Thursday, November 22, 2012

Ireland - Part 2

Belfast
Last week in - Part 1 - I spoke about north vs south Ireland and the history.

Ireland is a whole lot more than it's dramas. Irish people are down to earth, yet feisty. They have a wicked sense of humour and something they call - craic. A good sense of fun. Colourful characters abound in Irish history like the canny brewer - Arthur Guinness - who had 21 children. Apparently his dark stout gave him and his wife stamina. Oscar Wilde was a character and half. His quotes are legendary. My favourite is vegetarian writer - George Bernard Shaw - who died at 94 after he fell off his ladder while trimming the trees outside his house.

Guild Hall Derry
Modern Irish celebrities like - Bono - and - Bob Geldof - are equally flamboyant and have a lot to say for themselves. These two Irish men have changed the course of history with their activism. Ireland has a lot to be proud of.

Ireland is full of magic and folklore. We heard it in the songs they sang at Bunratty, saw references to - Druids - magical powers at the stone circles and we saw warnings for us to beware of - Leprechauns.

Queens University Belfast
Ireland is called the Emerald Isle. There is a reason it's so green. It rains a lot. Make sure you pack an umbrella and a light raincoat. You will use it. The best time to visit is mid season. July and August are when the European schools take their holidays. You may find screaming kids and exasperated parents a bit much. The favorable £ vs € exchange rate means Brits can pop across for an affordable family holiday.

Roads in Ireland are good and in the south road signs are in English and Irish. In the cities, as in most European cities, having a car was a bit of a nuisance but we left our car at the hotel or guesthouse and used public transport.

St Stephens Green Dublin
To plan our road trip, We took a map and kind of carved the country into quarters. We intended to find a base in each quarter and then do road trips radiating out from our base to key areas and attractions. We did a sort of E shape across Ireland but made sure we didn't back-track and took in as much as possible. Here is a summary of our road trip. I can say - hand of heart - we put a lot of thought into it and I reckon we couldn't have done it better.

St Mary's Church in Dublin - now a bar
We hired a car from - Enterprise Car Hire - in Scotland and drove down to Stranraer. From Stranraer we took a ferry to Belfast where we spent a few nights at - Ibis Hotels. Starting in - Belfast, the capital of Northern Ireland, we did a walking tour of the city taking in the usual things such as museums, important buildings and cathedrals. We saw the Titanic, the - Albert Memorial - or leaning clock tower, the botanical gardens and Queens University.

Look out for - wall murals - in Northern Ireland which have clear Loyalist and Republican themes.

We found well priced and - surprise - vegetarian food near Queens University. And that's a tip worth mentioning. You are far more likely to find budget friendly, healthy food near universities. Maybe students are more open minded? For more ideas on what to do in Belfast - click here. Allow around two days in Belfast.

Old wall around old city of Derry
We left Belfast and drove north taking in - Giants Causeway - which is described as "40,000 interlocking basalt columns, the result of an ancient volcanic eruption". If unique geology interests you, then you will love it. It's a busy tourist attraction and requires a bit of walking. Follow - this link - for more on what to see and do in Northern Ireland.




Leaning clock Belfast
Next stop was - Derry. We loved Derry. Derry is the second biggest city in Northern Ireland and one of the oldest cities in Ireland. The old city is walled with ramparts that are still remarkably in tact. A person can easily imagine knights on horseback charging about. Derry is also where 'The troubles' began and here you will see wall murals that I mentioned. The Irish people are surprisingly open about their past and happy to talk. It happened not that long ago and many of them have been profoundly affected.  Allow two days - if you can - to explore Derry.

Next week in - Part 3  - I give ideas for what to do in Dublin, Galway, Aran Islands, Kerry, Cork and mention the druids.

Hanging backwards off the side of Blarney Castle to kiss the stone
You can see  reviews of other places we have visited by following - this link - which will take you to the Travel Archives.