Day Five - Doing Derry

Our day started with a walking tour of the walls of Derry with our outstanding guide, Ruairi. He was not only informative, extremely interesting and well-versed in Derry and Northern Ireland’s tumultuous past, but because he had grown up during the time of The Troubles, he could offer a first-hand account of how this conflict affected the people of this country. He himself suffered from PTSD, which he didn’t discover until he went to the US to study and ended up in a psych ward. He was very unbiased, giving both sides of the story, and explaining some of the nuances of the conflict that you don’t get from elsewhere. He was very optimistic that, through education and good parenting, the next generation will be less inclined to fall into the trap of sectarian conflict.

It was very interesting to walk along the walls of the city, as Derry lays claim to having the only remaining completely walled city in Ireland. They were built in 1613-1618 by The Irish Society as a defence for early settlers from England and Scotland. Originally there were four gates, but three more were added later.

Throughout the tour we saw much evidence of the conflict, in terms of flags flown, posters, monuments and murals on walls. One of the most moving monuments was that in remembrance of those who died on Bloody Sunday, which occurred in January of 1972, in the Bogside area of Derry, when British soldiers shot 28 unarmed civilians, mostly young men, during a protest march against internment.

Our tour over, we decided to explore a little more before we had to leave, so headed back to a little craft village area we had passed on the tour. Next we decided to revisit Guild Hall to explore the second floor, which we had missed on our first visit. Not too much exciting, except for the beautif organ and our chance to become Lord Mayor of Derry, if only for a few brief moments.

Back to the hotel to meet our guide, Mike, and a few of the others to head over to Pyke and Pommes, a converted bus, for lunch. Unfortunately it was further away than Mike thought, so we ended up gobbling down our fish tacos, (which were great, I think!) and grabbing a cab back to the hotel, where the rest of our group were patiently waiting on the bus. Good thing we had the tour leader with us!!

On the way back to Belfast, we had another surprise stop, this time at Carrickfergus Castle. This is a well-preserved castle along the coast, which was built in 1177 by John de Courcy, and is one of the best preserved castles in Northern Ireland. It has been taken over by the Scots, English, French and Irish at various points in its existence, and played an important military role until 1928. We took the tour with a very lively and humourous guide, Jackie, who filled us in on all the whys and wherefores of the castle’s history.

Back on the road Belfast bound and to our hotel. We connected with Bill and Mary Hill, who hail from Upper Saanich, BC. We just popped round the corner and grabbed a bite at Molly’s Yard. Irv had goat, while I went with the more edible (IMHO) cod dish.

Day Four Off to Derry

Off on the first day of our tour bound for Derry (Londonderry). First stop was a surprise one, at the Dark Hedges, better known to Game of Thrones fans as the King’s Road. It is an avenue of beech trees which forms a canopy of leaves over the road, and ehich were planted by the Stuart family to impress visitors to their Georgian Mansion, Gracehill.

From there, on to Bushmills Distillery, where we were give an tour of the facility and an informative introduction to the production of whiskey (with an ‘e’ as opposed to the Scottish ‘whisky’) At the end we got to have a ‘wee dram’ just to wet our whistle! Unfortunately, photography was not allowed, so not much for a photographic record of this visit.

Next stop was Dunluce Castle, another place that GOT fans would recognize as Castle Greyjoy. These are the ruins of a castle first built in 1500 by the MacQuillan clan, then taken over by the MacDonnell clan in the 1550s, led by their warrior chieftain, Sorely Boy MacDonnell.

Our final stop of the day was at the famous Giant’s Causeway, a unique area of rock formations along the coast, and which, as legend has it, was formed by the giant, Finn McCool. It is essentially some 40 000 interlocking hexagonal basalt columns which are the result of volcanic fissure eruption. It is a UNESCO World Heritage site. You can walk down to the causeway and walk all over the rocks, provided you have decent footwear. There is a path that leads up to the top of the cliff, however, time constraints did not allow for us to venture up there. It is a most impressive sight, but someowhat less so, due to the hordes of tourists climbing all over it, which is probably true of most travel sites in the world.

On to Derry, where we checked in to our hotel, then decided to walk over to the Peace Bridge and head to the other side of the River Foyle for dinner. The Peace Bridge was opened in 2011 and was built to improve relations between the Unionist side and the Nationalists. During the Troubles, neither side ventured into the other’s side of the river, but with a spirit of reconciliation, this situation is improving.

On the way we stopped at the Guild Hall, which looks like a very ornate church, but which is in fact Derry’s city hall. On the bottom was an exhibit about the Plantation, the early attempt by the English to settle this part of Ireland, and which gave good insight into the roots of the unrest between the English and the Irish. It is a beautiful building with lots of stained glass.

Dinner at the Walled City Brewery was great! We each had a flight of three beer of which I surprisingly enjoyed all three! Only drawback was that Irv ordered the duck and it took almost 40 minutes to get our meals. But well worth the wait!

A walk back over the Peace Bridge and back to the hotel for a well-deserved rest after a long day.

Day Three

A combination of crappy internet and little spare time means I am way behind in my blog! So a condensed version. Today saw us visiting the Ulster museum, which was only a ten minute walk from our Air B&B. It is free and has an amazing display of artifacts. We spent the most time in the history section, where they had a most informative exhibit about the Troubles. As well an interesting exhibit about the Spanish Armada’s presence in this part of the world. They also have a number of feature items, such as a Stegosaurus skeleton, an Edmontosaurus, a wolfhound, a meteorite from Russia, to name but a few. The art floor has paintings from prominent Irish artists, along with a display of woodcuts, which were all done by women which is unusual, because women were not typically evident in the art world several hundred years ago. There was also a photographic display by Frank Quinn, who has had an ongoing project of capturing the Peace Walls in Belfast. The plan is to have these walls torn down by 2023, and he wanted to capture them for posterity. As it happened, he was in the gallery making some minor adjustments, so I got to talk with him.

On to the HOHO with a stop in central Belfast where we wandered around a bit and saw some of the sights there, including St. Anne’s church, the largest Celtic cross in Northern Ireland, the Albert Memorial clock, a sculpture called ‘The Calling’, and the Salmon of Knowledge.

We lucked into the free tour of City Hall, which is a most impressive building, reminiscent of our Legislative building. Much more opulent than our city hall in YEG. Mayor Iveson would be green with envy!

After that we headed back to the Air B&B to collect our luggage, which our host, Ruairi, kindly let us leave for the day. We were able to walk over to the hotel where the tour starts and got settled in just in time for our meeting with our fellow travellers. We are 7 Canadian couples, along with two young women one from St. Louis, the other from Dallas. They seem like a good bunch, very well-travelled! After our meet and greet, we headed out to the Barking Dog for dinner.

A HOHO Intro to Belfast

We decided to take our cabbie’s advice and try the Hop On Hop Off tour of Belfast, just to get a sense of the overall city. If you have a good guide, it can be a very informative tour. Fortunately both of ours were, so we learned a lot, particularly about the city (and country’s) tumultuous history. One thing we discovered is that this is a city of murals. . You can’t drive too far without encountering at least one, often more, and many of which commemmorate the events and people that have shaped the past. Of course there are also glimpses of the iconic buildings and structures that Belfast has in abundance. The architecture here is very diverse and interesting. The only drawback to the HOHO tours is that there are so many places you’d like to stop and explore further, but time constraints don’t really allow for that.

We had decided that we would get off at the Titanic Belfast Experience and take that in. It is firstly a most impressive building in itself, with its metal panel cladding and unique shape - replicating the prow of a ship. Inside there are not just displays about the Titanic, but also about the history of the city of Belfast. The Titanic displays are extensive, from a huge model of the shipyard where the ship was built, to replicas of the staterooms, to a ride through the construction of the ship, to first-hand accounts from survivors. One aspect I found very interesting was the interactive space where you could see the artifacts that have been discovered on the ocean floor through the use of submersibles. It also includes stories of some of the people who were on the Titanic and who did not survive the incident. We were amazed that we had spent a full three hours there!

Back on the HOHO and the rest of the tour, ending up back at Queens University where we had started. We had intended to stop in to go through the Ulster Museum, but because it was closing in an hour, opted to walk through the Botanic Gardens instead. This is a beautifully lush green space in the middle of the city, with the Palm House, a collection of tropical plants, as well as an extensive rose garden.

Since we had foregone lunch to complete the Titanic experience, our tummies were a little rumbly, so we headed over to an area not far from our digs and found a cosy pub called “Ryan’s Bar” and stopped for a beer and a cider. Once we sat down, it was so comfy that we opted to just eat dinner there. Fish and chips and pork belly filled our empty stomachs quite nicely. A walk back to our flat followed by an evening of organizing our stuff and an episode of Designated Survivor. Our host, Ruairi, has kindly allowed us leave our suitcases here tomorrow so we can do some more exploring before we have to make our way over to the Ibis Hotel to join up with our tour group.

The Eagles Have Landed

Okay, maybe more like buzzards, but we are here in the Emerald Isle. A rather uneventful flight - some turbulence, but overall quite smooth. Unlike our experience through the airport. Landed early at 10:30 am and waited FOR-ever in the customs lineup. Fortunately there was an amusing mural of tshirts with sayings from parents to keep us somewhat entertained. Once through customs, it was another adventure to find our bags. None of the carousels had Calgary on them so everyone from that flight was wandering around trying to figure out where our bags were. Finally turned up on a carousel marked ‘Inverness’!! We didn’t leave the airport till 1:00!!

Grabbed a cab because we were too tired to bother mucking about with buses. Had a very talkative cabbie who gave us the lowdown on what to see and do in Belfast, as well as his perceptions on the current political unrest in the country, but in Northern Ireland in particular. His own father was arrested and jaiked during the Troubles, and he lost friends in the conflicts. He also talked about what effect the whole Brexit schmozzle is having and will have on Northern Ireland.

Our Air B&B is a cute little flat near Queens University. We headed out to a local pub, the Botanic (it is also near the Botanic Gardens) for a bite to eat. I tried the bangers and mash (when in Rome…) and it was quite delish. Watched a bit of the soccer match between Northern Ireland and Germany, and when we left the pub and took a little walk in the neighbourhood, we could hear the chanting of the crowd, as the stadium was fairly close to our place.

Back “home” to plan out our next couple of days in Belfast before we join up with our G Adventures tour on Wednesday evening.

We're Off!

After months of poring over Rick Steves and the Lonely Planet travel bibles, the day has finally arrived! We are off to explore the land of my ancestors (well, some of them, anyway - my grandmother’s father’s family was from County Donegal) as well as the country of Outlander. (And yes, I am doing an Outlander tour, while Irv spends the day tasting whiskey!!) Hopefully I will be able to keep up with this blog, for those of you who like to travel vicariously with us. Unfortunately, due to formatting issues between my website and my iPad and my camera, I cannot post any photos here. I will be posting on FB and if I can, on Google photos. Enjoy!

Off to the U.K.

Hard to believe that in just 9 days we will be off to the U.K. - Ireland and Scotland, to be specific. Unfortunately, I cannot upload my photos from my iPad to my website due to formatting issues. I will have to wait till I am home to post them to my website. However, I will be posting some on Facebook.