I have to say, this past week was an absolute dream. I look back and I kind of doubt the existence of everything that happened to me.
I think the easiest way to do this would be to go day by day so here we go:
Saturday November 2nd:
-Woke up at 5 am, if you consider waking up rolling out of bed when your alarm goes off even though you didn't sleep a wink.
-Took me about an hour to eat, shower, and do last minute packing and I was out the door by 6 am and on the tube by 6:45.
-Made it to my terminal safe and sound, got on the plane, and was safely in Belfast Airport by 11:00 where I was greeted by Sidney and Jean Garland
-We immediately headed out on an adventure to Saint Georges Market in Belfast City Center. It was massive and really wonderful, not touristy at all. There was delicious food, clothing, art, and even animals far sale and on your entire promenade through the market you were accompanied by a really wonderful live cover band. It really was a lovely reintroduction back to Ireland :)
-We then headed to a center that was dedicated to preserving Irish culture, had a cup of tea, and listened to a few people about my age play a little Irish music.
-After that Sid and Jean took me around the city and showed me a ton of street art that is dedicated to the "Troubles", a time in Belfast when Catholics and Protestants were in a massive battle of disagreement which resulted in absolutely terrible violence. He also showed me a wall built between the Catholic and Protestant neighborhoods to provide protection and which still stands today in case things begin to get bad again between the two groups. Seeing all of this was massively eye opening for me. I never really understood the extent of the troubles within Ireland and it's frightening to think that the potential for the conflict to return is still present.
|Bank of Ireland with broken in windows and covered in different graffiti that pushes for human rights.|
-Next we head to the MAC which is like an art exhibition center with a beautiful stage and multiple galleries with in it. They had this really cool exhibition up about the power of tears and how as humans we are affected by the different presentation of human emotion. It was really powerful.
-From there we walked over to Saint Ann's Cathedral which was absolutely stunning, other than this ridiculous medal spike they had sitting on top of the building. It looked very out of place but I was told it was only temporary until they could afford to build a new spire. I really hope so for their sake...
|A tapestry made in honor of the Titanic. Everything is made of smaller crosses equaling the numbers of victims.|
- We then headed to Sid and Jeans apartment were I crashed on the couch for a solid two hours
-I later woke to the delicious smell of home made lasagna which I proceeded to treat myself to two servings of.
-After dinner we went to a night of classic Irish and Scottish music. It really was a fun concert with a comedic act between each performance.
-When we arrived back home, I was more than ready to hit the hay
Sunday November 3rd:
-Woke up to find Jean was not feeling very well and had actually been sick all night. She decided she wasn't up for church so Sid and I set out on our own.
-The church service was really lovely and I got to meet the Pastor on my way out.
-Went to pick up granny Maisie to bring her back to Sid and Jeans for her 89th birthday celebration!
-By the time we got home, I realized I wasn't feeling too well myself but considering family was beginning to show up I pulled myself together.
-We were also celebrating Charlie (Sid and Jeans grandsons) 6th birthday so he entered with quite a bit of excitement, presenting his new birthday gifts for all to see.
|Last time I saw him he couldn't even walk yet...|
-Dinner followed. Didn't really eat it....
-After dinner was cake but not before Sid and Jeans daughter Anna announced she in pregnant with her first child!
|Babies are coming!!!|
-We then planned to go on a walk after dinner but I really wasn't feeling well at this point so I went and laid down in my room.
-4 hours later the family was all gone and I was haveing quite the disgusting vomiting experience.
-The night concluded with watching "North & South" between bouts of sickness
Monday November 4th:
-Woke up the next morning still feeling a little sick and slightly light headed but I wasn't going to let my sickness get in the way of the days adventures!
-After picking up Maisie we headed out on our day trip to county Armagh to visit some relatives.
|Grace and I|
|From Left: Maisie, Me, Grace, and Sid|
|From Left: Maisie, Me, Grace, Jean|
|Wesley and Genes home|
|More cake for the birthday girl!!!|
|From left: Wesley, Gene, Me, Maisie, Johnathan, and Jean|
-After food, we headed out onto the farm and took a look around at all the milking equipment. After hearing of my adoring love of farm animals, Johnathan led me out to a field where his mothers three pet sheep resided. He then called to them and as soon as they heard his voice their heads flipped around and they began to gallop at us. Now if you know anything about me and animals, you have to know I was own cloud nine. Here come these giant fluffy sheep just for me to pet and cuddle!! Oh, but my animal excitement does not stop there.
|Johnathan and his father Wesley|
|Look at them though!! SO CUTE!|
-Next up is a cameo from an absolutely ADORABLE kitten who I fell absolutely in love with. She was so cute and I managed to cuddle with her for about 45 minutes. I just like, I can't get over her still. The absolute cutest thing ever.
|Kitty followed me everywhere!!|
|Cuddles for days :D|
-On the way to our last stop we stopped at Killylea Train Station where my Great Great Great Grandfather Charles was a signal man.
-The final stop of our journey was at Mae's dairy farm which is much larger and more corporate then Wesley and Genes. We enjoyed some light conversation, had a tour around the farm, and ate a bit more before we made the last trek back to Belfast.
|The tower my great great great grandfather would have worked in.|
|View from on top of the hill where Meas house and barn are.|
|Baby cows everywhere!!!|
-We were all exhausted by the time we got home and ended up just watching The BBC and chit chatting for the rest of the night.
Tuesday November 5th:
-Woke up feeling even healthier than the day before and ready for an even bigger adventure, The Giants Causeway!!
-The weather was supposed to be rain off and on all day but that didn't put off Sid and I, we were quite determined.
-On our way we stopped on this road that was home to The Dark Hedges. These are trees that were planted by the Stuart Family in the 18th century as a way to frame the road leading up to their estate. Over the years these trees have grown into these massive beasts that entwine over the road creating this very creepy setting. They were fascinating to look at and I'd love to see them in the Spring or Summer when their covered in leaves.
-Next stop was the Giants Causeway. By the time we parked outside the welcome center there looked like there was a little rain on it's way but absolutely blue skies after that so we decided we'd wait a little bit before heading out onto the causeway and have a bite to eat.
|The brand new welcome center opened under a year ago. It has won a lot of awards for architecture and how environmentally friendly it is.|
-Once it looked back to clear skies we headed out to probably one of the most absolutely stunning places I have ever had the privilege of being in my life. Breaking it down bit by bit is some what difficult but I have plenty of pictures to do the talking for me. The problem is, no matter how gorgeous these pictures look, they are absolutely nothing compared to actually being there. With the help of pure blue skies, I spent hours climbing the massive cliffs of this causeway and just gazing out at the never ending beauty that surrounded me. I made a wish in the wishing chair, I climbed out to the edge of the causeway, I touched the pipes of the stone organ, and I reached the top of the cliffs and had my breath taken away by both the view of the ocean and the view behind me, just never ending rolling hills of green. Standing there, I was able to really appreciate how magical this whole experience really is. And so begins the spam of Giants Causeway pictures:
|Bay of Cows|
|The Giants Cauesway|
|Standing on The Giants Causeway|
|The wishing chair|
|Standing on The Giants Causeway|
|Finn McCouls boot|
|"They say when smoke is rising from the chimney, Finn McCoul is home."|
|Guys! I found rocks!!|
|The Organ in the stone|
|The Giants Causeway from on top of the cliffs|
|I can not tell you how many rainbows I saw that day. If you look closely you can actually see it's a double rainbow :)|
|On top of the cliffs|
|I found the leprechaun at the end of the rainbow!!!|
-After the Causeway I made a quick stop in the gift shop and then we concluded the day with a nice drive along the coast. We made one last stop in Ballintoy Harbor where they filmed an episode of "Game of Thrones". I geeked out quite a bit in that moment!
|Excuse me while I nerd out for a moment.|
-Finally made it back to the house and I packed up to leave the next evening
Wednesday November 6th (My last day in Ireland):
-Started the day with my last meal with both Jean and Sid.
-Sid then dropped Jean and I off in the center of town so i could do a little shopping. I ended up getting an absolutely beautiful Irish wool sweater which I will treasure for all my days.
|And we are not going to talk about how much this cost me...|
-Next Jean brought me to this really tall glass atrium that allows you to look out at the whole of Belfast. It was really lovely, even though the sky was littered with clouds.
|Samson and Goliath, the ship cranes.|
-Jean then walked me over to the Titanic exhibition where we said our final goodbye for my trip.
|The Titanic Exhibition|
|Sculpture outside of the exhibition|
-The Titanic Exhibition was absolutely wonderful! It brought you through the history of Belfast which lead up to the development of the ship building trade, the pre-planes of the ship, the actual building of the Titanic (which included a fun little ride through the "construction site"), the details of the interior (including crew and passengers), an incredible virtual tour of the ship that made you feel like you were actually in the room, and then finally to the sinking, the rediscovery of the ship, and the legacy of the Titanic's tale. It was fascinating and I spent a good 3 or 4 hours going through the entire thing.
-After, I grabbed a snack at the cafe, spoiled myself at the gift shop, and then headed out to the pier.
-Behind the exhibition is a massive pier as well as the Titanic Studios where "Game of Thrones" is very often filmed. So I ultimately had to go sit right outside the fence to the studio and watched them get ready for that evenings filming. There were a ton of people running around and all kinds of cool props sitting outside that looked very very much like things I'd seen on the show before. It's suffice to say I sat there for about an hour before I realized it was almost time to catch my plane.
-I called Sid and he picked me up and then dropped me off at Belfast airport, where we said our last goodbyes of my trip.
-My flight went very smoothly and I was back at Queen Mary by 8:30pm
And that's my trip to Ireland! I really can never thank Sid and Jean enough for being the best hosts ever. They really treated me and I can promise that I will never forget this trip. It was strange going back to Ireland because I had the same feeling in my gut as I did the first time I visited. It was kind of like a coming home. After my first visit I always said Ireland felt like a second home to me but through the years I began to think maybe I was just fantasizing my image of the country. But as soon as I saw the landscape below me, I knew I hadn't been wrong 6 years ago. Ireland has an incredibly special place in my heart and if I had the ability I would take everyone I know there just so they could experience how wonderful it is. I really can't wait to go back again, and this time I am NOT waiting another 6 years.
P.S. Post about Stratford-Upon Avon to come this weekend!