Last week, I took a solo trip to up Belfast for two days. After the very comfortable 2-hour train ride, I arrived in Belfast Central and as soon as I stepped foot into the city, I realized that I was going to like this place. Belfast only has about 300k residents but it feels much bigger than that. I liked the feeling of airiness and openness I got which is much different than the usual feeling of suffocation I feel between all of the tall Georgian houses throughout Dublin.
My first day was spent roaming around the city, taking pictures of all the murals, and trying to stay dry for the latter half of the day. After getting to my hostel, which I would highly recommend to anyone looking for a really good and inexpensive place to stay in Belfast(http://www.vagabondsbelfast.com), I went out to lunch at a local restaurant in the Queens Quarter called Maggie May’s which was very tasty. They offer full Irish, English, and Ulster breakfasts all day long as well as a very large menu and a separate milkshake menu. I opted for one of the alcoholic milkshakes since, a wee bit can never hurt. 🙂 After lunch, I met up with Bobby who was going to be my taxi driver and tour guide on the black taxi tour. The black taxi tour is something that is offered in Belfast that takes you throughout the Catholic as well as Protestant parts of the city and shows you the various murals as well as gives you a pretty concise history of the troubles that had separated the city for such a long time. If you are ever in Belfast, I highly recommend that you go on one of these and make sure that your tour guide is someone that is older and that has lived through the troubles as well. (http://cabtoursni.com)
My second day was not so much spent in Belfast but in Northern Ireland. Since the weather forecast gave me hopes of a sunny day on Friday(it turned to 100% chance of perciptiation), I booked a day long bus tour of Northern Ireland which featured the Giant’s Causeway. I went with a company called McCombs and our driver, Pat was not only extremely knowledgable about our entire trip, he was also very friendly and fun to talk to. (http://www.minicoachni.co.uk/giants-causeway.cfm) We started our trip at the most bombed hotel in the world, the Europa. The story as to why the hotel was bombed so much is when all of the media and political figures would come to Belfast, they were scared to go anywhere and actually see what was happening so the various fighting groups decided to bring the altercations to them and bomb the hotel to show the individuals what the residents of Belfast were living with day in and day out. Our first stop on the tour was Carrickfergus Castle which is a Norman castle built in 1177. Fun fact about the Carrickfergus. It is the hometown of Andrew Jackson’s family. He was born two years after his family left the town and emigrated to the United States. We hopped back on the bus and started our scenic drive down the Causeway Costal Route. This route is said to be one of the 10 most scenic drives in the world and I can definitely see how that is possible. Our two hour drive took us right along the water’s edge where we experienced deep valleys, snowcapped mountains, many glens, and beautiful littler hamlets and villages built directly into cliffs.
Our picturesque drive ended at the Cerrick-a-rede rope bridge. The bridge connects the mainland to a VERY tiny island. The original bridge is believed to have been built up to 350 years ago and spans about 60 feet at a height of 100 feet. I’m an adrenaline junkie and as long as I have something to hold onto, i’m not afraid of heights. With that being said, I couldn’t wait to cross the bridge but with winds at 30-40mph with gusts reaching 60mph, it added a whole extra factor which definitely had me gripping the wobbly rope that much tighter. As soon as my group finished on the bridge they had to close it down because the wind had picked up speed and it had become too dangerous to cross.
Another 15 minute drive led us to the Bushmills distillery where we had lunch and a chance to walk around the grounds. This particular distillery, established in 1608, is the oldest one in the world. Another quick 15-minute drive brought us to the Giant’s Causeway and to a wonderful [read: awful] weather situation. We were bombarded with rain, sleet, and then snow. To add insult to injury, this was pelting our bodies at speeds of 40-50mph from which there was no escaping. Although the weather was so atrocious, the entire bus decided to brave the elements and head down to the causeway and experience it as best as we could. After our short-lived visit to the causeway, we headed back up the road and all huddled into one of the local public houses where we got to know each other around a warm fire place and over some Irish coffee.
The scientific explanation to these mysterious, octagonal=shaped rocks forming at the coast is due to an ancient volcano, elements, and various pressure that forced these basalt rocks up through the earth and in these specific patterns. The legend of the Giant’s Causeway is the one I will choose to believe because it is much more interesting that the scientific one. According to legend, the columns are the remains of a causeway built by an Irish giant named Fionn mac Cumhaill (Finn MacCool). The story goes that Finn was challenged to a fight by the Scottish giant Benandonner. To get to Scotland, built the causeway across the channel separating the two lands so that the two giants could meet. When Finn had reach the other side, he saw the massive size of the Scottish giant and how much bigger he was than Finn. Scared by the intimidating size of his foe, Finn ran back to his house on the Irish side and told his wife how scared his was. Finn’s wife, Oonagh, disguised Finn as a baby and tucked him in a cradle. When Benandonner reached Finn’s house and saw the size of the ‘baby’, he was afraid to see the size of its father and fled back to Scotland destroying the causeway behind him. Across the sea in Scotland, the same basalt columns can be found as well.
After the causeway, our tour headed back to Belfast with a short photo stop at the ruins of the Dunluce Castle which had the entire kitchen along with all of its staff collapse into the sea which forced its residents out, never to return. After our return to the city, I headed to the train station and back to the comfortable and dry confines of my bedroom.