Last time on 3.5 Weeks
Our foolish protagonists had to be ready for their bus out of Dublin by 6:30am local time, so they got up ridiculously early, crossed the river, and found the meeting place.
Dublin, Ireland to Belfast, Northern Ireland - 29 May 2010
We got to the old stone church with about 8 minutes to spare. When we went over to the passenger coach the driver said that we had the wrong tour, so we went and hid from the rain under the overhang in front of the gates. There had apparently been some confusion that morning: the driver was assigned a brand new bus, but the bus manager had taken the keys home with him, instead of leaving them at the office. Bud (whose "right name" was, I believe, Pat) showed up at about 6:50, and all 6 passengers got in (only we had luggage), and off we went.
The first notable thing that we got to was a toll booth, which had digital pictorial signage that I didn't quite understand. What I did understand, though, was that small change was unacceptable.
Apparently, Ireland (and probably much of western Europe) believes in "the city" and everything else is small villages like this one, with the occasional town thrown in when it gets to be too far from a real market.
As we started getting up toward the border Bud started telling stories of how things were during "the troubles". In Belfast no one would ever talk in a restaurant, because if someone didn't like your accent they might just drag you outside and beat/shoot/kill you. Or how he still always checks under his car for incendiary devices after stopping anywhere in Northern Ireland, even though that's not needed these days. And one about just past the border someone must've thrown a rock off of an overpass and hit the roof of his car, but he just kept going... when he got to his destination he saw the fist-sized bullet hole. Since servalan and I were planning to get off and stay in Belfast we got a little scared. Much later he explained to us that it's been fine for a while, but he was trying to impress upon everyone how bad things were (though he had frequently not used tenses when telling stories); and that while some parts of Northern Ireland (and even Belfast) are a little worrisome, where we were going to be staying was perfectly safe.
Two things changed when we got over the border (which is entirely on paper now, there is no border guard on the motorway). 1) The euro became the pound - Bud stopped at a gas station so that people could ATM out some valid currency, but it was out of order. 2) metres/kilometres became yards/miles. The best example of that was an incredibly vague sign.
Eventually we went through Belfast on the motorway and got to the Irish Sea and passed Carrickfergus Castle (making that the first "castyllic" (Castle-like) castle I'd seen).
The coastal country looked a bit sad and dreary after passing Carrickfergus Castle. The weather probably helped that effect, but there was just a lot of decay. There were also nice things, like St. Patrick's Church in Glenarm. My favorite picture, for entirely meta reasons is this cemetery in Carnlough, because it is missing an entire building that's there in the Google Maps street view.
There are lots of stone relics near the Irish Sea, mainly suggesting that the coastline is a bit more dynamic than the builders envisioned. I don't know if that's what caused a stone arch to cover the A2, but the arch was pretty nonetheless.
The first landmark on the tour was at Carrick-a-rede, where the coastal waters were amazing, in spite of the bad weather. The purpose of the stop, though, is to go to the rope bridge. Somewhere around halfway across, with my soggy hat wrapped around my D-SLR in one hand and the other on the rope, I started to lose my nerve. Not wanting to be "the guy who turned around on the bridge" I trekked on, though. The view wasn't really all that amazing, but it probably is when the weather cooperates. Instead: it was cold, drizzling, and very windy on Carrick Island. We stayed on the island for a few minutes, then went back to the mainland (the wind had picked up on the way back, and I started having a panick attack that I was going to get blown off into the rocks below the bridge... but that clearly didn't happen). But the short bridge appears to only have tourism purposes, and the "past purposes" are all very tenuous. Oh well, it was a thing, and I did it.
The first name on the tour is "Giant's Causeway", and that's where we went next. On the road down we passed this rock that totally looks like a face, except that servalan doesn't think so. Giant's Causeway itself is basalt columns, and ancient legends (Wikipedia describes a few of the variations). I did what every good person of European descent would do: climbed to a visible spot and planted a flag. What? It's populated? Good, pay me taxes. I've yet to hear back on them paying tax in homage to my invisible flag.
Since we were so close (and Bud wasn't yet in danger of looking like he would exceed his maximum hours per day driving commercially), we went over to get a look at what remains of Dunluce Castle (which a random page on the internet calls "the most romantic and picturesque of the Irish castles"... I think they missed Carrickfergus). Pro tip: If your kitchen can fall into the sea, you built too close to the edge.
We got back into Belfast around 5pm, where the tour allows for a break to go knickknack shopping and eat... except we were getting off for good. Bud parked near Jurys Inn and suggested that people wanted to head over to Victoria Square Mall. We went into the hotel to see if they could give us directions to The Malmaison (Belfast). They gave us a map, and directions... though they had us turn the wrong way on Victoria Street. We did eventually find it (across the street from Victoria Square Mall, where the other 4 people went), but not after feeling very uneasy walking through town dragging suitcases after Bud's stories. Passing some woman with a very unhappy look on her face didn't really help.
I think that most of the pictures in my Giant's Causeway photoset are worth looking at, so just turn on slideshow mode (and then details if you like captions) and have a watch. The story, however... is to be continued...