24 June 2011

Belfast & Giant's Causeway

Sami, Deirdre, and I  decided to take a break from our dissertations and jetted off to Northern Ireland for a couple of days. The flight to Belfast is only about 35 minutes, so we were there before we knew it! Deirdre's family is from there so we had the advantage of a very gracious cousin who agreed to transport us from the airport to Deirdre's grandma's house, where we were staying. After dropping our things off we made our way to the center of Belfast via bus. Around City Hall is the shopping district so we were perfectly content to wander around there for a couple of hours before we found lunch. We especially enjoyed our time in Primark, which is not only packed full of cute clothes but it's surprisingly affordable. Sadly, they have been promising Edinburgh a Primark for like 2 years now. It will finally open in...September. Just as we're leaving. BOO!
City Hall, Belfast
Belfast's answer to the
Leaning Tower of Pisa.
Titanic's Pump House
After a lunch of chicken pie and Guinness we went in search of the hop-on hop-off tour bus. We weren't really sure what there was to see in Belfast so we were decided to leave it in the hands of our tour guide. For just £10 this ended up being a great investment. We say the pump house for the Titanic, parliament building, Queen's University, and City Hall. Along Falls and Shank roads we saw plenty of paramilitaristic murals and 'peace walls', which are walls that are literally dividing whole neighborhoods based on religion. While I certainly appreciated the historical value I couldn't help but find these things a little sad. It was like a living reminder of the 'troubles' that had plagued, and still do plague, North Ireland. 

Sidenote: the tour guide was particularly hilarious. He made a point to explain that Belfast has been a safe haven for Jewish immigrants escaping persecution in Russia. He noted the irony that any group of people would turn to Belfast to escape religious persecution, adding that the only question that Jewish immigrants were asked is, "Are you a Catholic Jew or a Protestant Jew?" Ha!
Old Court House - sadly in disrepair and routinely vandalized.
Parliament...or Pemberley?
Queen's College
 Since we didn't end up seeing anything that particularly caught our fancy we hopped-off at the close of the tour. After doing some tourist shopping we met back up with Deirdre's cousin for a drink. Sami and I were really interested to be able to talk to a genuine resident of Belfast since the peace walls and murals had incited our curiosity.
Dalai Lama quote on one of the many 'peace walls'.
One of the many paramilitaristic and politically-charged murals.

Friday was really the reason for our whole trip, however. Early in the rainy morning we embarked on our coach tour to Giant's Causeway. Our first stop of the day was Carrickfergus Castle. We didn't end up staying long, though, since it was raining sideways at this point. In the few moments that we hopped off the bus to take pictures we were essentially soaked through, so we didn't mind leaving earlier than usual.
Carrickfergus Castle

After another hour we made a brief stop in Carnlough. This was a cute little town that was set right on the water. Coincidentally, it was also where Winston Churchill used to spend his summers. Once we had explored the pier and grabbed some ice cream we were back on the road. From here on our we were mostly along the coast, which made the scenery particularly beautiful. I especially enjoyed the moment when we passed through the glens, which is what apparently inspired Johnny Cash when he wrote 40 Shades of Green. Conclusion? Scotland is not nearly as green as Ireland.
Beautiful Glens
Bushmills deserved many, many
Dad Pictures
12 Year Reserve
Our next stop was Bushmills and we were excited to warm up with some whiskey. As we enjoyed our 12 year old reserve (which you can only find at the original distillery!) we admired the decor. After we were on our way again we stopped briefly at Dunluce Castle where we enjoyed some momentary sunshine and blue sky. 
Dunluce Castle

Finally, FINALLY, we made it to Giant's Causeway. An UNESCO World Heritage Site, Giant's Causeway was a remarkable thing to behold. Scientifically, the phenomenon is attributed to an ancient volcano. These hexagonal stepping stones are actually massive columns that extend into the sea. Personally, I like the legend more.

Legend has it that Fionn mac Cumhaill, the famous Irish warrior, built the causeway as a bridge so he could walk to Scotland, where he hoped to fight his Scottish counterpart, Benandonner. At one point Fionn fell asleep before he actually reached Scotland. When he did not arrive, Benandonner went in search of him. In an attempt to protect him, Fionn's wife laid a blanket over him so he could be passed off as their baby son. When Benandonner saw the massive "infant" he fled assuming that if the baby was that big, Fionn must be massive. The bridge was left destroyed by Benandonner so as to ensure that Fionn could not follow. Thus, we have Giant's Causeway.

Lounging on the Giant's Boot.
I'm on top of the world! And really cool.
On the Carrick-a-Rede
Rope Bridge!
After our time at Giant's Causeway and Sami's near-death fall - not an exaggeration, unfortunately - we made our way to the last stop of the day: Carrick-a-Rede Rope Bridge. The bridge was originally built by salmon fishermen but it is now a major tourist attraction. The views from the bridge are gorgeous, which helps to distract from the nagging threats of death when you look down at the rocks and shallow water below.

Don't look down!
Beautiful view....The water is so clear!
It was certainly a brief trip to Northern Ireland but it was also a memorable one! I may not have entirely loved the city of Belfast (minus the Primark!) but I certainly enjoyed our coach tour to Giant's Causeway. For anyone visiting Northern Ireland, be sure to make the natural wonders the focal point of your trip.

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