(note: Not much has been going my way these past few days. I have a bunch of photos to accompany this post, but because of issues I'm having with Google update, they're not available yet. I hope to have this remedied soon and just update this blog accordingly.)
Through a little political wrangling and bribery, I convinced the family that we should spend our Saturday (May 18th, 2013) driving up to see the Giant's Causeway; something I've been wanting to see for a long time. Friday had been a really beautiful day and I had no reason to believe that Saturday would be any different. Really, you'd think having been in Ireland this long I'd know better.
We woke up to rain and it didn't stop all day.
Nevertheless, you can't let a little rain stop you from doing stuff in Ireland otherwise you wouldn't get anything done.
First stop in a day of firsts was Belfast.
It's an interesting town, lots of history, but much of it is based on conflict. While technically The Troubles are past, I still felt a strong sense of tension in the city. The Union Jack and the ROI flag both flew in defiance to each other in distinct parts of the city. Large murals of masked gunmen adorned buildings. As an outsider I felt it was probably wise to avoid the topic of religion and politics in this city.
Our scheduled stop was a candy store, Aunt Sandra's. We got there just in time for a candy presentation and a brief tour of the "factory". Really, it was for the kids but major props to Uncle Jim for keeping about 30 young kids attentive and entertained. Even for the big kids it was cool to see how liquid candy is poured, flavored, molded, and shaped to create common hard candies and lollipops.
I also have to say the candy was delicious, and the white chocolate lollies were the best I've ever had. The store also does candy making workshops for the grown ups; I'm thinking I may just try to make it to one of those. After the show was over we browsed the store's wares of confectionery delights, each of us getting to pick out a special treat. After handing it all over over to the girl at the register I became suddenly aware of impending disaster: I couldn't understand what she was saying. Yes, it was the English language, and yes it was an Irish accent, but for the first time since moving here her brogue was so thick I could barely make out every third or fourth word. The girl was super nice, she repeated everything she said at least twice, but I simply couldn't understand her. Luckily, I did understand money and candy, and that was able to get settled OK.
After loading up on tons of sugary heaven, we loaded up our van and continued through heavy rain north, toward Giant's Causeway. We had hoped to find a place for lunch Liz had read about, but neither the GPS nor our phones could find it. Plan B was whatever was handy, in this case a tiny diner in Bushmills. We were all pretty hungry at this point and the menu had a wide variety. Our waitress was also super nice until I tried to talk to her: Again, her accent was so thick I could barely understand her. Fortunately, her patience with us was enough to get some food ordered.
After enjoying a hearty lunch, we ventured out into the pouring rain again and headed toward the Causeway, the whole point of our trip. No one was feeling very adventurous at this point, but we had come so far I at least wanted to give it a try.
We found the visitor's center and found out to park would cost about 7£ (or about 7.4 €). I didn't want to pay to park and walk in the rain, that was enough to turn us away at that point, but the attendant, perhaps sensing our frustration, informed me that the nearby school had a free parking lot and an access point to the path that led down to the Causeway! Free! Yes, I love Free! New energy came to me.
Now we found the free parking lot, and I saw a step ladder over a wall and what appeared to be a path to a fence. Only Cookie and Gabe were feeling up to braving the elements to see the Causeway at this point, so Liz stayed behind with David, Sariah, and Aaron.
I trudged over the fence and through rough pathway toward a large, deep ditch, a fence,and then a groomed pathway. But we three brave forward. Cookie nearly slipped into the ditch in her attempt jump accross. I stepped into a large patch of stinging nettle with my sandal-clad feet. Gabe wouldn't dare jump across the ditch at all; rain pouring down we were ready to turn back when Cookie pointed out a gate to the main pathway only 20 feet from where we stood, one we could have accessed from the parking lot with ease to begin with.
So, lesson learned, we are on the main path now and making our way down to the Causeway. Despite the foul weather, there's a considerable crowd attending with us. We finally make it down and the kids and I begin exploring the magnificent columnar basalt formed long ago when molten magma cooled and 'crystallized' beneath the earth before being exposed by the ocean. Mythology has a much more colorful explanation for their existence of course. Finn McCool created them for his giant buddies to cross over from Scotland, a mere 30 miles or so across the northern sea.
After enjoying the rocks, ocean, and view, we headed back to the van, making sure to use the easy gate to get back to the parking lot. Reunited we headed off. One last thing we wanted to see, the castle Dunluce. This was something Liz was really interested in seeing. At this point, only her and I, and little Aaron, were interested in getting out of the van to see the castle ruins. Its visitor center was closed, so we couldn't get into the castle proper, but from the outside you can still see a lot. Very impressive, to say the least. The castle is large and sits precariously on what is essentially a sea stack, nearly surrounded by vertical drops to the ocean below. Directly under the castle is a cave that leads to the ocean. This place was cool, and Liz was so excited that she's already planning large day trips down there in the future.
That was pretty much the day, our will to see or do anything more was sapped by the cold rain. We also had a 2.5 hour drive ahead of us, so we headed south for Dublin.
One quick stop for gas and dinner, and we're home! Despite the rain, cold, stinging nettle, etc,we all felt like it was a good day, and well worth the trek.
Sunday, today, was beautiful; warm, light breeze, hardly a cloud in the sky and not a drop of rain, just like Friday. Go figure.
Also, it was Stake Conference, so the church's parking lot was very full. An attendant asked if I would park on the grass which I did, but as I was backing up I ran into a tree branch and shattered the van's large back window. Ouch. Luckily, no one was hurt, it wasn't raining, and our insurance will cover the new window which is being replaced tomorrow.
That was my weekend, how was yours?