Friday, May 18, 2012

Our First Day in Belfast

Our first stop was Belfast in Northern Ireland. Arriving by train, from Dublin, we immediately called a cab to take us to our hotel.  I think at this point, everything still seemed so surreal.  From the moment we got into the cab, our driver was nothing but nice. Offering advice as to where the best dining and shopping areas were, my mom and I couldn’t wait to get out and begin exploring the city.

Reaching our hotel room, we were puzzled as to how the lights worked (crazy, I know). Realizing that you must insert your room card in order for the lights and the air to work, I slid the card into the slot and flipped on the lights before taking  the card back out. Suddenly, I hear a scream coming from the bathroom with my mom shouting, “The lights went out!” Needless to say, we finally figured it out that the card must STAY in the slot if you want your lights and air to work.

At this point, the jet lag was starting to catch up with us. Landing at 8 a.m. and then catching a train from Dublin to Belfast, which is a little more than two and half hours, we were pretty wiped at this point. However, we weren’t going to let that stop us from getting out and seeing the city.
Our first stop was St. Anne’s Cathedral. I assumed it was called Belfast Cathedral but the front desk hotel clerk quickly corrected me. Grateful that (almost) everything was within walking distance, we walked towards City Hall (which was gorgeous in its own right…but I’ll talk about that another time) and made our way towards St. Anne’s. Beautifully erected, her doors invited and welcomed us in. Within her walls, rows upon rows of chairs sat facing the pulpit, each with their own individual kneeling pads. Each pad was embroidered with its own uniquely decorated design; vibrant shades of red providing the backdrop for each design. Archways lined the sides and front of the church and stained-glass windows provided visitors with various Biblical scenes and sayings – a fixture that is found in many European churches.

Her organ sat high, her pipes stretching towards the ceiling as if the music that would sound from her could reach the Heavens. And plaques were mounted on the walls, dedicated in memory of those who served in the Irish Guard who had lost their lives during war.
Upon leaving St. Anne’s, a group of school children rushed to her front steps, eager and anxious to enter, but were quickly gathered by their chaperone and told to quiet their voices. Our next stop was to have some lunch. After traveling all day, our stomachs were begging for food. Finding a local restaurant called McHughes, we decided to have a taste of authentic Irish cuisine. Opening the doors, we were met with the sounds of flutes, accordions and guitars as Irish music filtered throughout the restaurant. Feeling as if I was in the middle of a pub, we ordered fish and chips, both of us completely unaware of just how much food we were about to eat.

Bringing our order to us, my jaw nearly hit the floor when I saw the size of the fish that was lying on my plate. Not only did I have fries (a.k.a. chips), but there was also a small lump of mushy peas. Looking at my mom, we both tried them but we both gave the same reaction… “Thanks, but no thanks.” Deciding to delve into my massively large piece of fish, I was in Irish Heaven the most my fork touched my tongue. Not only was the fish crispy on the outside but it melted in my mouth the moment it hit. Not a fan of the provided tartar sauce, I was asked if I would like some “red sauce.” Thinking that I might get thrown out if I were to ask for “ketchup,” I said that I would take the mystery red sauce. I quickly realized that “red sauce” is another word for “ketchup” so my behind stayed firmly planted in the wooden seat beneath me.

After the both of us ate only half of our fish (because it was way too much food), we left the comfortable setting of McHughes and visited a nearby souvenir shop, Carroll’s. Inside we found everything you could imagine, including t-shirts, key chains, boxer shorts, shot glasses, cds, ornaments, cookies and picture frames. My mom even tried on a leprechaun hat and beard. (I would show the picture here but she would hate me forever). After buying a few small things, we headed back to the hotel for a bit of relaxation. Full from our late lunch, we grabbed a small dinner and went in search of an Irish coffee.

Stumbling upon Fibber McGee’s, we walked in to find that the coffee had been turned on and the alcohol turned on. Patrons sat at wooden tables, prepping themselves for the night’s entertainment, complete with their Guinness in hand. As much as we wanted to stay and experience Belfast’s nightlife, we really wanted an Irish coffee. Leaving Fibber McGee’s, we walked to one other pub before finally settling back at the hotel bar where we received a true Irish coffee. Of course, it was so strong; we drank it, but struggled once we reached the bottom of the glass.

City Hall lit up at night
Calling it a night, we showered and slipped into bed. It had been a long day, but was a great start to our trip.

Monday, May 14, 2012

The Colors of Ireland

First and foremost, please forgive me for not having written in quite a while. As some of you know, I spent two weeks traveling throughout the vibrant, wondrous country of Ireland and have been trying to recuperate from the on-the-go physicality that the trip demanded.
To answer your question though, yes, I had a wonderful time. Ireland is a country full of friendly people, never-ending countryside, and…sheep. Yes, there are sheep everywhere! I’ll get to that later though. When flying to Dublin, one of the first things I noticed while sitting in the ever-so-comfortable airplane seat was the colors that this country shown.
Out of my portal-sized window, I saw numerous shades of green, looking like fabrics stretched out as far as the eye could see. I recall turning to my mom and remarking at how incredible it was to see green everywhere, yet, in so many different shades. Astounded herself, she simply couldn’t get over just how green everything was!
Properties were divided by three things: trees, bushes, or rock walls – most definitely impressive. As if the greens were impressive enough, while we were on the train to Belfast, we spotted fields of pure yellow. A bit confused as to what it could be, the train quickly sped by one of these yellow coated fields and we saw the thousands upon thousands of flowers nestled perfectly within their walls. I’ll never forget the look or reaction my mom had – fumbling to retrieve her camera and the smile that never left her face. She was in complete awe of the sight before her.
Of course, as I mentioned before, Ireland has a lot of sheep. So naturally, specks of white popped up all across the greenery. The sheep looked like oversized cotton balls, many with black faces. I’m sure every time I spotted a baby sheep, a voice in my head made the “awe” sound. The entire trip, my mom continued to say, “I want to hold a baby sheep.” Needless to say, that didn’t happen.

With all of the rain that this country receives, it is no wonder that the colors of the fields and flowers bloom and shine so brightly. In the states, everything around us dies during winter and takes a while for our trees and flowers to bloom again during the spring, so it was refreshing to see a part of the world that never “dies.”
Seeing all of those colors, I knew that my mom and I were in for a trip of a lifetime. Seeing a part of the world that provides so much beauty and life, we knew Ireland would have a lot to offer. However, what we experienced and saw later…we could have never imagined or expected.

(I wanted to add so many more photos but Blogger is being incredibly slow when trying to upload photos...I promise I'll get them up here somehow!)