A Travellerspoint blog

Homeward Bound

Our ride home.

Our ride home.

This is a first for me, I’ve always meant to finish off each adventure with one last post. Kind of a wrap up of the highlights and frustrations that made the trip special. So here I am, bored to death, on a nine hour flight across the planet with nothing else to do. If you bare with me, I’ll try to recap some of the most memorable things about our trip. By the way, thank you to those who made the occasional comment. Even though I know several of you were following our adventures, the comments helped keep me going.

Malahide Castle

Malahide Castle

The great hall

The great hall

Our last day in Ireland included eating our last “full Irish breakfast”, visiting our last Irish castle, and the last of the impossibly narrow Irish roads. Yes, my friend google did it to me again. We will always remember the friendly Irish people, from the friendly drunk in the pub, to those who went out of their way to give us directions when lost.

Karen and I agree that one of our favorite thing in Ireland is the scenery. The most spectacular being the rugged coastline. The interior is like a patchwork quilt of tiny fields of many colors and textures. We were surprised by the lush forest we found in all corners of the country. No, Ireland doesn’t have the majestic mountains of the western US, but the mountains here are very rugged and beautiful.

I can’t say enough about the nice people we met along the way. Staying most of the time in B&Bs we had a chance to visit with lots of people from many walks of life. Every one of our hosts was genuinely interested in our journey and all were anxious to share their favorite parts of Ireland. We met a few characters along the way too, and all were very talkative. One thing that I’ve learned is that when ever I engaged anyone (just walking down the street, or sitting at breakfast) a conversation would develop. I’ve decided that I must truly be Irish, I seem to be able to out talk even an Irishman.

I’ve totally lost count of how many castles, ruins, ancient forts, and churches we’ve seen. I enjoyed all of it, some more than others. I think my favorite castle was in Killkenny. My favorite church was in Dublin, and favorite ancient site was New Grange. I really like old stuff so I had lots of fun poking around as we traveled.

Driving, well this was a road trip. My experiences driving were a big part of what I’ll remember about this trip. Everything you may have heard about driving in Ireland is probably true. There are only a few motorways (freeways to us) and they seldom allow you to see much of the country. The majority of the national highways (the “N” roads) vary from comfortably wide to ridiculously narrow. The rest of the roads are just very narrow, bumpy, and twisty. Many of the small country roads are single lane with pull-outs. In the end I’ve adjusted pretty well, but it takes nerves of steel.

Irish drivers all drive way too fast. They’ve obviously never had driver training or safety classes. You either have to join them or get run over. Here its normal to see farm tractors, either by themselves or towing something big, driving down the road (even the motorway!). My scariest experience was meeting a semi truck on a tight curve, on a very narrow road, at a high rate of speed. He was over the center line, in my lane. I can swear that two things really can occupy the same space at the same time, we’re living proof.

I would still have to say that driving is the best way to get around in Ireland. Even though it could be frightening. The trains just don’t go to many places, primarily the bigger cities. Traveling by bus could be alright if you can take the time to work out the routes and how to use them. For getting around in the cities busses and light rail are very good once you get them figured out. We saw lots of bikers bicycling around he country, but that’s for the young and fit.

We’ll miss Ireland and we’ll always have fond memories of our adventures. Having said that though, we are anxious to get home and get back to our normal lives. The garden, my trains, Karen’s scrapbooking, and most of all, our friends and neighbors. As much as we’ve come to love Ireland, there just isn’t any place else like home.

Jim & Karen

PS, We’re home now and wandering around in packing. It was a fantastic trip!

Posted by olytrains 08:35 Comments (1)

Winding Down

Jim at New Grange

Jim at New Grange

Today was our last full day in Ireland. As usual, things never go quite as we had planned, but it did turn out to be a great day. It was almost a miracle that we were able to negotiate our way out of Belfast without so much as a hiccup. Once on the motorway south we just cruised along until it was time to change highways. Then fate stepped in and we got a bit turned around (yes, on a round-about). We wound up a bit lost, right in front of a McDonalds (the first McDonalds we’ve seen since leaving Dublin).

Since we didn’t get breakfast (old people shouldn’t stay at Air B&Bs), we were able to get the familiar fare served at Mickey D’s. As we were finishing and studying our map, a very nice woman asked if we needed help. Soon we were back on the highway headed for our destination. The Irish are so nice.

New Grange

New Grange

Entry to the burial chamber

Entry to the burial chamber

Our bus to New Grange site

Our bus to New Grange site

Karen at New Grange

Karen at New Grange

We didn’t have reservations to see New Grange, but thought we’d take a chance and see if we could get in anyway. It turns out that the visitor center is closed for renovation and they were giving out free tickets to anyone who asked. We did have to wait a couple of hours for our appointed time, so we drove a few kilometers over to the site of the Battle of the Boyne.

The Manor at Old Bridge

The Manor at Old Bridge

Gardens at the Manor

Gardens at the Manor

The River Boyne

The River Boyne

OK, I think it’s time for a short Irish history lesson. New Grange is an ancient burial mound that dates back 5,200 years. There are several reasons that this is significant, but I won’t go into all of that. You can look it up if you want to know more (I’d just get the facts wrong anyway). Then there’s The Battle of the Boyne. Remember the parades and celebrations we encountered while in Northern Ireland? They were celebrating the victory at The Battle of the Boyne. Good for the English Protestants, bad for the Irish Catholics. OK, so much for history.

There is a large manor house at the site of the battle, I have no idea who built it or when, but the grounds are very pretty and the gardens are very colorful. After hiking around awhile, it was time to head back for our tour of New Grange. We eventually boarded busses that took us to the site for the tour. Karen says it was well worth the time and effort.

Downtown Slane

Downtown Slane

Karen at Slane Castle

Karen at Slane Castle

Slane Castle

Slane Castle

The old stables

The old stables

Finally we headed to the village of Slane. We had big plans, but they didn’t work out very well. We walked the 1km from the B&B to the castle only to find that we missed the last tour. So, we walked back into town and explored a little. We were hoping to buy some goodies to eat tomorrow on the airplane, but the bakery was closed. OK, next we walked to the hotel in town to get dinner. The hotel was having a plumbing problem, so guess what? The restaurant was closed until 6:00. We decided to find a pub and have a drink while we waited. We did get our refreshment, but the pub was dirty and sleezie. At 6:00 we walked back to the hotel only to find out they were still closed with no opening time in sight. Is this beginning to sound like a pattern?

The cafe at Slane Castle

The cafe at Slane Castle

Not too be deterred, beside we were getting really hungry, we walked all the way back to the castle (the only restaurant near town that was open) and finally had dinner. It was either that or starve. Once back to our room we’ve been re-packing so we’ll be ready to head to the airport tomorrow. It turned out to be a good day, even if it wasn’t quite as planned.

I may try to write my last chapter on the airplane tomorrow. Its a long flight and I’ve got to do something while sitting there. I hope you’ve enjoyed reading my blog as much as I’ve enjoyed writing it. Until tomorrow,

Jim

Posted by olytrains 14:21 Comments (2)

Ship Ahoy!

Knife edge bow

Knife edge bow

OMG! I’m not sure my body can take much more vacation. I wouldn’t trade our experiences for anything, but my body is starting to give out (couldn’t have nothing to do with age could it). Trying to see a city as big as Belfast in one day is impossible. Its not nearly as big as Dublin, but then we didn’t do more than scratch the surface in Dublin either. We gave Belfast our best try, but like I said we’re slowing down.

The Titanic Experience

The Titanic Experience

Construction of the Olympic, Titanic, and Britannic

Construction of the Olympic, Titanic, and Britannic

The Nomadic

The Nomadic

The first half of our day was about ships. Two in particular, the Titanic and the HMS Caroline. Now I’m sure you all are familiar with the story of the Titanic, you have to live in a bubble not to. We toured The Titanic Experience this morning. For oblivious reasons there isn’t anything of the actual ship to see, but “The Experience” really brings the story to life. We were able to stand in the exact place where titanic was constructed, it serves as a memorial to those who lost their lives. If you have any interest in the Titanic, or ships of that era, you have to see this exhibit.

Belfast Harbor

Belfast Harbor

HMS Caroline

HMS Caroline

Karen and one of the 4” guns

Karen and one of the 4” guns

View from the bridge

View from the bridge

After touring the Titanic Experience we walked up the waterfront to the resting place of the HMS Caroline. This is a Royal Navy light cruiser that was launched in 1914. It was nearly a contemporary of the Titanic and was ahead of her time in design. The HMS Caroline could race along at a speedy 33 knots, which is still considered fast over a century later. Karen and I spent way more time touring the Caroline than we expected. The stories of combat in WW 1 and the part that the HMS Caroline played in the battle of Jutland were very interesting.

I guess I should mention that we left the car parked today, I’m not going tp try driving around downtown Belfast. For a nominal fare we took a taxi across tow to the “Titanic Quarter”. To get back into the city center we hopped the bus and zip, we were right downtown. Since we were the only ones on the bus our bus driver gave us some ideas of places to see. So, after a marginal lunch in a chain cafe, we hopped the #1b bus and rode to the stop closest to Belfast Castle.

Belfast Castle

Belfast Castle

I had never thought that there were hills (almost mountains for Ireland) on the edge of the city. You can guess where the castle is, right? After a hike up hill, through neighborhoods we emerged at the entry to the castle. Continuing upward, suddenly we could see the castle peaking above the trees. It was worth the climb though. The castle belongs to the city and is free to enter and explore. Many of the rooms are used for an event venue, so they aren’t always open. To be fair, only the basement and first two floors are open tp the public. The oldest part of the castle dates back to the Normans of the 12th century. Currently the decor is in the style of the 19th century, still very pretty.

Closed up shops

Closed up shops

Pedestrian mall in Belfast

Pedestrian mall in Belfast

Lots of interesting old architecture

Lots of interesting old architecture

Tim Hortons in Belfast?  Yep!

Tim Hortons in Belfast? Yep!

The way back to the bus stop was, you guessed right again, all down hill (smilie face). Again the #1 took us back downtown where we did some serious exploring. Downtown Belfast is a mixture of run down, boarded up buildings and shiny new re-development. We saw plenty of both. The one downside is that today was day 4 of a “bank holiday” and many shops and eateries were closed. Take the time when planning your trip to avoid bank holidays in Northern Ireland.

Not another beer picture

Not another beer picture

Belfast City Hall

Belfast City Hall


Queens University, Belfast

Queens University, Belfast

Our ride home

Our ride home

After dinner the # 8 bus took us right back to our neighborhood. Public transit in Belfast is pretty easy to use and the bus drivers were all very helpful and friendly (aren’t we all though). Once back to,our apartment we both just sort of crashed. I’ve mustered all of the energy I have left to write a blog entry this evening. Karen finally gave up and went to bed at 9:00. Actually writing the blog entry is the fun part, its getting the photos onto the blog website thats a royal pain. Before our next rip I may try to find a more user friendly blog site.

Tomorrow we’re off the the Republic again for our last night in Ireland. We’re staying in the village of Slane, about half an hour from Dublin Airport.

Until tomorrow, good night.

Posted by olytrains 13:50 Comments (1)

Just Coasting

Driving the Antrim Coast

Colorful Ireland

Colorful Ireland

Today has been pretty much a blur. We traveled from Portrush to Belfast today. Not that its so awfully far, and hour and a half if you take the shortest route. Of course the whole point of this trip is to se the sights, so we took the long way. Most of our journey was along the Antrim Coast, but part of the time we were driving through countryside and forest. We drove through some honest to goodness forest today, groves of tall evergreens that looked a lot like home. Because traffic was moving so fast and there were no turnouts I couldn’t stop for pictures, but then you already know what our forests look like.

Near Giants Causeway

Near Giants Causeway

Karen posing in the morning sun

Karen posing in the morning sun

Climbing on The Giants Causeway

Climbing on The Giants Causeway

Crowded Giants Causeway

Crowded Giants Causeway

Tide pools at Giants Causeway

Tide pools at Giants Causeway

With the threat of traffic and closed roads on our route, we got an early start (OK, early for us anyway). We did manage to avoid the traffic and crowds, so we made good time to our first stop, The Giants Causeway. We elected to take the guided walking tour down the trail to the causeway (or stones as our guide called them). Even though we were early, there were crowds climbing all over the “stones” by the time we got down to the water. No matter, the views on the way down were spectacular.

Along the Antrim Coast

Along the Antrim Coast

Carrick-a-Rede Rope Bridge

Carrick-a-Rede Rope Bridge

White Park Bay

White Park Bay

Cliffs

Cliffs

Refreshments anyone?

Refreshments anyone?

When we got back to the visitor center we headed it for our drive along the coast. We drove along cliffs, small towns, and beaches. We made several photo stops along the way, but traffic was heavy and moving way too fast to see much while we were moving. I should also mention that the coast road is one of those narrow winding roads that I usually love. There was just so much traffic.

Oh, I haven’t mentioned (but you probably noticed from the pictures) the sun was out again today. Bright blue sky and vivid colors, wow it was nice. Along the way we made a pit stop for, you guessed it, cake and coffee.

Carrickfergus Castle

Carrickfergus Castle

By mid afternoon we had reached Carrickfergus, a busy coastal town with a big castle. We stopped to tour the castle and take a break from the road. The main structure in the castle was closed for roof replacement, but the rest was open to explore. Castle Carrickfergus is another of the 12th century Norman castles that are common throughout Ireland.

Our home in Belfast

Our home in Belfast

Queens University, Belfast

Queens University, Belfast

River Logan, Belfast

River Logan, Belfast

Stately homes in Belfast

Stately homes in Belfast

From Carrickfergus it was only another half hour to Belfast. In fact you can see Belfast Harbor across the bay from Carrickfergus. Karen’s superb navigating skills took us through town and to our Air BnB right on the edge of downtown. We are in a beautiful old three story Victorian house on a tree lined street, across from Queens University.

We are now back from dinner and relaxing from a busy day of traveling. Frankly I’m wiped out. Almost three weeks of traveling is beginning to show. I plan to get to bed early so we can get an early start tomorrow. In the morning we’ve booked a tour of the Titanic Experience, what ever that is. I hope its better than the Guinness Experience.

Until tomorrow,

Jim
PS. Two more days to go and we head home.

Posted by olytrains 13:59 Comments (1)

The 148th Open

Here we are at Dunluce Castle

Here we are at Dunluce Castle

There are signs everywhere within 20 miles of Portrush advertising the 148th Open. Open what you might ask. I don’t know, but it involves golf. It seems Portrush has attracted golfers from far and wide to compete. There isn’t an empty parking place for miles and I’ve never seen traffic like this. Imagine rush hour traffic on I-5 strung out for miles on one and a half lane roads all over the countryside.

Our B&B for the night

Our B&B for the night

Amusement park at Portrush

Amusement park at Portrush

The harbor at Portrush

The harbor at Portrush

Of course we’re spending the night in Portrush, It took us seemingly forever to get here. Although our timing with the weather has been great, this is the third major event we’ve gotten tangled up in. There was the Pride Parade in Dublin, the Orange Parades and festivities in Enniskillen, and now the Open (could it be the British Open I wonder). Well, we’re getting out of town as early as we can to avoid the closed roads and traffic (with some luck).

View looking west from the wall

View looking west from the wall

Back street in old Derry

Back street in old Derry

Canons on the wall

Canons on the wall

Re-enactment on the city wall

Re-enactment on the city wall

The Peace Bridge

The Peace Bridge

Today we had a nice easy drive to Derry (Londonderry). We were able to pull right in to a big parking garage right outside the walled old city. A one hour walk around town turned into three and involved many forays in different directions. Derry was much prettier than I had expected. So many pretty old buildings mixed in with ultra modern new construction. Derry is one of the few places with a completely intact city wall.

A train along the River Foyle

A train along the River Foyle

Look, a train!

Look, a train!

After walking for a couple of hours we were a might peckish, so we stopped for cake and coffee. Its getting to be a habit now. We then continued around the wall so we could say we walked all the way around. Oh, and we managed to see our first train in Ireland. After all this time I had about given up on seeing one.

Dunluce Castle

Dunluce Castle

Still clinging to the cliffs

Still clinging to the cliffs

Ruins of Dunluce

Ruins of Dunluce

The north coast

The north coast

From Derry we drove out to the north coast and followed an ever decreasing (in width that is) road to the Dunluce Castle Ruins. This is where we began to get tangled up in the traffic from the Open. The ruins at Dunluce are very impressive and the signage and information at the visitors center really helped us understand the history of the castle. There are breathtaking views from the cliffs at Dunluce. We were actually able to see one of the Scottish islands across the channel. Its not much wider than the Straights of Juan de Fuca here.

Dunluce is only about five miles from our B&B at Portrush, but it took over half an hour to get here through the traffic. The golf course is between here and the castle. The B&B we’re staying in is really cool. We are right across the street from the ocean and have views from our window out to the North Sea and the beach.

Time seems to have slipped by, so I need to wrap up for the night. Stay tuned for more from Belfast tomorrow.

Jim

Posted by olytrains 14:54 Comments (1)

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