04 Sept 2006 Monday - Northern Ireland to Derry

As we walked down the long flight of stairs, I eyed the walls carefully just in case the monster spider was waiting to pounce on my back. After a very good breakfast, we went to our car to start the next day's adventure. As I got into the car, I was very surprised at what I saw lurking in the flower garden next to the car:

A small statue of Buddha! That's right. Here in Northern Ireland, famous for years of bitter hated and bloodshed between Protestants and Catholics, I found a serene red statue of Buddha.

Today we drove up the Northern coast of Northern Ireland. We drove from Carrickfergus north along the coastal road.

There are two problems with driving in Northern Ireland. The first problem is that the speed limit is given in miles per hour and the car we were driving only showed kilometers per hour. I only know from prior experience that 55 mph is the same as 88 kph. My only other clue was that we use mph in the USA, so I roughly know from memory how fast “30 mph” seems.

The second (and much bigger) problem was that the speed limits themselves were never posted. There were lots of signs that implied the “cameras are watching you for speed violations” and yet they never once told us what the speed limit was. Once in a great while I’d see a sign in the country that said “100” or some such, but when we approached a city, there was absolutely no posting to tell you what the speed limit is. But they sure wanted you to know that you were being watched for speeding! I wondered: Couldn’t they have put the paint on their speed signs to better use?

At first the trip was boring, but it improved as we drove north. At times, the roads became almost like tunnels carved out of the trees,

and soon there were scenic glens, which are valleys leading down to the sea. Some of the glens had beautiful waterfalls

and we drove around looking at them and taking photos.

The scenery has been very beautiful today, despite the slow start.

We stopped at the Carrick-a-rede Rope Bridge and took several photos of that.

Basically, this is a rope bridge

leading out to a very small island. It’s surrounded by cliffs,

so the bridge spans a very tall cliff precipice.

It was fun, but not nearly as scary or breath-taking or precarious as the tree bridges of the Aceer camp in the Amazon jungles of Peru. And there was a very long and tedious walk down to the bridge and back up again. Actually, it was quite amusing to see men carrying baby carriages, also known as prams, up this huge set of stairs.

Next, we drove to a place called the Giant’s Causeway,

which is where there are thousands of strange geometrically-shaped rocks formed when lava tubes met the ocean millions of years ago.

We walked to the site down an enormous hill and as we did, we debated long and hard about whether we should plan to walk back up or take a bus. By the time we got to the bottom of the hill, we both agreed that the nominal bus fee would be well worth it. The site was fascinating. Most of the rocks were hexagonally shaped and most were a foot or so across.

We were told that the rocks were a natural phenomenon, due to the pressures that the lava was under while it cooled on the ocean floor. It was a very curious sight.

Some of the stones were short, like theater seating.

Others were very tall.

There was a mound of them that led out into the sea.

The Led Zeppelin album “Houses of the Holy” shows naked children playing on these same rocks. We spent a long time walking by the sea

before we gladly paid the bus fare to take us back to the top.

From there, we drove to Dunluce castle,

a ruined castle that was pretty cool with lots of towers and features.

I love castles. The castle was in ruins.

The castle has a history, as all castles do.

They say that one night during a violent storm, part of the castle’s wall, including the kitchen, broke off and fell into the sea, killing several people. After that incident, the lady of the house refused to stay there and moved away.

Next, we drove to the big city of Derry, also known as Londonderry, and had a hard time finding a bed and breakfast we knew would take our B&B vouchers. Eventually we found it and luckily they had a room for us, but it was the last room they had. The B&B was nice,

but the bedroom was relatively small and cramped.

The manager told us they normally didn't rent out that bedroom unless there was nothing else available. Unfortunately, the bathroom was down two flights of stairs.

Once we were checked into the B&B, we drove back into downtown Derry, trying to find a restaurant our B&B matron had suggested called Exchange. I drove around and around in circles, until finally we just gave up and decided to park and walk. Within a block, we came upon a grocery store where we restocked our supply of bottled water. When we paid, we asked the cashier if she knew where the Exchange restaurant was, and she explained that it was only a block-and-a-half away in the direction of where we had parked the car.

We walked back to the car, dropped off our water and headed to Exchange, which was very close indeed. In fact, we had driven right by it several times and didn’t see it. I guess I call that ineffective signs or poor advertising. And the fact that I stopped and parked less than a block from the restaurant? Well, perhaps that’s what author Kathryn Harwig calls “The Intuitive Advantage.”

At the restaurant, we ordered a couple of pints of beer (Harp, which is actually a hard apple cider, and Smithwick’s–both of which were good) while we waited in the bar for our table.

Once seated, Kathy ordered the fish which was quite bland. I ordered a chicken pasta dish that was very good; she was jealous. But as we always do, we split the two meals and ate from both.

Then it was back to the B&B for the night.

I thought about trying to call my friend Paul Curran, who lives in Derry, but I just didn’t get time, and tomorrow we’ll be on the move; so no time to be social!

Daily observations: the government here in Northern Ireland is cone-happy. Whenever we encountered an area of road construction, there would be tens of thousands of orange road construction cones. In the United States, we space orange cones every twelve feet (four meters) apart from one another, if even that. In Northern Ireland, they have cones quite literally placed nearly touching one another so that there are thousands upon thousands of them in vast lines. Very strange indeed.