As some of you may know, Aaron and I decided to spend our Christmas holiday in Ireland, Land of my Ancestors, this year. Flights back to the US were really pricey, but flights from Frankfurt to Dublin were incredibly cheap. We jumped at the chance to add another stamp to our passport! And in Ireland, you really do get a stamp when you enter since it isn't part of the Schengen area, although it is part of the EU.
We flew out Christmas Eve morning and were in Dublin by noon. We didn't stay long there though. After getting the rental car, we were on the road to Belfast. In case you were wondering, they do drive on the opposite side of the road. It was weird at first, but after a couple of days we got used to it. When we landed, the weather was beautiful, but also a little windy. And it was clearly apparent why it's called the Emerald Isle - everything was so green! There were even palm trees planted. Let that sink in. Ireland is further north than Michigan and there are palm trees in people's front yards. It was bizarre.
We had the time so we decided to take the scenic coastal route from Dublin to Belfast. We crossed from the Republic of Ireland into Northern Ireland, and the hardest part was switching from kilometers to miles, respectively. It was completely worth it. We drove though quite a few small towns, and, obviously, along the coast for a while. Along the way, we made a couple of stops. One was this little roadside park that looked interesting and the other was the sight of where St. Patrick, patron saint of all things Irish (ok, not technically) is buried. For a saint of such fame and importance, his grave was actually less than impressive. It was a simple stone with engraving that had been worn over the years and was now difficult to read. Nonetheless, it was still an pretty cool.
We then made our way to Belfast. After navigating through the city in a somewhat haphazard way, we finally found the hotel. Since it was getting late, we headed out right away to try to find something to eat before everything closed up. Turns out we were just a little too late since all the restaurants were closed already. Luckily, we found this little noodle place that was in the process of closing, but still had food left they were willing to sell to two crazy Americans on holiday in Ireland. Chinese for Christmas Eve dinner! After we ate, in true Irish fashion, we headed to a pub. The pubs were all open, and pretty busy, but none of them served food (hence the Chinese). After a couple of pints, we called it a night since it had been a long day of traveling.
Christmas morning, we went to mass at St. Peter's Cathedral. Mass in English!! We understood, and were able to participate, in the whole thing! It was a Christmas miracle! Ok, maybe not, but it was nice to not struggle though the Lord's Prayer for once. We showed up for mass about a half hour early (the appropriate amount of time in the US to ensure one has a seat), but found that was far too early. In fact, the mass that morning only had about 50 people total in attendance. Perhaps there were more at the midnight mass on Christmas Eve?
After mass, we headed out to Giant's Causeway. Most things, scratch that, EVERYTHING, is closed in Ireland for Christmas day ... and the day after, Boxing Day, or St.Stephen's Day if you're in the Republic of Ireland, or Second Christmas Day in Germany. But natural features never close!
Giant's Causeway is an ancient rock formation on the far northern coast of Ireland. It is a series of hexagonal rocks, jutting up out of the water. The HBO series, Game of Thrones, has filmed some scenes at the sight, as well as a number of other sites around Northern Ireland. Being junkies for rocks and water, we could have easily spent all day climbing on them. But the weather had other plans. After only 20 minutes or so, it started to rain. We toughed it out, and the rain let up, but only a few minutes later it was raining again. It went this way for probably 15 minutes before it started to rain really hard. And that's when we decided to call it a day. Just as when we got to the car, the sky really opened up. We made it just in the nick of time or else we would have been drenched.
When we got back to the hotel, we tried to find something to eat. In the US, there is almost always some sort of restaurant open, especially Chinese. We thought it would be the same in Ireland. Nope. Nothing open. We tried calling probably 15 different places with no luck. With some forethought, I booked us in a hotel that had a restaurants, just in case this happened (and we had stopped at a grocery store the day before and bought some food, just in case). We headed down to the hotel restaurant to get some dinner. I ordered the fish and chips, Aaron ordered the lasagna. Neither were very good, but they did have beer and as a special Christmas treat, we got red, green and white ice cream. Not the most delicious Christmas dinner, but it was food, and it was warm, we had a roof over our heads, and we we thankful that we are fortunate enough to be able to spend the holiday in Ireland. It's easy to focus on the things we didn't have that day - family, a big Christmas dinner - but it's more important to focus on the things that we do have - health, each other, and the wonderful ability to be able to travel.
- Meghan -