Wednesday, December 10, 2014

To Belfast and Beyond...

Friday the 5th, I met up with Lexi in the morning and we took off straight-shot down Western Road for hot chocolate at O'Connell's to study Strategic Management. We looked over each other's notes on corporate vs. business strategy, the core competencies, industry analysis, Porter's Five Forces, etc. The chocolate was creamy and beautiful and the time spent was productive enough. Even though I had an exam coming up, I was excited for the weekend. "So you're going to Northern Ireland this weekend?" "Yes...! I can't actually believe it. Thought I wouldn't be able to go and well, now I'm able to!"

Friday evening, after a long and laughter-filled skype with my sister Bekah, I headed out of my apartment with my bags. Meeting up with James and Melissa, it was a good-length walk to the cars. The three of us are a unique poshi of friends in that we have a common love for the poetry of nature, and speak to each other in such terms. We go crazy over a bright moon, the rivers and sea, and enjoy adventuring, speaking in quotes and poetic thought. And so as naturally as ever, we were laughing about trolls and lepricons of the stream beds before we even got into the car  for the 4+ hour trip to Belfast. Being so used to taking the bus everywhere is Ireland, it was the best feeling to be on a road trip in a cute UK-style car.

Crossing the border into the North was not nearly as epic as I'd thought it would be, as I didn't have to show anyone a passport as I thought I might. It was just mostly the songs on the radio that I noticed such as"you're so fancaaay." We arrived at the parents' home of our adventure leader, PG. They were the kindest couple and had beds all set up for us. I slept surprisingly well and woke up feeling so blessed to be in a Belfast home, with sunrise coming in over the garden.

After breakfast Saturday morning, a few from Dublin joined our adventure party, as well as a newly-wed Northern couple with those distinct accents I love. They say "jest a wee bet" in a rise and fall pattern of speech. We had a three-car party and I rode with the newly-weds up the North Coast. They were very fun and I had some great conversation with them. The Mr. drove fast and I soon felt the familiar stomach churn from the Island's typical roads. After some time he switched driving with his wife and kindly offered me the front seat, which actually helped. We soon turned onto a road that took us up the side of a large Glen, which is a valley that lies even with the sea coast, but with high headlands on its sides. There were country homes here in the Glen and at one of my favorite there were a few large geese puddling around the front. We pulled into a lot and got out to see some waterfalls. The waterfalls of this Glen fall down from high ground and run down the Glen toward the sea. They are the 'gems of the Glen'. We grabbed some coffees in the lodge at the head of this Glen, and I loved the decor of the ceiling. There were old artifacts of all types: lamps, kettles, saws, hanging everywhere.

We headed back for the drive along the coast and made a few stops along it. Of this I was very much appreciative, as I needed bits of fresh air repeatedly. And fresh it was indeed, the sea air off the North Sea gusting around my face. The views were divine:

Our traveling clan reached the town of Ballycastle around lunchtime, and picked up deli sandwiches at a store there, then ate them in the park near the boat docks. Paying for my things in pounds was a bit of a challenge, and I first when paying I'd say, "Well, I've got these coins; what do you need?" This was quite unprofessional so soon I asked British James to identify the coins for me so I knew what I was doing. After our sandwiches we got some of the best ice cream ever, even though it was a bit cold out. Back on the road, we made our way to the Causeway. I had presupposed imaginations of the Causeway, but when I got there it was a bit different than I had thought. Therefore it was a pleasant surprise, and a cold one too. We entered the area on top of a hill, and took the path down to the peculiar rock formations. I hadn't realized that there'd be so many of these weird hexagon rocks; I'd never seen anything so perfectly formed by nature: the affects of an artistic Designer. It took years, yes, but it was deliberate.

Our traveling clan meandered around the Causeway until it literally was too dark to see anything else. We decided to drive straight-shot back to Belfast to eat dinner at the Christmas market there. I'd heard about Christmas markets before, but had never been to one, so it was a world of wonder to me. It's full of huts and stands selling all sorts of artisan crafts and foods, and has some old-fashioned festival amusements as well. We basically walked in circles around the whole place checking out the different types of food, before finally choosing the specialty burger hut. There was kangaroo burgers, buffalo, wild boar, venison, etc. And since I come from Venison Land, I thought I should be true to my roots and get this type. No joke, it was probably the BEST venison burger I'll ever taste. However, I was inspired by it's flavor and so I hope to imitate it some day, as I love to cook. It was colder in Belfast than it normally is down here in Cork, so standing outside for a couple hours gave me a bone chill. After the Christmas market we went to view the political graffiti of the city, which was very fascinating. One street has the Peace Walls along it, dividing East Belfast from West Belfast. The drivers of our group feared for their cars on where to park in the midst of our stops, because if you're not careful apparently having a southern plate in the North makes you liable to have your tires popped. Yikes. And though I didn't see police cars while up there, I heard that they are extra 'armored' in case of riots. Here in the South the police are called Garda. On the subject of cars however, I should mention that because Northern Ireland is apart of the UK, most of the taxi service use London cabs, which I think look way-cooler than the normal taxi cars. Getting home after a long day had us all exhausted in a good way, and ready for hot tea and showers.

After church and lunch the next day, we finished sight-seeing. We drove around the docks where the Titanic was built and they still have the original Nomadic loading boat there. There are two huge famous cranes here that are used for ship-building, normally called David & Goliath. Next we went into the suburbs for the C.S Lewis tour. P.G's father grew up near where the great author had also grown up, and brought us to the house LittleLea. This is the house with the attic that inspired the wardrobe for the Narnia books. It it currently privately owned so it is by no means a tourist house.

Besides seeing Lewis's boyhood home, we went to a statue in the city that was erected for him. Though not too large, it is the wardrobe, the professor opening it, a chair, the face of a lion,  with a letter and other inscription on the back of the wardrobe. The concrete around the statue has the words inscribed: "Writer - Teacher - Scholar - Christian. Born 1898,  Reborn 1931." On the tour we also stopped at the church where he was baptized. I hadn't ever know all this stuff about this author, but now I was more enthralled than ever. Here I was in the land where Narnia was created!
 The last adventure of out time in Northern Ireland was jogging up to the Parliament building. It was quite the trek as it was a long, paved upward road, but totally worth the exercise. When we were most of the way up, the evening sun broke with brilliance out of the rain clouds.

When we returned back to the house, we packed up our things, and had a tea dinner with light sandwiches on delicate, flowered china plates. Before hopping into the cars we heartily thanked our hosts. Our drive back to the South was filled with laughter, story-telling, light sleeping, deep conversations, snacking, and just plain-tired silliness. Oh, what good times! I love being a traveler.

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