Welcome to Ireland!!
PART I - THE NORTH
My husband's mother's family were Tobin's from Country Cork and it's always fun to see that name on signs or meet people who are probably in some way related. I was told that everyone in Ireland are related somehow!
This time I wanted to visit The North, so I flew into Belfast. I was met at the airport by the lovely, and extremely talented Ruth Forrester, an internet sewing friend and fellow blogger, who I had emailed from the States to say I was coming to Belfast and would love to meet her and buy her a cup of tea. I'll tell you a little bit more about my welcome and Ruth when I tell you about the people I met.
Ruth whisked me away to a wonderful craft fair where demonstrations of beading and weaving, quilting and quilling, spinning and wood-carving were ongoing in at The Ulster Folk and Transport Museum. This museum of international renown, is regarded as being amongst the best of its kind in the world. Set in over 170 acres of rolling countryside overlooking Belfast Lough, visitors can wander through the past and discover how people lived and traveled over the centuries.
The Folk Museum tells the story of life in early 20th century Ulster. A bygone era is recreated in a rural landscape of farms, cottages, traditional crops and local breeds of livestock. A typical Ulster town of the early 1900s is brought to life with homes, shops, workplaces, churches and schools. Costumed visitor guides, working buildings and exhibits, as well as the chance to touch, hear and do, bring history to life for visitors of all ages.
For my 2 nights in Belfast, I stayed in an old, Victorian house where I had to lug my suitcase up 3 flights of stairs and share one bathroom with five other guests. Not quite as advertised on their AirBnB listing, but a good breakfast, this one I wouldn't recommend, so I won't share the link. But the location was good as it had bus access directly to the center of Belfast right outside the door.
It was a very cold, gray, windy day but I chose to sit outside, on top so I could see lots of the city. Stops included Belfast Castle, the Titanic Quarter, Stormont (the Parliment), the Falls and Shankill Roads, the Peace Wall and the murals and the huge security gates that are still in place.
|Woman with Hula Hoop!|
|The ramparts of Belfast Castle|
The North of Ireland is part of the United Kingdom and still, if not as loudly and forthrightly, are still engaged in what has for years been known as the troubles. Though there are no longer armed guards separating the Protestant and Catholic areas of Belfast (my tour guide was very proud to point that out) or guarding the borders between the North and the South (The Republic of Ireland), once evening falls, there are still areas that you do not enter or lines you do not cross, depending on your political and religious leanings.
After 2 days in Belfast, it was time to pick up my rental car and set off to the far northern coastal areas. But let me digress a bit and tell you about renting a car in Europe - specifically in Ireland. DON'T!
I was told by a lovely Irish woman I met while in Germany teaching that the best deal was to rent through Rentalcars.com. They will find you the best rate with the best company. So I booked a tiny, 2-door, stick-shift KIA for $431.88 for 16 days. That came to $26.99 a day plus gas - reasonable, I thought. So off I go to the SIXT Car rental office to pick up my car. This is when the s--t hit the fan and you find out that there is a few more added fees you didn't know about.
Now I already knew that not one American credit card company will cover the liability waiver in Ireland. Why? Don't ask me, they just don't. They don't cover Jamacia either. So I had to purchase a daily, full-coverage liability insurance for 16 days. Then there was the fact that I was going to drive the car 'across the border' into The Republic and that was an additional daily fee. Don't forget taxes and VAT and, and, and.....for an additional total of $643.90!!! I am now up to $1075.78 for 16 days or $67.23 a day for the pleasure of wandering around on tiny, winding, badly marked, in some cases, one-lane roads for the next 16 days, all the time driving on the WRONG SIDE OF THE ROAD! The only good thing was they felt sorry for me and upgraded me to a 4-door which got 50 MPG, so my gas costs were quite small - in comparison.
|My little Kia with steering wheel on the Right (wrong) side.|
Can't tell you how many times I got in on the left side of the car to dirve!
I would have loved to have saved the expense of the car - and the stress which was a really huge part of driving here - but I could never have gone to the places I went, nor seen the sites I saw without a car. So in the end, it was worth it - until I had to return it to Belfast on my final day in Ireland, instead of Dublin, which I was near where I was staying, because they wanted another $200 for drop-off in a 'foreign country.'
So I drove 2 1/2 hours back to Belfast, arriving in the middle of morning rush hour. OMG! - I have never been so happy to have a smartphone with GoogleMaps in my entire life! I also learned, after-the-fact, that there are no gas stations along their highways, so I arrived without a full tank of gas. When I learned the closest gas station where I could fill up was 8 miles away on a busy highway near the airport, I said 'please take an additional $45, I refuse to get behind the wheel again!' I then took a cab to catch a bus to the Dublin Airport (returning along the same road I had drove on) to catch my flight to the Isle of Man.
But whoa - first we have to go back to where I started my driving adventure - picking up the car and heading North!
After studying my map in great detail, knowing I wanted to take the A2 coast road all the way up to Portrush, I said a prayer, got in the right/wrong side of the car and off I went. I had just made it out of Belfast proper and was driving through the first medium-sized town of Carrickfergus when I glanced to my right and there it stood - my first medieval Irish Castle!
Now I left the 'big cities' and with them, the roads became much narrower and more winding. Of course, round-a-bouts take the places of intersections with stop lights being almost non-existent. I drove slowly up the coast, hugging the sea and stopping to take photos whenever the mood struck. I stopped for a great little lunch at a local pub in Ballygalley and of course, had to take a pix of the quote above the bar.
I arrived at my wonderful AirBnB in Portrush just a wee bit late, but could not have been more thrilled with the location, my room or my host! Whiterocks Beachhouse was exactly what I hoped it would be - and more.
My room had huge windows overlooking the 5th hole of the Royal Portrush Golf Course, a links course and home of the 2019 British Open, and the Atlantic Ocean - wide open to all the way north to the Artic Circle.
As evening closed in on my first night, the sun chose to put to on show of colors as it went down behind the faraway hills of Donegal while my host Ian and I sipped a wee bit of Jameson's and swapped stories of our lives.
|Carrick-a-Rede Rope Bridge|
|Rocks at Giant's Causeway|
|Backside of Giant's Causeway|
My friend from Portland and I decided that one day should be devoted to exploring Londonderry/Derry. We chose to go by train as the ride there from Coleraine is said to be one of the most scenic in all of Ireland. We lucked out with a bright, sunny day and enjoyed taking the Free Walking Tour. We climbed a short flight of stairs and slowly strolled all around this fortified city on top of the city walls. The Troubles played a big roll again in this divided city and murals depicting those times are still very visible. They recently erected The Peace Bridge which spans Louch Foyle and has had such famous 'crossers' as Bill Clinton, Martin Luther King, Jr., David Cameron (British PM) and Courtney Cox (who married a guy from Derry).
|The City Gate|
|Walking on top of the wall|
|St. Columb's Cathedral - Erected 1628|
|Beautiful little church in a quite corner of the city|
|The Peace Bridge|
Walking back to my BnB via the cliff path I was sad to be leaving The North but excited to grab the ferry and head to Donegal and my drive along The Wild Atlantic Way!
OPPS! I almost left out one of the most interesting places I visited - DARK HEDGES. I met a new friend for coffee and we went to see this site the morning I was leaving Northern Ireland. This was the location for several of the Game of Thrones episodes. When you see these trees and think what the 'throne' looks like on this HBO series, you can see why they chose this road! It is now protected by the National Trust as a historic site. The trees are 100's of years old and were the entrance to the very elegant Georgian mansion pictured below - which is now the clubhouse for the golf course.
Because of the length of time I spent in Ireland and all the places I went and sites I saw, I couldn't begin to put it all in one blog! So I'm doing 4 blogs on Ireland. The 1st is The North. The 2nd will be The South - The Wild Atlantic Way and the 3rd will be The People.