I got back into Canada on Saturday, but drove pretty much immediately out to my parents’ place. See, it’s Thanksgiving here in Canada, and on top of that, my brother and sister-in-law were out at the farm with my nephew and niece. So I couldn’t miss the chance to see the kids.
I’m pretty tired. The trip home was long, and made doubly trying by my head cold. I was wide awake at 4:00 AM on Sunday morning through a combination of jet lag and the cold, and spent last night sleeping in a sitting position so that I could breathe. Not a lot of fun.
But I got to spend time with my niece and nephew. He’s seven, and she’s five, and they’ve just decided that they like Star Wars1, so all of a sudden all of Uncle Rick’s weirdness2 has become cool. My niece has a Darth Vader costume for Hallowe’en, and I found a Luke Skywalker costume for my nephew online, and ordered it to be waiting for him when he gets home.
But enough about that.
Man, that was an amazing three weeks. I saw so much cool stuff, and met so many great people. And found so much more cool stuff that I didn’t get a chance to see. I really need to go back. We’ll have to see when I can swing that.
Tonight is the first night I get to have a shower in my own shower and sleep in my own bed. I’m looking forward to that, though I wish my cold was gone. Tomorrow, I’m back to work. Before bed tonight, I want to rip the CDs I bought to mp3s that I can put on my iPhone and bring in to work. I also want to hit up TripAdvisor and enter some reviews for the great places I stayed and tours I took.
In the next couple of days, when I get a bit caught up, I’m going to put up one more post here. It’s a product of my obsessive tech writer mind – a Lessons Learned evaluation: what worked well, what didn’t, what I want to change for next time. At that point, this blog is going to go dormant. It won’t come down, but it won’t be updated.
At least, not until I start planning my next trip…
Well, the prequel trilogy, anyway. What do you expect? They’re kids. And the prequel movies are a great kids’ gateway to some really good science fiction. [↩]
Okay, maybe not all. That might be expecting too much. [↩]
Back in Dublin for my last night in Ireland. I was sorry to leave the Old Rectory – in fact, I spent so long talking1 to Mary and her daughter, I thought for a second I was going to miss my bus to Dublin. I could easily have spent another week there.
Back in Dublin, I checked into the hotel near the airport, and then took the bus into the city centre to do some last-minute gift-buying. When I got off the bus on O’Connell Street, it felt oddly like coming home. I really love this city.
I could live here.
Of course, as I walked down to Grafton Street, the sky was more clear and blue than I think I’ve seen it on this trip. And I hadn’t brought my camera. Oh, well.
The trip has been a lot of fun. I’ve very tired, with a bit of a cold, and am ready to go home. But I’m also really sorry to leave Ireland. This is an amazing place – both countries. I’ve met so many nice people, and seen so many awesome places – even with the few things I missed doing2, this trip has been everything I might have hoped.
So, farewell, Ireland. Thanks for everything. I’ll miss you.
So, I woke up this morning feeling like I’m coming down with a cold. I’m not happy about that, but I’m glad it held off so long. It’s going to make the flight home unpleasant, but at least it didn’t really cut in to my trip very much.
I hauled myself out of bed, and got moving with a fair bit of effort. The breakfast put a much nicer light on the day, and I went off to wander Belfast on a last rainy day.
My first stop was the city centre, because I knew where there was a pharmacy, and I needed cold medicine and ibuprofen. While I was down there, I went back to Victoria Square, because it’s a very cool shopping centre.
After that, I headed out to see the Ulster Museum. The bus stop was right in front of Queens University.
The rain let up for a little while around then, and I took the opportunity to take a wander around the Botanic Gardens that surround the Ulster Museum.
I also managed to have lunch at The Crown, the oldest bar in Belfast. It’s a glorious place, full of etched glass, stamped tin roof, gold trim, and actual gaslights. It was way too packed for me to get a picture, but you can see one here.
I also tried walking out to the area where the Titanic was built, but it really started raining again, and I lost my motivation. Sorry, gang.
So, I made it back to the Old Rectory. Tonight is my last night here, and then I’m back to Dublin on the bus. I want to hit Grafton Street one last time to pick up some last-minute gifts for folks back home.
Y’know, I’ve stayed in some really good places on this trip: Ariel House, Garnish House, The Moorings, Saddler’s House. Now, I’m at the Old Rectory and I have to say I like it best of all. This is not to denigrate any of the other places I’ve stayed – they were all great – but the Old Rectory is absolutely amazing.
Mary and Gerry are both great people – friendly and helpful and very welcoming. My room is great, and breakfast this morning was the best I’ve had in Ireland. Again, this is not to say I haven’t had good breakfasts in other places, but this one tops it.
So, if you’re coming to Belfast (and you should come to Belfast – it’s a wonderful city), this is the place you want to stay.
Today I took a tour of the Antrim Coast with the Black Taxi company. Norman was my driver, and he was a really good guide. Unfortunately, it rained pretty much all day, so we didn’t linger at a lot of places, and where I did go, I got soaked. This also meant that some of my pictures didn’t turn out because of water on my camera lens. But I got some.
Our first stop was the Carrick-A-Rede rope bridge.
The next stop was the Giant’s Causeway. It really started raining and blowing out there, so I have fewer usable pictures than I wanted.
Then we were on to Dunluce Castle.
At that point, cold and wet and tired – there was a lot of walking, and a lot of that walking involved steep hills and slippery stone steps – we headed back to Belfast. I spent some time drying off and warming up, and then went out to dinner. I had planned to go to a restaurant called The Barking Dog, which Mary had recommended, but they were booked. Instead, I went around the corner to a place called Abacus and had some very nice chow mein.
Tomorrow, I’m going to hit the Ulster Museum, Friar’s Bush, and The Crown. My trip is almost done.
This is going to be a short update. I spent most of the day getting from Derry to Belfast. I’m staying at the Old Rectory, which is not really within walking distance of the bus station1, so I broke down and took a taxi rather than try an suss out the bus schedule.
The Old Rectory is amazing. My room is large, comfortable, and beautiful, and the welcome was warm and helpful. In no time at all, I had all the information I needed to find my way back to the city centre on the bus – and then back to the B&B, which is the important bit. Also, a list of good places to eat.
So, I headed off to the city centre to take a look around. Not a lot of pictures, but a couple.
One of the things I find I really like about every city I’ve seen in Ireland is that they all have a pedestrian-only shopping district near the city centre. Belfast is no different in that regard, but it also merges the shopping area into a large shopping centre that is open to the air except for a dome. It was a very cool place, and I’m upset that the pictures I took are all crap. I’ll have to head back there and try again.
While I was there, though, I noticed that the theatre was about to start showing Tinker, Tailor, Soldier, Spy, which I had been wanting to see. And I went and saw it.
And that’s why I don’t have more to show you today. Tomorrow, though, is my tour of the city and the Antrim coast. Should have plenty of pictures for you from that.
Well, it kind of is, but not when I’m carrying my luggage. [↩]
Derry is an amazing city. I’ve spent most of the day walking around the place, and now the sun’s going down on my last day here. I’ve circled the walls at least three times today, on top, within, and without, and quartered the old city. I’ve been to museums and cathedrals and murals, and talked to people1 all over the place, and I have to say that I love this city.
The city is scarred, though, by two things in its past: the Siege of Derry in 1689, and the Troubles which centre around Bloody Sunday in 19722. These two events have created a polarized culture that is only recently starting to come together and recognize that they share more similarities than differences.
I am not going to talk too much about the cause, meaning, and issues of the Troubles here; it’s absurd for someone from the Canadian prairies to pretend he’s got even an inkling of understanding about them. But I do need to talk about some of the events, so that my time here makes a little sense. If I get things wrong, I hope those of you with clearer understanding of things will go easy on me. I mean no offence.
The Saddler’s House offers the wonderful kind of breakfast I’m starting to take for granted here in Ireland. They are certainly second to none of the places I’ve stayed, and the smaller size of the operation meant I got to meet some of the other folks staying here, as well3, and Bertie came in to say hello to everyone, as well.
After breakfast, I headed off to the tour that Joan had recommended the previous day, with Martin McCrossan’s City Tours. Our guide was John McNulty, and he was fantastic – though that’s what I’ve come to expect from the tour guides in Ireland. He called the tour the “warts and all” tour, and painted a very vivid picture of Derry’s history, even the dark and terrible bits, while still showing what hope the city has for the future, and the way peace is transforming this troubled area.
After the tour, I spent several hours wandering around to take some looks at the things John had pointed out in passing. Here’s what I saw today.
Okay. I found out about the Apprentice Boys. Here’s the story.
In 1688, word reached the city that James II was coming to assert catholic rulership. A letter captured from the Jacobites talked about how the protestants of the city would be massacred. While the city leaders debated how to respond to this threat, thirteen apprentice boys ran and locked the gates in the face of the king’s envoys. This led to the Siege of Derry, which began the following April, and lasted 105 days, before ships sent by William of Orange managed to reach the city and relieve the siege.
So, the Apprentice Boys are seen as heroes of Derry. But they’re divisive heroes, because they are representative of a protestant victory, and a catholic defeat. The Apprentice Boys clubs still commemorate their deeds, marching to celebrate the closing of the gates and the relief of the city. In recent years, the celebration has become tied to the Maiden Festival4, and turned into a less-partisan kind of festival.
I also went to see one of the most impressive buildings in the city – the Guildhall.
Derry is a wonderful city. I should have booked more time here5, but I’m off to Belfast tomorrow. If you’re coming to Ireland, though, I recommend a visit here. Despite the war-torn history, the city is welcoming, friendly, and beautiful, and reaching towards a lasting and inclusive peace.
And I have to just interject at this point that, even though I knew that the accent and dialect would be a little different in Northern Ireland, I am startled at how much different – and more Scottish to my ear – it is here. We just don’t get that kind of variation in Canada. [↩]
Though the roots stretch farther back than that, and the effects reach forward to this day. [↩]
Including someone wearing a Miskatonic University shirt, which warmed my betentacled heart. [↩]
Among its other names, Derry/Londonderry is also called the Maiden City, because after three sieges, it’s walls were still unbreached. [↩]
Of course, I could easily have spent more time in every place I’ve been on this trip. [↩]
I’ve made it to Derry1, in Northern Ireland. So far, by sheer luck, pretty much everywhere I’ve stayed has been within easy walking distance of the bus station, and this is no exception. It’s nice – gives me more a feeling of independence if I don’t always have to ask for directions or take cabs. As a side note, I’m also getting pretty good at napping on the bus rides.
The ride up from Galway was about five and a half hours, which gave me ample time to read, look at the scenery, and nap from time to time. When the bus crossed into Northern Ireland, my iPhone informed me that I was now under the umbrella of 3 UK, which meant that I would incur roaming charges for data, etc. I had not thought of that when I got my iPhone and iPad set up on the Republic’s 3 network. Oh, well.
So, I ate some roaming charges using my GPS app to find my way to The Saddler’s House, where I’m staying. As I said, it’s easily within walking distance of the bus station, so even hauling my bags, it was no problem. There, I checked in and met Bertie, the bulldog2, took a little time to freshen up in my room, and went out to see the city.
I was also starving, having skipped breakfast in Galway to make it to the bus station on time, and not having stopped long enough along the way to grab any food. Joan, who runs the B&B suggested a local pub where they were also playing traditional music today. Of course, I forgot to make note of the name and location of the place, and couldn’t find it when I went looking. I wound up just grabbing a burger.
But I did get to see the walls.
Tomorrow, my plan was to go and see the Bogside Artist Tour, and see the murals in Bogside, but Joan has told me that there are other murals around, as well, and that a better tour to see all of them, and get a more balanced look at the Troubles – as well as a look at the entire history of Derry – is Martin McCrossan’s City Tours. So, that’s my plan for tomorrow morning. In the afternoon, I’ll go look at anything I might have missed.
Note that it’s also called Londonderry, and Derry/Londonderry, where the slash is pronounced stroke, thus it’s also sometimes called Stroke City. I don’t know what the rules for the naming conventions are, so I’m throwing my hands in the air and calling it Derry. I hope that doesn’t offend anyone. [↩]
Confession time. I love dogs. The fact that this B&B advertised having a bulldog on the premises was what tipped me over to book here. Bertie is a very nice bulldog. [↩]
My last night in Galway. Also, the end of my second week of vacation.
Today I was on a tour through the Burren and to the Cliffs of Moher, with the Galway Tour Company. I cannot say enough good things about the tour company. Yesterday, Mike took me into Connemara, and today Gary took me into the Burren. Both drivers acted as guides, and were fun, funny, knowledgable, and friendly. Both days, we stopped at little, out-of-the-way spots that seemed almost like local secrets, as well as hitting the big tourist areas. These drivers went above and beyond to make sure we all had a good time, and they seem to be indicative of the type of people working for Galway Tour Company.
In short, if you want a tour in this area, these are the people you need to talk to. They’re awesome. So, thanks, Gary and Mike!
The Burren is a rocky, mountainous expanse. Now, I said the same thing about Connemara and the Ring of Kerry, but burren means rocky place in Irish, and it’s something of an understatement.
So, that was today. Tomorrow, I get on the bus for about six hours, heading to Derry/Londonderry. I’ve got about one week left in Ireland, and I mean to make the most of it.
This morning was my bus tour of Connemara. It was raining pretty hard when we started, and the first couple of places we stopped I was very happy for my Tilley hat and good hiking shoes.
Connemara is, like the Ring of Kerry, very striking scenery on the west coast of Ireland – mountainous, cut with hundreds of tiny streams and several large loughs. The roads are narrow and winding, and there are a lot1 sheep wandering up and down the mountains.
Our first stop was Ross Errilly Friary, which I am told is the best-preserved building of its age and type in Europe. It was still raining, so the pictures aren’t great.
After the Friary, it was on to the village of Cong, where the 1951 John Wayne and Maureen O’Hara movie The Quiet Man was shot. It was still raining, so I didn’t get to see as much as I might have liked, but I did see a little.
We moved on into Connemara itself, then, up through the mountain passes.
Our stop for lunch was Kylemore Abbey, where we stayed for two hours. There was a lot to see, and the rain had stopped by this point.
Three rooms have been opened to the public by the Benedictine Nuns who ran the abbey as a school until a couple of years ago. These have been restored to the way they would have looked in the mid-to-late nineteenth century.
Past the abbey is a nice walk through the woods to the gothic church2 and the mausoleum3. The woods are similar to the ones around where I live, but much wetter.
Up the other direction from the abbey is one of the largest walled Victorian gardens in the world. Much of it was still in bloom, even at the end of September.
On the way back to Galway, we made one more stop.
It was a nice trip, with a lot of stunning scenery. The guide, Mike, was both knowledgable and friendly, and really added to the day by taking us to see some little-known scenic spots4.
Tomorrow, I’m back with the same tour company5 to tour the Burren and the Cliffs of Moher. I’m looking forward to it.
I’m a little over half-way through my trip, and made it to Galway today. I’ve spent a lot of the last several days on buses, and when I got to Galway, I just didn’t have the energy to go out and take a bus tour of the city. I’ve got two bus tours in the next two days, so I decided that I would take some time to relax this afternoon1, and just take a walk around the area by my hotel to see what I could see.
I picked the Jury’s Inn in Galway because of its location, and that turned out to be a great choice. It’s right on the edge of the medieval section of the city, and perfect for taking a stroll around with a camera.
So, after taking a couple of hours to walk around and see stuff, I came back to the hotel for dinner, and to give them a bag of dirty laundry to the front desk – I am out of clean shirts, but that will be fixed by tomorrow evening.
Now, I think I’m going to kick back, do some reading, and get an early night in. Tomorrow, I’m off to Connemara.
I’m getting a little worn, to tell the truth. I need to make sure I’m getting enough rest and eating right so that I don’t wind up sick for the last half of my trip. [↩]