A Travellerspoint blog

What's in a name?

semi-overcast 9 °C
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Right, time to explore Ulster… First stop Carrickfergus Castle. We had the place all to ourselves, and got to enjoy the views and play dress ups without any other pesky tourists around to spoil the fun. Oh the joy of Ireland in winter! From there we took the coastal route north, stopping in for a coffee in Ballycastle because sometimes you just need to stop and have a break from all the rolling green hills and sun fading away slowly over the sea…
We arrived in Coleraine (a little different from its Victorian namesake) and then promptly disappeared to Portrush to make it in time for the early bird dinner special. It was absolutely well worth it – one of the best meals we’ve had on the trip, and I imagine Simon will still be raving about those crispy pork tortillas in another six months.
The next morning we set off for The Dark Hedges, famous for being a filming location for Game of Thrones and supposedly a stunning road where the trees form an arch. Sorry Hedges – but you need to lift your game. There was more ambience from the trees that line the driveway at Glenormiston College, and we’ve been down more beautiful roads driving to Adelaide. Points for trying, but I wasn’t much impressed. On the plus side, we did manage to be there on our own, as we arrived just as the Paddy Wagon tour bus left and then we left just as the Finn MacCool tour bus arrived.
Our second stop was much betterer – Carrick-a-rede rope bridge. And I don’t think we have ever been greeted with such enthusiasm and genuine warmth from a parking attendant before! There were all the usual suspects – green hills, blue seas, crashing white waves – plus the slightly unusual opportunity to walk across a rope bridge onto a small island. The bridge had a tendency to wobble somewhat in the middle but was nowhere near as terrifying as they would have you believe. And it was well worth it to be able to stand on the island and spot Scotland hiding in the distance.
Once we’d had our fill of Ireland’s natural beauty, we headed to the Old Bushmills Distillery to sample some of the manmade beauty. We had a tour and a tasting, and then found a café that sold delicious scones that were really more like the love child of a scone and a muffin. Mmm.
We went home via the Europcar depot in Coleraine to get permission to take Spud into the ‘south’, the Republic of Ireland and were struck, yet again, by the sheer and utter friendliness of Irish people. You’d think we’d have become accustomed to it by now.
Dinner was back in Portrush, where we sought to challenge ourselves by trying to choose dessert from the vast array of options on display. Oh it’s a tough life.
On Wednesday we headed to Londonderry aka Derry aka Doire… and arrived perfectly in time for a walking tour with John McNulty, The Most Irish Man Of All Time. He was everything you want from a tour guide – hilarious, knowledgeable, and able to talk while walking backwards. Winning at life. We walked the walls and saw the city from on high, and then saw the city at street level. We saw the murals of The Fountain (‘no surrender’) and of Bogside (‘you are now entering Free Derry’) and we also saw a less political mural advertising a nearby Italian restaurant. Catholic, Protestant, atheist – we’ve all got to eat.
We went to the Museum of Free Derry, and were shown to a room that contained a slideshow on the events and the aftermath of Bloody Sunday. We were amazed to discover that it was an actual, genuine, real live, oldschool slide projector. Fan-bloody-tastic. Stevie T would have been impressed.
We finished our day in Derry at the Guildhall, which had some seriously specky stained glass windows and an interesting exhibit about the “Plantation” of Ulster – and not the tree sort of plantation, but the plantation that involves English and Scottish settlers being planted into Ireland.
Learning for the day done, we drove into the Repulic of Ireland with little more fanfare than a sign advising that speed limits were now in kilometres rather than miles. This may change once Brexit becomes a reality, but for now, we popped across the border with ease and with a distinct lack of customs or passport control. We arrived in Carrigans, checked into our apartment, put a load of washing on and just generally rocked out in a most domestic way.
We missed Northern Ireland so much, that we went straight back again the next day. Bizarrely, we drove south to get back into 'The North'. Back into miles, back into pounds, and off to the Ulster American Folk Park. I hate to harp on, but the people there were stupidly friendly too – the Irish have a wonderful way of asking where you’re from, and then saying “you’re very welcome to <insert place name here>”. It makes you feel like a guest of honour, every single time, even when they fail to pick your Australian accent and ask what part of England you are from. Either people here need to work on their accent-detection skills, or we need to broaden our drawl.
Anyways – the day was spent learning about patterns of Irish emigration, with a particular focus on those who headed across the Atlantic to America. It was a Sovereign-Hill type establishment, with buildings (original and replicas) showing the different living conditions of people from different backgrounds in Ulster and in the New World. Again, the joy of touring in off-season meant that we saw only seven other people the whole time we were there. And no rain to ruin the outdoor experience either! Several days without rain… Ireland may be declaring a state of drought if this continues much longer. We shall be sure to enjoy it while it lasts.

Posted by Buccas 14:00 Archived in Ireland Comments (0)

H is for haitch

semi-overcast 10 °C
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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!

Posted by Buccas 12:56 Archived in Ireland Comments (0)

To whom it may concern

semi-overcast 6 °C
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Dear Stena Line,
Thankyou for transporting my husband and I from Liverpool to Belfast safely. I really appreciate your efforts in that regard. I did not, however, appreciate being told to vacate my cabin half an hour before arriving in Belfast, only to have to stand and loiter in the foyer for an hour. I did not appreciate that I could not leave the boat until 10 minutes AFTER the bus into Belfast city was scheduled to leave. I did not appreciate having to catch a taxi (although I did appreciate the taxi driver’s accent – from now on, I will ALWAYS pronounce ‘rain’ with two distinct syllables).
Yours sincerely,

Dear Taxi Driver,
Thankyou for transporting my husband and I from the boat terminal into Belfast city centre safely – top effort. I was very impressed by the fact that you seemed to know where you were going, and appreciated the update on the current state of Northern Ireland politics. You made an excellent suggestion about where to find a café serving breakfast in the wee hours (at the ‘top of the morning’, as it were) and it was very thoughtful of you to point us in the direction of the Europcar office. I would like to suggest, however, that next time you encounter passengers in the same situation, that you point them in the CORRECT direction of the Europcar office, rather than sending them the wrong way down the road, to the Avis and Budget hire car facilities.
Yours faithfully,

Dear Europcar,
I wish to acknowledge the exceptionally friendly customer service we received when collecting Spud from your depot. Spud is a particularly fetching shade of blue, and Simon is thrilled to bits to be driving such a stylish vehicle.

Posted by Buccas 14:31 Archived in Ireland Comments (0)

From the 'field to the 'pool

100th entry - whoo!

6 °C
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Museum Monday. We threw ourselves into Macclesfield’s heritage by visiting the Silk Museum and having a tour of ‘Paradise Mill’ (a silk mill that was operational until 1981) which was more interesting than I had expected. I’ll be honest, I was really just going because a) it was close by and b) it was something to do that didn’t involve getting wet or muddy. I ended up rather enjoying myself. Even if I did have to argue with Simon about the finer details of weaving. Let the record show that I was right – but Simon earned back some brownie points in the afternoon by finding a new, very pleasant walking route that involved a lot less mud than the other routes we’d been taking. And then after dinner, Simon embraced the proximity of the cinema and the availability of three pound tickets to go and see Collateral Beauty. Because when there’s a cinema across the road, you damned well make the most of it.
Our last two days of housesitting went by without too much excitement – just the usual dog-walking shenanigans. And on Wednesday night, our homeowners returned. On Thursday morning, someone new arrived to take our place – not as a housesitter, but as a potential tenant. Out with the old, in with the new. Such is life.
We trained our way from Macclesfield to Stockport, and then from Stockport to Liverpool. We left our suitcases at the train station for a modest fee – totally worth it to be able to roam the city unencumbered. First stop – lunch, and warmth. Second stop – find a big yellow superlambanana in the cold and the wind and the rain. Third stop – go to the World Museum and stay there until it closed because it was a) free b) warm and c) interesting. There was plenty of people-watching to be had, so I was able to indulge in one of my favourite hobbies in very comfortable conditions. One of the highlights was the lady wearing a mustard off-the-shoulder dress, an Akubra and a dead rat draped around her shoulders. Classy with a capital K.
As dinner time approached, we started reminiscing about our previous visit to Liverpool, way back in 2012. Those of you who are obsessively stalking me and committing every detail of my life to memory may recall that on that occasion we had dinner at the Pizza Express near Albert Dock, and ended up running back to our hotel in the rain. We were feeling nostalgic about the whole experience, so decided to make our way to that very same Pizza Express. We enjoyed the warmth, we enjoyed the pizza, and we enjoyed chatting with the rather bubbly Polish waiter. And then we enjoyed watching the rain turn into snow, until we remembered that we had to get back to the train station at some stage that evening. Bah. Seemed that we had cursed ourselves with all our ‘remember the last time we were in Liverpool’ reflections. Fun fact: you don’t get as wet running through the snow as you would if you were running through the rain. But it is bloody cold.
Right. So we made it back to the train station, collected our bags, and cabbed it to the Stena Line port. We checked in for our voyage, I had my luggage searched in order to meet the security guard’s quota for the night, and all five of us foot passengers boarded the bus, which then boarded the boat.
As we were about to set off for the evening crossing, the captain uttered the second-worst seven word phrase you could hope to hear: “Tonight’s crossing will be moderate-to-rough”. (The worst seven word phrase would be “Tonight’s crossing will be really really rough”, or maybe “Tonight’s crossing will be re-enacting the Titanic”.) We laughed in the face of danger, and set ourselves up for a game of cards, and then Simon went and had a private screening of the most recent Star Trek movie for FREE. What ninking! Probably lucky that it had been free because the noise of the engine made large chunks of dialogue inaudible. The movement of the boat also made keeping still quite the challenge, and I was glad to have a cabin and a bed to retire to for the next eight hours. Irish Sea – do your worst!

Posted by Buccas 14:08 Archived in England Comments (0)

Cheshire Cats

overcast 7 °C
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Right, back to work! Or back to the closest thing we’ve come to work in the past year, anyway… Monday morning found us being dropped at the Leeds train station with all our goods and chattels and making our way by train to Manchester. We stopped for a spot of lunch and a perusal of the shops before continuing to Macclesfield to commence our final spot of housesitting. Our host, John, was an Irish version of the Chief, so we felt right at home right away. John and Jane showed us how the house worked and introduced us to the routine of Cora and Skye, and 2 year old Ralph showed us how many olives he could eat in one sitting while his mother, Siobhan, finished packing.
On Tuesday there was the usual panic relating to passports, boarding passes and making it to the airport on time – but for a change, it was not our problem. We got to spend the day calmly watching DVDs, making soup (leftover vegies strike again) and just enjoying life. Simon really enjoyed the location of this latest housesit because it was directly across the road from the cinema. And so off he went to watch the latest Star Wars while I supervised the dogs snoozing. Tough gig.
Wednesday was just your average day, really – walk the dogs through the mud, go to Tesco (conveniently located just behind the cinema), and then head to the film society screening of ‘Adam’s Apples’ in the evening. Nothing like a good Danish black comedy to make life interesting. It was almost like being at a Corangamite Film Society screening, except that there was no supper afterwards. I missed my DJ’s sponge cake, that’s for sure.
We had the company of a plumber for nearly half of the next day – we learned what was wrong with the boiler (don’t worry – it was a pre-existing problem, not caused by our negligence!) as well as learning about everything that was wrong with the world these days. Once our plumbing was up to scratch, we took the dogs for a walk to Prestbury, a nearby village. The mud was nowhere near as squelchy this time because the ground was frozen solid. The disadvantage of that was that it was cold. The advantage of that was that it was much easier to walk on. Prestbury turned out to be a pretty little spot on the river with plenty of squirrels to excite Cora. Simon discovered the hard way that Cora had decided that she was MY dog when he tried to take the dogs around the block without me – Cora pulled all her 35kg of weight against him and refused to budge. We all walked home together with the sun setting over the hills of Cheshire. Pictureskew.
The next morning we headed off for our walk early, before the rain became too heavy. The route had become familiar already – cross the road at the perpetual green man, stop to scratch in the gardens, cross the bridge at the overpass, past the beauty salon called “Flabelos”… now I’m no marketing genius, but I’m pretty sure if I had a beauty salon it would not have the word “flab” in it. It didn’t seem to be putting off potential clients of Macclesfield though – every day, the carpark was full of fancy shmancy vehicles. Maybe flab means something I don’t know about… Anyway, past the flabby beauty salon and into Riverside Park where every man and his dog was walking his… err, dog.
We finally got around to being tourists and popped into the Heritage Centre (across the road, next to the cinema – do you get the point about our good location yet?) and were greeted with the stern reminder that it was NOT the Silk Museum. Still, we learned a little about the button and silk heritage of Macclesfield before enjoying the coffee and cake facilities.
On Saturday we upped the tourism ante and caught a bus to Buxton, a spa town in the Peak District. This would have been an incredibly scenic bus ride if it weren’t for the fact that fog was completely obscuring our view. Never mind. The fog was slightly less dense in Buxton, and we could appreciate the view from the top of The Slopes and we also appreciated the view of the leadlight roof in the shopping centre. There was also a chocolate shop (it would have been rude not to try something…) and some serious scaffolding going on around the old baths complex.
We strolled through the Pavilion Park, which had everything you could want from a park – squirrels, a miniature train (safely locked up for the winter), ducks, trees, and playground equipment big enough to handle ninks. For the record, the flying fox works perfectly well.
We found the Buxton Opera House, which led us on to the Buxton Tap House, an excellent facility serving delicious beers and equally delicious food. Again, it would have been rude not to try it… Once we had been fed and watered, we headed in the direction of Solomon’s Temple but were thwarted in our mission by some serious mud and a serious lack of path. Instead we opted for the clearly-defined main street and soaked up the Buxton vibe before catching the bus back home.
Team Lancashire popped in for a visit on Sunday – Rosie was very pleased to meet the dogs (and also pleased to discover that we still had chocolate left over from Christmas). We found a pub for lunch just down the road, and scored half price meals. Pretty much everything seems to shut down in Britain in January, and in a desperate attempt to lure people out of hibernation the White Lion had the brilliant idea of giving people 50% off all food in January. Winner.
We did some shopping and some cup of tea drinking with the Lancashires, and then we had to farewell them properly. Rosie got right into the swing of things, waving “byeeeeee!” with great fervour and enthusiasm until they were well out of sight. It felt strange to say goodbye and mean it – for the past year, ‘goodbye’ has really just been ‘see you in another month or so when we arrive back on your doorstep after visiting some randomly chosen European location’, but this time it was ‘goodbye until we all have enough money and annual leave to book flights halfway around the world’. I tried to console myself with watching episodes of Gladiators from the early 90s, but it didn’t quite fill the void. Sad panda.

Posted by Buccas 12:41 Archived in England Comments (0)

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