Wednesday, July 16, 2014

Ireland: Belfast and Dublin and a whole bunch of Guinness

"Thank you, Dolores!  It was lovely staying with you," I called out as I lugged my ginormous backpack onto my other shoulder.  I started saying "lovely" on the trip because every waiter or waitress was always referring to my potential order as "aw, well, it's low-vly."
"Of course! It was great having you even if it was a short stay. Like any good love affair: in, out, before the rot sets in!" Dolores called back.  This is Ireland, where the people are sincere, hilarious, and out-of-their-way helpful. 

At the beginning of June, my family and I took a vacation to Ireland.  I have 2 weeks worth of pictures taken by 4 different people, but I'll do my best to narrow it down and just share the highlights of the trip.

We flew into Dublin on a redeye and immediately grabbed our rental car to head up to Belfast in Northern Ireland for the day.  It was a red, stick, Peugeot, which my dad bravely drove for the entire trip (left-hand side of the road + left-hand stick + extremely narrow roads + roundabouts everywhere = adventure).  In my delirium after so many hours of travel and so few hours of sleep, I read and then mispronounced the brand of the car as Pew-ga-not, which became the running joke-name of our trusty vehicle.

The Pew-ga-not

Highlights of Belfast:
We took a black cab tour to learn about the politics of Northern Ireland.  Our driver/tour guide took us around to the different neighborhoods in Belfast, which were either Catholic/Irish or Protestant/English.  These neighborhoods are divided by "peace walls" which are like a series of Berlin walls meant to separate people. Interestingly, there are separate but equal services on both sides of the wall- so within one block, we saw two KFCs; one on the Catholic side and one on the Protestant side. Similarly, a public park was divided in two by a wall for each side to use. Our guide pointed out a duck to us, "We're on the Catholic side, so that's a Catholic duck."  He also explained that people of other religions were also considered to be either Catholic or Protestant.  So in one neighborhood, I spotted a mezuzah on a door and pointed it out to our tour guide.  "Yep," he said, "those are Catholic Jews."

Wall through the park

Catholic Jews!

Mandy and I, adding to the art/wishes on the walls

We also had our first pint of Guinness in Belfast,

checked out the Giant's Causeway,

and tasted some whiskey at the Bushmills Distillery.

We drove through the Glens of Antrim and I was absolutely floored by the beauty.  If I make it back to Ireland some day, my to-do list will include hiking and camping in the glens. (The pictures below don't do it justice.  Views through car windows do not usually turn out well!)

Just driving, was spectacular. We pulled off the road a bunch of times to snap pictures of the coast or sheep or the mountains.

They spray-paint their sheep to keep track of them. Note- the blue/green on the shoulders.

After Belfast, we headed back to Dublin.  Some of the highlights:

Trinity College. O.M.G. that library!  I was at home.

The Guinness factory.  We learned to pour the perfect pint.  Did you know that how your Guinness taste depends on the pour and the tap (distance from the keg)?  Anytime we asked locals for a pub recommendation, they would include that their rec had the best pour of Guinness around.  I never realized that a pour could make such a difference!

The typical, American, "We're Irish!!!" photo

I couldn't see the first word, but I'm pretty sure it said "Hydrologists"

We went to the James Joyce Center and we were there within a week of Bloomsday (Ulysses, anyone?)  This was really exciting for me, because I had painstakingly read Ulysses as an undergrad, so finally seeing Dublin was pretty cool.  We stood on the ha' penny bridge (they use to charge half a penny to cross) to snap a picture.

We also checked out the Kilmainham jail.  I've never been much of a history buff, but I found Irish history to be fascinating.  Probably because the Irish are such good storytellers! And maybe a little because they always seem to be on the heroic, but losing side through history. 

After Dublin we headed to Waterford, but I'll leave it there for now.  Still to come: Cork, Killarney, Dingle, Bunratty (and Dolores!), Galway, and the Aran Islands!

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