It is the last weekend in August and we were preparing for the last of our long weekend adventures on the isle of Ireland, which obviously includes Northern Ireland – it might be hard for some hardcore unionists to believe, but we do live on the same island. Our daughter starts back in school on Monday, so we need to get some more traveling done before the normal routines takes over again. And, so she has some cool fresh stories to tell her mates. Not too sure how cool it is for a 5 year old to spend her holidays in a car seeing attractions and historical sights, but it might just be a bit of fun.
The journey was carefully organised by yours truly, so you can imagine how the family event and holiday manager (my wife) felt when I took over the planning. This was like invading an unknown territory for me, and worse, invading her sacred territory. One thing is to take the last toilet paper or forgetting to put the seat down after number 1, but to creep in on her space, is against all odds – you are on your own mate. Anyway, I ventured where no husband had or would have gone before, and survived, and planned the trip, hoping deep inside that I could outdo her last holiday to Costa Rica – piece of cake!?!
-I’ll publish a blog about the itinerary.
So, here’s the agenda to plan the perfect holiday:
- Put as many attractions on the itinerary as possible
- Plan the route to be somewhat logical and not zigzag across the country
- Add some fun stuff on the route for the kids
- Find places to stay – cheap, nice and near your planned route
- Create an awesome travel booklet of sights to see, with important details for e.g. hotel, directions, etc.
- Bring enough hard currency to survive 48 hours in the wilderness
- Pack the parent survival trailer with snacks, DVDs and drinks for the car journey
- Clean the car
- Clean yourself!
…how difficult could it be, for a professional project planner and organiser as me? Blimey, I’ve organised large exhibitions, erected a fullsize cornershop, rolled out corporate applications and managed a youth club for 47 kids. I’m a man, I can do this, right?
However, one important thing to remember…
…DO NOT TOILET TRAIN YOUR SON WHEN GOING ON A ROADTRIP!
As usual, the car was packed the evening before, so all we had to do was to clean the house. We always do this and I actually don’t know why. It seems to be the weirdest thing in the World to do, as nobody is going to be in the house while we are gone. I can understand to remember flushing the toilets and empty the bins so it doesn’t smell, but clean and vacuum the entire house. Is it because the house should look nice in case we get unwanted visits from a burglar or TV repair guy?
We started early (ish) in the morning and dropped the dogs off with our German hundelieber. He was his normal cheerful and charming dog whisper self, not caring about human beings at all, and more focused on how Angel is doing. Next stop Belfast – roadtrip!!!
As soon as we arrived in Belfast, we searched for a place to eat. It seems to be the first thing on parents mind to avoid unnecesary hassle, so we went to the famous pub “The Crown“. As the name would suggest, it used to be a unionist pub. I will explain the history of Northern Ireland in another blog.
After lunch we wanted to do something for the kids, and dragged them to the Disney store – we do love our kids, despite how this might look. They were absolutely delighted with their new pyjamases.
Belfast is a lovely town and it is easy to walk around to see all the sights. In fact most of the sights are gathered around City Hall or within 10 minutes walking distance. We saw the rest of the sights from the car, while leaving in a cloud of dust, heading towards motorway A2 towards Torr Head. At this point, shortly after lunch, it started to rain / drizzle, which faithfully continued for the next 4 days. How do you think the isle got its nickname Emerald Isle?
We left the hectic “metropolis” behind us and headed towards the unknown, a small town called Cushendun. I have absolutely no idea to pronounce it, so I must have sounded like a complete idiot when I asked for directions or told people where we were headed. That goes for most of the areas we visited in Northern Ireland, I didn’t (and still don’t) know how to pronounce these fecking words; Cushendun, Cushendall, Larne, Broughshane, Donaghadee – a UK dictionary doesn’t even know how to spell these words. How are use meant to get proper directions, when you have to guess the pronouncation and deal with the lovely Northern Irish accent? Why can’t they just call it something with “Kill” like the Irish do most of their towns – yet another blog I guess.
We were meant to go to Carrickfergus, but because of the rain, we decided that an outdoor activity wouldn’t be ideal. My wife had suggested bow and arrow for the kids, but I just wouldn’t feel too comfortable standing next to my kids with a slippery lethal weapons. The arrow might just “slip” and hit daddy’s arse.
So, next stop was Larne on the coast, to watch dolphins and whales. I was actually pretty excited about this, but the balloon was quickly deflated as we approached the coast. Visibility was less than 5 meters and it was still raining. The only way we would see a whale was if we were hit or swallowed by one, which I’m sure my daughter’s school principal wouldn’t accept as an excuse to miss first day back.
We continued North along the coast on the A2. The scenery was stunning, even in the rain. We (I) managed to get out to take photos and they turned out fairly well, despite having to cover the lens with a see-through plastic bag. My wife was acting as the National Geographic photographer and developed a brilliant method of taking wildlife and scenery pictures, by not leaving the car, simply by rolling down the windows or sticking the camera out of the sunroof. We have some amazing close-up pictures of the roof rail, so now I know where the car machine wash / brushes doesn’t reach – thanks sweetie!
20 miles from Cushendun, where we were staying the first night, we discovered that the well organised husband had forgotten the beautifully created and printed travel booklet in the house, containing all the sights and contact details for our adventures, including B&B + Hotel directions and contact details. At that moment, my left shoulder received more dummy hits than ever before, leaving my arm useless for approx. 36 minutes – it’s a fun thing my wife and I have, where we hit each other gently, when we’ve done something stupid. But, there was nothing friendly about these punches today. My wife had to call her mum and persuade her to go to our house (politely asking the TV repair man to vacate the house) and talk her through how to email it to me. Yes, a totally redeemed myself by pulling out the Mac Air from the boot of the car and a 3G broadband connection. This sound a lot easier than it was, and believe, I could see my wife’s frantic eyes as she explained the simple steps to her mum, in Spanish – I don’t speak Spanish, but somehow I understood every word my wife said, through her teeth, controlling her South American spirit.
– We got the directions, thanks Aubuela (grandma in Spanish – I hope)
As we approached the B&B a strong smell of human faeces spread in the car, a silent killer. Again, my son managed to carry out a well planned sneak attacj and had relaxed his bowel, just as we were passed the city limits of Cushendun. Remember, we were toilet training our son, which includes NOT wearing a diaper. The last 2 miles to the B&B were painfully long.
It was a lovely B&B and the owner was a very friendly elderly womanr. We VERY quickly checked in and the family barely met the owner, as we ran up the stairs to quickly clean our son in the shower. My first duty was to clean the car seat, in pissing rain. Thereafter, we went to the village for dinner.
Cushendun is a small coastal village, with probably 200 residents and one pub. We had a simple, but nice dinner, and my daughter spilled her 7up on my pants as we sat down – the only pair of pants that I naively brought.
One thing we discovered throughout the entire stay in Northern Ireland was that eating out was so much cheaper than in Ireland; dinner, desserts and drinks for less than £35.
Nothing to see in Cushendun, so we continued North on the A2 coastal route towards Torr Head. Thank God for our GPS. We found Torr Head and all the other sights we wanted to see on the journey, despite having a few arguments with the GPS lady when taking a turn too early.
The next couple of days we stayed in a small country hotel in Coleraine, using it as a base. One thing that surprised us was that Northern Ireland is so small and by day 2 we had seen most of the sights on the list. Everything seemed to be within 10-15 miles of each other, so we simply took eash sight as they appeared on the map (GPS).
They extra added bonus was that the hotel in Coleraine had a swimming-pool, which we could use freely, to the amusement and delight of our kids. We spent all Friday afternoon floating in the pool. And, to my pleasure I discovered the hotel’s sauna and wanted to show my kids these Scandinavian traditions. So, we ventured in and sat down on the warm wooden benches. I think the nice warm air made my son relax as he, shortly after entering, peed on the floor – time to leave.
Next stop, Carrick-a-Rede rope bridge which is, according to my wife’s research on the Net, one of the most dangerous rope bridges in the World. My wife developed a fear of heights during our first visit to Mexico, so now she checks all attractions on the Web, prior to going there. And, she will try to persuade me not to try these things or what safety clothes to wear. Despite my wife’s warnings, I walked the bridge and it was not a pleasant experience. Keep in mind, it was windy and rainy, so I had to kneel down slightly to be shorter and not feel the bridge swaying so much – my wife has the perfect height for this challenge.
My family stood on safe ground, in the rain and wind, watching me cross this hurdle. You have to put on a brave face when your kids are watching, but the rain hid the sweat of fear well. Not only did you have to cross it to get to the island, but there is only one way across, so I had to return the same way. I have proof.
After that adrenalin rush, we visited the Giant’s Causeway, which is an true eye-opener. The shapes of the rocks really make you wonder how these were made; some say cooling lava and other people say a giant made these. I believe the latter of course. You can’t explain the sight to anybody, you simply have to go there yourself.
My daughter developed a new fearless skill while visiting the Giant’s Causeway – climbing – to the horror and fear of my wife. You can imagine how my wife reacted when my daughter and I climbed up one of the cliffs to look over the edge. Needless to say, she nearly passed out while filming. She managed to get all the visitors to stop and be quiet, as she screamed “NOOOOOOOOO” to us, to stop us moving further up. I think all visitors thought they had done something wrong too, and some started to run back towards the visitor centre for cover.
Beside those two amazing sights, we saw a lot of nice castles (ruins) and beautiful landscape. We did go to Portrush to visit the famous Barry’s Entertainment, but walking in a fun-fair in pissing rain is not my idea of fun.
What else did we see? Bushmills Distillery, Derry (or should I say Londonderry), Omagh, Armagh, Newry, Belfast, Ballycastle, Downhill and of course the ring-roads around Coleraine. Not much to say about these towns, other than Derry was probably the nicest of these towns, once you found the old city wall. Other than that, they look similar to Irish towns.
One of the more off the beaten track sights is the Beaghmore Stone Circles. I though that this would be an Irish version of Stonehenge, based on the pictures on the web, bit this is were having a great camera can twist reality slightly. We drove 7 miles on tiny country roads, barely visible on the GPS screen and arrived at the desitnation (according to the GPS). All we saw was a couple of grass fields, but then I spotted a pile of rocks. We entered the field and were welcomed by a small sign explaining the site and saw 7 tiny stone circles. The entire site was probably half the size of a football field. But, at least we can say we’ve seen it. 🙂
What amazed and worried us, was the amount of unionist dominated towns in Northern Ireland still dislaying their support to the Union Jack, by painting every possible thing red, blue and white. I’ve seen this in Belfast, but didn’t expect so far North of Belfast. Painting the sidewalks, lamp posts, walls, etc. is something that kids would do, but this had clearly been organised by adults. Also, it must cost a fortune in paint, but at the same time, it keeps the local paintshop in business. Why somebody would go to such an extreme is beyond me and also somewhat scary. Imagine how we felt, when stopping for a red light, with our Irish license plates. We absolutely had to take pictures of this and this was done quickly – so, most of these pictures are slightly blurry. If you read this paragraph and get offended by my ignorance, then please explain it to me.
As we headed back towards Ireland on our last day, we had planned to get pub food. But, to our amazement, most pubs are closed on Sundays in Northern Ireland, or VERY difficult to find. Not too sure why. We went through small villages, off the beaten track, through large towns and country roads, but didn’t spot a pub that server carvery food. We actually made it all the way back to Dublin and had dinner 2 miles from our house, in Pizza Hut.
Man, the kids were delighted to back in the house and so were we. My daughter told us she had loads of fun in the swimming-pool, but the rest was pretty boring – well, she did enjoy the rock climbing and watching movies in the car. Our son was delighted with his newly washed car seat and the movies too.
Of the 9 point agenda I sat out to complete, my wife did most things, except cleaning me (damn!). I forgot the printed itinerary, which was a joy for my wife as she got to punch me and a pain as she had to provide tech support for her mum. We, the adults, probably enjoyed the sights and trip more than the kids. But, it was very nice spending time with the family, just the 4 of us in a car, for 4 days. What could possible go wrong? 🙂
Would we recommend visiting Northern Ireland and go back? Absolutely.