If there was one town on our tour where the rain impacted our schedule, it would be Belfast. Rain, rain, rain, as we drove off the ferry. There is a Titanic Museum right in the port -and the original brick building where all the designs were made for the ship is right near the dock, where much of the ship was also assembled. Unfortunately the museum hours did not overlap with our schedule, so the most we were able to do was walk around the docks and view the huge cranes that are still in place. Much of the Belfast city tour was on the bus, with a few stops for those of us willing to brave the sporadic raindrops to get what photos we could. There is a lot of striking architecture, but the city itself is very scarred and careworn. They are not used to tourists in this town, where people are still vigilant towards the religion of people passing on the streets. We stayed in the Europa hotel, which in itself is significant in history – site of the most bombings during “the troubles”, and the site of the Clinton brokered peace accord. But the troubles still abound. Our arrival was late in the day, and between the clouds and early sunset, free time walking around town was limited. Not many people on the streets, though a few people in our group visited the bars across the street from our hotel.
The University was beautiful, as was the town center and city hall where there were more tributes to Titanic victims. I must say that our best hotel dinner on the entire tour was at the Europa. Lamb on the menu! And at breakfast we had a treat – Bushmills Whiskey is served with the porridge! (That’s what they call oatmeal.) I do endorse the combination – with the perfect amount of honey, it’s a good mix.
Spirits picked up, along with the wind, when we visited the Giants Causeway the next day. What a spectacular site! The shapes of the rocks and the shore were so unique and inspiring. I was reminded of the hardiness of the Arizona desert, when small flowers and plants wedge themselves in rock nooks and crannies to survive in the harsh environment. There were several trails of different grades, and we chose to climb the shepherd steps. I could not imagine in a million years that men carried 300 pound sheep on their shoulders to move the sheep to the upper meadows. All in a day’s work, I supposed. Between the various trails, we had a goof hour of brisk walking under our belts. This stop also served as our lunch break, and instead of heading to the cafeteria, we walked down the hill to a quaint cafe whose heat source was peat cast iron stoves. What a cozy atmosphere! The scones and tea, were, of course, excellent. The Nook at Giant’s Causeway. Stop in if you’re ever in the neighborhood – they have good beer on tap as well as a full menu.
Is it Derry? Or Londonderry? According to our local guide, Derry-Londonderry is endearingly referred to as “stroke town”, since the residents call it by both its Protestant (Londonderry) and Catholic (Derry) names. Some things just can’t get left in the past, it seems. Our excellent tour guide strolled us through the town with many personal stories of how life was “during the troubles” and how much of the attitude carries through today, despite all the peace monuments and efforts to move on. Celebrating the 100 year anniversary of the rising certainly hasn’t helped things along much, since memories in this part of the world are very long. Some of the medieval walls are still standing, and in fact afterwards Denny, Jan, Marian and I walked the entire wall of the city – not a problem, it was only about a mile long. The views were certainly worth the effort, and it was a fun way to people watch and see a vibrant city work and play. I might also mention that here the temperatures actually hit 70 degrees, so there was quite an atmosphere of summer vacation through out the city. Shops closed early here, too – so that couldn’t be blamed on the Presbyterians, as our full-time tour guide used as an excuse in Scotland!
With the promise of a stop for a good Irish coffee, we headed out to Malin Head. What a gorgeous tip of land and sea. Our timing was good, since in two weeks they were going to be host to a Star Wars filming crew – we could see the trailers being built for what promised to be small city on the lower beach. There are miles of trails along the Main Head area and coast – they are well marked, and it would have been nice to be able to spend a day exploring them. We did get to walk about 45 minutes on one of the trails and were happy for the exercise. Then it was off to the Seaview Tavern for our promised Irish Coffee. Thank goodness for the small pleasures in life!
Next – The Republic of Ireland (Galway, Killarney, Waterford, Dublin)