Saturday, January 30, 2016

Giant's Causeway

Giant's Causeway is one of those places in the world that makes you believe in magic. If you ever find yourself in Ireland or Northern Ireland, make sure you find a way to go see the Causeway. After a great experience with PaddyWagon, I booked a day tour from Belfast.

Our first stop was at a place called "The Dark Hedges," where some scenes from Game of Thrones were filmed. It's a really interesting piece of road, where the king at the time, James II had trees planted on either side to decorate the road and impress his friends. The trees miraculous stayed alive over 150 years longer than their life expectancy! They stoop over the road like a creepy archway.

Next, we stopped at Carrick-a-Rede, a beautiful bay where there's a rope bridge that used to connect the fishery island to the mainland. Normally, tourists can cross the bridge, but the winds were going up to 50mph, and it was a little dangerous... so the bridge was closed. The winds were so strong I honestly thought it would pop my eardrum!

We got back on the bus and finally made our way to the famous Giant's Causeway! It is made up of about 40,000 basalt columns of various heights that slowly sink into the sea. This was created about 60 million years ago when the continents were formed and volcanoes erupted. Basalt is a volcanic rock and the columns were formed when the lava cooled over multiple ice ages.
It was an amazing sight, with the waves crashing around us as we climbed the rocks and touched millions of years in the making.

My favourite part about the Causeway is the legend of how it was created:
Ireland used to be a land of giants, before the humans came, and there was a giant who lived on the northern coast named Finn McCool, who was 100 feet tall. He could see in the distance another giant on the coast of Scotland who was named Benandonner. Finn shouted insult after insult, hoping that Benandonner would cross over and fight him. Finn wanted to have a contest to see who was the strongest. Finn kept on screaming, but Benandonner kept on ignoring him. Frustrated, Finn started throwing stones he shaped by hand into the water to make a path of stepping stones. He made a path going all the way to Scotland! On his way there, he noticed that Benandonner was getting bigger and bigger as he got closer. He was 200 feet tall! Scared, Finn ran back to Ireland.
Benandonner was furious, and followed him back to his house. Finn hid in his house while his wife welcomed the other giant, telling him that Finn was gone hunting, that he could wait here with a cup of tea. Panicked, Finn took the bedsheets and wrapped himself up in them and put on a baby cap. He ran into the crib in the corner or the room where his now-grown child used to sleep and started crying while sucking his thumb.
Benandonner heard the cry and went to look. When he saw the 100 foot baby, he was terrified! If the baby was a 100 foot tall, can you imagine the father?! He ran out of the house and ran back to Scotland, kicking and destroying the causeway as he went, making sure Finn McCool never found a way to come to Scotland and fight him. All we can see now is the ruins of the causeway that Benandonner left behind.
Cute right?

After two hours by the Causeway, I spent a little bit of time in the Visitor Centre, which actually has an animation of that legend and all kinds of gifts featuring Finn McCool.

We did one little detour before we headed back to Belfast. We stopped quickly at Dunluce Castle, a castle that has been in ruins since the 1600s. One day, a part of the cliff crumbled, taking the entire kitchen down with it. Only one person in the kitchen survived, and a few weeks later, the castle was deemed unsafe and has been in ruins ever since.

Wednesday, January 27, 2016


Belfast is only 2 hour away from Dublin and though it's not usually a must-see tourist city in the UK, but as the capital of Northern Ireland, I thought I may as well see what's there to visit!

Lucky Salmon

Did you know that the Titanic was built in Belfast?
I didn't until I got there! There's actually a really great museum all about the Titanic, White Star Line and Harland and Wolffe, the company who built it. It's a huge museum and you can easily spend two or three hours in there, with lots of interactive and replicas of rooms in the ship, blueprints and even a special section where you can interactively explore the Titanic wreck. The museum is built right next to the original yard on the pier where the Titanic was built and you can actually walk right on the spot where it was built!
Fun fact: the Titanic movie with Leo DiCaprio cost about $200 million to make... 22 times more than it cost to build the real ship. Crazy right?
Titanic Museum

The Titanic was built on the left

Right next to the museum, you can go explore the SS Nomadic, the last existing White Star Line ship in the world! You could go on the deck and inside the different rooms, even sit at the bar (though the bartender was a projection of a man....) and imagine what it would be like to take a cruise on one of these boats.
SS Nomadic

The craziest part about the then-shipyard is that the company had to actually dig out the river and make it bigger so they could get the big ships out to sea! The river used to be quite thin and now it's very wide and square, all man-made.

I didn't spend a lot of time in Belfast, but I really enjoyed it. So many of the buildings are beautiful red brick buildings, the city hall looks amazing at night and one really cool thing? There's a glass dome at the top of a shopping centre that you can go in and you get a really great view of the city!

Sunday, January 24, 2016

Cliffs of Moher

I was told that a day trip to the Cliffs of Moher was a must. I left early from Dublin and got on the PaddyWagon tour to the cliffs. We headed off bright and early at 7:50am and made our way west. Our first stop was a small village called Kinvarra. It's right on the coast and during the summer, there's a castle that we can go explore. We got out to stretch our legs and look at the harbour. The tide was out, so there wasn't much water too look at. Just mountains of algae.
We got back on the bus and made our way to our next stop: Corcomroe Abbey, in the middle of The Burren. It was built in the very early 1200s and there's only one of the original 4 walls, as the other were re-built to protect the tomb of the King Connor o Brian. According to the legend, he hired five masons to built the abbey and at the end, he was so impressed with their work that he praised their efforts, then beheaded them all. He wanted his abbey to be unique and didn't want to risk these men making a similar one somewhere else in the world. He then stuffed their remains in the stone altar, which are still there today. I actually saw one of the skulls!

About a 30-minute drive later, we stopped to see the "Baby Cliffs," which are about 7 times smaller than the Cliffs of Moher. This was our lunch stop before finally heading to the famous Cliffs.

The Cliffs of Moher are amazing. Scary, but beautiful. There's about a dozen people who die on the cliffs every year because of the very strong winds and slippery slopes. You can practically sit on the edge of the world!
In the distance, we could see these very dark clouds rolling in fast... and within 10 minutes, the clouds were on us, it started hailing and pouring rain and the winds picked up. The winds really are strong enough to push you off the cliffs, so I decided to move away from the edge... just in case.

The rain stopped within 10 minutes, so I headed to the other side of the Cliffs where there was a little tower. The sun was now shining brighter than before.

(So much so than an Australian guy thought it was bikini weather....)

I gave myself about 30 minutes to go explore the visitor centre, which was really great, with a lot of interactive touch screens and games to explore the cliffs and their history.

The last stop before we got back to Dublin was the Bunratty Castle. We only stopped for a half hour to stretch our legs before the 2.5 hour drive back to the city.

Paddy Wagon Tours is a great tour company. I've done 2 tours with them and both times the guide/driver was excellent, hilarious and very knowledgeable. It wasn't very expensive, and I also got to see a lot of things I would have never even known about without the tour. Plus it's so much more enjoyable to have someone drive you around then try to find your way on the tiny tiny little backcountry roads of Ireland.

Friday, January 22, 2016


I arrived in Dublin first thing in the morning (by that, I mean 5am...) and hopped on a bus to find my host. I found the place and took a well-deserved nap before I went on a long walk with my host, Sheila. She showed me around the city, all the main tourist attractions. Dublin seemed so small; all the things we saw were within a 20-minute walk from each other. The first thing we explored was the Dublin Castle, then on to the Trinity College, where I stopped to see the exhibit about the Book of Kells, a script of the four Christian gospels written circa 800! This book is over 1,000 years old! The exhibit showed how they made the ink and pages back in the day, and also talked about the other Books made before and after this one. The exhibit ends in the "Long Room," this amazing library that is just absolutely breathtaking. When you imagine old scholars spending all day reading dusty books in a library, it's that library you're picturing. We also saw some cathedrals, one of which was built by vikings, and made our way home.
Dublin Castle

Dublin Castle

Long Room
St Patrick's Cathedral
The next day, I got on the Hop-On Hop-Off bus, and stopped at Dublinia, a museum all about the vikings who used to live in Ireland before the British took over. Next stop? The Guinness Storehouse! You can't go to Dublin and not visit the birthplace of Guinness! I toured around, learning how beer is made and at the end, you go to the Gravity Bar, which is in a glass tower with a really nice view of the city and the freshest pint of Guinness you can get.
I got back on the bus and headed straight to the Old Jameson Distillery. I toured around and learned how whisky is made, then had a whisky tasting!
Gravity Bar at the Guinness Storehouse
Old Jameson Distillery
Last stop of the day was the Leprechaun Museum. It sounds silly, but it was probably one of the best tours I've done. The guide explains the history of leprechauns and some of Ireland's mythology, then we head inside, where each room is decorated according to a legend and the guide tells you more legends and myths.
In the Giant's Cottage in the Leprechaun Museum

Kilmainham Goal is one of the top places in TripAdvisor, so I thought I would give it a try. It's an old prison (Goal=jail) built in 1796 (closed in the 1920s). It was an overpacked prison and the site of many executions... Our tour guide brought us through the jail and told us some of the prisoners' stories and how the jail used to be run. He was a fantastic tour guide.
Kilmainham Goal

That night, we went out to The Brazen Head, the oldest pub in Dublin, if not Ireland (est.1198) for a beer before we went to their friends' house for a sushi night.

My last full day in Dublin, I spent wandering around free museums: The National Museum of Archaeology has an amazing collection of artefacts, swords, skeletons, etc. and The National History Museum, or The Dead Zoo, as the locals call it has all sorts of taxidermy animals from all over the world, and lots of critters in jars.
The Dead Zoo

Dublin is an amazing city, so rich in history and the people are amazing. I could have spent another week there and not have run out of things to do!

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