13.01.2017 - 15.01.2017 10 °C
We set off to Portadown in the crisp morning air, with a delicate layer of snow covering the countryside. We passed a truck with a slogan painted on its side that left us quite confused as to what it could possibly be transporting – “The rooster may crow but the hen delivers the goods”. I’m not sure if the truck driver was supposed to be the hen…?
We found Portadown, and even more important, we found Jen! We caught up on all the happenings of the past year while en route back to Belfast, and met up with Jen’s old friend (and our new friend) Emma, from Noorat. Because Corangamite. Aaaaand because we are under contractual obligations to catch up with at least one Emma when visiting Belfast.
Jen lead us through some amazing alleyways with murals and lights, and some less amazing alleyways without murals and lights, and eventually got us to the Dirty Onion where we had some seriously good burritos and chicken and chips. 5 pounds will get you a long way in some places, and this was one of them. We washed it all down with a pint of Guinness (Emma’s first!) and then sorted out all the problems of the world. There are quite a few at the moment, so it took quite a while…
We made the most of the sunshine and ambled about the streets of Belfast, taking in the Big Fish which we have since discovered is the Salmon of Knowledge. I think Swan Hill needs to get Arnold recognised as the Cod of Sporting Prowess or somesuch! Imagine the tourism boom…
Large sea creatures aside, we also wandered around the Titanic Quarter until we decided that it wasn’t fun any more and we made tracks back to Portadown for dinner. Emma bravely managed to keep her eyes open long enough to eat some spag bol – having flown in from America that morning she was feeling understandably fatigued – and then we left the present and future au pairs to rest peacefully in their home. We were pretty keen for some shut-eye too – and we enjoyed the experience of sleeping in a bed that didn’t move with the waves…
The next morning we found ourselves engaged in a long conversation with our Airbnb host, Eimear – who repeatedly stated that she didn’t really like talking but couldn’t seem to stop herself. Having grown up during The Troubles, she had some interesting stories to tell, and we were keen to listen. She reflected on the time that a man was shot dead quite close to where she and her friends were playing, and how (at the time) the worst part of that was that she had to be holed up in the Post Office for the afternoon, which was incredibly boring. Apparently one of the ways that you could ‘tell’ if someone was Catholic or Protestant was in the way they pronounced the letter ‘H’ – Catholics would say ‘haitch’, Protestants would say ‘aitch’. I made a mental note to apologise to any of my Catholic friends whom I had persecuted for what I had taken to be incorrect pronunciations but on reflection now appear to be inadvertent discrimination on the basis of religion. Sorry folks. Eimear filled us in on the current political situation, and managed to be cautiously optimistic about the future of the island of Ireland. We shall just have to wait and see.
All this conversation made me quite hungry, so we headed into town for lunch. We tried to revisit Same Happy, but discovered that it was closed on Saturdays. Boo. Ne’er mind – we walked on in the rain (which always feels wetter in Ireland than anywhere else… except for maybe Malta), through the botanic gardens and into the Ulster Museum. Simon was expecting it to be a museum ABOUT Ulster, rather than a museum IN Ulster, so you can imagine his surprise when he discovered a triceratops peeking out from behind a wall when we lined up for some soup.
We focused our attentions on the exhibitions relating to Ulster history, with a brief dabble in the other areas which included the periodic table, the Spanish Armada and underwater life. There were waaaaaaaaaaaaaay too many people there for my liking – and way too many of them were screaming children and adults who stood in front of the information that I was reading. I suppose that was to be expected on a rainy Saturday afternoon. We made for the relative sanctuary of Primark and met up with Jen and Emma, and then met up with a ginormous pizza of epic proportions. 24”. Smashed it. Excellent team work. We had a surprisingly tough time finding live music – we tried Kelly’s Cellar, Madden’s and finally struck gold at the Dirty Onion. And of course we checked the quality of the Guinness along the way…
We were at the Spar across the road by 7.30 the next morning, acquiring provisions for our day’s adventures. The road was deserted, the sky was dark – it seemed more like 5am. Equipped with sandwiches (ham and cheese, and a couple of PB sangas thrown in too for good measure), we picked up Jen and Emma and enjoyed a sunny drive to Newcastle. We arrived at the Slieve Donard carpark only to be confronted by a lot of runners in high vis lycra, but we didn’t let that put us off, and we embarked on the climb up the mountain.
We made the mistake of looking unsure of which path to take and were soon being talked at by a gentleman who knew the way to go but wouldn’t stop talking long enough to let us get on and go there. Eventually we prised ourselves out of the conversation and started trekking upwards. Simon was delighted to discover that Jen has the same tendency to declare forest areas as “dinosaur country”, and also taught her the art of saying “I’d love to go down that in a barrel” every time we encountered a waterfall-like device.
As we climbed ever upwards, we enjoyed the experience of the dual view – looking forward, there was the sight of the misty mountain tops and forest, and looking back, we could see the ocean and the township of Newcastle bathed in sun. Lovely. But as we got higher, the view became more obscured and the wind and the rain made themselves known. With a vengeance. We stopped to contemplate our next move, and were bailed up by two Irish ladies who told us that it wasn’t worth making it to the top of Northern Ireland’s highest peak. The view up there would have been rubbish, they said, especially with the cloud cover. And then they proceeded to tell us about all the other mountains that ARE worth climbing, and as we stood there in the bucketing rain and buffeting winds, I found myself cursing the friendliness of the Irish.
We made our way back down to the sunshine, and treated ourselves to cake by the ocean (which was actually amazing sundaes by the ocean, but we didn’t know any songs about that, so just go with it). Once we were full and warm and rested, we returned to Portadown for Chinese takeaway. This was actually a very culturally appropriate choice – Chinese food is incredibly popular in Ireland – and we even got chips with our meal. Yes. Chips. Because each main dish was served with our choice of rice OR chips. Because potatoes. Because Ireland.
After dinner, we popped over to meet Jen’s neighbours and were promptly lured into a game of Blind Man’s Bluff and treated to a concert performance by some enthusiastic and most definitely not shy young girls. Add to that a cosmo and a cup of tea, and that was our weekend all wrapped up with a bow. And it finished with the easiest goodbye we’ve had so far – see you back in Camperdown, Jen!