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Ireland Trip Day 6: The North Coast

Posted by julival on September 12, 2004

Here we go again.

Tuesday, the day after the wedding, was to be the last day of the little Irish freakout for several of the freaks *Sniffle* Originally, we had been going to have to part ways that morning, with kitty, jani, and mark heading south for Dublin (kitty and jani to catch a flight out for Helsinki on Wednesday, Mark to go back to work.) and our Cheeky Dutchman heading up to Belfast so that he could catch a flight home early the next morning. Alle, Jana, and the Millers were going to head north to Giant’s Causeway to see the sights.

Well, Alle, Jana, and Julie did a lot of wheedling on Monday night. We talked the bride and groom into joining us for the trip north, AND talked the other four into staying the day, as well. The plan was for jani, kitty, and mark to take the last train out of Portadown (a small town just north of Armagh) back to Dublin at 8:30 PM and to drop Wishy off at Belfast on the way back south from the coast. It worked _sort of_ like that…

I don’t remember exactly how early we all made it down for breakfast that morning, but I don’t think it was as early as previous days. I know that after breakfast the four who were departing had to settle up with Tony for the meals they’d had at the guesthouse and then we all sort of camped out on the stairs to wait for Louis and Uli. We found out that the Swedes were also going up to the causeway that day, but they were traveling separately from us and ended up getting a bit of a head start on us, so we never did meet up with them.

There were various issues involving Uli’s passport and Louis’ employer and whatnot, as well as stopping by to say farewell to the Swedes, so the happy newlyweds didn’t join us until about 11 am. At that point we split up into 3 groups of four (four to each car – ours, alle’s, and louis’) and put mr. o’connor in the lead and made him promise not to lose the rest of us.

It started to rain as we drove north and rained pretty hard and steadily pretty much the whole way up to the coast. Of course, none of us had brought any of our rain gear, having not needed it thus far. But we stayed optimistic and enjoyed the drive. Jeff made up a silly hand signal for when we needed to pull over, but failed to use it when we all stopped for fuel (for the car and the people) and pit stops at little petrol station along the way. It’s astonishing how much gas costs over there! I think we figured it was like $6/gal or something. The boys (not mine, but the other ones) loaded up on a lot of junkfood/candy while I filled up our tank and most everyone took a trip to the toilets.

We saw quite a lot of cows. Also quite a lot of sheep. I don’t know if I’ve mentioned this before or not, but we determined that it was unlikely that one could travel more than about a half mile from a cow at any given point in Ireland. Some of the sheep had paint on them – big blue or red swatches on the backs of their heads and necks. I had to ask the fake Irishman about it later in the day, just to see if he would make something up, but it turns out it was a pretty boring explanation of needing to see which sheep had received vaccines or worming or whatever.

The drive was really beautiful. Jeff and I noticed that all the towns had kept a very sort of integrated pattern to them – I mean in terms of businesses and private residences. There is not the same sort of broad separation between where the houses are and where the shops are as there is in middle America. and I think that’s partly because they didn’t seem to have the sort of sprawling shopping areas we have – no big walmart type shopping centers or strip malls. There were a _few_ mall type clusters here and there off the main motorways, but on the smaller highways, it was mostly rural with little scattered towns. Most of the homes we passed had beautiful little front gardens – mainly enclosed by short stone walls or little fences. I saw absolutely gorgeous, vividly colored hydrangeas – nothing like the pale pastels we have here.

I think it took us a little longer than Louis expected to get up to Port Rush, the town we were making for on the north coast. It must have been around 1 pm when we drove into town and we found unbelievable traffic there. It was still raining, and quite a bit cooler than it had been down in Armagh. Port Rush is apparently a resort town of sorts. People go there for summer holidays on the coast. It was swarming with tourists from all over Ireland and (of course) other places. I lost count of how many different nationalities I spotted/heard while we were at the castle and the causeway later in the afternoon.

After a bit of driving around in the line of tourists, we found a huge carpark and left our little trio of tiny cars there and set off to walk back to the main drag and look for a good place to eat lunch. Having had plenty of exposure to Irish food by this time, I was perfectly happy to eat wherever everyone else wanted to go. But I was pretty darned hungry at this point, so I was hoping they picked something fast. Somehow, jeff got up near the front of the walking group – we tend to get straggled out when we walk on city sidewalks, as other freaks will recall from other freakouts. I think he was looking for a good place to buy some warmer (waterproof if possible) clothing for himself and the boys, as they were in shorts and short sleeves for the trip. It was still raining a bit, and he was seriously lamenting not having brought his tilly hat along to Ireland.

We ended up stopping at some sort of arcade for people to use the restrooms and had to stand a close watch on some of the freaks to keep them from getting involved in the games and diverting the quest for food. Luckily, food was found not too much further down the street. Somehow, we settled on a burger joint aimed at trying to serve ‘authentic’ American fast food. *lol* Naturally there were lots of chips. And there was red sauce, brown sauce, garlic mayo, regular mayo, and mustard. But you had to pay 10 pence per packet. The packets were deceptively larger than standard condiment packets, but contained no more than the usual amount of sauce, as far as I could tell. Hmph.

This ‘authentic’ American establishment had lots of license plates as decorations hung all around the walls, near the ceiling. The license plates were the size and shape of American ones, rather than the long thin ones that are used in the republic of Ireland and Northern Ireland, and they mostly had the names of various states on them. It is important to note, however that one of them had ELVIS proudly emblazoned on it. There was also a fair amount of sports paraphernalia on the walls. You know how we Americans love our sports!

It was interesting, too, that when we arrived at the place (I forget what it was called exactly – possibly mr. chips or something like that), there were only one or two other people there, at most. But by the time we had gotten our food and tables, there was a line out the door and the place was rapidly filling up. We must have convinced people it was the place to be, just by our sheer numbers. *l*

I had the authentic American chicken sandwich and chips and red sauce and a Coke. It gave me a realization of what Chinese or Mexican or Italian people must think when they go to authentic Chinese or Mexican or Italian restaurants in the US. *g* I’m not saying the food was bad – it really wasn’t! I’m just saying it was different. I liked it just fine. It just wasn’t really that much like American food. *l* and the terminology is different, too. I’m not sure if it’s unique to northern Ireland or to the whole area, or just to a few restaurants, but if you want lettuce and tomato on your burger or sandwich, you ask for ‘salad’ on it. *g*

Our bellies satisfied, we headed back out to see some sights. Jeff did stop and run in a little discount clothing shop and get sweatshirts for himself and the boys. The rain had stopped by then, but it was still quite chilly and breezy. We’d determined on our walk into town from the car park that we’d gone the long way around the blocks, so on the way back, we took a different route and circled back on the cars from the other side. This allowed us to have a lovely walk down on the shoreline. I was really enjoying the architecture and colors of all the vacation condos and hotels, but then we got the view of the coast and that was just fabulous! Here are some photos…

Port Rush 1: the cheeky dutch, standing on the edge of the sea.
Port Rush 2: the cheeky dutch, the miller spawn, and the bad man, climbing the rocks.
Port Rush 3: same group, about to exit the rocks.

Our next stop on the north coast was just a little ways up the coast road to the ruins of Dunluce Castle. We all followed Louis and Uli (I believe they had Jana and Wishmaster in their car) out to the well marked tourist attraction and parked in a little line beside some out-buildings next to the historic site. We were somewhat amused by the little turnstile in the narrow gap of the probably 4 ft. high or so stone wall around the castle grounds. I said it was there to stop the invaders from getting in more than single file. The cheeky dutch said he could invade by stepping over the wall.

First stop was a little information/gift shop. We all browsed around for souvenirs and Uli happened upon a perfect little fridge magnet of Armagh’s St. Patrick’s Cathedral, which I bought. *g* I was, of course, on the hunt for earrings, but had not found any suitable as yet. Iirc, the entrance fee was 1 pound per person – each freak gave me a pound coin and we put the whole group on the charge card. I don’t remember the reason for this, but it left me with very jingly pockets.

Rob had had a thoughtful expression on his face as we approached the castle ruin. Suddenly, he piped up and asked “wait a minute…what was the name of this castle again??” when we confirmed that it was Dunluce, he lit up and announced that this was in fact the exact castle he and his partner at school had done a project on in class the spring before. The fourth grade classes had been each assigned a different country to research for a week and then share the information with the other classes. We were excited when Rob’s class got Ireland – he got to bring in some Irish things that Uli and Lou had sent to us over the years and he got to have an irish name for the week (*bg* he was Shaun O’C…) – and rob just coincidently got assigned to do a drawing and report on Dunluce!

He told us it looked just like he remembered it. *g* So we had to take a couple of photos with him posing with the ruin so he could take them in this year to show to his fourth grade teacher. She was pleased that he’d been able to visit the place he’d studied.

Dunluce is an interesting place. It was a highly defensible fortress, built right out on a sort of island cliff. One had to cross a little bridge (new on in place for the tourists, of course) over to it. Unfortunately, the position on the cliff was a bit too precarious, and one night the ocean waves took a chunk out of the sea facing side and a good half of the kitchen fell into the sea. The lady of the manor decided to move out after that.

We had a good time wandering around the ruins and reading all about life there in its heyday (and about the tragedy of the kitchen, of course). When we were finished, a few freaks had to go to the restroom facilities off the courtyard. One or two of them (whose names will be withheld to protect the innocent) took a bit longer than expected and those of us waiting began to fear that they might have fallen into the sea. This inspired the bad Fin and myself to compose some impromptu poetry about this tragic fate. (I don’t remember the full poem, but it rhymed ‘sea’ and ‘pee’. Dear me.) Maybe jani remembers the words…

Anyhoo..here be photos…

Dunluce Castle 1: Miller spawn inside the crumbling castle.
Dunluce Castle 2: freaks inside the crumbling castle.
Dunluce Castle 3: a view out the window.
Dunluce Castle 4: another view.
Dunluce Castle 5: spawn in a dark and scary stairwell.
Dunluce Castle 6: rob shows off the outside of the castle. (the little sign next to him at the start of the bridge says “do not leave children unattended,” so I am standing there attending him.)
Dunluce Castle 7: oops. I left him unattended.

There was some minor delay in departing Dunluce as we dealt with a very friendly giant sheepdog and some tricky unparking maneuvers, but soon enough we were on our way to our next stop – The Giant’s Causeway. This particular tourist attraction is a natural formation that my guidebook didn’t really satisfactorily explain. That region of the north coast is composed of several layers of volcanic rock. The basalt that makes up this formation is cleaved naturally into regular hexagonal and pentagonal pillars that jut up out of the coastline and form really cool looking hills and figures. Some of the stone is still buried under the grassy hills further back from the edge of the sea and is exposed in cutaway areas. Some of the overlay is a really red rock (reminded me of north carolina’s red clay), but the pillars are all this dark basalt. It’s really black where it stays wet from the sea waves and the rise and fall of the tides, but more muted taupe and grey where it can dry out.

First we had to drive up to the top of a tourist carpark and information center area and get parking, use the facilities (for those of us not interested in possibly falling into the sea at dunluce toilets), and check out the little gift shop there. It was determined that there was a shuttle bus one could take either up or down the path (or both) to the exposed causeway, but we all opted to walk down. That was easy. It’s a paved path, and even when we had to go over to the mucky side path when the busses came by, it wasn’t too bad footing. And it was all down hill. *g*

The causeway itself is really amazing. It’s impossible to do it justice with a verbal description. Of course, I took lots of pictures. But even those really don’t convey how unique and interesting it is. We did quite a bit of climbing about on the rocks, despite the warnings on the brochures. There was a fold out brochure with a big colored map of the formation with areas shaded in green, yellow, and red. The warnings said to use caution in all areas, more caution in the yellow areas, and extreme caution in the red areas, if you even dared to venture into them. Then there were photos of people who had been dragged from the ocean by rescue helicopters. The families were all huddled around the drenched, shivering, terrified falling victims. Bleh.

I had on sandals, so I was VERY careful with my clambering about on the rocks and I took full advantage of my ancient age status to avoid any perilous positions. I also fretted quite a bit when the boys climbed all over the place like little mountain goats. But jeff stayed right with them.

There was a HUGE hill back behind the causeway that apparently had some stairs to go up to the top of it. Louis said his friends from Kansas had been up to the causeway earlier in the weekend and had climbed it to the top. And I think he said he had done so himself on some earlier trips to the site. But none of us really felt like making the climb and we were starting to get short on time for getting the travelers down to the trains. In fact, it was getting so late that an alternative plan was arranged, in which _everyone_ was going to Belfast and catching the last train from there. We decided it would be nice to have dinner there and see everyone off.

Giant’s Causeway 1: cool rocks.
Giant’s Causeway 2: kings, princes, and batcat queen of the mountain.
Giant’s Causeway 3: there they are again.
Giant’s Causeway 4: this place was just too cool. There is the cheeky Dutchman in the foreground.
Giant’s Causeway 5: here’s at least some of the gang on the highest causeway hill.
Giant’s Causeway 6: view to the west.
Giant’s Causeway 7: view to the east.
Giant’s Causeway 8: the pipe organ. (they named a lot of the formations – this one happens to look like organ pipe in the cliff wall.)
Giant’s Causeway 9: the actual shape of the columns.
Giant’s Causeway 10: view to the south – alle and jana are taking pictures, too! There’s the giant hill behind them.
Giant’s Causeway 11: view to the north. That was as far out as one could go. The boys were determined to go there. I was not. I stayed back from the slippery black parts as much as possible. I didn’t want to be on the cover of the new brochure. The whole place kept making me think of Rhodric and Mori. Wonder why?

Uli and Rob wimped out on us and took the shuttle bus back up the hill to the visitor’s center. Louis, Jeff, and I think Jana and I took our time traipsing up the hill, while Alle, the cheeky dutch, markwbadman and Alec, jani, and kitty marched on up ahead. On the way up, I got to hear the highly entertaining story of the day Louis’ mom left her mother stranded in a car on the side of the motorway because of a butterfly. Yes. A butterfly. See…

We found this cool looking hairy caterpillar on the side of the path. I wanted to know if the hairs were stingy, so I touched it. They weren’t. *g* Then Louis explained that his mother is terrified of moths and butterflies. Now moths, I can understand, maybe. But butterflies?! Yes. It must be the flutteriness or something. Anyway, one day Louis’ mom was driving along the motorway with his grandmother and suddenly slammed on the brakes, came to a screeching halt on the shoulder, jumped out of the car, and ran off into the field or woods or whatever, leaving poor bewildered granny behind to fend off the evil butterfly. *Snort*

When we reached the last (And steepest) part of the hill, we could see the rest of them standing at the top. For some reason understood only by themselves, a number of them (I think it was alec, wishy, jani, and mark – it seems a testosterony sort of thing to do) suddenly ran down the hill at us, yelled something about making a point, and then ran back up the hill to wait for us to finish walking up. Whatever.

Jani repeated something about making a point when we got to the top, so I made a point at him with one of my fingers…

Louis and Alle had both really wanted to go to this other attraction just a little ways further up the coast road – I forget the name of it, but it’s a very high rope bridge that goes across from the mainland to some sort of island bird sanctuary. It can’t be crossed in bad weather (which meant Louis was skeptical that they’d even be let on since it had been raining so much that day), but it had stopped raining and they had been talking about giving it a try. I had zero interest in going anywhere near any slippery, swinging, high up over the rocks and surf, flimsy rope bridge. But I was going to wait (and not look) while whoever wanted to gave it a try.

Unfortunately, it turned out that the last train leaving Belfast wasn’t any later than the last train leaving Portadown. That meant we had to hurry on out of the Giant’s Causeway visitor’s center and gift shop to get the kitty and jani and mark there in time to catch it. No one bothered to inform me of this til after I finally wandered out of the gift shop after probably 20 minutes of just browsing and looking for gifts for the family back home. Then it was all “hurry up!” Kitty had called the train station while I was in there shopping and found out about the tight schedule.

Louis knew we wouldn’t have a problem getting there on time, but he thought he’d add a little excitement to things by having Uli get out the map and spend a little time pouring over it – like he wasn’t sure where he was going. *rolls eyes* Then we had to stop a little ways from the causeway for Alle to fill up her gas tank. *snicker* poor Alleeeeeeeeeee. She had all the travelers in her car! The frantic travelers! They were behind our miller car and we were behind Louis and Uli and Jana and Wishy.

We also ran into some road construction on the way to Belfast, which got everyone even a bit more tense. I was starting to stress some myself. Imagine that.

But we got to Belfast in plenty of time. And the signage there was very good for directing one to the train station. The only problem was that once we found the station, we couldn’t find the entrance to the parking for it. We drove around in a big circle, past a place that said we’d be clamped or crunched or something like that if we parked there, and ended up pulling into a circular drive at a hotel across the road from the station. So that’s where we said our goodbyes.

Hopefully the three of them got a decent meal on the train to Dublin. I’ll bet it included chips and brown sauce. But they probably didn’t eat the brown sauce.

And then there were 9 (four of whom were Millers, two O’Connors). The cheeky dutch didn’t have to depart til the morning, so he was able to join us for dinner. *g* We followed Louis to a sort of apartmenty area near the Queen’s University campus and parked our cars on the street. I wasn’t at all concerned until I saw Louis pulling out a steering wheel locking arm to protect his vehicle from theft. Heh. The rest of us were on our own. At least the cars weren’t crammed with luggage. Jeff and Alle had had quite a lot of concern over the week about leaving the cars various places with visible luggage. I guess it makes them stronger targets for thieves. Louis told us a story of how he and his friends had witnessed a smash and grab one time. Some random guy had been walking down the road toward them, suddenly smashed the window of a car parked on the side, snatched a purse out of it and walked on with some smug remark and/or shrug at them. Crazy.

So anyway, then we walked around the campus a wee bit. Uli pointed out a particular statue that she says Louis and the boys have “watered” a few times on the way home from pub crawling. *Snort* Then the O’Connors had some discussion over where would be best to eat and decided on a nice Italian place within walking distance.

We did have a slight delay while we all paused on the sidewalk for several minutes to wait for Rob to get up the nerve to do his Smeagol/Gollum impersonation for them. Jeff and I had been pestering the poor boy for days to do it, but he kept having reasons why he couldn’t. So we finally told him it was then or never, since we’d be leaving the next day. He hemmed and hawed and cleared his throat a number of times and kept looking like he was going to start and then not starting and then FINALLY he dropped down into a crouch and got into character. It was short, but well done, I thought. *l*

After that it was on to the Italian place. The menu was extensive and the food was very good. (it’s important to note here that the menu did have a special section with at least five different kinds of potatoes – I can’t remember if there were specifically chips or not, but there were definitely plenty of potatoes.) We ended up at two tables back to back – millers at one and everyone else at the other. I had a delicious pasta with alfredo sauce and pine nuts and tomatos. The meal would have been perfect except that we’d gotten to used to the no smoking in public places policy in the Republic and our own lack of smokers at the other meals that week. This was a big place and there were no non-smoking rules. Unfortunately, the couple at the other table next to ours smoked through the whole meal. I have screwy sinuses anyway, so by the end of the meal I was very headachy and feeling pretty nauseated. I went over and sat in the waiting area while the rest of them had dessert. Fortunately, that plus the walk back to the car cleared my head so I didn’t feel icky all the way back to Armagh.

Then it was time to aband…drop off Wishmaster. We had to take him to an even scarier area of town to find the youth hostel where he was going to spend the night. He’d stayed there his first night in the country, also, so he was familiar with it. Right across the street was a bar with an entry way guarded by a big metal cage and security cameras. I made him promise to be careful *frown*.

I should have made Louis promise to be careful. He thought it might be amusing to try to get us all run over by a bus on the way home. *l* Our experienced Irish driver was in the lead and led us all straight up a one way street going the wrong way. We were all the way over on the left (where one is typically _supposed_ to be in Ireland) going up a broad avenue, when suddenly, a bus turned onto the road directly into our lane, coming toward us! I was very confused at first. Then Louis swerved into the right lanes and went around the bus and turned off the road right quick. So the following Miller and Alle cars did the same. Uli was riding with Alle at this point. She phoned us on the mobile about two blocks later to point out the lovely and scenic legislative building Louis was driving us past at the time and I asked her if her husband were trying to kill us all or what. She said “no he’s just taking us the scenic route…” *lol*

After that we made it back to Armagh without further incident and made plans to meet back up at the O’Connor house the next morning.