Saturday, January 9, 2010

A Tale of Two Cities Part Two- Belfast

Belfast is the capital of Northern Ireland which is part of the UK. I only say this because I wasn't sure about all this for a while when I first learned about Belfast. This trip was also very educational and we hope to get into some of that later.

The reason we picked Belfast was because my good friend, Melanie is from Belfast and her dad, Maurice, and step-mom, Gwen, still live there and Mel and her husband, Chris, were going to be visiting them after Christmas. We were so excited for this reunion because Melanie and I have so much fun together. Mel also has a brother, Matt, that is around our age that lives there too. We had met Maurice, Gwen and Matt in Atlanta when they had visited and we just loved them - especially with those accents. So after a few days in Dublin we got on a bus for two-and-a-half hours and ended up in Belfast. When we got off the bus we saw Melanie and it was a joyous reunion. We went back to Maurice and Gwen's house in a city seven miles outside Belfast called Carryduff or as Matt likes to call it, "the Duff". We had a great time catching up, laughing, exchanging small gifts, eating and drinking into the night. 

The next morning we were up early to head to the Northern Coast and see the spectacular sight that is the "Giant's Causeway". It was even an adventure getting ready in the morning since there was only one bathroom for six people. We managed to do it and had wheels up at 9am. We got there around 11 and as soon as we stepped out of the car we almost got knocked over by the wind. Once we recovered we made our way down a hill and out to see the Giant's Causeway. There are many myths about the Causeway, one being that a Giant named Finn MacCool built the steps to go to Scotland. The truth is that the column looking stepping stones where formed 60 million years ago by the cooling and shrinking of molten lava from a vast volcanic eruption. The Giant's Causeway is also a UNESCO World Heritage Site. I don't know if the pictures will do any justice to the stones or the extreme weather conditions we endured during our visit. I will say it was worth all of it. This is one of those things that you just have to see. It was amazing. The other fun thing was they had turned it into a scavenger hunt by having you look for things in the stones like the Giant's boot, the wishing chair, the organ, etc. After about an hour-and-a-half of cold wind and rain we were ready to get warm. We enjoyed a fabulous lunch at the Causeway hotel and it was here I enjoyed my first Magner's cider. The Irish might not be able to make some good beer, but they make fantastic cider.  On the ride back we drove all along the coast and Maurice was our personal tour guide. With the wind blowing it made for crazy coastline conditions, but a good show for us. That evening we enjoyed a home-cooked meal by Gwen and this was the first of many home-cooked meals, it was awesome!

Our fabulous tour guide, Maurice and our good friends, Melanie and Chris.

Just getting started!

All bundled up and me looking like a bubble gum colored mushroom.

The Giant's Causeway

The wishing chair! Even though Justin looks like he is taking a dump.

The Giant's boot. Also the sight for one of Maurice's many paintings.

Lunch at the Causeway Hotel

The next day we headed into the city of Belfast and did a little shopping and sight seeing. Right outside the city hall they had a ferris wheel, but we are talking about a deluxe one. We went into the city hall to witness a couple taking wedding photos and also took pictures of some stained glass windows. Belfast is a very cute city that has a lot of history. I enjoyed all of the great pubs and restaurants, each with its own personality. This was New Year's Eve day and Gwen and Mel had set up a reservation at Mel's favorite bar, The Crown Bar. She had told me all about the Crown bar and it did not disappoint. They reserved something called a snug. This is an enclosed booth with a door, it was like our own little space. Everyone was there and it was a really good way to start the day off.  

Belfast city hall and the deluxe ferris wheel

Stained glass windows in city hall.

Our "snug" door

The whole crew sitting in our snug!

My mom would love this place. It was made for her royalty.

After lunch we decided it would be a good idea to go home and rest up for the late night. Gwen cooked up some Shepard's pie that rocked my face off. Around eight we headed over to Matt's to meet some of his friends and for Justin to enjoy Metallica Guitar Hero. While we were there I met two of Matt's friends from Dublin that will be moving to Newport Beach, CA in February. For those of you that don't know, that is the city next to my hometown. What a small world. I told them all the things they need to see and places they need to eat. (Las Barcas of course!) It was good fun, but around 10:00 the boys shipped out for a much crazier night than ours. We all decided we wanted to have a quieter New Year's Eve so we headed back to the Duff to celebrate. America has Dick Clark and Ryan Seacreast for New Year's Eve well the UK has Jools Holland. This was the best NYE show I have ever seen. Jools had tons of musicians from all different styles and they played up to, and well into the New Year. I had never heard of some of the artists, but they were fantastic. They had some you would know like Boy George (can't sing anymore), Tom Jones (can definitely still sing and rock it out) and Paulo Nuttini.  A few new ones I liked were Florence and the Machine and Dizzee Rascal. There was hardly any talking and lots of  upbeat music. So we rocked into 2010 and as the clock stuck midnight there were hugs, kisses and Maurice leading us in a dance around the coffee table. It was a special night spent with great friends. We ended the night with some Bailey's and headed to bed around 2am.

Looking good for New Year's Eve! Silk shirts were in this year if you didn't get the memo.

The next day Maurice took us around the city looking at all of the murals painted around the city. I will have Justin give you more of the history about all this later (he is reading a book on it), but to make it short throughout the city of Belfast areas that were Catholic and areas that were Protestant have murals painted either as memorials or for patriotism. It was quite interesting and Maurice again was a great tour guide as he has lived through "the Troubles." From the pictures you will be able to see some of the ridiculousness and also some of the pride. Like I said it was very educational and even made us want to buy a book which we are reading right now. We were a little too young to really grasp this whole event when it was happening and now having been there and talked to people from there I am starting to understand more. This is one of the reasons I love traveling - learning. You can only read and hear so much, but by actually going there it truly opens your eyes to the real history. After touring we stayed down in the city and Mel, Chris, Justin and I enjoyed a relaxing lunch and a few pubs. 

Murals of Belfast

Bobby Sands memorial. He was the the first person to die during the hunger strike.

Titanic mural. Did you know that the Titanic was built in Belfast?  Locals claim "it was fine when it left Belfast".

Now doesn't that look inviting?  Right across the street from the Day's Inn.

Cloth Ear pub

Ferris wheel at night.

The following day we all hopped on the local bus and Maurice and Gwen treated us to one of the best meals for lunch at Deane's Deli. It was a famous chef from Belfast named Michael Deane and the food was to die for. Justin had to have the fish and chips while I enjoyed some organic salmon. From Deane's we went to Morrison's and had to have some Irish whiskey. Man that will put some hair on your chest. At least we can say we did it. We headed home because we knew the next day we had a full day of traveling starting at 2am. We said our goodbyes and honestly I was sad to leave. Maurice and Gwen were fabulous hosts and we felt like one of their own. It was so great to see Mel and Chris and just pick up right where we left off. 

Deane's Deli.

All the essentials: Guinness, Magner's cider and Irish Whiskey - Bushmill's of course.

The trip home was a bit crazy with a two and a half hour bus ride to Dublin to catch a plane at 6:50am. We arrived at the Dublin airport at 5:15 am and I have never seen an airport that crowded. We got on our plane and towards the end of the flight we are told we couldn't land in Frankfurt due to heavy snow and so we had to land in Dusseldorf and take another bus two and a half hours to Frankfurt. What a day, but more than anything what a trip.

I have decided in all the places I travel or live I am going to miss things. From Dublin I am going to miss the music. From Northern Ireland I am going to miss the funny sayings like, "Fancy a chinkie?" and, "a wee". Also the Magners cider and british chocolate will be up there too. I know Justin will miss the Carryduff meat and veg.

Carryduff meat and veg one of Justin's favorite's.
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