Saturday, April 6, 2013

SPRING BREAK! Part 1(a): Northern Ireland

We had 3 weeks for Spring Break from Glasgow University (they call it Easter Break over here but its the same thing). Instead of going all over Europe like a lot of people were doing we decided to stay in the UK and Ireland. There is just so much to see in this area and both of us had already been to a lot of places on mainland Europe. Becca and I also prefer so spend a longer amount of time in fewer places than seeing a whole bunch of stuff all crammed in there. We decided to do a week in Ireland, a day in Liverpool, 5 days in London and about a day and a half in the Cardiff area. Ireland and Liverpool were done in one trip, then we had a three day break to recuperate, do laundry, and work on a paper, before heading off to the Capital. There is a lot to talk about in regards to my first week so its going to be separated into 3 different posts to prevent you from having to read an obnoxious amount in one fell swoop.

For our Ireland leg of the journey we had originally planned on just using public transport to get around to the places we wanted to see but that didn't last long. I came up with the idea to find a tour company, that way they would get us to all the main things, without much hassle and deal with booking places for us to sleep. Also we would get to meet a bunch of people. After searching around for a good tour company we came across Paddywagon Tours. Supposedly they were voted as the most fun tour company so that sounded promising. Also the price was not outrageous and they offered a 6-day all Ireland tour, which is what we really wanted. The tour started at 8 am on a Monday so we decided to arrive a day early to explore Dublin. Now I'm going to break down the tour by days just to make it easier to digest.

Day 1: March 24, Glasgow to Dublin
I was up bright and early in order to catch my flight to Dublin. The flight left at 7 but the airport was about an hour away from our flats. Originally we were going to take a taxi all the way there but one of Becca's flatmates told us there was a bus that went to the airport from the main bus station. That seemed like a way better option since it would be like 10 times cheaper. Becca had already called a cab so we just took that to the bus station so we didn't have to walk all the way there in the wee hours of the morning. We got to the airport with tons of time to spare and flew to Dublin! Once we got there we should have been able to use the free Paddywagon shuttle to the airport but we couldn't find the bus. It was supposed to be big and green with leprechauns on the side but that was no where to be seen. We asked a nice lady at a tourist information desk and she called them up. It turns out that they were using a smaller white bus for the day and instead of making us wait for 2 hours the guy at the hostel told us he would reimburse us for a bus ticket.We made it to the hostel, checked in, got settled, then went for a walk around Dublin. We didn't actually see that much because it was really cold and we had had a very long day already and needed to be up early for the start of the tour the next day. We went to bed pretty early so we could get some much needed rest.

Day 2: March 25, Dublin to Belfast
Preserved head
The first half of our Paddywagon tour covered Northern Ireland. So Becca and I felt more at home since we were back to pound sterling  instead of euros. It was a bit confusing to a lot of the rest of the tour group but I appreciated it. Anyway the tour started bright and early on Monday morning. We all boarded the bus and had a bit of an ice breaker. Our bus driver, the amazing Seanie, had each country sing their national anthem. Ours totally would have been the best, but the other two younger Americans (there were 5 older people, which means at least 40) messed it up part way through, which threw us off. It was really interesting getting to hear all the anthems from around the world. We had some French, Aussies, Kiwis, South Africans, and Germans. The first stop of the tour was in Drogheda, where we went into St. Peter's Cathedral to see the preserved head of Sir Oliver Plunkett, who was drawn and quartered. His head was presented to the people who now greatly appreciate it. He even has his own altar in the cathedral. Then we actually crossed into Norhern Irealnd for our first night of the tour in Belfast. Belfast is actually the capital of N. Ireland, and has a very interesting history. We learned a lot about this on the famous black taxi tour. This took us around some of the politically significant areas of Belfast in order to show us the issues that the city still faces today. Through the middle of the city runs The Peace Wall which is in place to separate the Catholic Nationalists from the Protestant Unionists. There were some severe issues that raged between the two groups, making the Peace Wall a necessity. It is still in use today, having gates that still close at some points of the day. After the tour we wandered into a mall to find some food and to thaw since it was bloody freezing. The mall also has a domed ceiling where you can get a 360 view of the city. We then found some tour friends and hung out in a cafe until it was time to meet Seanie to head to the Hostel.

Day 3: March 26, Belfast to Derry
Today was packed full of some beautiful scenery. We were up early and headed to our first stop Carrick-a-Reede rope bridge. It was a very windy day so Becca and I opted to not cross the bridge. In fact this was the first day it was open to cross in 5 days because of the wind. Instead we just walked along the path to the bridge and back which gave us some beautiful views of the cost and the water. We hopped back on the bus to drive a short ways to our next stop for the day, the one I was most looking forward to: Giant's Causeway. We somehow managed to take the long way down, lots of steps. It was a very pretty walk though. We finally managed to make it to the causeway and noticed that there was a super easy way down.....We took a million pictures of ourselves along the hectogonal basalt rocks. We had fun setting my camera on a timer and found out it would take a series of 10 pictures. Lots of posing was had. After our walk up we got some lunch. Soup and sandwiches were delicious and nice and warm. Then we decided to get some ice cream, even though it was super cold. Mine was honey flavored and it was delicious. After that there was a short pit stop at Dunluce Castle, famous for having the kitchen falling into the sea during a banquet. Then we were headed to Derry, our stop for the night. After getting settled into the hostel we had a walking tour of the city from Simon, who was the owner or operator of the hostel. It was interesting to see the old city walls which were erected by the British after they invaded. We also learned that the Unionists tend to call it Londonderry  whereas the Nationalists call it just Derry. The city has a pretty dark history, a lot like Belfast. All of the political turmoil was making Becca and I slightly uncomfortable. It was a nice day except for the fact that the hostel seemed to have no heating. I was absolutely freezing.

Giant's Causeway
Protestant Nationalist Area
Street of Pubs in Derry

Thats about it for Northern Ireland, the next part will cover the rest of the tour, and a third will be all about our day in Liverpool. Hopefully they will be up shortly.

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