The beauty of Europe is that you can skip over to another country for the weekend and see a decent amount of it. I have been meaning to go to Northern Ireland since I got here, with the flight being only half an hour, and seven of us finally made the journey at the beginning of March.
|The coast of Northern Ireland|
Five of us went over on the Friday night, two from Edinburgh and three from London. Confusingly for the size of the city, Belfast has two airports but after a bit of confusion we figured out Belfast City was the closest and easiest.
Our accommodation for the weekend was the Linen House Hostel. Not the greatest place, although not the worst either, but the location was good. We crammed into a tiny room with 3 bunk beds and little floor space, a good thing we all knew each other! The hostel seemed to be a place for really young people to stay in large groups, not exactly a great place if you were on your own and the bathrooms left a bit to be desired.
We had time to go out for a few drinks and discovered an awesome place called The National which had a large outdoor area with heaters and a funky industrial style interior.
After a bit of drama trying to get to the car hire place Saturday morning we hit the road in our seven seater people mover for our day exploring the countryside of Northern Ireland. First stop...Tescos! For snacks and breakfast and the discovery of sugar free V! Bliss after not having it for a loooong time.
|Deliciousness in a can|
Back on the road again and we took some back roads to find the Dark Hedges, used in one of the Game of Thrones scenes. It was stunning and hard to capture how awesome it looked in photos.
|In the middle of the Dark Hedges|
|Hanna, Danny, Sophie and Renton|
|We walked up and down just soaking in the awesomeness|
|Originally planted by a family as the lead up to their manor|
|Looking from one section to the next|
We kept travelling further north and came across Dunluce Castle, which rests precariously on a cliff. Instead of going in we just wandered around outside for awhile, also hard to capture on camera!!
|Driving along the coast|
|North coast of Northern Ireland|
|Nicki at a random stop on the side of the road|
|Hanna overlooking the way we had just come|
|Private beach by Dunlace Castle, where a secret cave could be used an an entrance|
Bushmills Whiskey Distillery was next on the list, and turns out I have expensive taste since I liked the most aged one the best!
|Renton and I outside the Distillery|
Finally we reached our principal destination for the day, Giants Causeway. It is the result of an ancient volcanic eruption which caused interlocking mostly hexagonal columns to rise up. It is one of the most amazing things I have ever seen in that it is hard to believe this was naturally formed. The legend is that the area was formed by an Irish Giant in order to cross the North Channel to fight a Scottish Giant. The Irish Giant won and the causeway was destroyed. Interestingly there are identical columns on the Isle of Staffa in Scotland.
|Walking down to Giants Causeway|
|First glimpse of all the columns|
|The columns actually cover a huge area|
|The majority are hexagonal|
|The stones are really easy to walk over because they are like stepping stones|
|They stretch right down into the ocean|
|You can see the horizontal cracks where the lava was cooling as well|
|Some of them are really tall!|
|Sophie and Renton|
|Sophie and Danny|
|Renton standing on top of one of the bigger hills|
|The also go right up into the hills|
Our last stop before heading back to Belfast was Carrick-a-Rede rope bridge. The suspension bridge was traditionally built for salmon fisherman, and at one point they used to walk across with all their gear and only have a rail on one side.
|Random boat I decided to get in|
|Walking to Carrick-a-Rede suspension bridge|
|Hanna, Renton and Nicki on Carrickarede Island|
|Nicki crossing back over the bridge|
|You can see the suspension bridge across here|
That night we went out in Belfast, which was really busy and hard to find anywhere to get in to! We ended up standing in Kelly's Cellars, the oldest licensed premises in Belfast and finally managed to sneak a seat when some people left. There was really great live music and we ended up staying until closing time! I then had a bit of a debacle where my bag was stolen and I had a freak out, but luckily Phil managed to get it back at 3am from someone who found it!!! It was all a bit crazy and best forgotten!
|Much needed triple shot coffee|
Turns out in Northern Ireland things don't open very early on a Sunday, but Nicki managed to remember The National served brunch so we had awesome food there and decided the plan for the day. A few of us were really keen on the Black Cab Tours, particularly the political tour, since The Troubles is a huge part of Northern Irish history and still ongoing today. This ended up being one of the best things I have ever done while tripping around. Our tour guide was Tom, who grew up in Belfast and lived through a dangerous time of The Troubles. He picked us up at The National and took us on a fascinating tour of the Protestant and Catholic neighbourhoods and to the Peaceline, a wall longer in total length than the Berlin Wall, built at the request of residents to keep Nationalists and Loyalists apart. There are still numerous gates along the wall that are locked at night and on weekends. I honestly cant sing praises enough about Tom. The insight he gave us to what occurred was amazing, and he shared his own personal experiences in a way that made it all so much more real.
|Murals on the end of houses in the Protestant area|
|Hanna and I in front of a Loyalist mural with a sniper who follows you wherever you go|
|Renton writing on the Peace Wall|
|Hanna writing on the Peace Wall|
|Where I wrote on the wall|
|Tom telling us more about The Troubles and the wall|
|Nicki writing on the wall|
|Our cab. You can see where a molotov cocktail was thrown at the wall above|
|You can see the height of the wall in this picture, much higher than the Berlin Wall|
|Me beside the wall, which has gates all along and spreads out to other areas as well|
|Memorial on the Catholic side of the wall. Victims killed by those painted on the Protestant houses|
|Houses that back onto the wall that have steel cages on the back to stop bombs etc hitting the house|
The tour was actually less in cost than the Titanic Experience, which we had him drop us off at next, and I think so much more worth it! While the Titanic Experience was really informative with regards to ship building and the role that Belfast played in the Titanic tragedy, it didn't provide me with too much information I don't already know, and it may have underwhelmed me a bit because I have been to the Titanic Exhibition
in Las Vegas which has a piece of the Titanic and is really well done in terms of making you feel like you are on the ship, as well as displaying lots of artifacts. There were none at all in Belfast, because it focuses on the ship building side of things.
|View from the top of the Dome|
|Looking over Belfast|
|City Hall at sunset|
|City Hall in the middle of Belfast|
After that we ate some general pub food and wondered around the city a bit more before it was time to head home! I love short trips like this where you get to see a lot and it's only in a weekend. I would definitely like to go back to Belfast again to check out some more of it and see a bit more of the countryside as well, but for two days away this was awesome!