I used to be intentional about celebrating St. Patrick’s Day on March 17 each year. I learned to travel solo in Ireland and I love this celebration of all things Irish. While I don’t like cornbeef and cabbage, I do love Irish stew and Guinness. So any excuse…
Learn more about St. Patrick–an Englishman called to save the Irish after his Christian conversion–by reading Thomas Cahill’s How the Irish Saved Civilization. If you are traveling through Ireland, stop in Downpatrick in Northern Ireland and check out the St. Patrick Centre.
If you can’t get to Ireland, never fear. Several Irishmen have shared over a pint that the best St Patrick’s Day they’ve ever had was in Chicago, New York or another US city.
Raise a pint and toast the man and the saint! “Sláinte,” (pronounced “slawn-cha”) and translates to health or cheers.
I confess that I have not read any of the Game of Throne books or watched any of the episodes of the television adaptation, but my son has and as we were traveling together, I did a fair bit of research to include it in our plan.
We arrived in Dublin at 5 in the morning and we planned a big day of driving from Dublin to Belfast via Derry, Giant’s Causeway and Bushmills. There were a number of places where Game of Thrones filming features the town or landscape, including Ballintoy 12.5 miles east of the Giant’s Causeway. Described in a guidebook as a “picture-postcard harbour”, it is featured as Iron Islands’ Lordsport Harbour. I found mentions like this throughout the guidebooks I consulted. None of these places is quick and easy to get to and on a winter’s day when the sun sets just before 5, we had to prune them from our plan.
I also found a smart phone app that promised a kind of scavenger hunt for Game of Thrones sites. On closer examination it turns out that there are a series of carved doors inspired by Game of Thrones that make up the destinations on this app. If you had lots of time and you are using Game of Thrones as your organizing principle then you may be interested.
We settled on Castle Ward Estate, a National Trust property, that doubles as Winterfell in Game of Thrones. This was a great choice because it was interesting in its own right and yet Tevis got the bonus association with Game of Thrones. We were able to fit in as a small detour as we drove from Belfast to Dublin. The cafe offers a delicious selection of sandwiches if your visit coincides with lunchtime. The entrance fee is 8 pounds.
P.S. You may have heard the term “overtourism” or the idea that so many people are flocking to places made popular by social media that they are destroying what the very thing they love. Such are the Dark Hedges that double as Kingsroad on Game of Thrones.
Growing up in Belfast is one of the things I’ve always found interesting in CS Lewis’ biography. His childhood was well before the Troubles and his family was obviously well off. Perhaps his fascination with myths and fairy tales was influenced by growing up in Northern Ireland. When he converted to Christianity he became an Anglican–not a Presbyterian as many Northern Ireland protestants or Catholic as it carries the political weight of the Irish question.
At the same time I just really enjoy all of his writing and have loved reading everything by him or about him. In a quick trip through Northern Ireland I didn’t have as much time as I hoped to indulge. I read about the CS Lewis Trail and I made a note in my journal. My timeline got squeezed and I did not make it. So I was delighted when we finished dinner with friends and Belfastian Peter offered to give us a tour of the Habitat for Humanity houses we helped build and I had the presence of mind to remember that he lived close to CS Lewis’ childhood home. It was our first stop!
The CS Lewis Trail is another reason to return to Belfast, as if I needed one!
We planned our Ireland trip around two nodes: Belfast and Dublin. We drove from the Dublin Airport to Derry, Bushmills and the Giants Causeway, ending our first day in downtown Belfast. One of main purposes was to connect in person with our friends we made when volunteering with Habitat for Humanity, Northern Ireland. This left almost a full day free to explore Belfast. I decided to check out the new-to-me Titanic Quarter.
This area of Belfast, named after the shipbuilder Harland and Wolff’s most famous ship, has been completely revitalized since my last visit. It is 185 acres within the Belfast Harbour. A Dublin based developer has built a combination of docklands, office buildings, retail, entertainment, movie studio, Titanic Museum and Titanic hotel.
I was getting peckish by the time I reached a cafe called The Dock. I walked through the door and felt like I fell into a delightful alternate universe. The decor was bright and spacious and welcoming. A sign explained that it was a “pay what you can afford” cafe. They had limited offerings for lunch and tea breaks, but lots of friendly volunteers. First I had a cup of tea and wrote in my journal, then I went back for a bowl of soup and a bun. The other diners were a combination of young people from the nearby office blocks, backpackers and oddments like me.
An older woman asked if she could share my table. She was from Enniskillen but had just returned from Kansas City, Missouri. She joined her daughter–who converted to evangelical Christianity whilst in Oxford–for a conference. It happened to be while the hearings for Judge Kavanaugh were playing 24-7 on cable news. Apparently she was watching FOX, because she thought he was a victim of the most awful treatment by the media and Democrats. Her final indictment: “Why didn’t Dr. Blasey Ford report it at the time? I don’t believe it happened.” I listened until she was done and then I asked if I could share my perspective. I explained that I was the same age as Kavanaugh and that I’d had similar experiences to Christine Blasey Ford. I knew at the time that there was no point in reporting it because I either wouldn’t be believed or my reputation would be harmed and there wouldn’t be any repercussions to the men involved. I asked if she knew what I meant and she nodded. I added that not all young men treated women this way, in fact most did not, but I knew young men like Kavanaugh. And based on his behavior in the hearings, I didn’t see why we should advance him to the highest court–the Supreme Court. She hadn’t thought of it that way. I was glad to have the chance to offer another perspective and I was tired out by the conversation.
It was a short walk to the Titanic Museum. I will write more about this museum in a separate post.
Just beyond the museum is the movie studio where Game of Thrones is filmed. It is not open to visitors. The volunteer at the Dock that served me my tea said that sometimes the extras and others from the studio come in to dine at the Dock.
I had walked for several hours, so I grabbed a cab back to The Fitzwilliam Hotel. The vote in the British Parliament on Brexit was coming up. The local newspapers were full of the details and how it will impact Northern Ireland and the border with the Irish Republic. The cab driver explained the he didn’t vote in general elections as it was a waste of time. Half the representatives would be from the DUP (Protestant, never leave Britain party) and half would be Sinn Fein (Catholic, reunify with the Republic), and since Sinn Fein refused their seats in Parliament on principal, the cab driver felt he wasn’t represented. So he didn’t vote and I understood his frustration.
I had just enough time to refresh and catch up with Tevis’ adventures before we joined our friends for dinner.
Peter and Tracy and their two adorable young boys have a comfortable life, but not a lavish lifestyle. We asked them about what they thought might happen with Brexit. They didn’t know, but they sounded as defeated as the cab driver. They thought the DUP, in their insistence to drive a hard-line and vote against Brexit, might actually hasten the party’s worst nightmare. People in Northern Ireland had voted to remain and now a hard Brexit might drive them to choose reunification over staying with Britain. This would likely make education, health, and housing more expensive. What had been an interesting and primarily intellectual discussion between Tevis and me, suddenly became real in terms of what it might mean to the hard-won and tenuous peace and the impacts to people and their everyday lives.
All of my travel magazines have lists of the best places to see in 2018. Some of the places on their list are on mine also, making me rethink my list. (Will it be too crowded?) I don’t actually think the travel magazines has as much influence as they want their advertisers to think they do. Travel is an investment and most people have many reasons for choosing the places they go. If you are like me, these articles sometimes help with information on a location I already plan to go. They have never been the spark for wanting to go in the first place. Have you had a different experience? Did an article inspire you to go somewhere you never thought of before?
Actually, I just experienced something similar with a story on National Public Radio. I’ve never been that keen to go to Puerto Rico. Then I heard this story about one of the world’s best bioluminescent bays getting its glow back after Hurricane Maria. Suddenly I wanted to go. Plus it would have the added bonus of helping the economy. So Vieques, Puerto Rico is on my 2018 list of possibilities.
This year I was able to go to a few places that have been on my list for years, such as Denmark and Sweden. In 2018 I hope to finally visit Detroit, Michigan. Some friends are interested in meeting up there. We have another friend who grew up there so if she can’t meet us we know we’ll get some good recommendations from her. She still visits often. I realize that going to visit friends is a huge motivational factor in my travel wish list.
I’m hankering to get back to Belfast, Northern Ireland after a decade away. And to New Zealand after just a year away. I already have my tickets for another trip to New York City with my mom for Broadway plays and the New York Times Travel Show.
Where are you going in 2018 and why? Where are you dreaming about as close out 2017?
I have been away from my blogs for a couple of months. I bought a house and moved. I traveled and had a lot of work on my plate. I also just needed to gain some perspective on blogging. Why do I do it? Shall I continue to do it?
Then I read something my daughter wrote to me in a card about how I observed more closely the beauty in the world and shared it in my blog. She appreciates that and so do I. The process of writing about the encounters with wonderful generous people, or special places does help me look at the world more generously, more kindly.
Finally, I read a post on one of my favorite blogs, Smitten Kitchen. I was reminded of all the good things about blogging. Including big ideas like freedom of expression and creativity. The Smitten Kitchen inspires ME to cook so a blog can clearly be powerful.
I hope you have wonderful lists of places and travel ideas where you may go next and heaps of photos from the places you already been. Happy New Year.
I am missing Belfast, Northern Ireland. You are only surprised by that statement if you have never been. I have been lucky enough to spend considerable time in Belfast both on vacation and on Habitat for Humanity Global Village builds for two weeks at a time.
For a period of about 10 years I flew to Ireland about every 18 months. Every experience was special. The first trip was a 4 days in Dublin. Epic. Then I won a trip to Ireland at the Sacramento Irish American Club’s St. Patrick’s Day party. My friend Cameon and I drove around the island with a quick trip through Nor Ireland. We laughed our way through learning to shift the car and drive on the other side. We had such fun.
Shortly after that I was invited to join a Habitat build with Northern Ireland Habitat for Humanity. It was a life changing experience. It was 2000 and the Troubles were technically ended by the peace process, but the evidence of strife was still easy to find. That was part of the attraction–amazing, wonderful people amidst political conflict. Oh, and did I mention that Northern Ireland is beautiful. On that same trip I climbed the Giant’s Causeway and hiked to the Belfast Caves.
I had the opportunity to hear Van Morrison live in his home town, and Brian Keenan to read from his latest book at a literary festival. The disturbing political murals are a reminder that peace is a process, not a single vote. Every visit provides signs of progress. I am in love with Derry (slash Londonderry) and spent a wild day in a thunder shower (technically in Donegal) after passing soldiers with automatic rifles patrolling the border. I walked in a St Patrick’s Day parade in Downpatrick where the great saint is buried.
I made several subsequent trips to build homes or to visit friends. In a recent issue of Afar magazine I spied an ad for Ireland that featured the new Titanic Belfast museum. The Titanic was built in Belfast shipyards. It does not hold any fascination for me, and yet I will go one day.
Maybe one day soon. I am keen to see friends and ride my bike up to the Habitat work site. I am looking into a flying visit before I report to Yorkshire for the first stage of Tour de France 2014.