I can’t believe it’s that time of the week again… this week has gone so quickly! We made it to Dublin without issue and returned our pretty blue VW Polo rental. Our friend Laura came to the airport to collect us and it was a very joyous reunion. It had been over 18 months since we farewelled her at Sydney airport when she was returning home to Ireland. When we reached her house we were very impressed with the complete internal renovation that she recently completed, especially when we saw photos from when she bought it. As if that wasn’t enough to impress, there was also a home cooked lasagna waiting for us in the oven. Irish weather is perfect for a warm hearty dish like lasagna.
Laura had organised some of her family to come over to the house that evening to surprise them with her house guests, especially since we had met her mum Dee and her sister Emer when they were in Sydney back in 2014. It was great craic from the start as we all caught up on what’s been happening. Unfortunately our excitement and enthusiasm got the better of us and we decided to head out to experience the Dublin nightlife and consequently didn’t get to bed until 5am. Don’t get me wrong, it was a great time but Sunday was a write-off because we slept all day and then didn’t feel like sightseeing. Oh well, a movie night with home delivered pizza was a nice change of pace.
On Monday we decided to head to Belfast for 3 nights as Laura had work and we thought we’d take advantage of the cheap bus service that only takes 2 hours. We decided to skimp on accommodation and stay in a hostel dorm so that we could afford to do some activities while we were there. The hostel was ok, but the guests were very cringe. I can’t put my finger on the exact reason, but it’s like they were all that little bit too friendly. Perhaps Anna and I are now socially reclusive and fear meeting others. I’ll have to observe our behaviour going forward and report back to you. The best part of the staying at the hostel was that it’s right next to the university so there was an abundance of cheap eateries. Our favourite was a local place called Maggie May’s that specialised in diner food. The Snickers milkshake was the best I’ve had in a very long time.
I’m sure when most of you think of Belfast you’ll think of catholics vs protestants, civil unrest, oppression, IRA terrorism etc. They’re all correct, but one thing we learned is that the conflict here has continued for generations and has a very complex history. To try and wrap our heads around it all we took one of the black taxi tours to see the peace walls and murals. The tour went for 2.5 hours and our driver Gerry took us to a collection of the most significant murals and showed us the most pivotal peace walls of the 17 that still exist. We were surprised to learn that the gates still automatically close each day at various times up until the last is closed at 9pm, segregating catholic and protestant communities. Gerry was very upbeat about progress in the city and how there hasn’t been any religious violence in 3 years. He outlined the plans for the walls to be brought down progressively. The amount of history and detail in his commentary was superb and we came away from the tour well enlightened. The most surprising fact I took away from the tour was Bill Clinton’s crucial role in facilitating peace talks which eventually lead to the primary ceasefire which was the turning point in Belfast’s conflict. I think the part that really sunk in was that all this conflict is so recent and is in the forefront of residents mind.
On 12th July each year protestant communities all around Northern Ireland hold parades to commemorate the anniversary of King William’s victory over catholic King James II in 1688. To further the celebrations, the communities build large bonfires using heavy machinery which then have a statue of the pope and a statue of Mary placed on top, before 3 men in KKK robes light the bonfire. It sounds crazy in this day and age, but we went and saw one of the bonfires being prepared. Apparently it was going to get twice as high and while we were there, the houses facing the field were having doorways and windows measured because they needed to be boarded up to ensure they aren’t damaged from the heat. As part of the tour we visited one peace wall that has been earmarked as the first to come down. To try and encourage the removal of the wall, exact replicas of the artworks that were on the Berlin wall have been painted onto this wall and everyone is invited to show their support by signing the wall. Well everyone except Bono according to Gerry. When we enquired why he said that arseholes aren’t allowed to sign, and Bono is an arsehole. Classic Gerry.
When we headed to Belfast we hadn’t really planned anything and we thought we’d see what was on offer. It seemed that the day tour of the Giant’s Causeway was very popular with its scenic journey along the coast of Northern Ireland. There are a bunch of companies offering the same type of tour but Anna found a half price deal online. Winning! The coastline was very scenic, but to add some excitement we opted to do the Carrick-a-Rede rope bridge. It was only 30m high but still enough to get the pulse going. Being Ireland it was raining of course, but we still managed to sneak some photos in. On our way to the Giant’s Causeway we also snuck in some filming locations of the Game of Thrones tv show. We didn’t realise but a good portion of the show is filmed in Northern Ireland. We saw the Castle Black set and we went to the dark hedges which is used as the kings road in the show. The causeway itself was very interesting with the stones that were naturally formed in the shapes of hexagonal and pentagonal prisms. It’s a very unique natural phenomenon.
The last item on our list for Belfast was the Titanic museum. We were shocked at the $AU30 pp ticket price, but this was the most interactive and media based museum that I’ve seen. It also had a ride, like a legitimate hop in, lap bar down ride which was based on the building of the Titanic’s hull. I think we spent over 4 hours going through the museum and it did a brilliant job of presenting the information in a variety of ways. The ticket also included a tour of the SS Nomadic which is of the same era as the Titanic and was used as a tender boat to ferry passengers from the small ports that couldn’t accommodate the likes of Titanic. I think the museum did a great job of taking you back to Belfast in the early 1900’s where it was considered an industrial superpower. I never knew that at that time Belfast were the world leaders in shipbuilding, and production of rope and linen.
After our stint in Belfast we realised that we hadn’t seen much of daytime Dublin, so we hit the hop on hop off bus with Laura and Dee. It’s definitely a good way to get your bearings and to work out what you want to see. We were lucky that the sun was shining and we were able to sit on the upper deck. Once we completed the full circuit we hopped off to head to an iconic chipper for some battered cod and chips. Included in the price of the bus ticket was a middy of Guinness at one of the pubs in Temple Bar so we popped in to give that a try. The Guinness here is definitely better than in Sydney and I’d say it’s because they sell so much of it here. I have noticed that most of the old fellas drinking it have quite the beer guts so I think I’m best to limit the intake. I have really enjoyed the pub scene in Dublin because it doesn’t matter what time of day it is, you can find a place with live music and good pub food on offer.
Yesterday Laura and her sisters treated us to a brunch in the posh area of Dublin and then we drove down to the coast. We couldn’t believe our luck when the sun came out as we sat down at a pub for a drink, but then it actually became hot. As in the sun had some bite and I was genuinely concerned that I was going to get sunburned! I never thought that was a possibility here.
We head to Paris on Wednesday morning where we’ll be meeting up with my parents on Friday. We have a few days up our sleeve so we’ll go to the Guinness factory and see some other sites over the next few days.
Fail of the Week
I know this blog has essentially become a food diary of all the fantastic things we’ve tried but sometimes it’s not so great. One of the things that sold us on the hostel in Belfast was the included hot breakfast. The only problem is that it’s prepared by the staff so there’s not a whole lot of love that goes into the preparation. The end result was a cold full Irish breakfast that was barely edible. I think the best part was the soggy toast.
Meal of the Week
We’ve had so much food over the last week, but the brunch takes the top prize. This accolade isn’t only based on the fact that it was unlimited champagne for 2 hours, but it reminded us of our typical cafe breakfast in Sydney. We split a big Irish breakfast and Nutella french toast. Yum!