Thursday, June 2, 2016

Day 5 - Northern Ireland

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Wednesday, June 1

We made it to the Edinburgh airport without incident, but as we dealt with navigating the unending maze of roundabouts to find the rental car return, this text message popped up:
*Pic of text message saying that our flight was canceled:
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Just what everyone wants to hear as they drive into the airport. There was nothing for us to do but to return the car and get into the airport and see if we could find another flight.

Two shots from the entrance to the airport:

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This giant ashtray cracked me up because it says, "Stick your butt here."

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Luckily, we got inside, found a customer service counter, and were able to get on a flight that left an hour earlier than the one we had planned to take. Crisis averted!

We landed in Belfast and picked up our rental car. We didn't spend any time in the city of Belfast because our plan took us north to Giant's Causeway before heading to Derry/Londonderry for the night.

Northern Ireland is beautiful. It's not the startling wildness that we saw in parts of Scotland, but the green hills dotted with farmland reminds me a bit of northeastern Iowa and parts of Wisconsin:

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Until you get to the sea, that is.
*Pic of the countryside with the sea in the background:
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We made it to Giant's Causeway, that is along the northern coast of Ireland. Giant's Causeway is made up of thousands of interlocking basalt columns caused by an ancient volcanic eruption. These columns rise up from the sea, some are just a few feet above the water, and some rise to about 40 feet high.

The surrounding landscape is breathtaking, and our streak of unusually fine weather continued as it was an absolute postcard day. Here are some photos of Giant's Causeway. These first few are of the beginning of the trail that brings you down to the coast.

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There's a very long path to walk from the parking lot and visitor's center down to the columns. You can pay something like $2 each way to take a bus down there, but we wanted to walk:

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Down by the coast, there are large black rocks and small tidal pools. It's quite lovely, but we hadn't even gotten to the 'good stuff' yet.

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Now we're talking! See those columns? They're completely unusual and hard to believe that they're a natural phenomenon. I was somewhat surprised that they let people walk all over them, but they do!

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I could've taken a thousand photos of this place and it still wouldn't capture the beauty of the area.

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Our next stop was the city of Derry/Londonderry. There's a dispute about the name of the city that makes it very confusing to visitors. As I understand it, the Irish Nationalists (those who want Ireland to be one nation instead of the current divide) favor the name Derry, while Unionists use the name Londonderry. The official name is now Derry-Londonderry, apparently, which seems silly. I read that the locals don't care which name you use, and they'd not dream of using both.

When were were planning this vacation, my mom suggested that we stay in a walled city if possible, and so we chose Derry because it fit in with our plans. Derry was the site of Bloody Sunday in 1972 where British soldiers shot 26 civilian protesters, 14 of whom died. It was the most famous event to signify the struggles here and support for the IRA surged afterward.

Today there is a peace between the two parties, a footbridge over the River Foyle was erected to join the two communities. And we saw this sculpture showing two men reaching across and holding hands. It's called Hands Across the Divide by Maurice Herron.

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Even though there's been relatively little violence for the past 20 years, there's still evidence here and there of the struggle. We noted the rooftop of this building that has IRA painted on it:

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We walked around the walled city, which was cool. Here are some photos of the wall tour:

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These bastions set across the walls made it easy to imagine soldiers sitting in there looking out for threats from outside the walls:

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There are so many churches in Derry! I took this picture because of the handful of teenagers hanging out on the steps. During our walk around the city walls, we noted several groups of teens. They weren't causing trouble at all, just hanging out. We passed by one group where a boy was loudly boasting to his friends of the time he got caught for breaking the car window out of a neighbor's vehicle. Listening to him tell his story as we walked by, I chuckled to myself because he is clearly on the road to becoming one of those famous Irish storytellers.

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The wall has moss and flowers that grows atop it:

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We only spent a day in Northern Ireland, and I feel like it wasn't enough. That's definitely how I'll feel about each leg of our journey, I think. Today we're headed over to the Western coast of Ireland and through Connemara and on to Clifden, where we'll stay the night in a seaside hotel.

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