Our arrival was at 8:00 but our departure had been moved up from 6:00 to 5:30. I had been in touch with the tour company – Irish Tour Tickets about the change but had gotten reassurances that there would be no problem getting back in plenty of time. The printed information said the bus would be at the port by 8:15 with a departure at 8:30.
Again, up early, breakfast in the room, and we were off the ship at 8:10. There were several tour operators with signs letting the cruisers know their tours were ready. No sign for us. Uh oh. One of the operators asked us who we were waiting on. He was kind enough to call and the operator said that the bus was picking up others from the Princess ship that was docked not far from us and would be there shortly. By then, another couple who had been on the Inverness tour with us, showed up and said they were on this tour. A solo woman came up and said that she was taking a tour with Irish Tour Tickets but hers was one that was going to sites where Game of Thrones was filmed. Ours was going to the Giants Causeway.
Her bus arrived at 8:30. Her driver said the other bus was “right behind him.” Well, 15 minutes later (I guess “right behind” was in Irish time), our bus did arrive. I had all but given up. The bus was filled with Princess passengers, but we did luck out and there were two empty seats together near the front. The Princess was not scheduled to leave port until 7:30. I had to remind the driver that the Prinsendam was scheduled to leave at 5:30.
The driver/tour guide gave everyone a bottle of water, bag of crisps (potato chips), and a Game of Thrones refrigerator magnet.
He had a thick accent but kept up a steady narrative of what we were seeing as we drove towards the Giants Causeway. He talked about the number of “fill ums” that have been made in Northern Ireland. I didn’t know what a “fill um” was until he pointed out several spots where scenes from the Game of Thrones were filmed. Okay – “films.” He said that the cast spent so much time in Northern Ireland that some of them bought homes and many of his friends had been cast as extras in the crowd scenes. Irish Tours had been contracted for transport during much of the filming. He also talked about the actors/actresses from Northern Ireland. Two of the most famous – Kenneth Branagh and Liam Neeson. He said that Liam could be spotted around Belfast quite often but he was usually pretty scruffy so many didn’t recognize him.
He was also quite proud that more and more cruise ships were now stopping in Belfast. He said that Disney Cruises had recently signed a contract so that was kind of the icing on the cake because Disney didn’t go anywhere that might be a problem.
Our first stop was a photo stop to see the ruins of Dunluce Castle. It was supposed to be the site of “Castle Black” in Game of Thrones.
As we got nearer to the Giants Causeway, he talked about how the scientists say the area of about 40,000 interlocking basalt columns is the result of an ancient volcanic fissure eruption. He asked if we had even seen a volcano around there. When we said “no,” he told us the real story of how the Giants Causeway was formed –
Finn McCool, an Irish Giant, is having trouble with someone across the water. The Scottish giant Benandonner is threatening Ireland. An enraged Finn grabs chunks of the Antrim coast and throws them into the sea. The rock forms a path for Finn to follow and teach Benandonner a lesson. Bad idea – Benandonner is terrifyingly massive. Finn beats a hasty retreat, followed by the giant, only to be saved by his quick-thinking wife who disguised him as a baby. The angry Scot saw the baby and decided if the child was that big, the daddy must be really huge and ran back across the path, tearing it up so McCool couldn’t follow.
He had to park the bus along the narrow drive and told us where the restrooms were. He also advised us just to go through the tunnel and either walk down to the Causeway or take the shuttle. He said the signs would make you think you had to go into the Visitor Center and pay but they were misleading. You had to pay for the Center, not the Causeway.
He gave us 2 hours at the Causeway. We opted to walk down the road to the stones. It was a long way but a paved sidewalk. The Causeway was declared a World Heritage Site by UNESCO in 1986. The tops of the columns form the stepping stones that lead from the cliff foot and disappear under the sea. Most of the columns are hexagonal, although there are also some with four, five, seven or eight sides. The tallest are about 39 ft high, and the solidified lava in the cliffs is 92 ft thick in places. There were a lot of people already there. We marveled at the scenery and climbed all over the steps and columns. I’m not surprised that it is a UNESCO heritage site.
There were rangers there to try and keep the stupid people from climbing too close to the edges and falling. The stones were slippery and uneven. You had to watch where you were walking or you could break an ankle.
People had their dogs there and some ran loose. No fear of the rocks. Chuck made a new friend of a Pug who wanted to go home with him.
We stayed there a little over an hour and decided to pay the 1 pound each to ride the shuttle back. I was glad our time was almost up because more and more busses were bringing tourists.
We went to the little café called the Nook and Chuck had a beer and I had a hard strawberry/lime cider. I didn’t like it as much as apple. Everyone was prompt getting back to the bus. You never know when you are travelling with a group if there will be ones who always arrive back late and mess up the schedule.
We drove through the countryside with a photo stop of the rope bridge near Ballintoy known as the Carrick-a-Rede. The bridge is 20 meters long (about .012 miles) and 30 meters above (.018 miles) the sea and rocks below. This bridge links Northern Ireland to the small island of Carrickarede. If you have time, you can walk the bridge. Not sure I would have done it even if we had time as the wind was really whipping.
Next stop was the town of Ballycastle for lunch. He had called ahead so they knew we were coming. We were seated in the upper room. It was a limited choice menu but Chuck and I both had the fish chowder and again it was excellent – made with the catch of the day. Some people got the fish and chips and their plates had huge pieces of fish and fries.
On our way back to Belfast, we made a quick bathroom and photostop at the town of Carrickfergus. The town walls are purported to be the oldest town walls in Ulster (a province of Ireland made up of 9 counties – 6 in Northern Ireland, 3 in Republic of Ireland) and some of the best preserved town walls in all of Ireland. There was a life-sized bronze statue of King William overlooking the harbor. He is said to have really preferred being depicted on a horse because he was only approximately 5 ft. 2 inches. But since he was dead when they erected the statue, they didn’t have to spend money on a horse statue.
Once we got back to Belfast, he talked a lot about “The Troubles” and drove us through the Catholic section and the Protestant section. Even though there has been peace since 1998, the authorities can still shut down an entire section of city if needed. He recommended movies such as “The Outsider,” “Bloody Sunday,” and “Fifty Dead Men Walking.” He panned Brad Pitt’s Irish character and accent in “The Devil’s Own.” We were able to get out of the bus and get a close up look at the murals on the walls. He pointed out a recent one that had been painted honoring some Polish people who had helped the British and where some guys had try to start a fire on the sidewalk to burn it. The razors on a lot of the walls was also an indicator that some people may not have embraced the peace.
We passed by St. Anne’s Cathedral which has the largest Celtic Cross in Ireland. He also pointed out the large “Koreans” in the distance. Chuck and I looked at each other and said “large Koreans?” He went on to talk about all the new construction that was going on in Belfast. We both realized that he was saying “large cranes” as there were several huge cranes all over Belfast. Finally, someone asked him about the Koreans and we all got a laugh when others said “Cranes.”
As it was getting close to 5:00 and the Belfast traffic was getting worse, we reminded him that he had four people who had to get back to port by 5:30. We were not that far and he had us back there by 5:15, even with a fender bender that slowed traffic. I did feel bad for the people on the Princess because we did not have time to sign the Peace Wall and I could hear their grumbling. I am hoping that maybe he took them back and let them sign it.
So even though the tour started out rocky, it ended up being a good day.
After dropping off our stuff in the room, we went to the Ocean’s Bar and decided to take part in the Trivia that they have at 6:00 almost every evening. We had listened to some on earlier evenings but never got a sheet to write our answers. We had done pretty good. So, we got an answer sheet and were ready for the questions. We did so bad even with the Asst. Cruise Director, who was calling out the questions, trying to give us hints ex Question “What is it that cats cannot taste” – the Asst. Cruise director whispered to us “opposite of salt” – we wrote Pepper. The answer was “sweet.” He laughed so hard at our answers that he bought us each a drink. Glad we could make his day. Some of those teams take their trivia seriously.
Dinner was back in the main dining room and we ate with some of the same people that we had shared a table at the embarkation lunch on the first day of the cruise. Chuck had a chicken dish and I had a chef salad.
The show tonight was a British female magician. She was okay. Her tricks were pretty old fashioned – rings and rope tricks – but she did them well.
Tomorrow is Killybegs and we are joining a group of 6 others for a tour traveling on the Wild Atlantic Highway to the Sieve League cliffs, the Folk Village of Glencolmcille, the town of Donegal, and a beach . We have to meet the group in the Ocean’s Bar at 8:00 so we can all get off the ship together to meet the tour guide.
Tonight’s towel animal is a dinosaur.
Belfast Trivia –
Its location at the mouth of the River Lagan made Belfast an ideal location for the shipbuilding industry. Harland and Wolff had the largest shipyard in the world when it built the RMS Titanic during 1911-1912.
By the early 1800s Belfast was a major port. It played a key role in the Industrial Revolution, becoming the biggest linen producer in the world, earning it the nickname “Linenopolis”.
C.S Lewis was born here, and the nearby countryside helped inspire The Chronicles of Narnia.