Friday, September 19, 2008

Road Trip Part 2: Emerald Ireland

Rolling off the ferry into Northern Ireland in the (once again) somewhat damp conditions, we were disappointed to leave haggis behind, but found ourselves surrounded by a friendly but bizarre local people speaking some strange language that we later realised was English.

DJ TT, momentarily disoriented by our arrival in a new land, quickly got himself together and was enthralled by the prospect of fewer speed cameras.

Belfast was a gripping experience. With my only previous exposure while growing up through news coverage of the violence, it was fascinating to visit the now (mostly) quiet Republican (Catholic) and Unionist (Protestant) neighbourhoods bearing the scars of decades of conflict.

The separation fences, bullet holes and strident murals recalled another intractable conflict in the Middle East, but it’s colder and wetter here, and the hummus is terrible.

Recent history aside, Belfast had its share of attractions, and KY & I both had the chance to meet some locals and receive some earnest (& frankly terrifying) propositions, however if anyone has contacts with the casting directors of either "Neighbours" or "Home & Away" (horrible Aussie soap operas beloved in the UK), we have some eager prospects for you.

The next day we planned to hit the road and see the countryside. Unfortunately, we couldn’t see sh$t. The weather was so bad, we at times couldn’t see the sea we were driving next to, but did get some quintessential Misty Ireland photos.

As the weather lifted, we began to see why they call this place the Emerald Isle. Literally every square centimetre of the country more than 2cm from the sea is covered in bright green grass. It’s like some deranged Leprechaun got the mega-discounted volume pack of Astroturf from Wal-Mart & couldn’t find anywhere else to use it. Those poor ba$tards must have been really disappointed when they were deported to Australia in the days before they invented surfing & bikinis.

We also found our first experience of what was to become a familiar issue of grade-inflation of tourist attractions. For the record, the rope bridge thing is not that exciting. What we did think was fun was the Giant’s Causeway, a natural phenomenon that really looks like a badly paved road leading into the water (Trust me, it does look more interesting than it sounds).

Heading into the Republic of Ireland (we think, visibility was still difficult), we spent the next few days meandering southwards along the country's stunning West Coast. We had memorable meals in Sligo and Galway, hair-raising driving in Connemara, saw the hauntingly beautiful Doolough Valley, and then a couple of days later found ourselves in beautiful and quaint Dingle.

Dingle's quaint pubs, cute houses, and a studiously preserved traditional Irish atmosphere combined with the incredible natural beauty of the Dingle Peninsula (the "Ring of Dingle") was the highlight of our Ireland trip. For the record, the Ring of Dingle is way more interesting than the Ring of Kerry.

The following night found us in Cork, Ireland's second largest city. While Cork is no doubt a lovely place, we were a bit Irish'ed out at that point, and sought refuge in pizza and DVD's, which was a very satisfying evening in its own right.

The world-famous Blarney Stone is said to give you magical powers of conversation and persuasion (or at least the ability to avoid an issue), and while Kristen & I don't seem to be in great need of this, we figured that it was better safe than sorry! What's generally not well-explained, however, is that to kiss this damn rock, you have to climb to the top of a (really impressive) 15th Century castle, and then bend backwards over the parapets to plant your lips (or in KY's case- her nose) on the well-loved rock.

Once completed & appropriately disinfected, we headed to Dublin, home to a lot of pubs, music, and of course Guinness. To attempt to be properly Irish, Cam tried Guinness on several occasions, but it definitely hasn't grown on me. Next morning, we boarded a ferry and headed back to the UK- next stop Wales!

Photos are here.

Worldguide is here.

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