Monday, July 13, 2009
Further on up the road and inland is the city of Derry. On the road signs in the U.K it will say ‘Londonderry’ and after some confusion I asked our driver Eric what gives with the name? He told me what I suspected that it depends which side of the coin you’re on…Catholics call it Derry and Prods call it Londonderry. It has been home to much conflict and in particular of recent when British troops shot dead 13 demonstrators in 1972. There is such a strong sense of the troubles when you are in and around places like Derry. Murals depicting fallen heroes and the like are seen throughout the town. Unfortunately I forgot my backup battery so no photos of Derry. The people were very friendly and we had lunch in a cozy old pub. Anyway, save for the Japanese girl who delayed the bus for 45 minutes we arrived back safe in Belfast for a good old pint at the crown Saloon…apparently one of Belfast’ oldest pubs who housed the builders of the Titanic. We also took a stroll through the Europa Hotel which is the most bombed hotel in the world.
Sunday, July 12, 2009
My dad and I decided that instead of renting a car, we would take a bus tour along the Antrim coastline. We hadn’t quite wrapped our heads around the madness of Irish and U.K driving methods even though I own and have been driving a right hand drive van for 3 years. I still needed to warm up to the crazy speed limits and those oh so joyous roundabouts! We booked a comfy, large coach from the Belfast Hostel by phone and just about died laughing when the thing pulled up in front of the 5 of us tourists waiting by the curb. We thought the Dublin hop on hop off was cheezy! Roll on up…The Paddy Wagon! Big , green and a huge, scary Leprachaun painted on the side of the bus.
The next stop is a rope bridge at Carrick-a-rede which although had spectacular views, the 8 pound fee to cross the thing was not within our limited budget…
So lets see…where were we…oh yes..the motherland..Ireland.
After our adventure in the centre of Dublin and some much needed rest, Aja, dad and I made the pilgrimage to Northern Ireland.
More specifically to Belfast where dad’s family came from on his mothers side.
Luckily Aja had the weekend off so she offered to drive us up and then dad and I would hang out for 3 days while she went back to Dublin.
I had highlighted a side trip which was about 10 minutes off the motorway and am I ever glad we took this detour!
The place is called Mellifont Abbey just west of Drogheda and is the first Cistercian monastery to be built in Ireland around 1142.
Once again we had gorgeous weather (not to be taken lightly in Ireland in May!) and not a soul around….it really lends to a place so sacred and beautiful when there’s no one else there.
So while we were up looking around the ruins, we met a man and his young son who lived up the road. He asked us if we had been to Monasterboice and if we hadn’t we really should see it as it is home to some of Irelands’ oldest High Crosses from the 10th century….
Of course we took him up on his offer to follow him about a 5 minute drive up the road.
Good thing we followed him because it was around a few good winding, narrow and twisty, turny tracks that might not have been too easy to find by description alone.
Out in the middle of a pastoral valley was this amazing 5th century cemetery complete with the crosses and a gorgeous round tower made of stone….
The incredible thing is that the big crosses were all carved by hand and made of a single slab of stone….must’ve had a hell of a lot of time on their hands, those monks…
I even found a little birds nest in the window of the Roundtower!
We got a bit lost in Belfast but after a few dead ends and looking over our shoulders a few times we found our B&B on a lovely tree lined street.
The reason for a bit of nervousness was that when Aja came up to Belfast a year ago, she arrived on the day of the Orangemens Parade. Hundreds of people marching in support of Prods and British rule…not a day when you want to be driving around with Irish license plates.
After we checked in we went for a stroll into the city and had a look at the beautiful sight of Queens University built in 1879.