Friday, February 28, 2014

Chelsea in Northern Ireland

This blog title doesn't include a city name because the majority of our day was spent traipsing through the countryside. We were set to check out of our first hotel and make our way northwest to Donegal. We had grand plans for getting up early and making the most of our day.

Apparently we were both more exhausted than we realized, since our 7am alarm didn't wake us up, and when my mom nudged me away, it was 10:20! Speaking to my priorities, my first question was "Did we miss breakfast?!" My mom skeptically stated that yes we did, unless I could get up, get dressed, and get down to breakfast in about 2 minutes. Challenge accepted, mother! We were down in the dining room by 10:24, and were allowed to be seated. I literally pilled my plate high with everything I might want to eat before the staff could clear the buffet tables.

I was so happy to have made it to the "free" breakfast, I didn't even mind that we were getting a very late start. By the time we were ready and checked out, it was a little past noon. We decided to stick to our original schedule despite the late departure. Our route was Dublin --> Belfast --> Giant's Causeway --> Donegal for the night. I had actually wanted to stop by the ISA office at Queens Univeristy in Belfast, to take a photo and say hello, but I found out that the staff weren't in the office that day.

We headed north, following signs for "THE NORTH". I wondered when we were going to come to The Wall and Castle Black (Game of Thrones, anyone? hehe) The weather was intermittentedly sunny and beautiful then suddenly black and raining. At one point we even had some hail! I mean, talk about bipolar weather.

As we left the city, the scenery grew more and more beautiful. I was trying to snap photos out of the car window, but when we saw a sign for a view point right off the highway, my mom indulged my need for photos and took me on a little detour. We wound our way up and around the side of a hill and eventually came to a tiny parking lot and lookout point with a picnic table. We took some photos but it was so cold that we didn't stay too long. The time we were there, though, served us well as the view was absolutely gorgeous!! Green as far as the eye could see. Thankfully the sun was out when we hit this area.

After the detour, we headed back on the highway heading north towards Belfast. The road noise lulled me into a cat nap, during which we crossed into Northern Ireland. I was a bit sad to have missed this "landmark" and potential photo op, but my mom said it was out of no where and the sign wasn't very big or impressive. I resolved to get a photo on our way back into the Republic of Ireland at the end of the day.

Since we were in Northern Ireland (a separate country entirely), not only was the currency in GBP, but my SIM card data stopped working. UGH! At least our route north was already plotted, so we didn't get lost but it was a bit frustrating. We decided to stop in at a petrol station to use the WiFi and get another bottle of water. I had to ask the woman at the counter for the password for the WiFi. She told me "oh, ess, ay, two, three.." so I typed in "OSA23" but when she saw that, she say "No no! Not Ahh, Ayy!" Um, what? I typed in A again. She laughed and shook her head again, emphasizing AYYY. Thoroughly bewildered, she used a pen and wrote "e". I laughed and said "Oh, eeee!" She goes, "Yes, ay." Holy crap accents can make communication within the same language very difficult! But, it was a pretty humorous exchange.

Just down the road, I spied a Marks and Spencer's shop (department store with a grocery store) where we had a pit stop to get salads. The majority of the best salads I've ever had have come from here, so I was pumped to get another one, or three... We got 5 different varieties - small sizes of course - then grabbed a bottle of wine, some fresh and warm baguettes, butter and cheese, and of course a bar of chocolate. I think our little shopping stop was one of my favorite moments of the trip thus far. It sounds silly, but to bond over our love of simple but delicious food and drinks was really awesome. I totally love my mom. :)

After we left the shop, we passed through Belfast, which didn't seem too large or impressive to be honest. After another quick catnap on my part, we got close to our destination: Giant's Causeway. We arrived a little after 5pm, and the visitor's center was closed. I didn't mind though becuase the lighting was absolutely gorgeous as it was nearing sunset.

Since it was technically closed, we couldn't get the bus out to the proper part of the causeway, but were able to walk partway around the coast. Even though we didn't get to see the actual basalt columns up close and personal, the views were breathtaking. I took so many photos trying to capture just how magnificent the cliffs, rolling waves, and winding paths were. Due to temperatures in the 30s, plus high winds coming off the ocean, we weren't able to walk too far down the path, only about a quarter mile, before our faces and fingers numbed beyond what we could handle. But, it was worth it regardless. We headed back to the car when I spied another path that looked to promise great views as well.

We drove around to another angle on the top of the outlook, and I walked along the narrow path I'd seen from afar and through a gate (was I actually allowed in this area? I have no idea) all the way to the edge of the cliffs. My mom, attempting to thaw out, stayed behind in the car. I felt like I was chasing the sunset, trying to drink in as much nature and scenery as possible before she set beyond the horizon, shadowing the outlandish beauty. I attempted to get myself in photos, but I just couldn't get the focus right for a timed selfie. It's probably good though, becuase I feel a bit like that was "my spot" and it's kind of nice that I can't actually share that with anyone else.

After about 15 minutes, I realized that I was probably going to worry my mom that I'd fallen off the cliff if I didn't get back soon. I headed back to the car and we set off. Since the "sat nav" (satellite navigation aka Google Maps) wasn't working without data, we guessed in the direction we needed to head. At a petrol station I went inside and looked at an atlas and asked the young cashier where we needed to go to get to Donegal. Once again proving how kind and helpful the Irish can be, he and another customer conferred about the best way for us to go. It seemed pretty easy, so I snapped a picture of the map and memorized the directions he gave.

Following my directions, we headed toward the town of Londonderry, on the border of Ireland and Northern Ireland. By then the sun was completely gone and even if it'd been out, there was literally no demarkation about entering or leaving either country. Bummer we missed out on that photo, but we were both so ready to get to our next hotel that we didn't mind too much.

Once we entered into Ireland, my service resumed, although on extended network, and we were able to get actual directions to continue to our destination. While we couldn't actually see the countryside we were passing through, I think it was pretty beautiful and the towns we passed through were charming and quaint. I wish we'd been able to see more of them.

Finally, after a pitstop for more chocolate, we found our hotel for the night: Loughe Eske. The previous hotel we'd stayed at was a "castle" but THIS PLACE is a freaking castle!! Even the first sight, shrouded in night, was gorgeous. The room is immaculate and seriously fancy. After we got our stuff in the room, I headed down to the bar to get some dinner. I ordered a kids meal of bangers and mash (sausage and mashed potatoes). It was cheap, by five-star hotel standards, and I wasn't overly hungry. But when it came out, holy crap it was MASSIVE! Okay, that's a bit of an overstatement, but it was definitely larger than a normal kids portion. I guess for the price it wasn't a bad deal! And it was so delicious.

Now I'm back up in the room, ready for a nice sleep after a lot of traveling (6 hr total in the car!) and sightseeing. We're going to do some more geocaching tomorrow as well as explore the wild area surrounding Donegal.


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