Friday 26 April 2013

Ireland: Day Four - Giants Causeway, Derry and Donegal

Today has been a very wet, cold day. It's the type of day I may refer to as miserable at home, but that doesn't seem fair to Ireland as it remains beautiful. We left our Belfast hotel earlier then usual at 8:00am. We took about an hour to get out of the main city area, so I spent the time reading - and finishing - the Paperboy, the novel the tour guide recommended yesterday. It was a really interesting and enjoyable book. While it doesn't get into an actual history of the Irish troubles, it gives an account of a young boys memories growing up at this time, and learning how to navigate through it as he grows older. It's interesting to see the confusion he faces, and the shift in his own thoughts the older he gets. It had a lot of Doctor Who references, so I will have to thank my husband for making me start watching it. At least I didn't have to goggle words like Tardis, Dalack and The Doctor! I gave the book to the fellow passenger who wanted it, and everyone seemed amazed at how quickly I finished it. What can I say? It was a really good book!

We drove along the coast/Irish sea which is breathtaking. Initially, it was a cold morning but bright and sunny. A little bit into the coastal drive it stared to get dark and we were caught in a brief rain shower. Afterward there was a stunning rainbow which was just perfect. A rainbow in Ireland - all that was missing was a pot of gold and leprechaun! The sun stayed out for a bit, and then dissappered. We started getting rain, sleet and even snow. Nothing accumulated, but yes - snow. It was actually amusing as it started about 20 minutes after the guide spoke about the rarity of snow here.

We stopped for a morning break at a park that offered amazing views of the sea, valleys and on a clear day, offers a view of Scotland. Today that offering was not to be, as it was freezing cold, wet and rainy. I found myself very thankful for the new umbrella my mom was nice enough to buy me for the trip. It was put to good use! There was a path you could go down and see some of these stunning views, but it was muddy and wet. I went a bit down, then returned as the cold was too much to take.

We carried on toward the Giants Causeway which was our second stop and lunch break. As we drive we heard the legend of the Giants causeway:

There was an Irish giant lonely due to his size and lack of other giants, and he had heard about another Giant over in Scotland so he decided to head over and meet him. He used large rocks to create a path to Scotland and sought out the other giant. When he got to his home, the Scottish Giants wife answered and towered over him. She told him he better head back, as her husband was even bigger then her and wouldn't take too kindly to him being around. So the Irish giant went home. The Scottish giant heard about his visit and decided to teach him a lesson (the Scottish giant wasn't very nice obviously!) so he crossed into Ireland through the path created by the Irish Giant. The Irish giant could see him coming and knew he was in trouble, so thinking quick he had his wife help him dress as a baby. When the Scottish giant showed up, the Irish giants wife opened the door and shushed him. "The baby is sleeping" she said pointing at her disguised husband. The Scottish giant paled and quickly made apologies thinking to himself that if the baby was that big, the father must be massive. So the Scottish Giant ran back to Scotland as fast as he could, and as he did he destroyed the rock path, leaving a small area of rocks in Ireland now known as the Giants Causeway.

I don't tell the legend as well as the tour guide or the information at the visitor centre, so I suggest googling it! It's pretty fun. Anyways once we got there and went inside the visitors centre we headed for a bus that would take us to the bottom. You can walk, but the wind, rain and cold were a deterrent. Dad and I and a bunch of us from the tour boarded this bus and went down. We got out to just horrible weather, looked around for maybe 5 minutes and jumped back on the bus. It was either that or wait another 20 minutes for the next bus. As a result we didn't really see/experience it the way you are supposed to, but it was just too awful out. I got some pictures, so I was satisfied.

We had lunch at the visitors centre which was just okay. There was a pub about 5-10 minutes away which we were told had better food, but again weather wasn't on our side. They did have free WiFi so that was great, and we spoke to a young employee for a bit about living in Ireland. In terms of visitors centres, I find myself annoyed at the use of them. I understand they help bring money into the area and attract visitors, but something like Giants Causeway is a natural wonder. People used to be able just to park and see it/explore it at will. Now you can't get to it without going through this centre and paying a fee. I understand fees for things like exhibits, museums, etc... But I don't think natural wonders should cost money to be seen. The Smithsonian museum in DC is free to all, yet we have to pay to see something that costs the country pretty much nothing.... Well lets amend that - never USED TO cost them money until they built a huge, ugly visitors centre. They aren't the first to do this either. Maybe Niagara should just wall in the Falls and start charging... .

Anyways, that's enough ranting. We got back on the bus and stopped for pictures at the ruins of a castle (the name escapes me). As we drove to our next stop Derry-Londonderry, our tour guide put on some nice Irish music to listen to as we drove along since we the weather stopped us from seeing much. It gave me time to work on this post.

A few times today our bus has to stop for animals on the road - the first time it was a sheep, the second a family of cows (maybe about 7-8). Despite being cute to see, it's actually quite sad as the tour guide said they were likely seeking food due to hunger because of the wet fields leading to a lack of food.

When we arrived in Derry-Londonderry we had a local guide come onto the bus and talk about the town. This guide was awesome - he name was Ronan and he was Irish-Chinese. He spoke about the Irish Troubles and how a lot of it can stem back into the town. He went over them with us, and we drove around and saw more of those murals - like the ones in Belfast - and the various memorials. Then he took us on a walking tour, which showed the town walls and how the two areas were so separated due to religion. I found myself learning a lot about the Irish history - and the troubles. I never realized that a large issue was the vote only being offered once per home to the landowner, and it's result on Catholics or other issues they had. The city is beautiful, steeped in history and turmoil. We heard stories of people from the town and the issues/violence that occurred. We learned about the peace bridge and the monuments devoted to peace between the two sides. He was very honest and open about the issues, and the perception that faces Northern Ireland. He also spoke about being in the middle, as he was a member of either religion and not what one thinks of as a typical Irishman. He was a great guide, and the tour was enjoyable but it was freezing cold. It felt more like a rainy mid-December day rather then April. A lot of us weren't really dressed for it as spring/fall jackets weren't enough, and most of us - like me - didn't have hat/gloves.

Once the tour was over we had a few minutes to run into a mall to use washrooms or get coffee. I of course used mine to get a Chai Latte from Costa Coffee - a popular brand in the UK. It's not as good as my Starbucks, but comes awfully close. It would have been nice to do some shopping - especially in the town - but there wasn't any time. So far there has been no shopping time :( ... I think my dads happy about it, but I am not. But there is still a lot of days left, so there better be time!

We drove for another hour to Donegal, where we are staying at a really old family hotel. It is nice, a little old fashioned but great staff and nice and clean. I am hoping to go for a swim after dinner and then listen to some Irish music at their pub.

Tomorrow we head into Westport, stopping at a porcelain factory and the grave of W.B Yates.

Photo One: The Irish Coast as we started our day (note how little of a barrier there is.. EEK!)
Photo Two: The Rainbow!
Photo Three: What I always imagined thinking of Ireland.
Photo Four: Another Irish Landscape
Photo Five: In the middle is where your supposed to see Scotland. The photos don't show the rain because I was on super vivid mode.
Photo Six: making use of my umbrella
Photo Seven: a more accurate weather photo
Photo Eight:Again super vivid!
Photo Nine: Giants Causeway
Photo Ten: Giants Causeway Again
Photo Eleven: Castle Ruins
Photo Twelve: Pretty Scene
Photo Thirteen: Beach
Photo Fourteen: Peace Statue in Derry
Photo Fifteen: Peace Mural
Photo Sixteen: My motto!
Photo Seventeen: Funny barber
Photo Eighteen: The entry way through the wall
Photo Nineteen: The Town
Photo Twenty: Must warm up!

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