eighteen – causeways and coastlines

in which Eileen, Lis, and I visited Northern Ireland and toured the coast.

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Carrick-a-Rede rope bridge

It all started when Phil sent me a link to a bus tour of the Giant’s Causeway that cost less than €20. Sweet, I thought. Score! & immediately rushed off to tell the others. That, actually, happened sometime early last month. Eventually, we decided that this past weekend (4 Oct.) would be a perfect time to leave the Republic for a bit. & so we packed our bags, grabbed our cameras, booked a hostel — in short, we made plans.

And let me tell you, folks — Northern Ireland is beautiful. Absolutely stunning.

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yes, I did sit on a few cliffs during this trip.

Before I get ahead of myself — that is, before I ramble about the beautiful coastline of this remarkable island — I should start at the beginning: Belfast.

For one thing, it’s in a different country. For another, it’s part of the UK. For a third, this means a different currency. Whoa. Currency. That was really far more exciting to me than most people would think. Hey, I’ve grown up using one currency and one currency only, okay? I’m used to the Euro now, but the British Pound Sterling?!

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Yup. Exciting.

Belfast is quite remarkably different from Dublin. Maybe it was just the streets we were on, but it seemed much quieter. Sure, there are a ton of shopping centers — by the time Lis and I arrived, Eileen had already seen four malls — but there were very few street musicians. After the constant soundtrack of instruments ranging from accordion to sax to bagpipes, this was just… strange. And quiet. Despite this unsettling calm, however, we explored Belfast and enjoyed the city lights.

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City Hall. See what I mean about the lights?

We even had Chinese for dinner (we’d all been craving it, okay, and it was reasonably cheap!). Maybe it was because we hadn’t had Chinese in months, but that food we ordered was amazing. We practically licked our plates clean. The honey and chili chicken that Eileen ordered was particularly scrumptious. Apparently eating with chopsticks isn’t expected here, though; we were “those Americans” and asked for them anyway. Hey, I didn’t spend hours eating sushi & Chinese & tempura with Jasmine & Bianca & Lilli when I was in middle school just to throw those skills out the window because they weren’t expected of me.

The highlight of the evening, however, was the fountain. Specifically, The Fountain Bar…IMG_2791

… because every Friday night, The Fountain has traditional, live music starting at 9:30PM. We arrived at 10, having no particular plans but also not willing to turn in for the night quite yet. We grabbed a booth in the corner, ordered cider, and relaxed after a day of classes and travel.

Whatever else I have learned this semester, I will definitely come home with a great appreciation for live music and a pint. I have a feeling this transition back to American culture will be sorely lacking in the communal feel of a pint at one of the (at least ten or twenty) local pubs and traditional Irish music.

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The next day, we set out on our bus tour. I would highly, highly recommend this trip for anyone who happens to be in Northern Ireland for a few days and wants to see the Giants Causeway or Carrick-a-Rede rope bridge — not to mention go to lunch at Old Bushmills Distillery, but I’m getting ahead of myself.

First stop: a Carrickfergus castle. Half the fun of this is just in the namesIMG_2812

We only stopped here for a few minutes. Then it was back on the bus and guys, we took the coastal road. I have a deep, deep love for the ocean. This trip was, therefore, an absolute gift. So much water. Everywhere. And beyond it — Scotland.

Yes, you read that correctly. Throughout most of this trip, we could see Scotland in the distance. As Lis put it, I can see Scotland from my bus!

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The brown is Rathlin Island; Scotland is the more distant, blue-looking land mass.

I even remembered to have Lis take a picture with me in it, as my dear mother requested I show that I’m actually in Europe, don’t ya know.

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“GREETINGS from NORTHERN IRELAND!”

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After the Carrick-a-Rede Rope Bridge, we headed towards Old Bushmills Distillery. Alas! There was no time for a tour (which would’ve been awesome), but we did get to eat lunch and, because we noticed a sign on our table, try some of their whiskey for free.

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After the distillery, we headed to the main event: The Giant’s Causeway. Our bus driver and tour leader helpfully gave us the history of Northern Ireland’s only World Heritage Site. The shape of the rocks is put down either — scientifically — to their properties and gradual dissolution of chemicals, or — culturally — to Fionn mac Cumhaill (or, as Tomie DePaula spelled it, Fin M’Coul)The basic idea is that mac Cumhaill  wanted to go conquer his neighboring giant’s lands in Scotland. He arrived, realized he was much, much smaller than said giant, and quickly raced back to Ireland to consult with his wife. Being a rather clever person, his wife plopped him in a large cradle and a baby’s outfit, setting him up to be the baby & not her husband. When the Scottish giant came racing to get his own at mac Cumhaill, he was thoroughly intimidated by the size of the baby Fionn, and raced back to Scotland… pulling up the Causeway behind him.

Or something like that.

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Whatever the cause, it’s definitely a very interesting (and lovely) place! Lis & I decided to climb the cliff behind us, so we left Eileen and set off up the cliffside.

There were stairs involved. Hundreds of stairs. We felt like Frodo & Sam being led by GollumThankfully the view was much better than that of Shelob’s lair.

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Definitely much prettier than Shelob’s lair.

I’ve decided that the panorama function on my phone was invented expressly so that people could take 270° pictures of Ireland.

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meet Lis!

See? That’s probably the most epic picture I’ve ever taken. Thanks, northern coast.

Panoramas aside, Lis and I hiked around towards the above-pictured cliff. Marvelous views of salt mines and… red… clay? Apparently it’s a geological phenomenon that extends between Northern Ireland and Scotland (the part directly across from the Causeway, that is). For a moment, though, I was wondering if it was all a trick and I was somehow back in the Carolina-Virginia area. The view of Scotland, the Causeway — in short, the coastline and the North Channel — was, as you can see from that picture with Lis, just breathtaking (I’m becoming reasonably certain that words like stunningmajesticbreathtaking, and wow were also invented for Ireland’s sake).

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I must say, though, that I am incredibly grateful for the weather we had. Blue skies, sunshine — I would not have been sitting on a cliff’s edge and staring at this remarkable part of creation if the weather had been rainy and grey.

We concluded our trip in the best way possible…

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honeycomb crisp & toffee crunch… yum.

… with ice cream, of course!

And with that, I take my leave. It’s getting a tad bit late and I need to rest up. Why? Not because of midterms (they don’t exist here); not because I’m sleepy, although that’s true; not because I’m sick, because I’m not.

Nope… just a little matter of BECKY ARRIVING TOMORROW MORNING!!!! There are many things that happen whenever B.Dubbs and I reunite — tea, tears, etc. — but primarily, of course, comes adventure and lots and lots and lots of laughter. I can’t wait to show her around this amazing country!

Here’s a taste of the iMessages I’ve been getting for the past few weeks.IMG_3205

Everything’s ready: extra bedding found (bless you, Gilliams), bedroom cleaned, kitchen cleaned, itinerary made (well, sort of. It’s very heavy on things to do and very light on things like, you know, sleep)… It’s kinda like Christmas, really. I just need to go to bed, and when I wake up, it’ll finally be here!

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