Wednesday, March 26, 2008

Easter Monday...

flickr photo link: <Causeway Coast photos>
After Derry we headed on for some serious tourist spots like The Giant's Causeway and the Carrick-a-Rede Rope Bridge. It was a popular day and cars were blocking the road at The GC to pay £5 for the National Trust car park. Lazy buggers. So we parked on a nearby lane instead and walked for free. We did however support the National Trust by eating some of their sandwiches in the tearoom, then followed the crowds down to the rocks, which I have always felt slightly unspectacular. An amazing rock formation yes, but does it deserve all the accolades? I'm not so sure (God I'm hard to please...) On to the Rope Bridge where we took pics of Sue & Paul walking across and admired the view from the cliffs. Again, people lined up with kids & dogs to cross the bridge and complete their touristic pilgrimage of Northern Ireland (but we didn't see them on the Bogside, mmm...) We made it back to the car just in time before hail & sleet reduced the temperature to 1ºc as we headed for Belfast.
Everyone seemed to be out shopping and going to the pub even with the Irish flags up in commemoration of the Easter Rising, well in some neighbourhoods anyway. Union Jacks flying in other neighbourhoods of course. The pub Paul had wanted to see in Belfast (The Crown Liquor Saloon) was closed, so we kept driving to the Balloo House in County Down which does superb food. We grabbed quite possibly the last table in the bar, but they still served us quickly and graciously, and the final bill for drinks & 2 courses put the Republic prices to shame (as we've found consistently in N.I.) We drove back to Annagassan via Newry with a quick tour of Dundalk in the dark... oh look, they've finished expanding the Aldi. Home for a few loads of washing and well earned sleep!
Next weekend... Paris!

Tuesday, March 25, 2008

Free Derry

flickr photo link: <Derry photos>
It was cold when we arrived in Derry (aka Londonderry) on Easter Sunday. The late afternoon streets had been abandoned to the lager louts and the shutters were well and truly down. So we wandered along the 9 metre thick old city walls, looking down on the divided areas and murals from a distance. I should have worn 2 coats. It was grey and foreboding, and we returned along the grim Strand Road to our B&B (The Saddler’s House, £50/nt) which was quite nice. After a quick change we had dinner at an American style restaurant just down the street that did some great main courses but the desserts were a let down. We do give extra points to the young barman for mixing 2 Pina Colada's, and send this appeal to his management to buy him a new blender. Come on, they don't cost much!
The following morning Clare & Joe did a walking tour of The Bogside with a local guide (just the 3 of us!) Foreign tourists were out snapping pictures of the murals as we listened to the stories of the Battle of the Bogside and Bloody Sunday, from our guide's point of view. Perhaps we saw it in the wrong light, but Derry just seemed so far removed from the tourist brochures advertising art, culture & shopping (which are generally true of Belfast now). The entire history of this city is troubled and it felt like the 'troubles' just finished yesterday. It turned out we weren't far off the mark. We'd seen some posters around for a march at the local cemetery starting at 2.30pm in celebration (?) of the Easter 1916 uprising. We didn't go along, which was a good thing, as according to news reports, a riot kicked off at 3pm with police frisking kids, collecting 41 molotov cocktails, etc. Who they were rioting against and why? Who knows.
We left Derry towards the Giants Causeway with mixed feelings, hoping that one day this place may find some true peace.

Easter, Part I...

flickr photo link: <Donegal photos> (Coming Soon)
Sue & Paul arrived in Dublin on Good Friday, which is one of those weird days in Ireland as although many things are closed, it's not an official public holiday, so lots of people have to work although they'd prefer to have a public holiday like all sensible countries have (like Australia!) Went straight to Trinity College for The Book Of Kells (Joe asks why you'd pay to see a crusty old book... heathen!) The Trinity Library is more impressive than the book itself. So Harry Potter, quite spectacular. Lots of original Gould books of birds & animals from everywhere - loads of them. Apparently the library books are mostly in Latin but catalogued by height, not author or subject matter. The students are allowed to take them out but it's difficult for anyone to find anything they want to read. Almost inspires you to apply to go to Trinity for 2 weeks or so to borrow the books.
It hailed as we drove up to Malahide, just north of Dublin. We had some lunch in a popular little cafe, but missed the last tour at Malahide Castle (this was because Clare & Sue had a dessert with lunch!) We missed every castle over the weekend for one reason or another. So we went home... We tried to go to our local pub that night, but it was closed :(
On Easter Saturday we went to Newgrange. Sue & Paul did the tour, Joe read the papers and Clare took the laptop to the Café (decorated with plastic lampshades from a Stanley Kubrick movie). We then meandered up to Donegal with a few stops in haunted cemeteries (Pagan & Christian) and the like. We checked into the Atlantic Guest House in Donegal Town (€60/nt) right in the middle of the town. It rained in Donegal, as usual, and we eventually found somewhere to eat and a good, but rather solemn trad music session at 'The Reel Inn' pub that night. Lots of laments about leaving Donegal during the famine to live in the slums of Chicago. Definitely no rollicking versions of 'Bound for South Australia' or 'Belle of Belfast' like we have at our pub on Friday nights.
On Sunday we headed around the coast of Donegal and visited numerous teashops - not for tea but for coffee, cakes & souvenirs. We drove up to Slieve League cliffs, the highest in Europe at 600m - quite spectacular (Clare says it was a bit scary). Went for a walk up for a higher view - Clare slipped in the mud but luckily they had a solid fence and she didn't fall into the sea, just got a wet bum and muddy jeans. Had lunch at a greasy spoon place in Dungloe. Onwards towards Derry via more mountain passes, past Mt Errigal (looked like Mount Doom from LOTR) and through Glenveagh National Park. There was a castle here that involved a 40 min walk from the car park in the wind and rain so we gave it a miss. Then on towards Derry.
We thought the Lonely Planet writers got a bit excited over Donegal and raved a bit too much about alleged 'alpine' passes. They were interesting with a windswept beauty, but not alpine. Lots of sheep and jolly jumping lambs everywhere, and loads and loads of holiday bungalows in the coastal areas. Another part of Ireland ticked off the book!

Wednesday, March 19, 2008


flickr photo link: <Barcelona, Mar 08>
14 Mar 08 EI46 BFS/BCN 1040/1420
17 Mar 08 EI47 BCN/BFS 1500/1640
We heard the old man on the Friday evening. At first it was just an odd sound, floating down through the breezeway behind our apartment in this part of the Barri Gòtic of Barcelona. Something deep and resonant. We opened the bathroom window. After more careful listening, it was certainly a voice... quite guttural, almost as if from the devil himself. We had no idea what he was saying, but it was certainly a one sided conversation, interspersed with a laughter, perhaps slightly hysterical. This occured regularly, morning and evening, and became strangely familar during our 3 days and nights here. We're sure, now we've left, that his voice will continue to intrigue and puzzle many visitors to come.
So, Barcelona, another fantastic (too short) travel experience in Europe. We flew from Belfast International on Friday 14 March. We shared the Aer Lingus A320 with the “Shankill Junior Football Club” which made for an amusing trip, especially the 1 ½ hours sitting on the tarmac in Belfast waiting for the fog to lift in Barcelona as the (numerous) kids around us got more and more bored... But eventually we took off and the flight was quite smooth. Barcelona Airport is nice looking but the baggage handling was poor (1 hour from landing to carousel), which we've come to expect now in Europe – all the more reason to forget the check-in baggage and travel with roll-ons that exactly fit carry-on specifications, mmm, next time...
After some deliberation outside the terminal building (a typical Friday afternoon I would suspect), we ended up sharing a cab to Plaza Catalunya with an Irish couple. They were also on the same flight back on Monday.

- Story & photos to be completed -

Monday, March 10, 2008

Storm Of The Century, Part II

This may, quite possibly, be one of our shorter blog entries. The wind howled, some rain came down and waves lashed along our sea wall, but there was no disaster last night. Everything was fine. It's probably better to have a prediction of bad weather than not be told at all. So, that was our storm of the century and all is well. Bye for now.

Sunday, March 09, 2008

Storm Of The Century, Part I

Tonight, the "Storm Of The Century" is hitting Ireland & Great Britain with 100kph+ winds and buckets of rain, all combined with a super high tide. But it hasn't reached us yet! The population has been asked to stay away from coastal areas, which is a little difficult for us as we live right on the coast. So wish us luck. More updates later!