This past weekend we headed to Northern Ireland, which worked out perfectly since Sunday was St. Patrick’s Day. No better place to be than in Ireland on its patron saint’s feast day!
There is a convenient flight out of East Midlands Airport straight to Belfast, so we took that on Friday evening. The plan was to come back on Monday morning, arriving in East Midlands at 8am, perfect timing to head straight into work. Didn’t quite work out as planned on the way back, but I’ll get to that at the end. At least we easily made it to Belfast on Friday evening.
We hired a car and headed for the northern coast of Ireland, where we were staying at a B&B in Bushmill’s county. We spent all day Saturday exploring the Antrim coast region, and then headed to Belfast city for the Sunday St. Patrick’s day festivities.
I titled this post “A ‘wee’ trip…” because everybody in Northern Ireland was using “wee” for every other word! They literally used it as an adjective to describe anything you can think of. It was more prominent than a valley girl using the word “like”. For example, the Avis rental car lady said to us, “Hello, I need to see your wee license so I can sort your wee car after getting your wee signature.” Doug and I were cracking up at the extent of the usage of this wee word!
Anyway, we took the direct route up to Bushmill’s on Friday evening as it was already dark so there was no point in taking the scenic journey. We saved that for the drive to Belfast on Sunday morning.
We stayed at the Valley View B&B and it was amazing!! I can’t get over how nice and accommodating Valerie and her husband were! The room was super nice, they were extremely helpful with directions and suggestions, and the breakfast was amazing! If you are going to Northern Ireland, you should definitely stay with them. The only drawback would be that you need a car to get there, but you really need to have a car to explore that area anyway. Oh, and it also smelled like horse/cow/sheep poo outside, but I’m pretty sure that’s just what you get for staying out in the country!
Didn’t do much Friday evening except get some dinner at a local place called Smuggler’s Inn. We were excited to see mussels on the menu because we’ve been wanting to get them ever since we were unable to get them in Brussels.
Saturday was a full day of touring around. We started with a hearty breakfast to give us energy for the long day. The traditional Irish breakfast is similar to the traditional English breakfast, and the traditional Scottish breakfast, only it is better. Basically, take out the awful baked beans, mushrooms, and tomatoes, and add in soda bread and potato bread. The potato bread was just okay, made out of leftover potatoes. However, I really liked the soda bread. Apparently it was what the poor Irish used to make, but I actually thought it was delicious.
We started our day at the Giant’s causeway, which is a UNESCO World Heritage Site. It is this natural rock formation that is almost a scientific wonder, and has a lot of myths and legends behind it. I wasn’t quite sure what to expect because I’ve heard some people say great things, and others that are not so impressed.
Well, let me say that I was blown away!! Wow, these rocks were amazing! Some things that really added to our experience:
- We are National Trust members, so we got to park, enter the visitor center, and get the audio guide entirely for free. Saved about £17! Boom!
- We arrived at around 9:15am, which apparently beat all the crowds. For the first 30 minutes, we were the only ones at the causeway, minus the workers. That really made the experience much more incredible. Also made for better pictures!
- We weren’t hoping for amazing weather (and we didn’t get it). We dressed for the cold and the rain.
Anyway, I’ll just go with pictures now because I really can’t describe the rocks with wee words. Also, no collages here because I think all the pictures are worth their own page.
Overall, I thought the rocks were incredible! The local legend is that the rocks are all that remain of a bridge that the Irish Giant Finn McCool built reaching all the way to Scotland. There are actually similar rocks found near a Scottish island, which would be the other side of the bridge. More likely, the rocks are a result of molten volcanic lava cooling and cracking deep within the earth. I like the Giant’s story more.
After the Giant’s causeway, we headed to another National Trust site, the Carrick-a-Rede Rope Bridge. This bridge was initially built by fisherman who were trying to get in a better position to catch the migrating salmon that swam through this pass. Although the bridge is about 100 feet high and quite rickety, I didn’t think it was all that scary. Maybe with the UK’s obsession with Health and Safety, I felt that the bridge couldn’t be anything but safe. It probably would have been a lot scarier when it was actually the fishermen’s bridge, as they strung it up themselves, and only had one rope to hold on to while they were carrying fish with the other hand. The views were impressive, but I definitely enjoyed the ones at the Giant’s Causeway more. Luckily, we got in for free (yay National Trust!), and we were still early enough to avoid large queues.
Next up was Dunluce castle, which is a medieval castle that is pretty much falling into the sea. As soon as we arrived, we saw 5 dragons! What?!, you say? Dragons? Well, possibly they were lizards, but there were 5 grown men dressed in dragon onesies. Now, I don’t know what has been going on in the UK recently, but there is some sort of trend to wear onesies. Has this trend happened in America? I don’t understand it at all! To give these guys the benefit of the doubt, they were probably on a stag do (bachelor party) and they had decided to do fancy dress (wear costumes). Since onesies are readily available, they all went for the dragon/lizard onesie. However, even though these guys might have a valid excuse for wearing a onesie, there is no excuse for this trend to be happening across the UK. In the shopping malls, you can find onesies in stores (not costume stores!), and you can find shoppers wearing these onesies as they shop in the mall! Doug spotted 4 teenage girls at the bowling alley last week all in onesies. I even saw two men AT WORK on Friday wearing onesies! One was in a tiger print onesie and the other was in a camoflauge. I understand that Friday is casual dress Friday, but I definitely think that a onesie has gone too far! Will someone please explain this to me!?!
After the shock and excitement of seeing some dragons, we headed over to the castle. The castle was much less interesting. It was completely in ruins and didn’t seem like it had much to offer for the £5 admission fee. You could walk all around and below the castle without paying, so that’s what we did. We felt like we had seen enough, so we didn’t even go inside. I think we are becoming castle snobs. We’re headed to Wales this coming weekend, with plans to see another castle, so hopefully that one is better.
Next up was the Old Bushmill’s distillery, which claims to be the oldest distillery in the world, or in the UK, or in Ireland, or something along those lines. Basically a really old distillery with some really good single malt whiskey. We took a tour of the place, which was interesting enough, but unfortunately they had a problem with their boiler that day, so operations were shut down at the time of our tour. It seemed very similar to our Macallan distillery tour in Scotland last year, but the main difference in Irish and Scottish whiskey is that Irish whiskey is distilled 3 times, while Scottish whisky is only distilled twice. The Irish claim that the extra distillation adds smoothness to the whiskey, whereas I remember the Scottish tour guide at Macallan saying that an extra distillation only increases the alcohol content without adding any flavor or value. Oh yes, and don’t forget that Irish whiskey is spelled with “ey” at the end, whereas Scottish whisky just has the “y”. One other difference is that most Scottish whisky uses peat to dry out the barley, which adds the smokey, peaty flavor to the whisky. Irish whiskey just dries out the barley without peat usage. Since I don’t like the heavy peaty flavor, I would say that I probably like Irish whiskey more. I definitely liked the tasting of Bushmill’s that we got at the end of our tour.
As expected, we couldn’t take photos during the distillery tour, but I’ve got a couple in the tasting room/restaurant afterword. They were having a charity day, so they had some live music there to help raise money. It was a great atmosphere, and we enjoyed a few whiskey drinks. Hey, all proceeds went to charity! I would have loved to get a bottle of their 12 year old single malt to take home, but since we were flying with only hand luggage, we wouldn’t have been able to take that liquid on the flight.
Our last stop of the day was simply a road with large beech trees on each side. The area is called the Dark Hedges, and it has these magnificent trees that grow over the road. The area has been used in movies and shows, including the Game of Thrones. The trees were originally planted there by an 18th century family who wanted a grand entrance to their home, so they didn’t just grow like that naturally, but they were still really cool to see.
And that just about concludes our long day of sightseeing. We did go to a nice dinner that night at a local restaurant with a great sea view.
On Sunday morning we checked out of our B&B and drove the scenic route back to Belfast. Before we left the B&B, the sun actually came out for a brief moment! I was able to snap a quick picture.
Throughout the drive back to Belfast, we had periods of rain and sunshine, along with some interesting road impediments. We stopped and took pictures and enjoyed the views whenever we felt like it.
We made it to Belfast just in time to catch the St. Patrick’s day parade… all 10 minutes of it. Yeah, I think high school homecoming parades are bigger than this St. Patrick’s day parade. It was definitely a let down, especially since we were in Ireland! Not only was it short, but it seemed like there was some sort of Asian theme to the parade, which doesn’t seem to go with the Irish St. Patrick’s day theme. I’m pretty sure they were just recycling their stuff from the Chinese New Year that happened just last month.
At the end of the parade, there was some live music, but we ducked into a local pub to get out of the rain and have the obligatory St. Patrick’s day Irish Car Bomb (half a Guinness with a shot of a mixture of Jameson whiskey and Bailey’s dropped in it). We learned that they do not call it an Irish Car Bomb in Ireland, it is only called that in America.
Anyway, while we were in the pub, we met a couple (Adam and Gabrielle) that we ended up hanging out with the rest of the day! The guy was from Belfast, but the girl was actually from Texas! Woohoo, who would have thought I would find another Texas girl in a pub in Belfast on St. Patty’s day? Anyway, we all got along really well, so we just ended up staying with them the rest of the day. It was really random, but I totally loved it. I hope that we can all meet up again someday! They also became our tour guides and showed us around parts of Belfast! They took us to the Belfast cathedral, and this really cool bar called the Duke of York. We also walked by the Belfast City Hall, which reminded me of the Port of Liverpool building which we just recently saw on our trip to Liverpool. We ended up going to the Crown Liquor Saloon, which is a really cool Victorian era pub owned by the National Trust. It is also across the street from the Europa Hotel, which is the most bombed hotel in Europe (or at least it used to be).
We ended up having a really fun St. Patrick’s day, due in large part to meeting Adam and Gabrielle. Nice meeting y’all!
Oh yes, and I have a collage (Doug actually made this one) of many of the Guinness signs that were at the Duke of York pub. I think that these are hilarious. My favorite one is probably, “Guinness- the ideal summer resort.” What does that even mean?
Now for a short recap of our travel mishap on our Monday morning flight back to Derby. I like to document all of our travel problems, especially since it seems that they happen a lot over here, although it might just be because our rate of travel is a lot higher. The flight was scheduled to leave Belfast City airport at 6:55am and arrive in East Midlands at 8:05am. We had no problems at all getting to the airport, going through security, and taking off on time. It was all smooth sailing. The problem arose at the end of the flight, when they had announced that all seat backs and tray tables needed to be in their upright and locked position as we were going into our final descent. However, as we started the final descent, it turned out that, nope, we couldn’t land yet because some dense fog had just rolled in. The captain came on the speaker and told us that we would have to circle for a bit until the fog cleared. No big deal, we thought, this would just add a little extra time. However, after 30 minutes of circling, the captain announced that the fog was not clearing. We were going to head to Birmingham to see if we could land there. As it turned out, Birmingham was actually too foggy to land as well. Now we were going to head to Manchester to land there. Manchester is a 2 hour drive away from East Midlands! Luckily Manchester was not foggy (it was actually quite sunny), and we were able to land. But since we were an unscheduled plane, we had to wait for quite awhile on the runway before they could sort out a bus to take us to the terminal.
So now we had landed, but we were in Manchester, not East Midlands! The airline (Flybe) sorted out a bus to take us all the way back to East Midlands. By the time we got back to the East Midlands airport, it was 11:30am, a lot later than our scheduled 8:05am arrival time! To be fair, it was definitely foggy there! Alas, at least we made it home safely. It was a great wee weekend.