Northern Ireland was pretty amazing! I really wasn't sure if I would like it - I've been taking a class entitled The Northern Ireland Problem, and I've found myself taking on the Irish Nationalist view of Northern Ireland and the UK. Belfast was definitely a lot more industrialized than Ireland is - it had more of a big city feel to it and it's actually smaller than Wichita! It takes 6 hours to get there because we have to drive across Ireland to Dublin, then up to Belfast. We left about 10:00 in the morning on Thursday and got to Belfast about 3:30 - 4:00 that afternoon. We then had a welcome dinner at the hotel - we all gorged ourselves at the group meals since it's the last free food we get until the farewell meal! Kelsey and I then walked around Belfast looking for an internet cafe....we discovered that the map lied and we were not going to find one in the area we were in so had to backtrack to the hotel and go the other way! I thought it was amazing that two girls could walk around Belfast today, alone, at night, and feel perfectly safe (we're even both Catholic!) - that view will soon change - I will discuss in a minute.
Friday was our excursion day! We started out going to the Carrick-a-Rede Rope Bridge. It was a little scary when you were walking across and the bridge was bouncing up and down, but they had lots of nets and ropes to catch you if you fell. The scenery around it was beautiful - I'm a little fascinated with the ocean so I have a LOT of pictures of the waves (Kansas is landlocked - give me a break!) The next stop was Dunluce Castle....it was soooo cool! It's definitely just the ruins left, grass floor and no roof, and the kitchen fell into the sea a long time ago, but it's still pretty cool looking. We only had 10 - 15 minutes to explore, which was not even close to enough time, but I still got some really good pictures. After lunch we went to Giants Causeway. This was the only part of the day that it rained, but it was still a lot of fun! Again, I took way too many pictures of the ocean, but I was really entertained that we were right on the coast (I've always been looking at the ocean from cliffs, never actually right up next to it!) Kelsey and I decided we've never been so wet and cold and happy at the same time!
Saturday was our free day in Belfast. We started out by going to Belfast Castle, which is absolutely gorgeous! They were setting up for a wedding, but they still let us walk around and take lots of pictures - I think all of us decided we wanted to get married there, too! :) It had a princess staircase in the back so we all lined up and took "prom" pictures - it was a lot of fun! After we were done at the castle, we went to the market and the mall and did a little shopping (I got new flats - I was pretty excited about them!) We then ran back to our hotel in time for the Black Cab Tour because we were not watching the time carefully enough! The Black Cab Tours take you around parts of Belfast and show you the murals painted on the walls that deal with the Troubles. Before leaving for Belfast, I was under the impression that there really wasn't anymore violence in Northern Ireland and that the wall was still up more as a tourist thing than a necessary thing. Nevermind. The first thing our cab driver told us we needed to know was, "If I say run, you don't ask where, you just run!" I'm not sure how much of this was a lets see how much we can scare the Americans thing, but it worked! I got to sign the wall and they explained to us that even though a ceasefire was declared in 1998, that didn't mean the Catholics and Protestants ran into the streets and gave each other hugs. These two groups still hate each other and the wall is still needed. There are a lot of gates through the wall that are open during the week, but all but one of these gates are locked from 6:00 p.m. Friday to 6:00 a.m. Monday to lower the tension between the two groups. That tour was definitely worth making the trip to Belfast.
After our group meal, we decided to go to the Belfast Wheel (basically a smaller version of the London Eye). It was raining a little, but nothing too bad so we got on and started going up. We stopped at the top and realized the storm was a little worse up there! The wind was blowing the box around and the rain and wind sounded horrible inside. It was probably one of the scarier things I've ever done! We went around all 5 times, but then when we got off, the workers were going to go up and test it to make sure it was safe....I guess we were the guinea pigs!
We left Belfast at 11:00 Sunday morning and got back to Galway at 5:30 - a fairly decent time to start working on my paper again.....except the internet was out! Thankfully, I have a very loving dad and brother who took pity on me and e-mailed me several sites that I could look at this morning when I came to the library! So my paper's turned in and all is good in the world - now lets hope I get my other stuff done before the night before it's due!