As we boarded our one-way flight from Prague to Dublin, we could hardly contain our anticipation. Robert and Delphine! Last we saw them somewhere in Mexico. La Paz maybe? We discussed a rendezvous in Europe, but I don’t think any of us expected it to happen.
Experiencing a new place with someone local makes a profound difference to your trip. It transforms your time into a richer, deeper journey to the soul of a place. In this case, we had the joy of seeing Northern Ireland “from the inside out.”
Our image of Northern Ireland is a manufactured caricature of the reality. That much I assumed thanks to recognizing the disconnect between Mexico on TV (scary) and Mexico in reality (safe & fun). Prior to living in Mexico we had no reason to question the TV version of Mexico.
We have heard the dictum “No news is good news.” However, the reverse is true as well. Good news isn’t fit to print. The logical consequence of these facts is a warped image of a place you’ve never been to. We had it with Mexico, and we have it again with Belfast.
Despite Ryanair being a low-cost airline we had a pleasurable trip. Arrival at the Dublin airport was uneventful – save for a brief exchange in Customs.
“Will you be spending any time in the Republic then?” Asked the cheerful customs agent in her adorable melodic voice.
We are currently in the Dublin airport. The airport is in the Republic of Ireland. Therefore yes we are spending time in the Republic. Doesn’t that mean “yes” for every individual that meanders through the gate? Aren’t we in the Republic now? Am I taking too long to answer? Am I holding up the line?
“No.” I replied. Our plan was to head straight for Belfast.
This led to a new question.
“How long will you be in Northern Ireland?”
“Three days.” It took we a few moments to even remember. Is three days suspicious? Must not have been because there were no further questions.
She scribbled the information in a notebook (including the exact date on which we had to leave.) That was all there was to it. Easy. Next we found Robert and Delphine who had been kind enough to pick us up at the airport. Night fell by time we started driving north. Lots to catch up on during the car ride. Mexico, boat maintenance blues, etc. Time flew with good conversation and we arrived at the house in beautiful Belfast.
Ireland is not known for its tropical climate, but we had three of the best warm sunny days on record. (Notice we’re still wearing jackets.) The plan for our first day included ending up at the Giant’s causeway with stops along the way. Shades of green you’ve never seen burst out of the coastal cliffs. They really cannot be captured except for the human eye.
The four of us pondered sailing the isolated peninsulas of Northwest Scotland. We even had a nautical chart to look over which was firing our imaginations. Scotland is a quick sail across the passage even for the leisurely pace under sail. There was just the little problem of getting them here from Mexico. Ah, maybe next year.
Ballycastle was a perfect lunch stop. Nondescript cafes and homes dotted the coast. Seeing a small marina surrounded by the expansive North Atlantic reminded us of every other marina – except for the temperature of course.
A ferry occasionally leaves from Ballycastle for Rathlin island to the north. The peaceful scene was made complete with three small children playing in the beach park. We sat down for a delicious home-made hot meal at the cafe. Time to move on.
The Giant’s Causeway
Next we made it to the Giant’s causeway. This unique natural spectacle is due to a bizarre heat-induced volcanic phenomenon. The name of the site comes from the legend of a giant who built a bridge of columns across the sea from Scotland to Ireland.
An Irish giant named Finn MacCool was prompted to fight a Scottish giant by the name of Benandonner. Finn ran off until his wife thought of an idea. She dressed Finn up in baby clothes.
When Benandonner saw the Irish “baby” as big as a whale – he ran back to Scotland and destroyed the bridge, leaving only what you see today remaining.
Besides the four of us, we were joined by a hundred other tourists.Fortunately there was plenty of space to spread out . An expensive-looking building complete with an extensive gift shop, large restrooms, a film theatre for the kids, and a small army of park rangers to staff it announce the World Heritage status of this place. At an average pace it takes 15-20 minutes to walk from the entrance building to the causeway peninsula. It sure is a idyllic stroll.
We can no longer look at water without automatically thinking like a sailor. What is the wind doing? Any hazards in the water nearby? Other vessels? The conditions would have been perfect for a day sail. At least one other sailor had the same intention and was rounding the point for ports unknown.
Belfast Driving Tour
The next day we remained in Belfast. Robert treated us to an excellent driving tour of the city. Murals commemorating the troubles cried out for a hopeful future.
We stopped by the huge shipyard that build the Titanic. Robert offered the following comment:
“The Irish built it, and the English sank it.”
Damn, thats a great line. I’m going to have to remember that.
An Irish Tradition – Guinness
He also showed us the schools he attended, and some of the usual tourist spots. By early afternoon, I was becoming unhinged for lack of a Guinness. Our friends took us to a local pub for a great conversation about anything and everything. We always have wonderful evenings with those two!
Something amusing happened during dinner our last night. We noticed that the word “wee” gets used to excess in Northern Ireland. Would you like a wee drink? Are you feeling a wee ill? Perhaps you’d like to sit at the wee table in the corner? How about a wee nightcap? (This one is especially dangerous) On our driving tour there was even a daycare named for the word. Back to dinner – the best use of all was by the cute young waitress when she asked about the bill:
“Shall I bring the wee credit card machine then?”
I expected her to return with a machine the size of a SIM card but no – it was the normal credit card reader.
Ireland: Heaven knows we will miss you more than a wee bit.