 'a mile long.' Turns out it was a bank holiday weekend in the UK, thus the rental office expected to dispatch over 800 cars that day. (Notes to self for future planning purposes.)
With our bags stowed in the 'boot' and all car adjustments and familiarizations having been made, we were off on the M1 for the 1 hour 45 minute journey to Belfast. Who hoo! I'm driving in Ireland! Here, let me go around the roundy round one more time! Tight left, wide right!... tight left, wide right... just keep telling yourself that... and you'll be fine... okay, got it! We would've liked to have visited Newgrange, but with only one night in Belfast, it just wasn't possible. At around noon-thirty ("half twelve" in Irish speak) we arrived at our Belfast lodging.
The Gregory is a family run B&B, mostly staffed by very helpful, warm and friendly young adults. Breakfast was included, and is also open to non-guests. I can see why... They serve a great breakfast. They also had a very nice sitting room/library. I found my "cozy" little room at the top of four flights of stairs. Though small, it had all of the necessary creature comforts, including a private bath, and I found it charming.
It's located in a quiet, pleasant, tree-lined residential neighborhood.
With just the afternoon and evening to explore, we set out, catching the bus on Lisburn Road, which took us to Belfast City Hall. From there, we caught a second bus to Titanic Belfast, an incredible maritime museum. It provides its visitors with not only the history of the Titanic, but also of Belfast itself. I was particularly fascinated by the areas that highlighted the linen and ship building industries, both of which played pivotal roles in the economic and social development of Belfast and also Ireland as a whole.
The Titanic Belfast Museum is excellent. It succeeds in recreating all of the events of the Titanic, from design and construction to its fateful final resting place. It really makes its visitors feel like they are both there - and then, whether as a steelworker performing highly dangerous work 200 feet up on the gantry, pounding the more than three million steel rivets that would hold the ship together, or as a passenger, strolling the boat deck or dining with fine bone china bearing the White Star logo.
The slipways where both the Titanic and Olympic were built.
'Titanica' by Rowan Gillespie
The Titanic sign is large enough to allow guests to step into character and create great photo opportunities, as seen here.
As luck would have it, we were in Belfast during the weekend of the Annual Continental Market, held in the square in front of Belfast City Hall. There were all kinds of food, drink and craft booths. It was festive and fun!
Something for everyone.
The aromas were plentiful and oh, so tempting!
Later that evening, we dined at a really great little pub called The Barking Dog (I just loved that name... ) It was just a short stroll from our B&B.
The food was delish - more seafood (seafood pie here, loaded with fish in a light sauce and no fillers, topped with a nicely browned potato 'lid').
We decided to go with a local craft brew. Slainté!
The next morning at breakfast, my Mom asked our hosts about doing the rope bridge at Carrick-a-Rede. "Aye, ya won't be doin' dat, Ahm aflraid... Dadn'tcha say da noos last nayght, somun caut it wit a knife. It'll bay clost now undefinitelay." That was disappointing. At least to her... She likes to tease me about the time in Vancouver, when I became paralyzed with fear on the Capilano suspension bridge. Sorry Mom, looks like there'll be no repeat of that!
Antrim Coastal Route
So far, we had enjoyed three days of sunshine and beautiful blue skies. Today was overcast, but no rain. We checked out and were soon on our way to Giant's Causeway via the Antrim Coastal Route, a 2.5 hour scenic drive that was recommended by friends. It follows along the Irish Sea, where we enjoyed so much beautiful scenery along with the occasional quaint seaside village, a castle or two... sheep... mostly just beautiful scenery. Since I was driving, and my Mom didn't want to stop to take pictures (the ambitious itinerary, and no, I wasn't successful either at persuading her to add more days to the trip), I have nothing to show for it, other than some great visual memories.
We passed Carrick-a-Rede, and before we knew it, we had arrived at Giant's Causeway. We parked, walked down the path to the visitor's center where we purchased our live guided tour tickets. I woudn't do that again. On the walk down to the basalt columns, our young tour guide, an excellent story teller, told the story of the legendary giants. And that was it. I really didn't care about the mythical Giants and their silly shenanigans (though some of the rock formations succinctly illustrated the stories.) I was just more interested in when and how these polygonal basalt columns formed and about the ecology that they fostered. It's actually an area of global geological importance... There are only 8 of these structures worldwide, including a "newer", smaller structure in California, called "Devil's Postpile." Giant's Causeway is a UNESCO World Heritage Site (I was surprised that they let everyone run amok all over the columns.)
The walking path to the visitor's center, which is up on a cliff.
Fog begins to roll in
What we came to see...
Polygonal Basalt Columns
Thousands of them, and huge
It's also an area of exceptional beauty. I left my companions and went for a hike along the shore.
The fog really started to roll in, creating an ethereal impression. I climbed a very narrow, steep path up the tall cliff side to the top. The exertion and view, even limited by the fog, was gratifying.
Looking down onto the trail far below.
Up on top, these beauties.
Magnificent, isn't he?!
Interestingly, in speaking with one of the docents at the causeway, when we mentioned our disappointment that the Carrick-a-Rede rope bridge was closed, we were told that no, it's not closed, they already have it fixed and working again! Oh well, we missed it.
After we left Giant's Causeway, we followed the coast for a bit while enjoying more seaside scenery, before the road took us inland through Coleraine and Londonderry, finally arriving just outside of Donegal. Our digs for the night: Donegal Manor and Cooking School.
Once we were settled, we headed into town, took a stroll around Donegal Castle, and finally wandered into Dom's Pier in the town square for more good ole' pub grub. Most days, we ate a hearty breakfast, and then found ourselves so busy and occupied all day, that we simply forgot about eating until dinner time, when our tummies finally spoke up in mutinous rebel. By evening then, we were always pretty hungry.
Back in the Manor, we hit our beds in our shared room. On the nights when we all shared one room, it felt like we were on one giant, traveling slumber party! We enjoyed pleasant chatter, reminiscing about our wonderful day, finally quieting down and falling off to dreamland.
Tomorrow would be another fun adventure... Donegal Bay, Mullaghmore Drumcliffe, Dunguaire Castle, Sligo, and Galway!