So I told you all how I haven't experienced rain at all yet in Ireland...obviously I spoke too soon. Waking up this morning to light showers was a little disappointing as I quickly forgot how lucky we were to have five beautiful days of clear skies. Anyways, it didn't lower our morale because today we all were going to Belfast and finnally end up seeing Giant's Causeway. We were excited to get on our way.
Our group really has been coming together strongly. It's really neat to see how we look out for each other and we can assume each day how we can help each other. As I'm writing this we're all sitting around each other on a couch watching the E-trade Baby commercials...when your Ambassador comes back ask them to sing you Jim, Bob and Kyle's rendition of "Take These Broken Wings"...
So this morning we hopped on a shuttle to get to Belfast. We arrived there about 10:00 AM and boarded a coach tour set up by Dr. Campbell. The tour was going to take us to the Carrickfergus Castle, Carrick-a-rede Rope Bridge, Dunluce Castle, Bushmill's Distillery and Giant's Causeway on the Antrim Coast.
As we began the tour we ran along the northeastern coastal road. It was quite a windy road, but there were certainly some beautiful sights along the way. The waters in the coast were crashing against the rocks and made for a fantastic sight. We saw the port in Belfast, small fishing communities and salmon farms. Our bus driver made the drive quite interesting as well by making comments on random animals throughout the trip. He had a microphone on the entire trip and fully utilized it!
Some of the groups favorite comments had to be "Nice horses...looks like those ones are playing with themselves" and "Poor pigeon...looks like he didn't make it". I know it's probably an inside joke to the group but I hope you can appreciate the randomness of these comments throughout our eight hour tour.
So the first stop that we made was to Carrickfergus Castle, built right on the Belfast Lough in the late 1100's and early 1200's by John de Courcy. It was a miliatry stronghold as well as an indicator of military strength for over 800 years.
Our next stop was about a two hour drive down the coast to the Carrick-a-rede rope bridge. The bus driver reassured us not to worry...only a dog has died crossing the bridge...we all looked at each other like what are we getting ourselves into!
Before the bridge, we stopped at a medium sized restaurant right outside of the park entrance. It provided for a beautiful view of the agriculultural, religious and coastal attributes of the area. Also, it showed some cultural traditions as seen in the picture below.
Next we finally headed up to the bridge. This area is one of the most popular tourist destinations in Northern Ireland and provides a breathtaking view of the Irish coast. The area surrounded by the Carrick-a-rede rope bridge is also of special interest to biologists and geologists across the world. To cross the bridge it costs four pounds ($6.40), but if you just want to walk up to the bridge you can see the park for free. The first section of the park before the bridge consists of a 3/4 mile walk along steep cliffs.
So now came the hard part, crossing the rope bridge! So you may be asking...Kyle I've heard enough about this rope bridge; what in the world is it. So I'm going to tell you ;-)! The rope bridge was a bridge that linked Carruck-a-rede (coastal road meaning rock in the road which Scottish fisherman used to travel down during salmon season) to the Carrick Island. It has existed for 350 years because of the tremendous accesbility to a plethra of migrating Atlantic salmon that the island offers. The bridge is about 30m above the sea and is literally two ropes strung across a set of rocks. Take a look at Meghan climbing down the stairs to get to the bridge...the stairs were the first challenge...
And then there was the bridge...
I was a little nervous to take the first steps on the bridge, but after a few steps I started to build up some confidence. And then of course, needed to pretend I was really cool and that I wasn't nervous at all...so I decided to turn mid bridge and take a picture. I got the picture but got much shakier after having to turn only 90 degrees to my left...then realized that was an extremely dumb move. But a got a good picture out of it...
Finally we all crossed and Dr. Campbell was there to meet us and take our picture as we crossed. It was much easier on the way back!
The island provided us a great opportunity to get to see the coast. It was quite windy and the grass was really slippy...apparently Doc Martins don't have very good grip on Irish grass ;-) Here is the sign that welcomed us onto the island...makes you feel really safe doesn't it???
We were able to get some really good pictures of the group on Carrick Island. Pictured below is Maren, Mame, Megan, Bobby, Bridget, Jim, Graham (Dr. Campbell's son), myself and Allie.
On our walk back we were able to get some really good looks at the southern part of the coast.
Next we ventured along the coastal road to Dunluce Castle, believed to have been built in the 14th century. It's easy to see how beautiful the coastline is here in the picture here right alongside the castle. The bus stopped along the road and we were able to snap a quick picture of this beach just north of the Dunluce Castle.
The next stop was Bushmills distillery. In 1608 the British granted a royal license to the district of Bushmills provided them the opportunity to distil whiskey or as appropriate named in the Gaelic language, 'usice breatha'...the water of life. The Bushmills distillery is the oldest one in the world. At any one moment in time 190,000 barrels of whiskey sit on the premises in one of the northernmost cities on the island.
As explained to us on the tour, the difference between Irish "whiskey" and Scottish "whisky" is a.) the Scottish drop the "e" b.) more importantly, the Irish always distill their whiskey three times where Scottish whiskey only needs to be distilled twice. This provides for a smoother taste and better whiskey. Some of the fellas tried out a shot of whiskey while some of the ladies decided it would be a better idea to grab some Whiskey Cheesecake and Irish Coffee...by the puckered look on some of the guys' faces it looked like the girls may have enjoyed their purchase much more ;-)
The last stop that we made on the tour before heading home was to Giant's Causeway. The causeway is an immense display of the forces of nature on itself. It consists of over 6 km of cliffs that are nearly 90 meters tall . The national trust in Northern Ireland built an 8 km road along the coast to provide sightseers to see the most famous natural sight in Northern Ireland. As youc an see it's a spectacular display of God's creation!
The causeway consists of basalt columns that line the coast. The columns look like stepping stones and the legend of the causeway is that the giant Finn MacCool used this as a roadway to cross over to Scotland via the island of Staffa in the Hebrides.
Then we left the causeway and headed back to Belfast. As the bus driver gave us his final talk on the microphone he had thanked us about forty times for being a great tour. He said that he was going not going to be talking for the rest of the ride to provide us with a little rest and relaxation. So we thought we were going to finally get that...but then he comes on the air and says, "And does anyone enjoy Lionel Richie?"...we all just started busting out laughing...it was a classic moment. So we had the opportunity to Mr. Ritchie for about 2 hours. I can't say that I remember much of it because I slept for just about the entire time. I'm sure those that were coherent were very appreciate of Lionel's greatest hits!!!
So we arrived in Belfast, and God bless him, our bus driver thought it would be a great idea to drop us all off individually. He was being a very kind soul but we had been on a bus for almost 9 hours and we were ready just to get off. Not to mention, that we had a mini bus that had been waiting for us for almost 40 minutes. And it's not like you can just call any old cab for 12 people.
Anyways, Dr. Campbell goes to tell the bus driver that we were going to be late for our cab if we didn't get dropped off soon. Remember how I said that the bus driver really enjoyed talking on his microphone, well it didn't stop after the Lionel Richie or pigeon killing incident...he began to think aloud to the whole bus on how he was going to get us where we needed to be. Also, he was trying to rationalize why he got us there so late while combininng some Lionel Ritchie songs hummed aloud...quite the experience. I know it may not be that great of a story, but if you were there you would've realize why I had to write something about it.
Finally, we got off the bus and started walking to where we were supposed to meet up with our cab. We finally get to the spot and realize that the cab has left. So Dr. Campbell looks up the number for the cab company and asks us if he can use one of our cell phones to call. He basically looked into the blank eyes of nine Americans who have been cell phone deprived for almost a week in the United Kingdom...it was almost as if we didn't even know what he was talking about.
Finally, we found the cab down a side street and he had actually been lost as well. Worked out for everyone I guess. So we started the journey home.
As we are on our way home, we dropped off Andrew (the education coordinator for the St. Patrick's Centre) and headed back to Dundrum. The van driver told us that he didn't know if he'd be able to make it to Dundrum because he had a fuel leak and used up 3/4 of a tank of diesel to get from Belfast to Downpatrick (about a 45 min. drive). I seriously couldn't think that our transportation situation could've got more interesting until that moment. Anyways, the driver gets us back to Dundrum just fine and we all went home for a well deserved rest.
Jim and I picked up some chicken breasts from the local grocery store, thinking that everything would be closed by 9:00 PM. We started the chicken on the grill, which here consisted of a disposable aluminum tray filled with coals and wax paper...interesting I know. 10:24 PM rolled around and we finally were able to eat.
It was undoubtedly a stressful end of the day...but I completely forgot about it after going over the pictures from the day (like the one's below of Jim...doesn't he make a great little mermaid!). The experiences we had and the places we went were breathtaking. Ireland, again, exceeded any expecation I could imagine.
Hope you had a great Saturday and we'll see you tomorrow!
Final note: So I've been seeing these around Northern Ireland everywhere I go and had to get a picture before I didn't see one again. This is looking through the front of the bus at a construction traffic light. Instead of having signal men out on the road, the Northern Ireland government has utilized a stop light that is connected at both ends of the construction. Looks like a potential option of saving $44 an hour for two guys to stand and flip a sign around. Maybe a new development in Wisconsin government...we'll see I guess!!!