The more I travel, particularly in the last year, the more I approach adventures with fewer expectations. I start by looking at where I'm situated in the world and my research usually follows a path spurred by the curiosity of where I can take cool photos. And while I love posting the photos online, it's always about the experience and I have yet to be upset by beautiful places in the world. So what piqued my curiosity of Northern Ireland? The Giant's Causeway.
While I've been staying in Cork this past month, I had a couple free weekends. So few weeks ago I booked my train tickets and headed north. I love traveling by train. It was about a six hour trip with a transfer in Dublin. For six hours I got to see the Irish countryside while I wrote a story for my non-fiction class. It was a lovely way to spend travel hours.
Belfast was a wonderful little surprise. Coming from Cork, I naively thought that the architecture might be similar--that there would be old buildings nestled together oscillating between bright and pastel exteriors. But between WWII and the troubles of the IRA, the city has essentially been rebuilt over the past several decades. It resembled a city closer to Dublin--more industrial, modern. The city sprawled further than I thought it would but walking more than thirty minutes from the city-center would likely put you in a residential neighborhood.
I stayed near the River Lagan, not far from the train station, at Bullitt Hotel. It was such a fun find. If I'm being honest, I didn't look through the reviews of the hotel past the star rating. But the bar and restaurant were packed to brim every night with locals who were there for live music and delicious food and drinks. If you're a light sleeper, this is not the place for you. Music and bar banter were roaring until at least 1 AM every night.
Church Lane was my home for the long weekend. It also happened to have every bar and restaurant locals recommended to me. Muriel's Café and Bar as well as Pablo's Burgers were my favorites.
Over the course of my time in Belfast, I kept wondering if I was in the tourist part of town, but in talking to some locals and my own experience, tourism is only just starting to pick up in Northern Ireland in the last ten years or so. A lot of this has to do with the fact that popular shows like Sons of Anarchy and Game of Thrones have filmed in Belfast or surrounding areas. Which brings me to my favorite part of my trip to Northern Ireland--my Game of Thrones tour.
As hokey as it may be, this is my third Game of Thrones tour. I've taken them in Iceland, Croatia, and now Northern Ireland. I will always recommend these tours. In every case, I've seen part of the country that I wouldn't have on another tour, and it usually doesn't cost that much more than a standard tour. For instance a tour to The Giant's Causeway was £25 and stopped at two locations. My tour was £35 and stopped at seven locations. It was great.
Of the locations we visited, my favorites were The Giant's Causeway and Carrick-a-Rede Rope Bridge (and surrounding beaches). The Giant's Causeway is essentially a break wall consisting of over 40,000 hexagonal basalt columns on the Antrim Coast of Northern Ireland. Depending on which direction you're facing, you can see some of the Scottish Isles. The Isles of Mull and Islay are the easiest to spot, especially on a clear day.
The Carrik-a-Rede Rope Bridge was a very different experience. Where the Causeway kept us close to the waters, the Rope Bridge put us high above them, letting us marvel at the clarity and colors of the frigid waters fifty feet below (for the GoT fans, this is the same bridge that Balon Greyjoy gets pushed off of). The bridge connected us to a small island with landscape similar to the ones it had separated from centuries ago. The view was not all that changed. But walking across a wood and rope bridge made it a special place to take in the sights.
Overall it was a quick trip, but I was trilled that I decided to take the long train ride there and back. If nothing else, I got plenty of writing done on the train (obviously not this blog. It's so late. But my homework was done).