Archive for May 7th, 2009

Ireland to Scotland

Thursday, May 7th, 2009

We spent Monday night in our car in Donnegal, Ireland. It was raining and we decided to not try to put all our luggage on top; instead we kept all the luggage in the trunk and slept in the seats. The Dans slept in the front two seats, while Matt and I (David) slept in the back seat. I woke up at 6:00 with Matt’s head in my lap. I decided that since he still needed to catch up on his sleep from his flight over, I would let him sleep, which he continued to do for several more hours using me as his pillow.

We continued north into Northern Ireland, officially a part of the United Kingdom, and stopped at “Downhill House” which was owned by a bishop who apparently had made enemies with really small people and/or really stupid people. He determined that he needed a moat but it was only about three feet tall and four feet wide. First of all, why does a bishop need a moat, and secondly why make such a puny moat. He did have an incredible library though. He built a cylindrical building right out on the coast with steep cliffs dropping away from about half of the building. The view would have been spectacular if it would not have been so rainy and cloudy, but since it was raining heavily, we could not see much.

We continued on our way, and Matt gave us quite the excitement when, at highway speeds, he hit a curb on the side of the road and several minuites later he did one better: he drove over the curb . In the process we lost a hubcap, thus making our Passat look less stunning.

We then went to the Giant’s Causeway on the northern coast of Ireland, and discovered that humans did not invent steps, they apparently were invented by the giant Finn MacCool many moons ago. The rock formations along the coast formed natural steps and were hexagonal in shape and were very slippery because of the rain. We walked out right to the coast and watched the tide come in. I noticed how harsh the ocean looked with its cold waves crashing into the coast, and thought about how in several months we will be at on the banks much more inviting waters. We then walked along paths on the cliffs and viewed the stunning beauty of the Giant’s Causeway and its surrounding regions. It would have been great to spend a bunch of time there, but the weather was miserable: it was cold, not much above freezing, raining, and had gale-force winds. At one point, up on top of the cliffs, extremely strong winds blew from three directions in a two-minute span. It was enjoyable to look across the cliffs and watch seagulls swoop around below us, using the wind to its full soaring potential. I had to think of how an attraction like this would be handled in the States. They would have luxury hotels, condos, and tourist areas on top of the cliffs, but in Ireland sheep placidly graze right above the stunning vistas. I have to think that the weather has much to do with this. It rains about 200 days out of the year and is severely windy, thus decreasing its tourist appeal.

We made it down to Belfast that evening and drove around town. We drove down Shankill Street, where Bloody Sunday took place. There were quite a few murals supporting the Irish cause, but there were also some British-support murals. When I was in Belfast three years ago I was amazed at the number of cranes dotting the skyline. This trip there were many fewer, probably a combination of completed projects and the slow economy. The city is really trying to get past its violent image and I really enjoyed the city. There was a noticeable improvement in the city from my last trip. At night, we walked along the Lagan River and enjoyed the bridges and lights along the river. Matt brought a big tripod along and he spent most of the walk well behind the rest of us trying to capture the perfect held-exposure shots of the city. After that, we went to City Hall for some more pictures. The building is very stately and beautiful but it had a ferris wheel attached to the side of it. They looked so odd right next to each other, like conjoined twins of different nationalities. The ferris wheel is basically a miniature London Eye that provides views of Belfast, and Matt and I stopped to talk to the night guard, about it. He was fairly young and talked of his dream of moving to Texas and working on a cattle ranch. We have found that the cowboy part of American culture is really stressed abroad, possibly because that is one thing that we didn’t copy from the Europeans.

We left Belfast on a ferry at 3:30 a.m. to save some money. The ferry was very empty so I was able to find a long padded bench to sleep on. I woke up at one point with a TV blaring above me so I quickly turned it off and went back to sleep. I don’t think much else of note happened on the trip, if it did I missed it because I was asleep. We got to Stranrear, Scotland at about 7:00 and drove to Edinburgh.

We first secured a hostle for the night, the Belford Hostel, which had transformed an old church into a hostle. It cost £10 per person and included hot showers and a kitchen area where we were able to use several times. The hostle was very nice and I would recommend it to anyone who stops in Edinburgh. The shower room had four sinks, so we used them to do our laundry. I am sure our mothers would have enjoyed watching us wash all our clothes out in sinks. It took quite a while and we hung up our clothes in our room. Our room looked like the top of Mt. Everest with its Tibetan prayer flags. I have resigned myself to looking like a hobo throughout this trip, but it is necessary when living out of a car and bag for several months.

We then decided to check out the town, so we walked around Edinburgh Castle and down the Golden Mile, the stretch of road between the Castle and the Queen’s residence. It is a nice stretch but has been overrun with tourist shops. There is an incredible number of cathedrals in Edinburgh; it seems as if they needed at least one for every century that it has been in existence. We climbed a hill that gave us a good view of the entire city and also the Firth of Forth, on which Edinburgh was built. (Is there a cooler name than the Firth of Forth?)

At night Matt and I walked back to our hostel from downtown. We didn’t have a map and ended up getting a little lost. We stopped in at an internet cafe and he had a map of the city and was able to help us out. We got back to our hostel in time to watch the second half of the Chelsea-Barcelona “futbol” match. It was the semi-final of the Champion’s League, and Chelsea had a 1-0 lead until Barcelona tied it up in the 92nd minute. It was their first shot on goal all game, so supposedly I could have done just as well in net as the Chelsea goaltender. It turned out that if they tie after 90 minutes, Barcelona advances, so they celebrated their tie while Chelsea was furious because the referee missed several obvious hand ball calls in the last few minutes (which elicited quite an uproar from the English journalists).

Matt and I waited for the Dans to return, but they didn’t come…and didn’t come. Finally I decided to go to bed (and Matt ate their sandwiched he had made for them), and just as I was climbing into bed Dan Shenk walked in the room. He had gotten lost and had spent nearly three hours traipsing through the city. I woke up this morning and Dan Ziegler was in his bed, he also got lost and had trouble finding the hostel. So if anyone takes up my recommendation and stays at the Belford Hostel, make sure you have a map of the city.

We are really enjoying our time so far, but are ready for some a stretch of time without rain (maybe by the time we get to France in a week-and-a-half).
Thanks for staying interested in our travels, and may you find ways in which you have fun and adventure wherever and however you can. Don’t leave it all up to us.

david miller