Mind over Matter: Stuff I cared about at the time


TL;DR — we vacationed in Belfast and Dublin for six days.

The day after the tournament was over, we took a lovely express bus to a regional airport, and took a smallish plane, for a shortish time, to travel to Belfast. (When was the last time you got to walk out on the tarmac to your plane?)

We only had one full day in Belfast, plus the half day after our arrival, and a half day preparing to leave. We walked around the city that first evening, taking in the City Hall

and Saint Anne’s Cathedral

The next day, we took a bus tour that took us to one of the major attractions that drew us to Belfast — the Giant’s Causeway. On the way, we got to see the ruins of Dunluce Castle

which was used (with some CGI enhancements) as Pyke Castle, home to the House of Greyjoy in Game of Thrones. And then we got to the Causeway. And wow was it breathtaking! I would have to say it was the most unique and interesting geological site I’ve been to. The notable feature is the collection of some 40,000+ hexagonal columns of basalt, which were formed by lava cooling very slowly and uniformly, which apparently caused fractures to form hexagonally.

The tour bus gave us a reasonable amount of time to explore, and the only challenge was that it was raining lightly much of the time, which left the surface of the rocks rather slippery. Our tour guide told us there were two stories about the formation of the structure, a “boring” one involving slowly cooling lava, and a more colorful one involving giants. The story with the giants did not in any way explain why there were hexagonal columns, so personally, I prefer the boring one.

On the way back, the bus stopped at another GoT filming site — the Dark Hedges, which is known in the series as the Kingsroad. That was striking and picturesque as well.

The last stop on the tour was the Titanic Experience museum, which documented the history of shipbuilding in Belfast, the design and construction of the Titanic and her sister ships, her launch, and the story behind the disaster. It was really well done and fascinating.

Completely coincidentally, we were in Belfast on the days leading up to The Twelfth, and saw one of the bonfires under construction just a few blocks from our hotel. Here are two photos, one from the evening of the 10th, and another about 12 hours later, on the morning of the 11th, when we were leaving.

Bonfires are lit on the night of the 11th. On the 12th itself, parades apparently make it very challenging to get around the city, so we were glad that our plans had us leaving the morning of the 11th.

From Belfast, we took a train to Dublin. It was just over a two hour ride, which was pleasant enough through the picturesque Irish countryside. I knew when I booked the tickets that there were reserved and unreserved seats on the train, and I (of course) purchased the less expensive unreserved. I was envisioning this manifesting as some cars having only reserved seats and others being completely unreserved, but that’s not how it works. Each seat has a status indicator indicating whether it is reserved or not (and for what part of the trip). This meant that you really want to arrive on the early side to ensure that you can find seats together, facing forwards (if that’s your preference) and with space for your luggage. It all worked out fine, but was a little more stressful than I had anticipated.

In Dublin, our schedule called for two full days, plus two half days for traveling. On our arrival day, we again did quite a bit of walking around, finding St. Stephen’s Green

near our hotel, which was reminiscent of Central Park, though at a very different scale, and browsing some of the many knitwear shops.

We visited famed Trinity College, where we were able to see the exhibit on the Book of Kells, which was also very well done, as well as the famous library,

which was in the early stages of major restoration work, and therefore devoid of most of its books. But Susan got to say hello to Rosalind Franklin there

and later, I got to have my first Guinness in its birth town.

On our first full day, we once again took a bus tour. This one took us from Dublin, on the eastern coast all the way west across the country to Galway, on the Atlantic coast. Our stop in Galway was really focussed on the very touristy section that was all about shopping and eating. Which was OK for such a brief visit, since we needed some lunch anyway.

On the way there, we got to stop at the (in?)famous Barack Obama Plaza truck stop, which was a little weird, but apparently his third great-grandfather lived in the area before emigrating to the U.S.

The next stop was the geological gem of the day — the Cliffs of Moher, which among other things is famous as the “Cliffs of Insanity” from The Princess Bride movie. There was a nicely developed walking trail safely set back from the edge, which we walked on for a stretch, but not the entire 18 km length! As in much of Ireland, the trail was directly adjacent to grazing lands for cattle and sheep.

When developing the site for tourism, they very cleverly built gift shops directly into the landscape, which was cool.

We subsequently had two stops in the area known as The Burren. The first was right along the coast, where we got to experience the terrain up close, which is largely exposed limestone.

Speaking to the barrenness of the area, it was famously stated that in The Burren, “there is not enough water to drown a man, wood enough to hang one, nor earth enough to bury him.” The second stop was at Kilmacduagh monastery, a lovely collection of ruins.

Our second full day in Dublin coincided with our wedding anniversary, and we got the celebration off to a fine start with a walk to breakfast at a quaint little café called Two Pups, which included some appropriately decorated beverages.

From there, we walked to the Guinness brewery at St. James’s Gate and took their self-guided tour, which was quite extensive, educational, and fun. One of the little highlights was the nine thousand year lease that Arthur Guinness signed for the plot of land on which he built his brewery.

Others included some history of cooperage (barrel making), including a video that documented the process, and a fun intro to drumming on a Bodhrán,

even if any connection to Guinness was lost on me. Along the way, we did learn about brewing, about Arthur and his family, the history of the company, etc. We spent over three hours leisurely walking through the exhibits, which culminated with a lesson in beer tasting, and finally a “free” pint (or half pint, if preferred)

in the pub at the top of the building, which had lovely panoramic views of the city.

After that, we exited through the gift shop, and gleefully spent way too much money, for the privilege of advertising on behalf of Guinness.

After a quick “toastie” for lunch, we next made our way to the Irish Whiskey Museum, where a very opinionated and humorous guide instructed us in the history of Irish Whiskey and its superiority over all other Whiskies (especially Scotch). We then got to sample three (Susan) or four (me) different whiskies.

Well done, even if the guide was a little over the top.

The highlight of the day, though, was definitely attending a production of Fun Home, an autobiographical musical written by graphic novelist and creator of the unintentionally famous Bechdel test, Alison Bechdel. It was a powerful and tragic story of a young woman discovering her sexual identity, and subsequent learning about her father’s closeted gay identity. Heavy and moving material. We happened to walk past the theater the previous day, on our way to the bus tour pickup, and Susan noticed it was playing, and mentioned that it had been on her list. So we bought tickets on the spur of the moment, after vanquishing a recalcitrant website for ticket purchases.

The next morning was simply packing for the trip home and getting to the airport. Our travel went as smoothly as possible. The plane that was arriving in Dublin to fly us to Boston left New York almost three hours late, but there was enough slack in the schedule that we ended up taking off only about fifteen minutes late, eventually arriving fifteen minutes early and having to wait for a gate in Boston! We were able to clear customs in Dublin, which meant that we arrived as a domestic flight, and with only carry-on luggage, we were able to walk out of the terminal, and catch a Silver Line bus just as it was arriving. That took us to South Station, where a Red Line train was just arriving! The “big delay” came when we got to Harvard and had to wait about three minutes for the 77 bus to arrive. And that gave us an entire weekend to recover!

A great vacation, though obviously too short to get to know either of those cities meaningfully.






2 responses to “Ireland”

  1. DOuG Avatar

    Were you in England long enough to get an impression to compare with Ireland?

    1. tastewar Avatar

      The most notable thing in Ireland is that essentially all the signage is in Irish (Gaelic) first, and English second. We were told that about 2% of the population are fluent in Irish, but many more can understand it pretty well (I forget what percentage). There is clearly some resentment of the British in Ireland (and clearly mixed feelings in Northern Ireland!), but the two seem more alike than different to me, and certainly more like each other than either is compared to the U.S. It’s almost as if people care about public transit and infrastructure there…