Monday, October 27, 2014

Northern Ireland: Questions and Answers

Here are my questions and answers about Northern Ireland:

Where did we go?
We went to Derry and Belfast, Northern Ireland. Northern Ireland is part of the United Kingdom.

Where is it and how did we get there?
Derry and Belfast are in Northern Ireland. Jake flew an hour and ten minutes from Stockholm to Copenhagen and met Dave for the last flight from Copenhagen to Dublin which was an hour and fifteen minutes. I had a direct flight from Stockholm to Dublin and it was two hours and forty five minutes.

The green markers are the cities we flew in and out of and the red markers are Derry and Belfast.



How long were we there?
The guys were there for about 4.5 days and I was there about 3.5 days.

What language do they speak?
They have three official languages: English, Irish and Ulster Scots. We pretty much only heard English.

What currency do they use?
The use pounds like in other parts of the United Kingdom but some of their money has pictures related to Northern Ireland. It was hard going from Dublin where we paid in Euros to then cross over and start paying in pounds.

Were things expensive?
Things weren't very expensive, in my opinion. Since we live in Stockholm and that is my reference point it might be a little skewed since the cost of living in Stockholm is about one and a half or two times as expensive compared to Olathe, Kansas. Overall I didn't think Northern Ireland was that expensive.

Would we be able to live there for a year?
I don't think I could live there for a year, which isn't the answer I would have thought before out trip. We really enjoyed (The Republic of) Ireland but Northern Ireland just had a different feel. It seemed more tense, less friendly and just not really a place I'd like to live. I think the rainy weather would wear on me like it would in Ireland but the tension in the country just didn't sit well with me.


What was most memorable thing about the trip?
I think the most memorable thing was our coastal drive in practically perfect weather. Every time we turned around we saw something that took our breath away. I also enjoyed being able to drive again! I was supposed to drive when we went to Switzerland but I forgot my driver's license. This time I remembered and it was the first time I had driven since April!







What was the food like?
The food was good. I was expecting it to be a lot like the food we had in Ireland and it was but I felt like it was harder to find "Irish" food this time around. When we visited Ireland I really enjoyed the Irish Cottage Pie and I wasn't able to find that this time. I did have Steak and Guinness Pie which was really good.




Jake had a traditional Irish breakfast in Derry and enjoyed it.

Least favorite food?
Mushy peas. I have no idea why anyone would think that is a good idea. I'm a pretty big texture person so if the texture isn't right I can't eat it and mushy peas falls into the "can't handle the texture" category.

Favorite food?
My favorite food on this trip was the Steak and Guinness Pie although I wish I would have had another chance at Irish Cottage Pie.

Would we want to go back?
I'm not sure I need to go back to Northern Ireland. I would go back to Ireland for sure and there are still some places Jake wants to visit in Ireland but I think I'm good with Northern Ireland, especially Belfast. I wasn't very impressed with Belfast. I didn't feel like there was much to see or do and it just put off a bad vibe. I'm sure there are other parts of Northern Ireland that are great but I have other places I'd rather see before we head back there.

What was I most surprised by?I was surprised by how different Northern Ireland felt from Ireland. I figured it would be almost the same and it was not. I didn't expect to still feel the tension of The Troubles which happened over 15 years ago.

Did we do anything we thought we wouldn't do?
I didn't think we would have good weather during our trip but especially on our scenic drive day which means we probably would have skipped some of our stops. Once our trip was close enough that we could check the weather we were pretty bummed at the forecast but it turned out to be pretty nice. We learned the hard way last time that a scenic drive in bad weather is not worth it.

What did I learn about myself on this trip?
I learned that in some groups I am a fun sucker but with other groups of people I am a fun enjoyer (or a fun bringer, depending on my mood) and somehow I need to figure out how to be a fun enjoyer most of the time!

Saturday, October 25, 2014

Northern Ireland: Derry and Belfast

We just got back from a quick trip to Northern Ireland.  Dave, one of Jake's best friends from the Olathe office, spent a few days in Gothenburg for work and then wanted to know if we wanted to travel somewhere together before he flew back home.  Of course we said yes.  He mentioned that we had already been to Ireland so we probably wouldn't want to go back there but then Jake suggested Northern Ireland.  I didn't realize, until planning this trip, that Ireland is split into two parts, the Republic of Ireland and Northern Ireland.  Northern Ireland is part of the UK where as the Republic of Ireland (what most people just call Ireland) is not part of the UK.  Also, props to Dave because other than Josh he is the only friend who has actually visited us while we've been living here.  (Granted the main expense of the flight was paid by his work but still, go Dave!)

The boys flew to Dublin on Thursday, October 16th.  They spent the night hanging out at pubs, listening to great music and enjoying a few beers.  I flew to Dublin the next day because I was subbing and didn't want to take off an extra day.  The plan was that the boys would go to the Guinness factory in the morning before they picked me up.  We went to the Guinness factory in May when we visited Ireland but Jake went again with Dave.  The guys were supposed to pick me up at 1:30 pm but then I got a text saying they were running late.  Jake found a church that had a crypt you could tour with 400-800 year old mummies.  I didn't have any interest in that so they went without me but they ran late and picked me up an hour and forty minutes after they were supposed to.  Thankfully I had free wifi was understanding so it wasn't that big of a deal.  I hopped in the car, we grabbed some lunch and then we drove towards Derry, Northern Ireland.

We were supposed to stop at a few places on the way to Derry but since the guys ran late and the road we were going to take was closed we weren't able to stop.  Dave drove us to Derry on the narrow roads, in the dark and rain and did a great job.  We were a little bit worried when we drove out of Ireland and into Northern Ireland because the sign on the road said "now changing from kilometers per hour to miles per hour" and the car we rented was in kilometers per hour.  Thankfully we had the gps and it told us the speed limit (still in kph) and our speed or else it would have been a struggle!
We got to Derry around 8 pm and dropped off our bags at Amore Bed and Breakfast before going to dinner.  Most places stop serving food between 9-9:30 pm.  We were cutting it close so the person running our bed and breakfast drove us to the restaurant.  Just reconfirms that the Irish are the nicest people!  We had a great dinner and then walked to a few pubs for some drinks.  To be honest my first day was kind of a bust.  I felt like I traveled all day.  I left our apartment at 9:45 am to get to the airport, wait for the flight, fly 2.5 hours, wait in the Dublin airport for the boys for almost 2 hours, and then sat in a car for 4 hours to get to Derry.  It was a long day of traveling and not much else.  If I could replan that day I would but our next day was awesome!
The next morning before we started our scenic drive around the coast we walked around Derry a little bit.  This is the third city we've been to that has a wall surrounding the city (the others were Gotland and Dubrovnik).

I didn't realize until we went to Northern Ireland that they had several years of fighting and terrorism happening in their country.  This period of time is referred to as The Troubles, which is a nice way of putting it I guess :).  The Troubles lasted from 1968-1998.  U2s song "Sunday, Bloody Sunday" describes the massacre in Derry when 26 civil rights protesters and bystanders were shot by British soldiers.  Thirteen people died.  In part of Derry there are murals and memorials depicting that time.



After walking around the city our plan was to drive along the coast to check out a few of the sites.  Some of them were Game of Thrones related, yes, I know we just did that in Croatia but they also film in Northern Ireland.  We had GREAT weather.  On our scenic drive in Ireland last May the weather was very Irish (rainy, windy, cold and cloudy) but not this day.  It was sunny and beautiful (plus some wind).  
This golf course has a nice view.
Our first stop was the Dunluce Castle.

 Dave was excited.




This is what the Dunluce Castle looked like in 1900. Pretty neat.
 These boy love adventure.
We got back in the car and drove to the Old Bushmills Distillery for a tour.
We had lunch at the distillery.  All of us had the Steak and Guinness Pie with mashed potatoes and mushy peas. (I skipped the peas.)
 Jake had one of the biggest espressos ever at the distillery before our tour.
 The tour was neat but we weren't able to take any pictures on the tour.  We did get to try three samples after the tour.
Our next stop was the Giants Causeway.




 The shapes of the stones were so cool!





 After we left the Giants Causeway we found another great view and stopped to take a picture.

 Dave found another cave.
 Ballintoy Bay
 Ballintoy Harbour where they shot several scenes from Game of Thrones.
Ballintoy Harbour

We saw these cows while we were walking to the rope bridge.  Dave called them Oreo cows.  There was one I would have called double stuffed.
 The Carrick-A-Rede Rope Bridge
I included three of these shots in sequence.  This is the before picture.

Notice Jake looking at the water?  This was right before he stepped off the middle walkway and stepped onto the small net on the side and then caught himself on the handle that made the whole bridge lean to the side.

My after face, see his foot?  I'm sad Dave missed the during face.  I was freaking out!   
 Only a little bit windy.  We heard they were thinking about closing the rope bridge due to the wind but thankfully they didn't.
 



The bridge from farther away.
On our last stop of our scenic drive for the day we looked at some trees.
 Technically these are the dark hedges which are 300 year old beech trees.  There is a scene in Game of Thrones filmed in this location.  The trees are beautiful.  A charter bus dropped off a full load of tourists and then parked at the end of the road so they could walk under the trees.  It was a pretty popular place.

This was going on in front of our car.  I'm guessing they were on a Game of Thrones tour.
We drove the rest of the way to Belfast.  We checked into our bed and breakfast and realized it was more like a hostel.  They had 30 rooms which made the personal touch of a bed and breakfast feel pretty nonexistent.  They had shared toilets and showers but thankfully we made sure to book "in suite facilities."  They make that seem like our room was fancy.  It was not fancy.  We were actually pretty disappointed with our rooms.  The bed was super uncomfortable and our first morning there I had hot water but Jake didn't and at some points during his shower the water stopped completely.  Dave didn't have hot water the second morning.  We have booked almost all of our accommodations through booking.com and I feel like this time it failed us.  There was a newer section and an older section and Jake and I were in the older section.  We still had a warm bed and breakfast but it wasn't what we had in mind.
The lady at the front desk of our b and b suggested a bar for dinner.  We went there and the food was pretty good but the atmosphere wasn't.  My food arrived about 20 minutes before the guys' food because they accidentally gave me someone else's hamburger.  K-State was also playing Oklahoma that night and we were hoping to follow the game on wifi which the bar had but it didn't work on the floor we were on.  All three of us were ready to try a new place after dinner.
The next stop was The Crown bar.  It was a really neat bar with ornate decorations but no music.  If you know me you know that I don't drink, ever.  So going to a bar or a pub isn't that much fun for me unless I'm with a fun group or there is music to listen to.  Dave happens to be someone I not only can tolerate while he is drinking but I actually really enjoy hanging out with him even when he is drinking.  (I hope that doesn't come across the wrong way, I mean that as a compliment, but people who don't drink will understand that being around people who are drinking is typically not much fun.)  After a few drinks I was ready for another pub with music.  We walked about 10 minutes to another place.  The neighborhood we were in just seemed dead.  We had a hard time finding pubs and the area seemed kind of shady.  There were metal shutters (that looked like garage doors) over the entrances and windows on stores in Derry and Belfast.  I'm guessing these were necessary during The Troubles but it still gave off an unsettling feeling.

We reached the last pub with live music and I lost count how many times I feel asleep :).  Oops.  The boys walked me back to the hotel before going across the street for one more pub experience.

The next morning we had breakfast and then went to the Titanic Experience.  Titanic was built in Belfast and they had a museum that was located on the same place where the Titanic was built.  It was a really neat museum.  You could say I enjoy learning about the Titanic.  It did a report on it in 8th grade and made a Titanic cake with one of my best friends for the presentation.  I've been to a Titanic museum in Branson, Amsterdam and now Belfast.

They had a really neat ride that we went on showing us how they built the Titanic.
 The video is showing the launch of Titanic and out the windows you can see exactly where Titanic was built and launched.  It was really neat.
 The poles are where the scaffolding was for the Titanic and Olympic.  If you notice the curved line on the ground, it is the outline of the Titanic. 
 I'm the king of the world!
Titanic Studios, where they are currently filming Game of Thrones.
 This is the Nomadic which is the only White Star Line Ship still in existence and was the tender ship for Titanic.  You can tour it but we decided not to.
 The crazy silver building on the left is the Titanic Museum.
We spent the afternoon shopping and walking around.  We finally figured out how to add money to my prepaid phone plan so I could text and make calls in a different country which gives us way more freedom if we want to split up.  I went shopping and the boys went to a pub!
After shopping we had dinner at the Dirty Onion and they only serve chicken.  It was great!
After dinner we went downstairs and hung out at that pub for a while.  We had great music and a fun conversation.  During this conversation Dave tells us that he had a conversation with one of his friends and they have decided there are three types of people: fun bringers, fun enjoyers and fun suckers.  I think about halfway through this story he realizes that all three of those types of people are sitting at our table . . . and he wasn't quite sure how to finish up the story :).  Jake and Dave argued over whether Jake was a fun bringer or a fun enjoyer but no one questioned what I was :).

The next morning we left Belfast at 7:00 am to drive to Dublin.  We should have gotten there around 8:30 am but we hit traffic when we got close to Dublin and we started getting stressed.  Last time when Dave visited us he missed his flight back home to Kansas.  You could say that didn't go over well so this time he was determined to not let that happen again so we left 30 minutes before we thought we needed to and it is a good thing we did.  We ended up dropping Dave off at the terminal before we returned the rental car.  It took us about 30 minutes to return the rental car and by the time we got to the check in counter they were closing the check in window.  We thought we had checked in the night before but Jake's didn't go through.  Thankfully they let him check in and we were able to go through the fast track for security and we made it to the gate with about 5 minutes to spare.  Dave said he didn't have even a minute to spare but we all made our flights.

We had a great time with Dave in Northern Ireland.  I will say that I expected it to be and feel more like (the Republic of) Ireland and it didn't.  People were still friendly but a bit different.  We read that we weren't supposed to talk about The Troubles or wear certain colors or talk about religion or politics which was fine but a little stressful.

Hope you enjoyed reading about our time in Northern Ireland.