Tuesday, October 5, 2010

Northern Ireland

This past weekend, I spent two days and one night in Northern Ireland.

My trip began in Belfast, where we were immediately rushed into black taxis for a tour. The black taxi tours are well known around the world, and can be tailored to personal interests. The tour that I was taken on had a political and historical theme.

The first stop was to see the murals. The murals are on the Protestant side of the wall, and are always changing. Most of the murals represented martyrs; however, some had other significant meanings.

The next stop was at the Peace Line. This divides the Protestant and Catholic communities. The wall is huge. It is completely covered in tasteful graffiti. On top of the graffiti, people who have visited the wall have signed it, or written messages. People like Ghandi and Bill Clinton have written on the wall as well. They're a little more important so their messages have been inscribed in metal frames on the wall. My message was simply written in a red marker.

This picture captures only a small section of the Peace Line:

Here is a picture of what I wrote on the wall:

After a photo-op at the Peace Line, I hopped back into my black taxi with five classmates. The black taxi took us around to the other side of the wall. The Catholic side we visited the Clonard Martyrs Memorial Garden. The garden had a celtic cross in the center made of marble. There were paintings of people who had died from political warfare, and their names were engraved on a piece of granite mounted to the wall.

Next we were brought to see more murals in another location, but on the Catholic side this time. Many of the murals represented those who had died during hunger strikes.

The black taxis then brought us back to the center of Belfast. In Belfast I had time to go to an ATM to get pound sterling. Then we had time to walk around Victoria Square Centre. This shopping area consisted of multiple streets that reminded me of Church Street in Burlington. There were shops that I recognized, like Urban Outfitters, and others which must either be unique to the area, or to Europe. There was also a mall within this area. The mall had a looking glass on the top floor, but I didn't take the time to go up there. Instead, I found a cute coffee shop that had outdoor seating with one of my classmates. The shop was called The Cookie Box. I ordered a hot chocolate, with whipped cream and marshmallows of course. I also ordered a giant double chocolate chip cookie. The cookie had chunks of both milk chocolate and white chocolate embedded into it. My classmate and I found a seat in the sun to relax, eat our food, and people watch. It was nice talking to someone who I don't see on a daily basis to grasp their perspective on their experiences in Dublin. It's refreshing to speak with someone out of the ordinary. There are only 50 kids in the Champlain College: Dublin program, but it's easy to fall into a routine with certain people. I like taking a step back and doing things on my own, or even when someone I don't see on a day to day basis. So, my classmate and I had some good laughs and talked about our expectations for the next few months. Soon enough, it was time to meet up with the group again to hop on the bus.

The bus took us to Ballintoy. It is a small coastal town located in County Atrim. This town was even smaller than Doolin, the quaint town I stayed in when I went to the west coast of the Republic. When we arrived in Ballintoy, no one was at our hostel (Sheep Island View Hostel) to let us in. Unphased by this, we drop our bags in the common room and hit the town. And by hit the town, I mean go to one of the two pubs. The first pub my friends and I went into was already crowded by some locals, but mostly with people from our program, so we decided to hit the next place to see if we could get a seat there. We figured we had to, because how many people could be populating these two pubs at 5pm? The second place was much more relaxed, there was a family eating dinner, a local sitting at the bar, and a few classmates of mine ordering food. My friends and I found a nice seat in the bar that was raised and had couches. We ordered an appetizer and ordered a pint. We stayed until 7, and then went back to the hostel to check into our rooms. The town is so small that the hostel rooms do not have locks on their doors. This only half surprised me.

The hoppin' town can be seen below:

The people at the hostel cooked us dinner. They made pasta, buttered bread, and for desert strawberry cheese cake. After eating, everyone headed back to the pub where I had been since 5, because some of the girls in our group convinced them to let us do karaoke that night. Karaoke proved to be a success, when nearly every member of the group got up and sang. I was not one of them. However, I enjoyed the atmosphere, the beer, and the pitchers of a lime green beverage called something frog.

This little town had a nice addition that Doolin didn't. It had street lights. It was a comforting walk home being able to see in front of me. Once I got home, I slept soundly on my top bunk bed.

The next morning, the hostel staff made us breakfast. When I say breakfast, I don't mean a lame assortment of cereals and buttered toast. They made us eggs, Irish bacon, and sausage. It was the best hospitality I have experienced yet. The women continuously refused for us to help with dishes, or to serve food.

After breakfast, the group walked down to the Ballintoy Harbour. This was an opportunity to see the water, the coastal line, and it was an overall a great spot to take some photos.

A climb back up the hill and a short bus ride later, I found myself at Carrick-a-Rede, County Antrim. The attraction to this spot is the famous roped bridge. It was a short walk up and down some hills, along with rock stairs to get to the bridge. Once at the bride 8 people could cross it at one time. Of course, I got stuck behind that one person who wanted to bunny hop across the entire thing making it shake. I was a brave little girl, and it didn't phase me. On the other side of the bridge were breathtaking views of the coast. Green grass, cliffs, and a view of Scotland made the experience priceless.

We only had about an hour to spend getting to, from, and across the bridge at this spot. A quick stop for lunch was next on the agenda. It was a country home styled restaurant with large portions.

Following lunch, the bus then took us on a five minute drive to see Giant's Causeway. This spot is famous for hexagon shaped rocks that form natural stairs. It is also well known from being featured on the Led Zeppelin cover, Houses of The Holy.

At this location I spent most of the time exploring by myself. It was such a beautiful place that I didn't want to be around anyone that could possibly ruin it for me. I took pictures, climbed the rocks, and enjoyed the beautiful weather. I also met a man from Ohio who was visiting both the Republic of Ireland and Northern Ireland. He was taking a complete tour with his wife.

Spending time alone and finally feeling some sun rays on my vampire looking skin, I met back up with my roommates. Together, we walked back to the parking area and gift shop location. My roommate, Cait, bought me a cup of hot chocolate at the cafe. It was nice to sit down and relax for a little bit, because our weekend had been so rushed.

There was only one stop left after the Giant's Causeway. This stop was Dunluce Castle. The castle was beautiful. It was set directly on a coast and had the greenest grass I have seen to date in Ireland. The view was amazing. I decided to take a guided tour around the castle. I learned that the castle is still owned by the MacDonald family from Scotland. However, it is run by the government and maintained by them as well. The castle, I must mention, was simply ruins, but there were still a few towers that I was able to go up into. I spent most of my time taking pictures and trying to imagine what this medieval castle must have looked like when it was in full occupancy.

When we were done at the castle, it was time to get back on the bus and head back to Ireland. It was overall a great trip. I loved everything about it. It was historical, beautiful, and most of all a trip of enjoyment.

And as always, feel free to check out my pictures through my Picasa Web Albums.

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