Hey everyone! I have been traveling for an entire week so I will have to split this post into two just to make sure they are not getting too long. The first part of my trip was to Northern Ireland. If you are not sure, it is a separate country from the Republic of Ireland, and actually is part of the UK. I will get more into the history of its cities, but overall it was crazy to think of it as a different country! We went with a tour company who set up our hostels and bused us to different cities. For the most part, we did the activities by ourselves once off the bus.
Also, a fun pattern was hail. In every walking tour and stop, it would rain and hail for the first minutes and then stop just as we took pictures. I guess I can’t complain too much, because it would only last for a bit. But it actually hurt pretty bad and I could see the ice pelts forming underneath my feet in the cities. Not sure why, but it hails a lot in Northern Ireland!
We went with a tour company called Paddy Wagon. It was a bright green bus with pictures of lepruchauns and sheep (typical). Our bus driver was named Valentine (he goes by Val), and he had a stuffed animal potato named Angela always riding in the front seat. He claims that they are in love and getting married in a year, but encouraged us to take her around with us. (Of course we took advantage of this opportunity)
Our first big stop was in the city of Belfast. We started with a Black Taxi Tour. A black taxi drives you to different places around the city and explains the history. There is a lot I did not know about Belfast and Northern Ireland before coming on this trip. The city itself is morbid and eery to an extent. 3,000 people have died there in the past 40 years over religious differences between Protestants and Catholics. It was not until 1988 that Catholics were allowed in the police academy in Northern Ireland.
During the 17th century, this area of Ireland was planted by English and Scottish settlers. A lot of the native Irish fled and Irish lands were confiscated by the English crown. Since the English monarchy was Protestant, many catholics faced discrimination. There was a lot of tension between these two religious, but this also equated to the different political groups. In the 1970s, the British army built a peace wall. To this day, the gates of the wall, that divide the Catholic and Protestant areas, are not open at night. The wall used to be a dangerous area, full of gang violence. Nowadays it is a bit safer, but you can still feel the tension as you walk through. It is crazy to think that tension between Catholics and Protestants is still happening today. The peace wall is filled with different images, depending on which side of the wall you look at. Some comments are hopeful, while others still feel the old tensions.
A strange connection was images of Gaza put on the Catholic side of the wall. The images were in favor of Palestine, while the Protestant side was in favor of Israel. Although a different part of the world, it is a smilier situation. Who really owns the land? Who deserves to control the land? It was interesting to guess why each side would choose what they did. If you want to do more research on this, it was quite interesting!
There was much more history on Belfast, but I will not go into extreme details on here. After the tour, we had free time to walk around. At the top of the large mall in the city center (Victoria’s Square), you can get a great view of the city. They have a leaning clock tower, that is an extant mix between the Leaning Tower of Pisa and Big Ben. Also from the top you could see the Titanic museum. The actual Titanic was built and designed in Belfast city. We did not have enough time to visit the museum, but I hear it is quite interesting. After doing Titanic the Musical in high school…I was kinda done learning about it.
That night we went to a local pub with great food and Guinness. Also we found Angela (yes, the potato I mentioned earlier) on Facebook and tagged her in some photos. She comments back!! Here is the link to her page if you are interested: https://www.facebook.com/hotpotatoangelsmurphy?fref=ts
The next day we went to the Dark Hedges first. This is the road filled with the dangling trees, that one might have recognized from Game of Thrones.
After we headed to the Carrick-a-Rede Rope Bridge. The bridge links the mainland to the tiny island of Carrickarede. It spans 20 metres and is 30 metres above the rocks below. On clear days you can see the outline of Scotland from the bridge (we got lucky enough to see it). The bridge was scary for anyone scared of heights, but of course i jumped up and down and danced across. The views are breathtaking. There were little green islands scattered across the blue waters.
Next we headed to Giants Causeway. This is an area of about 40,000 interlocking basalt columns, the result of an ancient volcanic eruption. The cracks from the volcano left hexagonal columns over the coast. Now we can listen all we want to science…or we could go into the real reason for the hexagonal columns…GIANTS! An Irish Giant named Finn McCool was challenged to a fight by the Scottish giant Benandonner. Finn accepted the challenge and built the causeway across the North Channel so that the two giants could meet. Across the sea, there are identical basalt columns (a part of the same ancient lava flow) on the Scottish isle of Staffa, and it is possible that the story was influenced by this.
We took a pit stop into the Bushmills whiskey distillery. It is actually the oldest whisky distillery in Ireland. Although we did not do a tour, we were given a free taste of a 10 year old whiskey. It was pretty good!
After we headed to the town of Derry (Londonderry). This city also has a wall dividing the Protestant and Catholic sides of town. There was a lot less tension than in Belfast, but it was crazy to think that these walls were still necessary! This is even seen in the name of the town. The Protestants call it Londonderry, while the Catholics call it Derry. The Protestant side has red, white and blue lined sidewalks, representing the British flag with a sign reading “loyalists under siege.” The city of Derry has been under siege 3 times, and now the peace wall divides the town. That night we went to dinner and got some deals on pitchers.
The next day we headed to Sligo. Before Sligo we crossed back into the Republic of Ireland and passed through Donegal. This part of the country looks different from the rest. There are more mountains and the scenery is just a tad bit different. Worth the scenic drive! We stopped at W.B. Yeats grave stone before Sligo.
We arrived in Sligo at Strandhill. It is a beach town. We decided to take Angela with us. She has these pouches in the front and they actually double as gloves to keep your hands warm. She has many purposes other than being adorable! The beaches had sand dunes that we climbed for beautiful views. Then we grabbed some lunch at a local pub and headed off to Galway for dinner. Since we were leaving for Scotland on Thursday morning we only spent an hour walking around before our bus back to Dublin.
Fun fact: We booked our hostel in Dublin 5 hours before staying the night in it. This was because we had plans to stay with a friend, but they fell through last minute. It all worked out and we slept the night in Dublin safe and sound. Our flight was at 7:15am so we left the hostel at 5:00am and headed to Dublin airport.
Since this is already over 1000 words, I will end it here and write about Scotland tomorrow!
Until then…please enjoy this picture of my final hours with Angela!