Tag Archives: Belfast

Weekly Photo Challenge: Nighttime

Sneaking one in on the last day!

Dusk in Wisconsin

Dusk in Wisconsin. Does dusk count as Nighttime?

A view from the river, Color.

Nighttime in Chicago,

Half Penny Bridge, Dublin

Nighttime in Dublin.

The Spirit of Belfast

Nighttime in Belfast.


A very late night bar.




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Home Again – The Return from Ireland

We just got back last night, and as soon as we dropped our bags at the front door, Maureen and I lapsed into a coma like state, and slept for the next twelve hours.  The trip was a success.  I am sure I will post much more later, but here is a quick retrospect of our trip to Ireland.

We started with an eight-hour layover in Manchester, were we got to take a look at Manchester Cathedral.

Manchester Cathedral

Next stop was Limerick.  This photo is of the Treaty Stone, marking the Treaty of Limerick in 1691.  Limerick Castle is in the background across the river.

The Treaty Stone

From there it was a quick drive to Kilkenny to see another castle, and a really neat town.

Kilkenny Castle

Next up was five days in Dublin with my family.  There will be a lot more on that later.  Pictured below is Kilmainham Gaol, the old Irish jail.

Kilmainham Gaol

On New Year’s Day, we drove up to one of our favorite cities the last time we were in Ireland, and that was Belfast.  We arrived after dark, and as we wandered the city center we found a sculpture entitled, “The Spirit of Belfast.”

The Spirit of Belfast

Our final destination was Bushmills, although we did return to Belfast for one more night to meet up with friends before we had to head home.  This is St. John the Baptist Church.

St. John the Baptist Church

Coming Soon – A Return to Ireland

But since that is still a few months away, how about a little refresher!

Belfast with Maureen and Mark

The Giant’s Causeway

The Cliffs of Moher

Stretching my legs somewhere near Galway

A late night in Dingle

Looking West out from the Dingle Peninsula

It must be all this heat that has me thinking about our cool trip.  Can’t wait to return this December.

From Belfast to Bushmills

Part Two of Our Treacherous Ireland Holiday

I awoke the next day in sunlight and what I thought was sobriety.  But there was something missing.  Given the excess of the night before, there should have been a small man, perhaps a leprechaun, trying to pound it way out of my skull.  Perhaps I had left him down in the bar with that last can of Pringle’s.  Or perhaps I was still drunk.  Nope.  A severe case of dry mouth was telling me that was not the case.  Dehydration.  Yes, I was drinking last night.  And I did a very good job of it too.

I found my pants right were I left them, about a foot and a half from where I passed out.  I headed down to the lobby in search of a bottle of water but could not find a vending machine. I asked the lady at the front desk, not the one from the day before, if there were anywhere in the hotel I could get a bottle of water, and she pointed me right back to the scene of the crime.  The little bar that had done such a fine job of over serving us til the wee hours of the morning.

The bar was empty as I entered, but soon I was greeted by the bartender from the night before.  Not the front desk guy who served us way too late, but the first bartender from earlier in the night.  He gave that knowing smile, because at this point I am assuming I looked like hell, and I asked if it was possible to get a couple of bottles of water.

Would you like sparkling water or still water?

What?  Stillwater?  Isn’t that the band from Almost Famous?  Water.  I need water.  Just plain old water.  The bartender smiled again.  The confusion on my face must have been obvious.  He reached under the counter and pulled out two bottles as I reached into my pocket.  I suddenly realized why we had left that last can of Pringle’s in the vending machine last night.  All my pounds were gone.  I tried to give the man my debit card, but he just held his hand up. 

Don’t worry.  You can stop by and pay me later.

This guy was now my favorite bartender ever.  At least for now, or until we found another favorite bartender somewhere else in Ireland.

The water lasted about half a minute, and Maureen and I decided we needed to go out in search of something to eat and some more beverages.  But not like the ones from the night before.  More water and perhaps a coke or some coffee would be great.  But first we needed to figure out what to do about tonight.  We were supposed to meet up with Mark and Maureen again tonight, but we had booked a room at a Bed & Breakfast up in Bushmills.  And we didn’t have a phone to call and change the reservation.  Luckily the young lady at the front desk was more than helpful.  She looked up the number and even dialed for us, and Maureen talked to the woman she called Rene about changing our reservation to the next night, and we extended our stay in Belfast by another night.

A short walk from the hotel we found the same petrol station with the same ATM from the day before.  After retrieving the much needed pounds, we stepped inside to find some water, and much to my delight I also found a bottle of Dr. Pepper.  This was the best petrol station ever!  The woman who rang us up overheard us talking about getting something to eat, and she highly recommended the bakery across the street.  We each ordered an egg sandwich with sausage and Irish bacon on soda bread.  After a short wait while they made the sandwiches, we were each then handed a flat bread sandwich about the size of a turkey platter.  There was no way that either of us would come even close to finishing a quarter of our sandwich, but they were mighty tasty.

From the bakery, we took a bus to the town center.  Now under normal situations, I would have questioned the sanity of jumping on a bus in a country I had never been in before, and going to who really knows where.  Maureen, being the more seasoned traveler, assured me that the trip would be easy, and as always she was right.  The bus system in Belfast was just that simple.  All routes start at or end in the town center, so once we got on the bus, it was just a simple matter of making sure we got back on the same route to get back to our hotel.

Downtown Belfast is actually quite stunning.  It is a clean city with lots of shopping and for a Monday morning, it was quite busy.  We found a mall and picked up a disposable phone, and learned another new term.  Top Up.  The phone itself was only 8 pounds, but we needed to “Top Up” the phone, or put money into our account to activate it.  A quick conversation with the sales person and another customer assured us that we would be able to use the phone even once we left Northern Ireland, in fact, the phone would also be good on The Continent.  No, not back here in America.  It would still work if perhaps we made a trip to main land Europe.  Something that was not on the agenda for this trip, but perhaps we would stash the phone away for a future trip to The Continent.

From the mall we made our way to City Hall and we were pleased to find they had already set up their international market for the holiday season.  We have a similar market each year in Chicago over at the Daley Center, but in all my years in Chicago I have never been to it.  I may have to make a special trip this year, because unfortunately, we could not take advantage of all the good things to eat because our bellies were still way too full from the gigantic breakfast sandwiches.  But we did have time to do a little shopping before nature took its course and it was time to head back to the hotel and “set a spell.”

When we got back to the hotel, Maureen used our new phone to try to contact Maureen and Mark, but it appeared that our late night out had not been as kind to them in the morning.  Mark had a touch of a hard time heading in to work, and Maureen had been woken up by a sick baby.  Needless to say, our plans for that night were put on hold, and we decided to make a break for the north and keep our reservation up in Bushmills.  But first we needed to call Rene and get our room back for the night.

With that accomplished, and after I repaid my favorite bartender for the water, we left Belfast but first stopped to see the castle on the way out-of-town.  Belfast Castle is not nearly as old or as large as many of the other Castles of Ireland.  The original castle burnt down in 1708, and the new one was not built until the late 1800’s.  But what it lacks in style and size it makes up for in view.  Situated on a hill that overlooks the city and Belfast Harbour, it is open to the public and free of charge.  It has also been the sight of countless weddings for more than a hundred years.  I am sure the courtyard is much grander when it is not covered in snow.

From there it was back to the maps to continue our adventure.  My eyeglass lens was still MIA, although Maureen seemed to think it had fallen into a vent under the driver’s seat, so she continued behind the wheel while I was in charge of music.  You see, Maureen had already warned me about the lack of good radio in Ireland, and in Northern Ireland it got progressively worse.  So we opted for a little Elvis Costello for our traveling tunes.

We decided that the A26 was our best choice of roads, as it would take us mostly north past Ballymoney to Coleraine before we needed to jog back east to Bushmills.  Leaving the motorway gave us our first exposure to the more narrow regional roads, but this was still nothing compared to some of the roads still ahead.  Although one of the good things I can say about Irish roads is that the roundabouts and most of the bigger intersections are very clearly marked.  They don’t always tell you what road you are on, but they do have arrows on the signs pointing you in the right direction.  That is as long as you had a good understanding of where you were going.  But of course that is where the maps come in handy.

We made good time, and we arrived in Bushmills just as the sun was almost set, but we were still too late to try to visit the distillery, it had closed shortly before we arrived in town, and the final guests for the day were already making their way out of the parking lot.  We could not meet Rene until after 5, so after we located the B&B we were staying in, we headed back into town to look around.  And look around once was really all you need to do in Bushmills.  It is a small town with just one conveniences store but several places to pull up a bar stool and have a pint.  And that was just what we did.  But one pint was going to be it as our eyelids started to get heavy and we could not wait until we could find Rene and check in.

Only when we finally got to the B&B to meet Rene, her name wasn’t Rene at all, it was Rea.  And I know both Maureen and I had called her the wrong name on several occasions, but she had never bothered to correct us.  Even with the wrong name, Rea still talked up a storm and told us that we would probably be the only guests tonight and that unfortunately not much was open in town this time of year.  Which in the end suited us just fine.  We did manage to find a nice meal at The Bushmills Inn which included a butterscotch sundae that sounded too good to pass up even with the cold weather.  And then it was back to the Bed and Breakfast to retire early.

As it turned out, it would be our last early night of the trip.

Our Treacherous Ireland Holiday (Belfast or Bust)

I knew something was wrong as soon as I lifted the shade to peer out the window of the airplane.  The pilot had announced that we were beginning our descent, and would be landing in Dublin at about 8:45 local time.  He also told us that the temperature was a frigid 2 degrees (around 35 or 36 fahrenheit), and that it was a very rare occasion when the temperature was actually colder here than when we left Chicago.  I was anxious to see what the guidebook described as the green quilted landscape that was visible from the air, so why was it all grey?  I believe it was at this moment when Maureen’s mouth actually fell open.  The quilt was still there, but this landscape was covered with ice and snow.  We landed in Dublin in a snowstorm.

After a quick snafu at the rental car counter, we soon found ourselves standing in the Avis lot with a midsize Toyota covered in snow.  The young man who drove us over in the shuttle bus did the best he could to clean the snow with the only item he had for the job, a push broom.  Although it did knock off the loose snow, it did nothing to break free the thick layer if ice that encased the windshield.  I tipped the driver with the only thing I had in my pocket, three American dollars, and I know, I am not supposed to tip in Ireland, but some habits are hard to break, and at least Maureen was able to reel me in so that I was only leaving a “small” tip at each restaurant and pub.  The driver gave me a quick smile, and soon we were left by ourselves with a halfway frozen car somewhere just outside Dublin.

After pulling the last few chunks of ice of the windshield with my hands, we hit the road for our first destination, Belfast.  The tank was full, and the sun was out and it was actually much warmer than the snow would indicate.  As we pulled onto the M1 heading North, me in the American drivers seat sans the steering wheel, and Maureen adjusting very quickly to driving on the left side of the road, we decided to make a quick stop to get some euros, water, coffee, and a little something to eat, before our adventure was to begin.  About an hour into our drive, as I was looking over our maps, the left lens of my glasses popped out and rattled to the floor between our seats.  I gave it a quick look, but it became apparent the search was going to have to wait until we stopped again.

The actual drive to Belfast was not too bad.  The weather changed about every ten minutes as we would go from snow to rain to bright sunlight within just a few miles.  The road was what they called a dual carriage Motorway, or the basic two lane highway here in the states.  Even with the snow, this would be one of the best roads of the trip, but there will be much more about that at another time.  It wasn’t until we actually got into Belfast that things started to get a little hairy.  Maureen had made a reservation for us on the North side of town, but the road we were looking for was not on our map.  To make matters worse, Irish street signs are almost non-existent.  To figure out what street you are on, you have to look for signs on the side of the buildings, and since Maureen was trying to maneuver slim one way streets, I was stuck trying to look for signs through the one lens I still had in my glasses.

It became apparent that we needed to make a stop, so while Maureen looked through the maps, I searched for the missing glass that had fallen between our seats.  But the lens had pulled a David Copperfield and had disappeared.  Front seat, back seats crawling on my belly, I searched all to no avail.  I should probably add at this point that we had both become a little agitated from our travel, but to be fair, I was in a much fouler mood than Maureen.  I was not able to sleep at all on the seven hour flight, which we boarded at 7 pm Saturday in Chicago, flying right through the night and landing Sunday morning in Dublin.  With very little sleep after the Friday night wedding, I was now passing the 24 hour mark without sleep, with maybe just a few hours of sleep over the past two days.  To put it bluntly, I was a tad bit crabby.

Since our cell phones were now useless, and after a bit more driving in circles, we stopped again at a petrol station to get directions.  I made another futile attempt to find my missing lens, but the directions turned out to be helpful and we soon found Antrim Street and our hotel.  We must have been quite the sight, two tired, dirty Americans walking into the lobby.  And the poor lady behind the counter probably didn’t fully understand how desperate for sleep I was when she first told us that check-in time was not for another hour.  When it quickly became apparent to her that room or no room, I was going to lie down, even if it was on one of the couches right there in the lobby, a key and directions to our room were quickly handed over.

As Maureen will tell it, I was asleep before she even set down her purse, and what seemed like a quick snooze turned into a two-hour nap.  I probably could have slept for about ten more hours, but we decided we needed to push through the night and get adjusted to the new time zone.  We decided to take a quick walk before we were to meet some friends later that night.  And that turned out to be a good idea.  After I apologized for being so short earlier, the woman at the front desk told us to be careful because the walkways were “treacherous” and they had not all been properly “gritted,” two terms we came to be very found of while in Ireland.

Despite the warning, we heading out into the late afternoon to find the air was brisk but not windy.  The sun was already setting, this time of year it is dark by 4:30, and many of the shops were already closed up.  It was after all Sunday night.  We did find an ATM, because the euros we picked up were no good here in Northern Ireland, British rule still made the Pound the correct currency.  We grabbed a quick bite to eat as the sun set, and then walked back to our hotel to get ready for the night.

Long before I had met Maureen, her family had hosted a young child from Belfast.  This was some time in the early nineties, and that child was also named Maureen, or Little Mo as I have been told they called her.  Well, Little Mo is now all grown up with a husband and three great kids of her own, and Maureen and her husband Mark were to be our hosts in Belfast that night.  My Maureen was a little nervous about the meeting.  They had reconnected through the wonderful world of Facebook, but when you haven’t seen someone in almost twenty years, it is understandable that things might not be as easy as before.  But all the worries were for nothing, and very soon we were all laughing and drinking like old friends.

As a quick little side note, I did find it interesting that while I was drinking a Harp, I was holding off on the Guinness because I was afraid it might speed up the rate of how quickly sleep took control, Mark had opted for an American import.  Budweiser. 

After a few drinks at our hotel, we called a cab and headed back to Maureen and Mark’s house to meet her mother and the kids.  I was thrilled to find out that even though we live an ocean apart, kids are still the same everywhere.  Grumblings about washing hands and brushing teeth are no different in Belfast than they are in Bolingbrook.  As the kids were sent to bed, the real adventure was about to begin. 

On the cab ride to our next stop, we learned a little about the strife that still exists in Northern Ireland.  Similar to the way racism can still haunt us here in the states, the conflict between the Protestants and the Catholics is still cause for tension, although it was not so overwhelming as to detour us from traveling to Belfast again.  We probably wouldn’t have even noticed it at all if we had not been with locals, or visiting a local night spot.  That aside, we were made to feel quite welcome in the pub we ended up in, where we met another nice couple from Dublin, Tom and Margaret, and another gent we just refered to as Strange Martin.  Even for a Sunday night the place was hopping, and a band played as we drank, danced and talked.  That whole sleep thing had passed me over, so I decided it was time to move onto the Guinness.  And as the pub was closing and I thought our night was coming to a close, Mark informed us of a fun little Irish fact.  Guest in a hotel can continue to order drinks from the hotel bar, even after hours!

So needless to say, we were back in a cab and at our hotel to continue our night.

I am really not sure how late we stayed in that closed down bar off of the lobby, but Mark was indeed correct, and the man at the front desk continued to serve us pint after pint until the wee hours of the morning.  Thankfully the bar also had a vending machine that dispense those tiny cans of Pringle’s.  The salt and vinegar ones were an especially tasty treat and went well with the overabundance of beer.  When the machine was empty of all of its little cans except for one, I finally hit that wall and needed to hit the sack.  Reluctantly we parted ways, and we made drunken bar plans to meet up the next day, even though we were supposed to move on to Bushmills for the next night.  The last thing I remember was watching a pillow meet up with my face, and then there was darkness.

Our first night in Ireland, and I slept like a baby.  A 250 pound drunken baby.