Onward to Belfast
When we first booked on to go to Dublin for St. Patrick’s day, we had a conversation about how many extra days could we add on to the trip and where else we would like to go. Eventually a few of us settled on the idea that we would go up to Belfast for a few days. One day that could be divided between Dublin, transit, and Belfast, one full day for the Giant’s Causeway, and then as much of the last day as we could for the city and the Titanic museum before catching a late flight back to London.
The morning of March 18th found us in a restaurant in Dublin having breakfast (the hostel’s included breakfast was only toast). We were trying to decide when to catch the train up to Belfast. Three days of straight partying and very little sleep meant we were all more than a little tired. It was raining and cold again, and it really came down to the decision of whether we wanted to watch the Ireland vs. England rugby match in Belfast or in Dublin. With all votes cast we opted to just head straight up to Belfast. Good tip is to buy your train tickets online rather than at the station. As long as you are booking more than two hours before your train time, you can get really good/cheap tickets that you can then pick up at the station. You can also take a bus to Belfast, and it is about 10 euro cheaper. But the train is a bit more comfortable and you get beautiful views of the country side. Well, you do if you’re awake to see it. All of us slept for a lot of that train trip.
We had booked an Air B&B, which really was the best idea ever. We were all just so thrilled to get out of hostel life and into a much more comfortable surrounding where we could cook a few meals of our own. That rugby match we ended up watching on the couch in our borrowed flat with a case of beer and then a home cooked dinner. Sleeping that night in a proper bed with a proper bathroom as just pure heaven.
For our one full day in Belfast, we had signed on for a day trip to the Giant’s Causeway. A wonder of the world and a must see in Northern Ireland. After a pancake breakfast (heaven!) we took a short walk into the center of the city to meet the coach. Our first stop was just a quick photo stop at Dunluce Castle, and then onward to the Causeway.
The Giant’s Causeway is a basalt formation–that’s why you get the cool hexagonal rock pillars. Before the scientific explanation of why the rocks are in that shape, there was a mythological explanation, which is where the name comes from. Like many sites, you may want to get there early or late in it’s opening hours. The actual formation is a bit smaller than you’d think, which means that the more people there are, the less you really get to enjoy how impressive the formation really is. Take your time–as much time as you can if you’re on a day trip–and keep an eye on the sea. You’re right at the water’s edge and some of those waves can really sneak up on you.
Lunch was at the Bushmills Whiskey Distillery, which we sadly didn’t have a lot of time to enjoy. By the time we ate, we were rushing through a three glass whiskey tasting. I really happen to like whiskey, so I wish I could have enjoyed it slowly. But the rush was made up for by the fact that I got four whiskeys for 8 euro and the whiskey cheesecake was sublime!
The whiskey came in handy at our next stop, the Carrick-a-Rede Rope Bridge. If you’ve read about my adventures in Costa Rica, you know that I am not the biggest fan of heights. So thankfully I’d had enough whiskey that I was feeling no pain by the time it was my turn to cross. Using the same strategy that I had developed in Costa Rica, I picked a point on solid ground and just looked at that as I crossed. As much as I didn’t look around much while crossing the bridge, from land I got to really enjoy the rugged coast line of Northern Ireland. It’s stunning, absolutely stunning. I’m always happier when I’m by the ocean, and it’s the kind of place that just takes away your worries with the wind and waves.
The drive back to Belfast was gorgeous as well–luckily I was able to stay awake for this. We drove along the coast, through tinny towns and valleys. We saw a few castles and some of the filming sites for Game of Thrones. It also helped that our driver/guide was hilarious. We all got back to the flat smiling but tired after all that fresh air and hiking.
Our final day in Belfast was also our only day to properly sleep in. A bit of shopping and a slow walk over the the Titanic museum. A really well laid out museum with lots of different interactive bits. It takes you through the construction of the ship–which occurred right where the museum stands–through the launch, sinking, and rediscovery. Go on and take a look–the Titanic was so much more than just Jack and Rose.
We just had time for a bit of dinner, and then we had to make our way back to the airport which would take us back to London. We all had work the next day. Contrary to our experience in Dublin, we didn’t go into a single pub in Belfast. But what it did reinforce for me was two important things–take it slow or you’ll burn yourself out, and get out of the city even if it’s only for a day trip. I noticed the same thing in Portugal, the things I will remember most are the places outside the city center where I found I could relax and breath again. Whether that is an insight on urban life or just the stress of my current job, I’m not sure. All I can say is whenever the opportunity presents itself, get out of town.