miercuri, 10 aprilie 2019

Giant's Causeway, Game of Thrones locations and other awesome sights to see in Ireland

There is nothing like the thrill of finally booking tickets to a cheap destination after hours of searching for one. And it just happened that Dublin was the cheapest we could find. Lucky for us, Ireland has awesome views, and if there was need for a proof, mull on this: over 10 Game of Thrones sets are peppered all over Northern Ireland alone. And you can visit all of them, of course.

How did we get here tho?

2 people flying from different locations will have a very hard time to find a location that works for both. When one finds sub 100 euro tickets for Malta, for example, the other one has to pay around 200 euros for their flight. Not acceptable, of course.
Then the whole thing repeats, with each new city, until you give up or have a fit. Dublin was the last one we checked (obviously!), where both of us ended paying under 100 euros for tix. It's really not worth paying more for a city break flight, so don't do it.

In our case it was more an island break rather than a city break. We rented a car from Hertz (bastards tricked me out of my money, and made me pay for the extra insurance...that or go renting somewhere else) and we set sail towards the north or Ireland. Destination for the day, Giant's Causeway.

Giant's Causeway

This is what I am talking about!

I've knew about this location for a while now but for reasons unknown, I was dead sure it's in Iceland. Imagine my surprise when it turned out to be 100 km north of Belfast. Ireland, Iceland...seems like a fair mistake, doesn't it? Just don't tell any Irishman I said that.

Thus, the Causeway became the obvious destination, for a first time visit to Éire (that's Ireland, in Irish, in case you skipped geography class in school).

As you get closer to the north coast, you will see tons of signs pointing in the Causeway's direction so it will be hard to miss.

And as you'd expect, it's chock full of tourists (yes, just like us), so I assume the best time to visit is in the morning. It was about 3 in the afternoon when we got there, so that opportunity was irredeemably lost.

There is a Tourist centre car park, which is obviously over priced. For a hefty sum you get parking, access to the tourist centre and some sort of guide. Think around 25£ for 2 people. I thanked the bloke in the parking lot and then looked for cheap parking nearby. Which we found, at the train station, for 6£/day. Or if you are more daring, you can do what the rogues were doing and park on some unoccupied strip of grass somewhere close, if you can find one.

After depositing your car nearby, a short 10 minute walk to the Causeway itself awaits. I assume you can also take a tour bus but we obviously didn't sine I don't like buses and I don't like tours.

Delightful sights, strong winds and the smell of the sea accompany you on your journey. If you are lucky, like we were, you get a sunny day, at it almost feels like you could take your jacket off. And then a "gentle breeze" reminds you it's still just April and you really need to keep your coat on. Summer is still a way off, stupid!

You can hop on and off all the stair shaped rocks and if you are so inclined, you can Parkour your way across the whole thing, to get some awesome kicks. I meandered up and down, left and right, always looking for the most interesting path to get from A to B. Finally those hundreds of hours of gaming paid off.

Obviously, everyone is doing the same, which means it's virtually impossible to get a shot without any people in it...

...unless you have my great photographic skills, of course (you're not allowed past this point, which means you can take pictures without people in them, so that might be how I got this shot. Might be).

Once you exhaust all rock-hopping possibilities, you are left with some kickass trails along the cliff you can choose from. So up we went.

This is about as far as you can go. Supposedly there are risks of landslides so the pathway is closed. Which is a bummer, since the path looks to be in very good condition. I guess the powers that be want to keep the good parts for themselves.

You are rewarded with some cool views of the Causeway from above, so it's totally worth the trek.

No filter. My phone does really take stunning pictures; and to think it's already 2 generations behind. I'm really curious to see how they advanced the technology with the new models.

Is this the way to Hobbiton, dear sirs?

Once you start climbing, you do have only two solutions. Up or down. New vistas or back the way you came?

We chose the first option, of course, and I recommend it as the 167 stairs are a quite a simple challenge. But if you don't feel like climbing, you can probably go back to the Causeway. They even have a mini-bus to take you all the way back to the Tourist Centre, should you be that lazy.

But really, don't be that guy. It's not a very long climb, and the view is totally worth it.

See, see?

Plus, from this height, you can't really see the tourists. In case you're not sure, the Giant's steps are the ones in the middle of this pic.

A nice stroll past sheep ridden fields and angry mosquito territory takes you back to the Causeway Hotel and the Visitor Trap. Easy peasy.

Since it was already 6 by the time we were finished with our trek, we checked some hotels in the vicinity. The cheapest and with good ratings was in Bushmills, which also happens to be the home of the World's oldest licensed Whiskey distillery. If whiskey is your thing, you should probably visit it. It wasn't for us, so we didn't visit. Plus, it would have probably be hard to visit at 7PM on a Saturday.

What we did do, was take another walk, this time from Bushmills to Portballintrae, which is only 2km away, to have dinner. We did not regret the jaunt, for the reasons you can see in the picture above and the picture below. I mean the views, of course.

Who could turn down a sunset on the beach, huh?

The Northern Ireland coastal road 

That was on Saturday. For Sunday, we took to the coast again, and went all the way from Bushmills to Belfast along it. The road is windy, wide enough and not very busy (at least not in this season; I can't vouch for summer). Not to mention, you can see lots of Game of Thrones settings along the way. I think we saw 4, without particularly searching them. We kinda happened upon them, except for the King's Road which we really had to search for, as it's off the beaten track.

First we visited Dunluce Castle. Not because it is in GoT (because it isn't), but because it was 2 miles away from where we were lodged.  It would have been a pity to miss out, even in its wretched state.

From there we simply followed the coast and taking the advice from the owner of the hotel where we stayed for the night, made another stop at Ballintoy Harbour. 2 different GoT episodes were filmed in this location.

From this pier Theon and his sister made their way off from the Iron Islands. Quite happy to ascertain that I remembered the scene without the need for further research.

Balon Grayjoy's funeral was filmed right in this spot.

The harbour area is quite awesome in itself, even without all the GoT induced fame.

Check out this reverse shot, towards the mouth of the harbour, if you don't believe me.

Just couldn't leave this spot and kept taking pictures and bouncing around on the rocks, to fend the cold as much as to take in all the views.

A small restaurant, a toilet, even a mobile art shop (aka van). This site had it all!

In case you ever doubted me...you shouldn't have. Seriously.

Somewhere close by there is a famous rope bridge at Carrick-a-Rede. Since it's suspended 30m above the waves, I chose not to visit it on a windy day. Plus, I need a reason to come back to North Ireland.

This set we found purely by chance. Renly Baratheon's camp (was it season 2? I forget; it's been a long time ago) was placed right here.

Some island or another. A Game of Thrones guide was shouting behind us (to cover the wind) at a group of tourists, showing them a binder with scenes from the show and explaining how a character was doing this and that not far from here. He was quite entertaining but I had no patience to wait for his story to end. The cold was biting.

King's Road set, also known as the Dark Hedges. If you plan to visit, that's the name you should search in Google. I say a tele-lens would have made this 18th century avenue much more interesting than my phone camera can .

To get there, you're looking at maybe 15-20 minutes drive away from the coast. The roads are quite good and twisty so it's a fun stretch.

Some of the trees in the Hedges are too old to withstand their own weight so they choose to fall. This door was made out of one of them. In a way it lives on, as a GoT inspired prop.

As I was driving, I couldn't take too many photos, but some times I stopped just to do that.

Another stop we took allowed us views of a quaint little harbour. No idea how the place was called, but probably Bally-something. Every other town or location has "bally" in its name.

A Google search later, I find out that bally is a common prefix for towns in Ireland, derived from the Gaelic phrase 'baile na', meaning 'place of'. Good to know.

As Ireland is not a very large country and the highways are very good, the drive from Belfast to Dublin was a uneventful breeze compared to my usual ordeals on M1.

Not to mention the advantageous 10 km higher speed limit once you cross the border into Ireland. The changed speed limit on the road signs is the only giveaway of the crossing.

Before we knew it, we were checked in this old school hotel, hosted in a Regency era building.

The front of the hotel was Insta-worthy material. Will probably try a watercolour of it when I get the chance.

Dublin by night

It was late afternoon by the time we checked in, but the recent daylight savings graciously offered an extra hour of light so we made good use of it.

About 5 minutes due north from accommodation, lay the park of St Stephen's Green. Seeped in history, it has seen its fair share of bloody incidents, like the Easter Rising of 1916 stand of Irish insurgents against the British.

One corner is bordered by Edward Delaney's touching Famine Monument, pictured above.

The rest of the park is much less grim, and at this time of the year the smell of flowers was almost overwhelming. The joyful strolling crowds were taking it all in with gusto, as did we. A cold sun was doing a poor job of warming the air but at least provided great light for touristy snapshots. 

Exiting the park at the opposing corner, we stumbled upon one of the main shopping streets in Dublin, Grafton, and its namesake shopping centre, seen here to the left. A stroll on this busy street was in order.

The sun shining on St Anne's Church of Ireland caught my eye, at the end of a side-street.

Following the sun. We were also following our guts, stalking a place to eat. Being in what we estimated to be the centre of town, we ended up at cosy but rather expensive restaurant. Desperate times ask for desperate measures.

Having somewhat fuller bellies we continued to explore, sauntering aimlessly and snapping the phone cameras at the vistas.

A marvellous piece of architecture, dating from 1898. They don't make them as they used to.

Not far from the imposing Bank of Ireland we stumbled upon the pub & club area, which was quite lively for a Sunday evening.

On one of the many bridges over the River Liffey, one of the many beggars/homeless of the city can be seen, fending the cold as best as he could.

Sadly, this was a recurring sight in the central area, with many of them sleeping rough under the door lintels of famous brands on Grafton Street. I was quite warmed to see a pack of social workers that were preparing to distribute food and hopefully hot beverages to these unfortunates as the cold night was settling in. Faith in humanity restored.

Sunset view from one of the bridges.

An interesting walkway leading to the Christ Church Cathedral, "Medieval place of CofI worship with a mummified rat & cat plus a cafe & gift shop in the crypt", according to Google maps.

A weird description if I ever read one. I am not sure what piqued my interest more: the mummified rat & cat (what, why?) or the cafe and gift shop nestled a the crypt.

And here is the Cathedral, in all (almost) all its glory. Needed wider lens or to move ass at least 10 paces backwards.

I can only assume this belonged to a long lost relative of mine.

Ambling back towards the hotel and shivering like a bowl of jello forgotten on a working washer, took this last picture. I love how the red lights make the Irish flag look like anything from Irish to French, Italian, Belgian and even Romanian.

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