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A Wee Jaunt to Belfast, via BA, EI, and a bus

A Wee Jaunt to Belfast, via BA, EI, and a bus

Old Jul 25, 19, 1:23 pm
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A Wee Jaunt to Belfast, via BA, EI, and a bus

“Why aren’t you staying in Dublin? Why are you going to Belfast? Why didn’t you fly there directly?”

I don’t remember how I answered these questions at DUB immigration. And I got asked quite a few times by people in Belfast, and friends at home, why are you going to Belfast? I’ve been to Dublin and it’s crowded and hotels are kind of pricy in July? Something something Game of Thrones? Gin? Cliff walk? I booked the tickets a long time ago and my plans changed and I couldn’t change the destination? All of which were true, while not exactly the full story. Mostly, it was on whim, which is how I sometimes book travel. I’m very much a “why not?” rather than a “why?” kind of traveler, particularly if there’s the possibility of stunning scenery and cool weather.

But the reason why I had the flight to DUB in the first place was because, much like detailed in my first (and to this point, only) trip report, I needed to get home from Italy. Once a year, in the fall, I spend a few days at Villa D’Este. This is less because I am a fabulous, old-world aristocrat and rather more because my partner/boyfriend/manfriend (whatever the appropriate nomenclature is) goes to an annual conference, and I have made it clear to him that going to that conference is non-negotiable, because, well, if you’ve had the Villa D’Este breakfast buffet you, too, would take advantage of any chance to make that a regular thing. But I’m not going to ruin fond memories of the breakfast buffet by flying economy, so over the years I’ve used a combination of AA Vacations, award tickets (using AA or BA) or Avios upgrades, and even more recently, just buying Club World tickets outright. To do that, I’m mostly reducing the cash outlay with Chase Ultimate Rewards points, which works when the underlying fare is low enough, and fares ex-MXP tend to be pretty reasonable.

In other words, I book ex-EU open-jaw tickets with return flights months later. None of this is weird to Flyertalkers, but it seems to befuddle everyone else. MXP-LHR-JFK was flown last November; the “return” was JFK-LHR-DUB in July. I chose the July dates because I thought I might be going to a conference, but then didn’t, so I had an excuse to take a short vacation. And while I still can’t really say why I ended up in Belfast— Gachnar help me, but Į\_(ツ)_/Į is actually the appropriate response— I had a fantastic time, despite a minor irritations of Hilariously Terrible Housekeeping and SSSS Security Theater, all to be detailed later.

This trip report will cover my outbound, flying BA Club World on the 744 upper deck, Club Europe to Dublin, the bus (!) to Belfast, stays at the Titanic Hotel and Hilton in Belfast, a day trip to Giant’s Causeway and nearby sites, a copious amount of gin, Aer Lingus from BHD to LHR, an Ibis in London, and Club World London City (i.e., the Babybus) back to New York. My travel dates also spanned July 12, which many of you probably recognize as a major date in Northern Ireland with marches, bonfires, and other assertions of a particular identity. I had already booked non-refundable nights at the Hilton when I (sort of ) realized what that meant, and while it was interesting and enlightening, I wouldn’t try to be in Northern Ireland in mid-July again. But I am already considering a return trip; it will just be a bit later in the summer next time.

But before the trip can begin, I had to pack. I would be gone for five nights (not including to outbound overnight flight), and the biggest snag seemed to be that I wanted to go on a cliff walk around Giant’s Causeway, for which I would need appropriate shoes. Unfortunately, the appropriate hiking boots are kind of bulky, and aren’t something I going to wear when I’m not out and about in the countryside. I wanted to keep my luggage as small and manageable as possible. My partner/boyfriend/manfriend (whatever the appropriate nomenclature is) did that thing that every “how to pack” web site suggests and said I should wear them on the plane. Um, no. But then I did a test pack, and I discovered much to my surprise that everything fit, boots and all, into what I previously dubbed the Itty Bitty Rimowa, otherwise known as the Rimowa Business Trolley (approx. 25L capacity). (The key was to put random stuff inside the shoes.) Over the years I have marveled at just how much crap that suitcase can take (as detailed in my previous trip report, it accommodated FIVE PAIRS of shoes on the way home from Sao Paulo.) And it would perform equally admirably on this trip. I paired it with the Tom Bihn Packing Cube Backpack, which is extremely minimalist with no padding, no built-in organization, but works perfectly for my needs. And so I set off for JFK with a combination that has served me very well on short trips since 2016.


I love packing cubes! Also, the annoyingly bulky hiking boots are in the old CW washbags.



Traffic to JFK on a weekday afternoon was its usual terribleness (Upper East Side to T7, approx. 90 minutes, which included seeing a burnt-out school bus, which sounds dramatic, but wasn’t). There was no wait at the BA check-in counter because of course I was going to check the Itty Bitty Rimowa to DUB. Of course it would have fit on the plane (even in the upper deck side bins), but I do like my liquids in my beauty products, and it just seemed easier not to have to deal. Unlike other reports of unfriendly staff at JFK, my agent was perfectly nice, although not entirely sure what the Precheck situation was. BA is a recent-ish participant (although it’s been what, at least a year?), and the premium security channel is opposite Precheck at T7, so it just seemed easier to walk over. It was fine; large electronics still needed to come out but at least shoes and toiletries could stay in the bag. I was through and in the BA Club lounge within 10 minutes of arriving at JFK.

This was actually my first time in the Club lounge since it was renovated. (My previous trips have been with MrManFriend, who is a BA Gold who also sometimes books First, so it’s just been the CCR or the Flounge instead.) Anyway, it’s OK! I mean, the decoration is uninspired and dull and reminds me of a mid-90s aesthetic, but it seems brighter, there is still self-serve Campari, some blue cheese (and not the horrible havarti chunks of my Admiral’s Club nightmares) and the staff actually seemed proud of it. Also, I got a chair massage— the only treatment on offer—at the Elemis spa immediately. The chair was actually nice: I didn’t have to make small talk and it was nice to zone out for fifteen minutes in a dark room. Overall, the lounge is more comfortable than the Lufthansa Business Lounge (I visited in May when flying JAL) and way better than your average Admiral’s Club, and not so much worse than the Flagship Lounge. (Full disclosure: I maybe irrationally hate AA and will pick every nit. But still.)



Pre-pre-flight cheese and a Campari & soda in a lounge


Also, again, the staff was really friendly. Maybe I’m just a sucker for compliments, but the gatekeeper at preflight dining said, “ooh, your dress is elegant!” Reader, I was wearing a cheap caftan-adjacent black dress from Uniqlo, but hey, sure! I asked for champagne from one of the servers, who was very good with refills (“you’re not flying the plane”), and I had several mini lobster rolls, tacos, and more cheese.



I think it was Pommery? Anyway, it was refilled regularly, and I hope Chilewich copyrighted/trademarked/patented that placemat design.


Eventually I made my way to the plane and to 62K. One of the crew noted that people seemed very slow to board, which was probably the right move, since we were delayed a bit and it was a bit stuffy, but preflight drinks were proffered and refilled and eventually we were on our way. The flight to London was uneventful, which is pretty much what I want these days, in the sense that it was exactly what I expected. I had more cheese and a port, fell asleep during a movie that was fine to fall asleep to on a plane, and landed more or less on time at Heathrow…



Whoo, legs! The "elegant" caftan-like garment is actually much longer than it appears here. Also, I highly recommend these Haflinger slippers for the plane. (NB, I switched into the slippers only after the ding. I watch a lot of Air Disasters.)

The continued journey to Belfast to come, along with more terrible photography of mundane things. But there will be seals, so stay tuned...

Last edited by turnleftbrighteyes; Jul 25, 19 at 1:28 pm
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Old Jul 25, 19, 5:28 pm
  #2  
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Onward to Belfast!

Upon landing, I set off for T5A/Flight Connections/immigration/whatever via the passageways, mostly since I find the emptiness and brisk walk nice after the overnight flight. Mr ManFriend doesn’t like the walk, so that’s a small pleasure (?) reserved for solo trips. There was happily no wait for a shower, and I emerged clean if not entirely perky, ready for the onward journey to Dublin. Maybe my standards are slipping, or I’m just settling into middle-aged mediocrity, but even the T5A North Club lounge was fine! I opted to just have a coffee on the plane from JFK, but the lounge had hash browns and some frittata-like thing, plus there were issues of Tatler. A readable magazine in the Club lounge! Well, some might dispute the readability of Tatler, but I really enjoy reading about the antics of random posh people, and since I’m American, I have no idea who most of these people are. It’s enjoyable escapism in an air-travel environment, and there was nary a Kardashian to be found in its pages, so way better than People or Us.



A quiet spot for a coffee in the T5 North Club lounge, before heading to DUB


A few days before my flight, there had been a spate of threads on the BA Forum about the virtues of row 1 in Club Europe. I am a mere BAEC Silver, so those rows aren’t open to me usually, but when I OLCI’d 1D was available, so I switched from 2A, thinking that, if nothing else, I’d get served promptly on the short flight to DUB. I also got to overhear the various galley discussions, which seemed to involve a more seasoned crew member offering advice on how to best serve the large-ish CE cabin most effectively. Since I was in row 1, it was hard to gauge how effective it seemed from row 5, but I was served promptly (some smoked salmon thing which was fine; CE catering has emerged from those dark days of Panini-palooza). I do not remember if I had champagne? Which means, I probably had champagne, but I mostly nodded off on the short flight.

The immigration officer at DUB seemed to ask more questions than normal— does travel to Belfast still trigger some sort of red flag?— but I was soon on my way (apparently the magic words for why someone wants to visit Northern Ireland are “Game of Thrones.” Sure!) At any rate, it took a while for the Itty Bitty Rimowa to emerge at baggage claim, and at one point I thought that perhaps my bag had not made the journey. I have actually started to hope for my bag to be delayed, because I’ve been pleased with the baggage delay coverage on my credit card, but I eventually was on my way.

Upon stepping outside of the airport, my mood lifted immediately. The weather, the mist, the air— it was all… perfect? The reason I was on this trip? A trigger buried deeply within my DNA that says, you’re home? This is the right place? And it’s not like the arrivals area of Dublin Airport is all that picturesque, and yet, I felt lighter and more awake. Still, I puttered around for a few minutes looking at bus schedules. There are— I think— two different buses from DUB to Belfast: ]Aircoach, which was departing in 25 minutes or so, and Expressway, which was boarding as I got there. Now, despite feeling reinvigorated due to the fresh, clean Dublin Airport air, I was still jet lagged and a slightly confused tourist. But here began my encounters with incredibly friendly and helpful people in Ireland, where the bus driver walked me over to the ticket machine, pushed the buttons for me, and led me back to the departing bus. I was the last to board (and sorry to the poor dude in the back who thought he was going to have an empty seat next to him), and off we went.

One note: the bus is cheaper if booked online in advance (€10?), but I think that commits you to a particular service or operator. I was happy to take the first available bus, and the walk-up fare was €17.90.

And, in what seems to be a developing theme in this trip report, the bus was fine! I mean, it’s a bus. Neither legroom or shoulder-room was great (again, sorry dude who up until the very last moment thought he was going to have an empty seat next to him), and I’m frankly a little prissy about such matters and it was totally fine, and certainly far more convenient than shlepping into Dublin to catch a train. Plus, it was a little bit interesting to me to cross the border between the Republic of Ireland and Northern Ireland, which was most interesting because it was basically unnoticeable (aside from some changes in road signs), and who knows if that is actually going to last…

A little more than two hours later, the bus pulled into the Europa Bus Centre, which is as sad and depressing as every other bus station all over the world. But right across the street is an amazing Victorian gin palace— The Crown Liquor Saloon— which I would be visiting later in my trip.



First landmark in Belfast: The Crown Liquor Saloon


For my first night, I would be staying at the Titanic Hotel, in the former offices of the shipbuilders Harland & Wolff. I booked two days before arriving, somehow having forgotten to book a room for my first night, and prices were extremely reasonable, and even more so through the Chase travel portal (I used Ultimate Rewards points; the rate was $102.) Since I was traveling light, I figured I might as well just walk there. Within five minutes I was approached for directions, which I thought was funny since I had zero sense of Belfast geography at that point, but also, the woman was asking for directions to the Europa Bus Centre, and well, I did actually know where that was! So I guess asking someone pulling a suitcase who is looking intently at Google Map directions is not as dumb as it first sounds. Anyway, the route took me through central Belfast, and I crossed a foot bridge which gave me my first view of two landmarks, Samson and Goliath, that I would be omnipresent during my stay.






To the Titanic Quarter: that's either Samson or Goliath in the background...


The walk to the hotel along the river to the “Titanic Quarter” has various informative plaques. It also provided my first glimpse of another omnipresent sight in Belfast: Game of Thrones stuff.


Informative plaque!

Decorative footpath!



Hodor!



The Titanic Experience in the background, on the left, and my destination, the Titanic Hotel, on the right


Eventually I made it to the hotel, in which I stupidly perambulated around the entire building before I found the entrance (it’s opposite the Titanic Experience.) But I’ll save the hotel review and further Titanic-related adventures for the next installment…
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Last edited by turnleftbrighteyes; Jul 25, 19 at 5:35 pm
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Old Jul 26, 19, 9:48 am
  #3  
 
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Really nice report so far, looking forward to reading more from my home island!
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Old Jul 26, 19, 10:02 pm
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Titanic Hotel and other things related to that big boat that sank

For the first night, I booked the Titanic Hotel. And, those shipbuilders had a great place to work! The public spaces were gorgeous, and even the entry-level rooms had some class. My room was bright, clean, had two bottles of water, a fake Nespresso machine, some ďTitanic Luxury Tea,Ē and slippers. And while I brought my own slippers for the plane, which are obviously nicer, I am a still sucker for random hotel slippers, and especially branded hotel slippers, no matter how flimsy they are. Itís a small thing, and probably costs the hotel next to nothing, but leaves me favorably disposed towards the property. Yes, this is totally irrational. But the Titanic Hotel gets full marks for the slippers. There was also a bathrobe; I have no strong feelings about bathrobes, so letís say it was fine. The bathroom was clean, bright, had a window, new fixtures, and storage space for all those toiletries I checked in my tiny suitcase. It was a shower-over-tub combo, but I was in the cheapest room category wasnít planning on a bath anyway.



For a better view, you want the opposite side







To continue another theme, my bad photography from a budget cell phone doesnít show a whole lot, but there's my small suitcase.

My third floor standard room didnít come with much of a view, unless you count Samson and Goliathó which are the two large yellow cranes, and no, I never learned which one was which, my mind is cluttered with useless facts as it isóa parking lot, and the Titanic Studios. I could also see the restaurant Spuds Murphy; despite my love of carbs, I did not eat there, but thereís yet more Game of Thrones-related stuff in the Iron Throne-looking chair at the back. Also, the view of Spuds Murphy was from the bathroom. Should I have been putting down the shade? Hmmmm.

The view





So many GoT tie-ins! Advertisement on the bar in the Drawing Room at the Titanic Hotel. I did not order that.




I resisted the urge to nap and instead, after a quick coffee in the hotel, went to the tourist attraction next door, the Titanic Experience. https://titanicbelfast.com/


The Nazis made a movie about the Titanic?!?



Looking out over the slipways from the Titanic Experience





Titanic Experience, Game of Thrones stained glass, and slipways


For dinner, I decided to eat at the hotel, since the restaurant actually looked appealing and had some interesting beers, so back to the Drawing Room I went. This jet-lagged and weary traveler continued to appreciate the light-filled space, even after 9pm. I really should move someplace north of the 50 parallel. (Again, I hate hot weather, tend to get grumpy in the summertime, and donít mind long dark winters.) Anyway, most of the seating is on couches or easy chairs, although there are a few proper tables. I thought the bar looked more comfortable, but apparently no food is served there. While relaxing in a low chair is lovely for having a drink or small bites, itís a bit more awkward for eating curry, but the food was good, and it gave me an excuse to try a local beer, although for my second, my waiter steered me to a beer from Cork, which I very much enjoyed. Yay, beer!



In the Drawing Room


From the Drawing Room, circa 9:30 pm.
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Old Jul 27, 19, 1:20 pm
  #5  
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At least my predecessor had good oral hygiene

This installment will cover my stay at the Hilton Belfast. The trip to the coast and Giant's Causeway, black cab tour, and other highlights to come.

For the remaining three nights, I switched to the Hilton. Why did I do that? Once again, this goes back to having random plane tickets with no real destination in mind. I was toying with all kinds of ideas and wasting way too much time planning this trip. I was suffering from analysis paralysis; there were just too many options. Then I saw there was a Hilton sale, and rooms were really cheap (£80 for the “deluxe” category), and I thought, why not and booked a non-refundable rate, thinking that it would at least commit me to staying in Belfast. One decision was made, at least.

As you will read below, it was not my best decision. Mid-range hotels always disappoint me: either go cheap (because, hey, it’s super cheap!) or go fancy. I forgot that when booking this stay.

I’ll start with the good: everyone in the hotel— aside from Housekeeping!—was very friendly and helpful. The people at the reception desk were always great (if mostly ineffective at getting Housekeeping to do anything), the staff in the breakfast room hustled to keep everything clean and refilled, and the concierge booked me a black cab tour at the last minute.

But Housekeeping was terribly, hilariously bad at their job. My first impression on entering the room was, well, that’s what I get for booking a mid-range chain hotel. And then I went into the bathroom. There was a half-empty bottle of moisturizer and what struck me as a rather paltry assortment of other toiletries. One of the hand towels had what looked like mascara stains on it (black smudges, which look exactly like what my towels look like when I don’t properly wash my face, so I recognize mascara stains on towels when I see them.) And, while the trash bag in the bathroom was empty, laying across the trash bin was one long, used string of dental floss. <Insert horror music here.> Which seemed stuck to the top of the trash can, and hung over the side, but I guess being stuck was better because I was worried it might fly up when I opened the lid and that would be gross.


Toiletry assortment upon checking in


I am not going to be winning any photography awards anytime soon.

Hmmm, had I been given a room that hadn’t been cleaned? The bed was made. But had the sheets been changed? Did Housekeeping think they were just refreshing the room for a guest who was staying over? This hotel had one of those cards that you were supposed to put on the bed if you wanted sheets changed, so you were opting-in to fresh sheets, rather than opting out (I’m one of those cynics who thinks this benefits the hotel more than the environment.) In other words, YEECH.

What I should have done was to go back to reception and ask for another room. According to the floor plan, all the rooms are basically the same. The “deluxe rooms” just have bathrobes and slippers and were on a higher floor. The “executive rooms” were on higher floors still, with lounge access. It’s also a large hotel. It probably would have been very easy to switch. But I didn’t do that. I had a late lunch reservation, so really needed to be on my way, because after that I had a black cab tour. I had a schedule to keep, dammit. A call to housekeeping on the phone connected me with the general Hilton reservations line, so I went downstairs, stood in the line for reception, and asked if I could have the room clean. The look of horror on the concierge’s face when I mentioned the dental floss was priceless.

When I got back, Housekeeping had come, yes, BUT THE DENTAL FLOSS WAS STILL THERE. As was the half-empty bottle of moisturizer. A bunch of other toiletries (ooh, I get conditioner! And bath gel! And more shampoo!) was there as well, but I guess the idea of disposing of the stuff used by the previous occupant didn’t register. I tossed the offending half-empty moisturizer in the trash, thankful that at least the dental floss didn’t fly up at me, and decided that tonight would be a good night go try a great cocktail bar, but I won’t sully that experience by including it in this installment. I looked the bed over carefully, still concerned that maybe the sheets hadn’t been changed. Sigh.

The next morning, I was out early to go on the Giant’s Causeway tour, and not back until 6. The bed was unmade, all dirty towels still in the bathroom, housekeeping hadn’t bothered. I went back downstairs, spoke once again to reception and asked for housekeeping to come (making sure the “please change sheets” card was still prominently displayed on the bed) and went out to find dinner. When I got back, the bed was made and there were fresh towels. But guess what was still there? That’s right, the dental floss.


Still there!


Since this was becoming a regular thing, the next morning I stopped by reception to ask if the dental floss could please be removed. I could have removed it, but a) I didn’t want to, and b) IT WASN’T MINE. The person I spoke with again looked horrified. I’m pleased to report when I got back, it was gone.

Cleanliness aside, the furnishings and decor were exactly as depicted on the hotel’s web site. It was all just worn and tired, which was exacerbated by the lack of housekeeping. The carpets certainly never got vacuumed during my stay. The same random dirt at the foot of the bed that was there when I checked in was still there when I left. One lamp didn’t work. The slippers were the cheap unbranded terry cloth adjacent ones, so no extra points there.

Out and about, I briefly talked with a couple who said they were staying at some “fleabag hotel,” which went unnamed, but since I saw them again a few days later near the Hilton, in a place without any other touristic value, I’m going to guess we both having the same housekeeping woes.



It's possible they were out that way to look at the public art-- Sheep on the Road-- but probably not.


The breakfast buffet was good. Specific local offerings included a bottle of Bushmill’s for adding to the porridge (I did not try that), Irish soda bread, and potato farls. I’ve never had potato farls before, but I am a big fan of carbs, so I was satisfied with the bread and potato options available. That said, there are also a few options near the hotel (a Costa Coffee and St. George’s Market on some days).

I should have remained at the Titanic Hotel, or tried the Malmaison or Merchant, according to various locals. Hotel prices in Belfast are really very reasonable, although I walked by an Etap (which is the budget brand below Ibis; I’ve always thought it was about the level of a Red Roof Inn or Motel 6) that was advertising available rooms for £139, which struck me as absurdly high for Belfast, since the Merchant had rooms for £140.

At any rate, the stay ended up being quite a bit cheaper in the end. The staff— aside from Housekeeping! Third verse same as the first!—was great and offered a very fair discount for my woes, so I’m satisfied with the service recovery.

The hotel is apparently being renovated. There were some designs posted in the lobby, which looked quite nice. Even though the staff— aside from housekeeping!— was really nice and helpful, I’d avoid this hotel until the renovations are finished (sometime in 2020?) and hope there’s a new Housekeeping staff then.
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Old Jul 28, 19, 3:13 am
  #6  
 
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Sorry, but I had to chuckle at the dental floss issue. My pet peeve is finding long hairs in the bathroom.......

Love the concept of mini bottles of Bushmill's with the morning porridge. Have come across that in Scotland before - adds a little zing to the morning......
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Old Jul 28, 19, 12:12 pm
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Looking forward to seeing more of your chronicles (we're hoping to visit Belfast and Dublin in October). Which company did you do your Giant's Causeway trip with?
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Old Jul 28, 19, 6:22 pm
  #8  
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A day trip to Giant's Causeway

While I had no desire to rent a car, I did want to see something of the coast. It is possible to do with trains or local buses, but it seemed easier just to book a group tour. Iím not a huge fan of group tours, but my fears were unfounded and the touró especially the walkó was one of the favorite parts of my trip. A lot of different companies offer bus tours; I booked the ďGiantís Causeway Cliff Path Walking & Coach TourĒ via Irish Tour Tickets.

Booking the tour for July 12 ended up being a very good thing, as most everything in the city was closedó shops, restaurants, pubs, museums, etc.ó so there wouldnít have been much to do. I still had a fabulous day, but if you are planning a trip to Belfast or Northern Ireland more generally, itís a date I would avoid.

The tour was very well organized. Check-in was at the Irish Tour Tickets office on Great Victoria Street, near the Europa Bus Centre. Itís also next to a Tesco, which was useful for buying a cheap meal deal for the packed lunch I was supposed to bring. If it had not been July 12, I would have picked up something better anywhere else, but it was not a day for being picky. Since it was July 12, we wouldnít be driving along the Antrim coast or going to Carrickfergus Castle, since those roads were closed due the marchers. And we got a bit stuck, waiting to pull out, until a small contingent of marchers passed by. On the bus were also people who werenít doing the walking portionó they went by bus to other sights while the walkers are ambling along the coastó and I was happy to learn when I boarded that I was one of only two people doing the walk. (Smaller tours are always better than larger.) Because of the alterations to the itinerary due to July 12 stuff, the bus people were spending most of their time in the morning at Giantís Causeway and the visitor center. I was definitely getting the better version this time.

Eventually, the Great Victoria Street was clear of orange-clad marchers and we were off. Our guide, Sean, was fantastic, and was funny, smart, and had a lot of interesting stories not just about the areas were were passing but history more generally. I was dropped off with my other fellow walker (who happened to be another solo American traveler), and we met out walking guide from Away A Wee Walk, Eimear, and set off to enjoy some natural beauty.


We drove by these guys-- outside Bushmills I think?

I am not the most outdoorsy or athletic person, but most of my recent vacations have been to small, northern islands with beautiful coasts (Shetland and Faroe). I donít want carry a pack, or camp overnight, but I apparently really do like walking / strolling along the sea. This tour was perfect. Itís not a difficult walk, thereís a path, and is about 5 miles and took about 3 hours The coastline is absolutely stunning, and then you get to the bizarre geological formations around Giantís Causeway. The weather started gray, overcast, and misty, but as we walked it cleared and Rathlin Island emerged from the haze.


Perfect.



Really: this is my idea of a perfect day out.

It has already been established that I have no photography skills. Iím also not interested in learning how to use a DSLR or something complicated. But a slightly better camera would be nice. My last few vacations have been to absurdly pretty locations, and I regret not having better pictures from Faroe or Shetland. Iím going to the Outer Hebrides in August, so now seemed like a good time to figure out something better. I bought a superzoom cameraó itís a point-and-shoot camera with, er, an attached zoom lens (x60). These photos from the cliff walk were taken with that camera, which definitely paid for itself and justified the space it took in my bag.


Bothy as seen from a distance



Whoooo superzoom!

As we were walking, I asked if we would be seeing any wildlife, mentioning that on some of my previous vacations I got bored of seeing seals (I wanted to see otters, dammit), but I kept seeing seals in Shetland and Faroe, even in places people said you never see seals. Eimear said she rarely saw seals (maybe two or three times in the many years she had been guiding.) We walked on. And then, whatís that sound? The thing about seals, you often hear them before you see them, and Eimear heard them. And down on the rocks was not just a single seal, but more seals than Iíve ever seen at once. I guess if you want to see seals, bring me along?



Seals!

More seals!




In the distance we could see the white tents erected at Portrush, for the British Open. There was zoom involved here.

Baaaaaa!


Completely natural phenomenon






To get down to the Giantís Causeway site, there are some steep stairs. I was very glad we were going down, rather than being the poor souls, who hadnít ponied up for a guide, who decided to walk up.




The Giant's Boot



Cool rocks. Also, not wearing these boots on the plane.




We didnít spend any time in the Giantís Causeway Visitorís Center, which was fine as I would rather have been out in nature rather than in the crowd indoors. Due to changes in the schedule, the bus people had been at the visitorís center the entire time we had been out walking, and they all seemed very eager to go elsewhere, so I had my delicious Tesco meal deal on the bus on the way to Carrick-A-Rede Bridge. Apologies, bus people, for having bought a somewhat stinky chicken curry sandwich!

Iím obviously still learning how to use the camera, and my biggest failing was that I accidentally left the power switched on for several days, and hadnít charged it all the way, so the battery died before I got to the Carrick-A-Rede bridge. Sheep Island was the last thing I got to superzoom on:


Sheep Island


There was a bit of a walk to get to the bridge, and a short line to cross. Itís probably not great if youíre terrified of heights, but otherwise it was fun and the view is great.


If you go over a bridge, you have to go back...

Some Kayakers below the Carrick-A-Rede Bridge

Since we couldnít drive along the coast, due to road closures for the marches, the tour unusually stopped at the Dark Hedges, made famous by Game of Thrones. Sean, our guide, said it was his first time visiting, and other locals I met said it used to just be this road with ďspooky treesĒ until hordes of GoT fans starting visiting. We werenít the only people visiting. There was one of the specialty Game of Thrones tours there, with people in furs holding swords, and another tour group. If you want a shot without other people, youíre going to need a car and go either early or late.




From there, it was back to Belfast. In all, it was a fantastic day out, and I very much want to spend more time along the Antrim coast. Trying to find dinner in town was a challengeómost places were closed. The Hiltonís restaurant looked underwhelming at best; I ended up at an Italian place that was fine, although my request for a Campari and soda perplexed the (supposedly Italian) waiter. Thatís not a weird drink, right? I tried explaining it as like an Aperol Spritz, but with Campari. Or a gin and tonic, except instead of gin use Campari, and instead of tonic use sparkling water. Anyway, I didnít starve and I ended the day very happy I had come to Northern Ireland.

Further adventuresó including the black cab tour and various gin-based cocktailsó to come.
turnleftbrighteyes is offline  
Old Jul 28, 19, 6:23 pm
  #9  
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Originally Posted by Nayef View Post
Looking forward to seeing more of your chronicles (we're hoping to visit Belfast and Dublin in October). Which company did you do your Giant's Causeway trip with?
Hi @Nayef, I used Irish Tour Tickets. See the previous installment for details-- they were great!
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turnleftbrighteyes is offline  
Old Jul 29, 19, 3:49 am
  #10  
 
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"bizarre geological formations around Giant’s Causeway"

Whoa whoa whoa there a minute. Fionn mac Cumhail built the Giants Causeway! I'll not hear anything to disprove that!

Butchering of Irish mythology aside, I am enjoying your report on my home town. There are a few good restaurants beside the Hilton but generally it wouldn't be a place I would recommend to stay. The Europa would be on a similar level but a little more central and as noted above the Crown is in front of it. I think you maybe got a little unlucky with the hotels you picked but hopefully you had a great time despite visiting during the "12th".
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Old Jul 29, 19, 8:10 am
  #11  
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Wonderful landscape and especially wonderful trees.
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Old Jul 29, 19, 10:36 am
  #12  
 
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Good start to your TR and bringing back the memories of my trip to Ireland (North and South) last month. I think hotel prices are high in Dublin any time of the year! I used points to get ours for free and glad I did because no way was the hotel worth what it was charging, location aside that is!
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