Short post tonight. Need to get some sleep before tomorrow. Also, nothing much new to report. I’ve spent the day traveling on the buses to get from Belfast down to Doolin. I checked out of the Old Rectory around 9:00 this morning, and got to Doolin around 8:00 this evening. So, not much to show you from the trip – pictures of bus stations aren’t all that interesting. I did manage a few pictures, though:
All the above pictures were taken with my iPad, because I was too tired to dig my real camera out of my bag at the various times. Tomorrow, when I1 take the ferry out to Inisheer, I’ll have my camera with me, and I’ll bring it into the pub for better pictures.
Bedtime, now. It’s about a two-mile walk to the ferries tomorrow, so I need to get started early.
Today was an expedition to Marble Arch Cave1 out near Enniskillen in Co. Fermanagh. It’s about a two-hour bus ride from Belfast, and then a twenty-minute taxi ride from the bus station. I was a little concerned about the logistics involved, but it all worked out very easily. Got a taxi ride from Gerry of Charity Minibus Hire right at the bus station, and he gave me a card to call him when I was done at the cave. Gerry was also helpful pointing out the views, letting me know about our location2, and generally being a fun, friendly conversationalist.
Here’s something interesting about the cave. The water in it is so calm and black that it reflects whatever is above it. This leads to some awesome little scenes, where you look into the water and see tiny little alien cities. Unfortunately, if you take a picture without a flash, all you get is dark water. And if you take a picture with the flash, all you see is the bottom of the river.
There are a few items in the cave that look like food3 :
There were something like 150 stairs to climb in order to get out of the cave, and I was really glad I had taken it a bit easy yesterday, so my knees were up to it. Once aboveground4 again, I took a bit of a walk around the grounds for a bit.
By the time I was done, it was time to call Gerry and have him come pick me up and get me back to the bus station for my trip back to Belfast. I had intended to visit Florence Court if I had time, and possibly Enniskillen Castle, but I had spent too long at the cave for that.
Guess that means I’ll have to come back and visit Enniskillen.
This is my last night in Belfast. Tomorrow, I’ll be heading down to Doolin for a few days. Checking the bus schedules, I’m going to be spending most of the day traveling, so there won’t be much to say tomorrow.
Probably, anyway. You never know.
So, the name? Blatant marketing lie. Not a bit of marble in the caves. Limestone, with some sandstone boulders left behind by the glaciers. [↩]
We were about a mile from the border with the Republic, which kind of freaked me out. I still have difficulty wrapping my head around the distances here. [↩]
The plan this morning was to bus out to a certain car park in the south end of Belfast to take a walk through the woods and fields to the Giant’s Ring. When I woke up, though, I was really feeling yesterday’s walking in my knees and feet. So, I decided instead to spend the morning taking a tour of the Belfast City Hall.
Incidentally, admission is free to all, and tours run several times a day. The City Hall was financed by Belfast’s two gasworks when it was built, and the plan and understanding – carried through to this day – is that this building belongs to the people of the city, and they share it freely with visitors.
After touring the City Hall, I walked down to the bus station, and caught the bus to Downpatrick, because there was some stuff there I wanted to see.
So, I got back on the bus, and made it back into Belfast in time to have dinner and catch the Ghost Walk tour. I don’t have any pictures of that, mainly because it was still daylight, so not very scary, and the visuals weren’t half as interesting as the stories.
The stories were very good, though; we had unmarked graves, live burials, grave robberies, plague, ghostly warnings, and all the rest. It was tremendous fun.
And then I came back to the Old Rectory. I’m going to bed now. Tomorrow, I will see about taking a bus out to Enniskillen, then a taxi to Marble Arch caves.
That’ll be fun.
Much more spartan than those at the more modern Crumlin Road Gaol. [↩]
Last tie I was in Belfast, I took a tour up around the Antrim coast to the Carrick-a-Rede rope bridge, the Giant’s Causeway, and Dunluce Castle. It rained pretty hard the entire time, and I got drenched. More to the point, I didn’t really get any good pictures.
This time around, the sun was shining pretty much the whole time. There were some threatening clouds in the afternoon, and I felt a few tiny drops when I got back to Belfast, but really, the weather was pretty much perfect.
So, yeah. You may have seen some of these pictures from last trip, but I think these turned out nicer.
After this, it was back to the bus, and back to Belfast. My legs are worn out, and I’m going to bed soon.
Those of you who have been looking at my itinerary have probably noticed that I didn’t go to the Ghost Walk last night. That’s because the schedule has changed, and they only run on Wednesdays and weekends. I’m going to try and make that tomorrow night.
I’m reserving judgement on what I’m going to do tomorrow until I see how well I recover from the exertions of today. I had planned to make it out to the Giant’s Ring, and maybe to Downpatrick, but I may try for Marble Arch Caves tomorrow if I’m still tired. Or I may just decide to try and see some of the places in Belfast I haven’t made it to, yet. I haven’t got anything definitively booked, so I can be flexible tomorrow.
In other words, stay tuned. Not even I know what I’m going to do!
I’m back at the Old Rectory earlier today than yesterday. I want a good sleep before tomorrow’s tour of the Giant’s Causeway and Antrim Coast. And last night was a late night1.
Weather today was a mixed bag. There were periods of moderately heavy rain2, as well as some nice, sunny periods. I was riding on the City Sightseeing city tour, and my plan was to get off at Stormont to tour the Parliament Building, but it was closed for the bank holiday. It was nice to see the grounds, and I might have got off to wander the grounds a bit, but the rain was moderately heavy at that moment.
So I rode on back into Belfast, to Crumlin Road, which used to be called the Murder Mile because of the number of killings that have taken place there during the Troubles. And these were big parts of the reasons:
In addition, the condemned prisoner got a few extra perks – extra tobacco allotment, some stout from time to time, and so on. The whole prison had to be locked down if the condemned prisoner was being moved, taken out for exercise, or taken to bathe. Thus, there was a small washroom attached to the cell, with a toilet, sink, and a tall cupboard.
The cupboard held the restraints used to bind the prisoner when being taken to be hanged. At the time of execution, the prisoner would be bound here, ready to be led away, and then the guards would slide the cupboard away to reveal a door into the scaffold area. From the time of binding to the time of actual execution, only a few minutes would pass, with no time for the prisoner to bolt or struggle.
After that, I caught the tour bus back around Shankill Road, Falls Road, and the Peace Wall. Unfortunately, it had really started raining again, so I stayed on the bus back around to the city centre. I needed to get more batteries for my camera, anyway, and it was lunch time. So, I took care of those things, and looked at the time.
It was just about three by then, so while I could take the tour bus back somewhere, if I got off, there wouldn’t be another one for me to get back on. I decided to do some walking around the downtown area and the cathedral quarter, instead.
At that point, I was getting tired, so I walked back toward the bust stop, ducked into Tesco for a sandwich and some drinks to take back to the Old Rectory for dinner, and then spent the last couple of hours doing up this post.
Now, bedtime. Up early for the Giant’s Causeway.
Mary here at the Old Rectory said, “You push yourself hard.” My reply, “Only because I’m stupid.” And then she says, “Well, at least you’re honest.” See? They know me here.” [↩]
And, about half an hour ago, there was hail for about thirty seconds. [↩]
I heard that line five or six times today, visiting Titanic Belfast. Everyone who said it chuckled, but you could tell that it was only mostly a joke.
I forgot this morning that it was Sunday. Which means Sunday bus service. Which means that, when I missed my bus to the city centre by about five minutes, I had an hour to wait for the next one. Rather than sit at that stop1 and look like an idiot, I decided to walk down a stop or two and catch the bus there. At least, I told myself, I would be making forward progress.
So, about the time my legs get tired and I start looking for another bus stop, the schedules on all the stops start reading, “No Sunday Service.” I wind up walking down past The Barking Dog, where I had dinner last night, to Queen’s College before I find a bus stop with service. And I got there just in time for the bus.
Once downtown, I found the pick-up spot for the City Sightseeing tour2, got on, and then got off five minutes later at the Titanic exhibition hall.
I went inside and saw the exhibition. Now, I’ll be honest with you – I’m not tremendously interested in the Titanic. I never saw the Cameron movie3, never got into the whole doomed ship idea. It was a huge ship, and it went down. It was a tragic loss of life, but so were lots of other things.
What the exhibition did that I found fascinating was give a sense of historical context to the whole event. And it made clear that Olympic, Titanic, and Gigantic4 were thoroughly stunning feats of engineering. And not just for their time, either – we’re talking even by today’s standards.
I didn’t take a lot of pictures inside the exhibition. Most of the stuff that I found interesting was written, and that makes for boring photographs. The three interesting shots I took – replicas of the first-, second-, and third-class staterooms – aren’t very good, but I’m putting them up here, anyway, because – as I said – interesting.
There was even a ride in the exhibit that took you in a little car down and around a representation of the hull that showed how it was built. That was pretty cool, too.
After going through the exhibit, I took a bit of a walk around, waiting for my Titanic Walking Tour to start. I found a couple of cool things to take pictures of.
The walking tour started at 1:00, and was fascinating. Claire, who led the tour, knew everything about the Titanic, how it was built, and how it fit into history. She really brought home the historical meaning of the Titanic and her sister-ships, and made it clear that Titanic was so much more than just a ship that sank.
Here are a few pictures from the tour.
That was about it for the tour. We had a quick look in the pump room, and that was that. We did walk by Titanic Studios, where they film Game of Thrones, but there wasn’t really anything to take a picture of, there – just some big, warehouse-type buildings.
By the time I got back on the tour bus, it was 3:30 or so, and the tours stopped at 4:00, so I just had time to ride around the rest of the circuit and fail to take any good pictures. It’s just too hard to do from the top of the bus5. The sheer amount of interesting stuff I saw in that time has got me questioning whether I need to spend a third day on touring just the city, sacrificing one of my planned trips to Marble Arch Caves or Downpatrick. I’ll see how I feel about that tomorrow.
So, at the end of the day, I went and had a nice dinner, and noticed that The Great Gatsby was playing in about an hour in the theatre right near by. I decided to go see it, and I enjoyed it, and then realized that, with Sunday bus service, I had missed my last bus back to the Old Rectory. After trying and failing to hail a cab, I found a helpful watchman at the grounds of City Hall6 who not only told me the rules about which cabs can pick up where, and which need to be called by phone, he let me borrow his phone when I had no luck dialling the cab company7.
Obviously, I made it back. Now, it’s 12:30, and I need to get up early to take full advantage of my second day of touring. City Sightseeing has a courtesy bus that I can call to pick me up here in the morning, so that’ll help maximize my day.
But still. Sleep time. Good night.
Which is right across the street from The Old Rectory. [↩]
With a little help from someone from a different tour company. I tell you, everyone in Ireland and Northern Ireland seem to want to go out of their way to be helpful. Marvelous people, the lot. [↩]
So, I’ve made it to Belfast. I have to say, if you have the option of traveling business class, it’s pretty awesome. Bigger, more comfortable seat, better food, airport lounge, all that stuff. I really enjoyed it.
The plane got in to Dublin about a half-hour early. It was a little chilly this morning, but not too bad. I just put my rain jacket on to block the wind, and I was plenty warm enough. Irish customs was really fast and easy: “How long are you staying in Ireland? Business or pleasure?” and boom – I was through. Literally no more than ten seconds.
Once through, I made my way outside and caught the Airlink bus that runs from the airport through the city centre.
The bus ride in to Grafton Street was easy, as was getting my errands done there. The difference in stress levels this trip compared to the early days of last trip are amazing – just the little bit I know about the place from being here before makes everything easier and less frantic. And, of course, I ran into an old friend.
From there, once my phone was linked to the 3 network, I called up a walking path from Grafton Street to Connolly Station, where I was to catch the train north to Belfast. It was about a mile walk, but my luggage wasn’t too heavy at that point, so I decided to do it; if nothing else, it would let me stretch my legs after the long flight and also refamiliarize myself a little more with the city.
I made it to the station and got on a train, and then had to fight to keep from falling asleep. I nodded off a couple of times on the two-hour trip, but thankfully, a young lady got on and proceeded to carry on a telephone conversation in a loud, somewhat shrill voice that carried through the entire train car, and I didn’t have to worry about sleeping anymore.
Gerry greeted me, took my breakfast order for tomorrow1, and led me up to my room – the same one I’d had last time.
I saw Mary again this evening, and she helped me get a table at The Barking Dog, which restaurant I hadn’t been able to try last time. It was a bit of a walk, again, both there and back, but at least I’ll be good and tired when I go to bed tonight.
And now the post is done, the first day of my holiday is done, and I’m pretty much done. To bed. Tomorrow, I have tours!
I confessed to him that I’ve had dreams about his full Ulster breakfast since last time. [↩]
So, I not only made it to Chicago, I managed to navigate my way from the arrival terminal to the departure terminal1 with only one minor misstep, and that misstep was corrected within ten feet, so I call that a win. Now, I’m in the Business Class lounge that Aer Lingus shares with Air France, using the free wi-fi, having a snack, and charging my phone.
The view out the window is less than spectacular, but the quiet, the comfy chairs, and the free food more than make up for it. I’ve got about two and a half more hours here, so I think I’m going to sit back, relax, and get some reading done.
That’s from Terminal 2 to Terminal 5, for those of you playing along at home. [↩]
Which means that today is the day that I finally have to finish up all the stuff I need to finish up before I can get on a plane. I’m almost there.
One of the things I have to get done is a post about my final packing arrangements1 – what bag(s) I’m bringing, and what I’m carrying in them. I started finalizing a packing list a few weeks back and did a test pack where I managed to fit everything I really needed into just my Tom Bihn Aeronaut, which is awesome. There were two minor problems:
It was pretty full.Not a lot of room for bringing back souvenirs and such.
It was about a pound too heavy for the carry-on baggage restrictions.
Now, the extra pound wasn’t such a big deal – odds are it wouldn’t raise an eyebrow at the gate unless I looked like I was labouring under a terrible weight. And I had packed an extra bag2 to use as an everyday carry, so I could have slipped my iPad and some other stuff into the second bag at the gate and come in safely under the limit.
But I wasn’t all that happy with the Cafe Bag choice for an everyday carry on this trip. It’s a great bag, but it’s not quite as big as I wanted. I wanted something that would hold my iPad, camera, and a few other things, and the camera just didn’t fit into the Cafe Bag very elegantly. I’d settled on the Cafe Bag because it fit very easily into the Aeronaut with the rest of my stuff.
Most of my other Tom Bihn bags were just a little too large to qualify as a personal item as a second bag. So, I settled on my Red Oxx Gator Carry-On as a second bag. It fits the size requirements neatly, is big enough to carry the stuff I want with me during the day, and small enough that it doesn’t feel like I’m lugging around the world. My one worry is that, while it is water resistant, it is not waterproof. But I think a little common sense will overcome that limitation.
So, with that sorted out, here’s my packing list.
I’ve got most of my clothes in a large Aeronaut packing cube in the main central compartment: two pairs of cargo pants, three merino wool t-shirts, a long-sleeved button shirt, and a sweatshirt. The central pocket also holds my laptop in a sleeve, my Tilley hat and, in the mesh top pocket, my 3-1-1 kit for liquids. That way, I can just unzip the center compartment and pop out the laptop and 3-1-1 kit for airport security.
One of the end compartments holds my socks and underwear in an end pocket packing cube, and the other holds my toiletry Kit with toothbrush, tooth tablets, sink stopper, and clothesline. It also holds my travel towel and my rain jacket.
The slash pocket on one end is for my organizer pouch full of reservation papers and such, and the other is for my phone, keys, wallet, and travel tray.
Fully loaded, the Aeronaut comes in at just under 17 pounds.
The central pocket is for my iPad, camera, and Snake Charmer with all my cords, chargers, adapters, and what not for my electronics. The snap pockets on the front hold my sunglasses, reading glasses, and regular glasses3. The gusseted end pockets hold my travel notebook and pen and a few Clif bars.
And the Gator weighs in at 11 pounds with this load.
Well, I’m wearing one set of clothes, including a short-sleeved overshirt, a t-shirt, socks, underwear, cargo pants, and hiking shoes. And I have a really cool fold-up backpack from Sea to Summit. That’s the total of what I’m bringing to get me through a three-week journey all over Ireland. It’s significantly less and significantly lighter than what I carried last time, and that’s a good thing. Not only will it be easier to haul around, it will give me a little extra room to pack a few souvenirs – that was a pretty tight fit last time.
I added one last thing to the itinerary last night – I booked the Evening of Folklore and Storytelling dinner at the Brazen Head4 for the Friday night I’m in Dublin. It looks like fun. And with that, the itinerary is locked.
Which is a good thing, because I leave tomorrow.
And then I’ll finally start having some interesting things to post here.
Some of you may be interested in this – or not – but the folks at Tom Bihn said they’d like to see my packing list and stuff. [↩]
Of which I generally use only my sunglasses, but I’ve been needing the reading glasses more and more, and the regular glasses might come in handy if I decide to, say, go see the opening of Man of Steel on my last weekend in Dublin. Just sayin’. [↩]
It’s less than a month until I leave for Ireland, and I think I’ve got most of the details of the trip nailed down. Which is good, because, as I said, it’s less than a month until I leave. Did I mention that I have less than a month before I go to Ireland? ‘Cause it’s less than a month!
I’ve updated my itinerary for this trip to reflect the fact that I’ve sorted out what I’m going to be doing. It’s pretty much locked down, now, though that’s less rigid this trip than on the previous one – there are more days where I’ve got some plans, but nothing that I’ve had to book. This gives me a little more freedom to do what I feel like doing, based on weather, how tired I am, and stuff like that.
The big block in completing this portion of the trip was sorting out what I was going to be doing in Killarney. I really wanted a chance to take the boat out to Skellig Michael, but – as I found out last trip – that’s a chancy proposition. Also pretty expensive, what with the taxi ride from Killarney to Portmagee, but that’s the lesser concern. Much as I want to see the Skelligs, I finally decided to play it a little safer; after all, I really wanted to take the tour up through the Gap of Dunloe and to see Dingle and Slea Head, and those were more guaranteed things.
So, that’s what I booked. I’ve decided that, if I want to see the Skelligs, I’m going to have to book a week or so in Portmagee to have a good chance. Maybe rent a car, so I can tour the Kerry countryside on the days I don’t go out in the boats. Guess that means another trip to Ireland. What hardship!
Once that was done, I booked the tours in Killarney, and found a ghost tour I can take one night, as well. Those, coupled with the nice walks in and around the town, should keep me happily occupied for my two full days there. Then it’s on to Kilkenny.
After doing a fair bit of research online and sending about a half-dozen e-mail messages to various places in Kilkenny, I picked out three definite things I want to do there: take a walking tour of the town, head out north of town to Dunmore Cave, and head out south of town to Kells Priory. For the trips out of town, I contacted Kilkenny Taxi, and got some price quotes, which are quite reasonable, so that’s how I’m going to do that.
I haven’t actually booked anything, because I don’t really need to for this part of the trip. That means I can decide on the days in question when I want to go where – with the exception that I need to do the walking tour of the town on the Saturday, as it doesn’t run on Sunday. But if weather is rough, then I can head out to Dunmore Cave in the afternoon, or if it’s nice, I can either walk around the town to see the things the tour didn’t cover, or head out south to Kells Priory.
I’m really pretty excited about Kells Priory. It’s open to the public, with no guides or tours or opening or closing times – it’s just a three-acre, twelfth-century ruin that you can wander around. It’s not on a lot of tour itineraries, and there is no convenient buses1 to anywhere near the site, so most of the reviews I read of it featured the line, “We were the only ones there!” Which is awesome.
And after two days in Kilkenny, I hop the train back to Dublin for the last part of my vacation. I’ve got a few day trips booked out of the city, and I plan to make a little more extensive use of the Hop-On-Hop-Off bus tour than I did last trip, but I’ve left the evenings free, as well as my last two days in the city, so I can finish off the trip in a little more relaxed fashion than previously.
That said, there are a couple of evening things I want to look into in Dublin – there’s a storytelling dinner at The Bronze Head that looks like fun, and I want to try and hit a pub or two that I heard about on the Musical Pub Crawl last year for some music. I also want to revisit Kilmainham Gaol, and take a tour of Dublin Castle, Christchurch Cathedral, St. Patrick’s Cathedral, and wander around Phoenix Park for a bit.