Heading North

On Tuesday, May 23, we packed up and headed north for Belfast. First stop: The Titanic Museum, which was amazing. Doesn’t the museum building look somewhat like an iceberg?

The start of our Titanic tour gave us a little background. In the late 1800’s, Belfast was a boom town. The fishing industry was thriving and there were 32 linen mills in the city exporting Irish linen worldwide. Then came the passenger liners…

The photos above show a couple of the first class amenities of the Titanic. Interestingly the Titanic was a British luxury liner operated by the White Star Line, built in an Irish shipyard in Belfast, and partly financed by American investor J. P. Morgan.  It was the largest ship at that time and the most luxurious.  However, obviously, tragedy struck.  Out of 1,303 passengers aboard, 38% were saved.  Out of 922 crew members, only 23% were saved.

At least the tragedy resulted in improved passenger ship requirements – emergency drills, better crew training, better communication requirements.  Out of all the mistakes which converged to cause the tragedy, the poor emergency communications shocked me the most.  The ship closest to the sinking Titanic never received the call for help as the radio operator had gone to bed.  (Now, ships have to have someone at the radio 24/7.) And another ship that might have saved more people responded to the call for help with “Shut up!”  That radio operator was busy with some other (non-emergency) communications.  (Now ship communications are prioritized so that emergency calls are a top priority.)

After a quick lunch in one of the Titanic cafes, we left tragedy behind us and jumped back on our bus to enjoy a city tour.  Here’s the Queen’s University of Belfast.

And here’s the student center across the road:

Continuing our city tour, our local guide explained how Belfast, which was plagued by political strife for decades has emerged as a hip, cosmopolitan destination with vibrant arts culture and food scene, rich in Victorian architecture. There are still tensions but the 1960s through 1990s which featured IRA terrorist activities are long gone. Belfast and the rest of the North are part of the British Empire and have followed in the steps of Brexit. The southern Republic of Ireland is a separate country and remains part of the European Union. Seems very strange to have an international border dividing this island, but other than the flags and the type of currency things seem pretty much equivalent and definitely calm.

We arrived at the Fitzwilliam Hotel Belfast and settled in for dinner.

Wednesday morning we took a day trip along the County Antrim Coast.  This northern coast is beautiful, in a wild way.  The mountains and steep glens are dotted with farms and hamlets and there are panoramic views of the shimmering sea and rocky coastline.

We stopped for lunch at Bushmills Inn just a few meters from Bushmills Distillery, the world’s oldest whiskey distiller.

Next stop: the Giant’s Causeway, a stunning seascape of basalt columns raised by volcanic activity to blanket the shore like thousands of stepping stones.

Back to the hotel, and another yummy dinner. We shared a chateaubriand and a cooking stone!

In the next post, we’ll return to the Republic of Ireland to visit Derry/Londonderry. In the meantime, here’s a map to give you an idea of where we’ve been so far:

Farewell, Ylenia — Hello, Tour!

Sunday, May 21st was our last day with granddaughter Ylenia. She found a great breakfast place for us near the hotel and we had a leisurely walk, then moved our luggage from The Alex to The Westin Dublin, where we would meet our tour group in the evening.

We’ve really been enjoying Dublin. It’s a vibrant, multicultural city with very friendly inhabitants. There are so many beautiful buildings and statues. Here are some of the old buildings I loved:

There is also a fascinating mix of modern buildings among the old — sometimes appearing to grow out of, or on top of, the old structures:

Here are a few shots from our final walk in Dublin with Ylenia:

Ylenia had to return home (Florence, Italy) for work. Sorry to see her go, but we were so lucky to have had this time with her. After she left, we met our tour group for a welcome dinner at the Westin.

We had fun chatting with a local musician whose Irish Harp was made in Cleveland!

And our tour group was originally going to be 24 people, but we actually have only 12, which makes it easier to remember names.

On Monday morning, we enjoyed our first tour outing, starting with an overall city tour and finishing with a tour of St. Patrick’s Cathedral and EPIC, the Irish Emigration Museum.

St. Patrick’s is one of two cathedrals in Dublin, but neither is Catholic! I had always assumed the Republic of Ireland (the South, which includes Dublin) was mainly Catholic and Northern Ireland was mainly Protestant. That’s too simplified — and the Irish are rather complicated! Brexit made things even more complicated, as The Republic of Ireland (South) remains in the European Union, while the North withdrew from the EU and remains part of Great Britain. We’ll probably talk more about that later.

Monday night’s dinner was on our own, so we walked to a nice Italian restaurant in honor of Ylenia! Now we’ve eaten Irish, Japanese and Italian food in Dublin, all very tasty.

Our next post will describe our Belfast experience.

Dublin and Guinness

Friday, March 20th, we started with a good breakfast in the hotel, because we knew our first activity would be the tour of Guinness!

I didn’t know much about beer of any type, let alone Guinness, but the tour tickets were pretty much sold out so we had a late morning arrival appointment and none of us were prepared to test Guinness on an empty stomach.

So, Guinness uses simple ingredients: barley, hops, yeast and water. Two facts we learned today: 1) malt is just sprouted barley and 2) orzo is the Italian word for barley. (I thought orzo was just a sort-of-strange type of Italian pasta!)

There was an interesting set of displays regarding Guiness’ advertising.

One of my favorites was the Fish on a Bicycle:

After the tour, we stopped in at the Gravity Bar which is at the top of the building and provides a panoramic view. A free pint was included in the price of the tour, so we checked it out… Jay had their new product — Guiness 00

After our tasting, we shopped on Grafton Street with lots of high-end shops, cafes, musicians and a few bucksters. By dinner time, we were pretty tired, so we had dinner at Kennedys, basically across the street from our hotel.

What were we thinking? It was a sports bar — on a Saturday night with a championship rugby game playing! The local team was wearing blue and the French were wearing yellow. Both teams had vocal supporters in the restaurant. I don’t understand the game, but the French won. And the food was delicious.

The next post will review our last day with Ylenia. She’ll fly home so she can return to work on Monday, and Jay and I will join up with our Best of Ireland Tauck tour.

We Begin Our Irish Adventure in Dublin

All three of us landed in Dublin on May 18th within minutes of each other and were able to share a ride to our wonderful hotel — The Alex. It was an exhausting day for Jay and me, and Ylenia had a fairly long day also, so after checking in and getting settled in our room, we simply had dinner in the hotel then crashed!

We made up for our initial lack of sightseeing on Friday: The city is full of sculptures and interesting sights. Here are highlights from our morning, which included Trinity College:

We eventually made it over to the Liffee River, had lunch (which included a French Dip sandwich made with pork), then we continued our self-directed walking tour to shop on Henry Street:

Exhausted (again!), we headed back to the hotel and tried to get reservations for dinner. Big mistake! Dublin has a very active nightlife and all our preferred restaurants were already fully booked. We finally decided to experience our first pub meal at Ginger Man, right next to our hotel. Ylenia and I grabbed drinks and the three of us hung out at the bar until a table became available. (Note: In Italy, we would expect to spend 2-3 hours actually eating a meal, but here much of that time was spent people watching in the bar!)

Yes, people really do wear kilts to dinner! And I discovered that (to my taste) Irish bangers are much more flavorful than English bangers. We didn’t have a traditional shepherd’s pie (yet) — Ylenia’s pie was cooked with Guinness and mine was a yummy chicken pie unlike any I’ve had before.

I think we must have walked about 8 miles today, and it was early to bed, in an attempt to eliminate our jet lag! We have another full day planned for tomorrow. See you then…

Ireland!!! (And Canada?)

Our last personal blog was in Fall 2021! But we’re traveling again — first to IRELAND in May and early June 2023. Then within a few days of returning home, Jay and his buddy Charlie are taking off in an epic Model A tour to the Canadian Arctic Ocean in June and July. (No — I’m not going on that one — there are no hotels, and there may be plenty of bears!)

Since the two trips are so close together, I’m going to save most of the introduction to the Model A adventure for later. Please check back if you’re interested, as it will feature a US veteran paying homage to Canadian veterans (with his mobil veterans memorial vehicle), at the same time as raising funds for an American Legion scholarship fund which is special to us.

So, Ireland starts tomorrow:

We will fly from Los Angeles to London, then on to Dublin. Our granddaughter Ylenia is flying into Dublin from her home in Florence, Italy, at the same time. We three will have Thursday through Sunday to play tourists in the Dublin area before Ylenia goes home and we start our 14 day bus tour around the island.

The map above shows our tour route, which will be driven counter-clockwise, starting and ending in Dublin.

Please follow along… Éirinn go Brách!