Wednesday, June 04, 2008

Northern Ireland

I got back from Belfast last night (via Manchester, due to a flight cancellation on the part of Flybe airline). It was short trip, but fun (as always, more photos are here)

Tina and I flew out of Inveress airport at about 1:30pm, a small airport to Tina but still bigger than Charlottetown airport. The flight over took only about an hour, and then we were at Belfast City airport with Alysha greeting us.

We dropped our stuff off at the guesthouse where Alysha works and she had gotten us a room. Then we embarked on a walk about the town centre with Alysha as our tour guide (she told us that all historical dates she gave us were to within the nearest 100 years). We went up to the viewing platform in the new Victoria Shopping Centre (I'd heard about it on the BBC, it was that exciting for Belfast).
An important building of some sort in the city centre.

Then we finished off the evening by going to the Sex and the City film, and then hanging out around Alysha's.

Monday our plan was to hire a car and drive out to the north coast. First, we walked to a neighbourhood that would probably be described as "divided by the Troubles" (it might have been called Shankhill, not sure, but it was around St. Joseph's Cathedral. We hunted around for murals inspired by the troubles, and didn't find the ones that Alysha meant for us to see but found some others. We checked out the cathedral as well (filled with light and quite pretty, although appearing "new") before catching a cab to the airport to hire a car.
Fence topped with spikes around St. Joseph's Primary School; the school windows also had metal grills covering them.
A mural depicting Celtic Football Club; there's some politics in that of course.

I was to be the driver, since I have a license (an important bit) and was also the oldest of the group. Just to be informative, Tina has her learners license but hasn't driven a car in years (but she just got a scooter), and Alysha as well has her beginners, but being from BC she's already done on practical test and has to do another or something like that.

Not having booked in advance, I figured we'd have to hire a manual transmission (standard for you Canadian readers). I told the girls that it could take some practice for us to get going anywhere, but they were game. We were given a Renault Clio. The first moving around in the car park was shakey as I tried to find the biting point on the clutch, but we got rolling out and on the ring road, and then tried to figure out where we were going. We ended up heading south-east before we could get back to where we wanted to go, but that provided a good training run for me in the car. We even passed through Belfast on the way back (where roads are really, poorly, signposted) with me shimmying across lanes and not stalling (yay!). Outside of town, there was an incident of needing to turn around and having to reverse of a slight slope in a cemetery where I kept sliding into the empty mesh rubbish bin, but some spinning of tires got me out of that.

We got out on the coastal route, with the Giant's Causeway being our ulitmate destination. We stopped at Ballygally to get some snacks at a Spar convenience store which we found to be closed, so we stretched our legs and took in the view.

By this time, I was feeling quite comfortable handling stopping and starting and had even gotten my gear shifting to be quite smooth. Then we met the mother of all hills outside of Ballygally, and in trying to down shift from 3rd to 2nd gear, I ended up in 4th by mistake and stalled the car. My confidence took a major beating about being able to get it up and going without rolling back, so I made Tina get us up the hill, which she pulled off better than I would have.

After that, it took some time before my fear of getting the car stuck on some hill subsided, and at approaching hills I would ask Tina for her recommendation on gears to confirm my own theory. I did have to make some stops on slight hills, but managed to get out of them with some spinning of tires. That's a technique I need some practice on.

Anyway, back to the countryside. The coastal route was beautiful, as was the weather (it was hot in the car without air-conditioning). We stopped again at Cushendal around 2pm to get some sandwiches (I'd been so nervous driving that I hadn't felt hungry at all). Then it was along the coast until we got to Carrick-a-Rede, where there is a rope bridge from the mainland to a little, cliffed island that the locals go to for fishing salmon, and is now open to the public. Not being a fan of heights, I was worried about crossing it, but after the 1km walk down to the bridge I saw it wasn't as rickety as it could have been, so I got across it fine and even stopped to look down (I had more fear of heights in the Victoria Shopping Centre). We spent some time lying in the grass and the sun - it wasn't even too breezy, and warm enough for short-sleeves.
The rope bridge:
Nearby cliffs.

Then the last stop was the Giant's Causeway, where Alysha told us the legend as we walked down to the causeway, and then we did some more sitting and investigating. The rock columns are naturally hexagonal, but it looks like someone laid down a bunch of paving stones.

We went back to Belfast along a main A road and then the dual carriageway at my request, as I wanted a break from scary-hill-possibly-stalling driving. By the time we'd returned the car and gotten back into the city, it was about 9pm, so we found some food to eat and then went to a bar near Queen's University for the rest of the night.

Tuesday morning, we had a bit of a lie in, then sat in the Royal Botanic Gardens for a while before having lunch at the Crown Bar, an unusual old Victorian place with very private booths for eating/drinking ("snugs"). Then it was to the airport for our flight at 4pm after saying goodbye to Alysha. Hopefully we'll see her again sometime soon.
A mosaic lizard at the botanic gardens.

Some of the elaborate decorations at the Crown Bar.

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