9/10/22 (Cont) Belfast Traditional Music Trail
This was a wonderful little tour that took us to several locations where they explained about Irish music and dance. We learned that Belfast is the only UNESCO City of Music in Ireland, and some of the history. We learned about the three major types of traditional tune, Reels (4/4 time), Jigs (6/8 time), and Slip Jigs (9/8 time). The dance demonstration gave us a slowed down look at how the steps are done, and one of the group was invited to come up and get a lesson. And while walking between venues we got some history as well. For instance, slavery never came to Belfast because a group of Irishmen stormed a building and tore up the ownership documents. And apparently all of the mile markers in Ireland count the mileage from Belfast.
After that it was time for dinner, and at first we thought we might strike out since it was Saturday night and we did not have reservations. but we finally lucked out at a place called Ginger Bistro, where the three of us (Dennis went back to get food for Lyra who was resting in her room) all had Roasted Cauliflower with Curry seasoning on a bed of Chickpeas and greens in a Curry sauce. Totally delicious! And finally, back to the hotel where Dennis joined us for our evening tea before we all headed for bed, tired from a long but very nice day.
Up early again for breakfast before heading for our (Cheryl, Eileen, and I) all-day tour of Giants’ Causeway and other attractions. The office of the tour company turned out to be across the street from the hotel, so it was very convenient. Our first stop was the castle of Carrickfergus, which was built by the Anglo-Normans in 1177, and is the place where William III landed. James II had a smaller army and took off for the south, and William followed. At the Battle of the Boyne, the Protestant William prevailed, and his royal color of Orange became the Protestant color in Northern Ireland as a result.
From Carrickfergus we headed to Carnlough, where there was a scene filmed in Game of Thrones with Maizie crawling up steps out of the water. There was a lot of Game of Thrones stuff on this tour because much of it was filmed in this area.
From Carnlough we went to Cushendun, which we were told is the birthplace of Liam Neeson, and visited caves there that I expect also figured in Game of Thrones. These references were lost on us because we don’t get HBO and never watched that series. Cushendun is only 15 miles from the Mull of Kintyre in Scotland, but the visibility was poor so we didn’t actually see Scotland.
Then we went to the Dark Hedges, which is a street lined with very old, twisted Beech trees, and again featured in the Game of Thrones. It is a striking sight, and very much like a Fantasy. One of the trees died and fell down, and an enterprising businessman bought the tree and had it made into 10 carved doors which were distributed around Northern Ireland as tourist attractions, and then made up passports you could get stamped at each of the doors. We saw one of them, the Dragon Door, at our next stop, Ballintoy, where we visited a restaurant where lunch was served.
Ballintoy and Dunluce
We stopped for lunch at a restaurant in Ballintoy which had a Game of Thrones room with a replica of the Iron Throne, and Cheryl and I each had our picture taken sitting on it. It also had one of the carved doors, the Dragon Door, made from the fallen beech tree from Dark Hedges. We stopped briefly to take a picture of a ruined castle, Dunluce, then on to Giants’ Causeway.
Then on to Giants’ Causeway. By now the rain had become heavy, and we all got quite wet despite raincoats and ponchos. But this may be the only time we get to see Giants’ Causeway, so we made the best of it. It is quite a striking geological formation, but we exercised due caution given that the rain made the rocks quite slippery, and so managed to have a good time without injury. Finally we headed back to Belfast via the motorway, where we joined Dennis and Lyra for dinner in the Piano Bar at the hotel. BTW, the Hotel Europa has the distinction of being the most bombed hotel in Europe, as it was bombed over 30 times by the IRA during what they call “The Troubles”. Thankfully, it is very peaceful now. President Clinton, under whose leadership the peace process proceeded, and the Good Friday agreements signed, made a point of staying in this hotel when he visited Belfast after the peace agreement.
9/12/22 Back to Dublin
Up again early to have breakfast, pack up, and head for the train back to Dublin. We caught it in Layton Place, and we were back in Connolly Station in just over 2 hours. I wish we had trains like this in the U.S. We got to the Ashling Hotel in due order, and had lunch while waiting for the rooms to be ready. Then we went for a walk, which took us to Phoenix Park and the Wellington Monument. The park is one of the larger urban parks in Europe, but our visit was cut short as the rain started to increase from a drizzle to actual rain, so then we went back to the hotel for the latest on the Monarchy. It still feels odd to hear people talk about King Charles and Queen Camilla on TV while resting before our 6pm dinner reservation. Dinner was excellent, followed by our usual tea before heading to bed.
9/13/22 Last Full Day in Dublin
Our last full day in Ireland. Lyra decided against hiking in the Wicklow mountains, and no one disagreed. So we had a mostly free day ahead of us, starting with breakfast in the hotel. After that, Dennis, Eileen, and I walked to O’Connell Street to find a currency exchange office and a bank, then walked back to the hotel. Dennis wasn’t feeling well and tested positive for Covid, so after lunch Eileen, Cheryl, and I took the tram back to O’Connell Street to the General Post Office (GPO) to see the museum there. The GPO was the headquarters of the Republicans in the Easter 1916 uprising, and you can still see bullet marks on the stone pillars out front of the building. There is a Museum on the premises there that is devoted to explaining the Uprising, and I was looking forward to viewing the exhibits. And while the uprising did not immediately succeed, British rule of Ireland ended 6 years later, and the Uprising must have done a lot to advance that. Viewing these exhibits is a matter of conflicting emotions. I like Britain in many ways, but something like this makes me hate the British for a little while.
After that, Eileen went off on her own to do some more shopping, so Cheryl and I located the James Joyce Center nearby and visited that for a short spell, before walking back along the Liffey River to the hotel. We finished the day with dinner at the hotel, then an early bed before a day of travel tomorrow. It’s been a good trip, at least as much for being with family as for the sightseeing.
Up early for breakfast before heading to Dublin Airport for our flight to Reykjavik. There we changed planes for Boston, and our return to the US. When we got to Customs in Boston, we were able to do our final interviews for our Global Entry status, so we took our leave of the rest of our group at that point. The interviews were pretty straightforward, but the person who interviewed us said that many times when they ask a question they already know the answer, so lying is a chancy business at best, but we had no need to do that. They took our pictures and our fingerprints, and by the time we got home we had our final approval. Global Entry also covers everything in the Trusted Traveler, but is more for people who frequently leave the U.S., and since we have gone to Europe twice this year and plan to do so in future years it seemed to make sense.
After that we went outside and got the shuttle to the Embassy Suites hotel at Logan. It was already dark, showing the wisdom of not trying to press on to Detroit. A room for the night was a much better option.
Embassy Suites had a nice free breakfast including an omelet station, and for the first time in a week we got our kind of bacon. The kind they had in Ireland is more like Canadian Bacon, and while it is OK, it isn’t the bacon we love. Then back to Logan to get home. We flew to Chicago, changed planes there, and then on to Detroit. As usual, we always are excited to leave home on a trip, but by the end we are looking forward to getting home, sleeping in our own bed, etc. This is our last foreign travel for 2022, but it has been a pretty good year all things considered.