Yeah…long story short, the Derry hotel had the crappiest internet I’ve seen in a while, so we just unplugged for a couple of days. Therefore, I have three days to cover, and rather eventful ones, too.
That was interesting.
First off, breakfast was at the early mcfrigginearly hour of 6:45am. Now, you workin’ folk might stare at me strangely for calling that early, but I will remind you all that I’m nothing but a college student who made a point to take no classes earlier than 9am, and still had to drag my sorry butt out of bed for those ;D. Therefore, anything before 8 is ridiculous, before 7 bordering on heresy.
Not that our early start helped us much. Not only had we lost our (second) driver due to a car bump right before we got to the hotel (evidently he had some sort of disagreement with the Trafalgar transport manager when he reported the incident, I don’t know the details, but afterward he quit) and had therefore gotten a third one, but once we got underway the people in the back noticed a strange shimmy in the back of the bus that hadn’t been there before.
Twenty minutes outside of town, one of the wheels on the left side came off and went careening into the trees. It took the bus driver a few minutes to hear the shouts from the back— or at least a bit to pull over— and when we did, we all watched the suddenly freed tire rolling down the road to topple at the end of the low stone wall on the right side.
After…oh, twenty, thirty minutes of waiting the other bus (there are two, because so many people are on the tour this time) came to take us back to the hotel, where we waited another half hour for a temporary replacement coach (with yet another driver) to show up. When it did, we realized just how lucky we were to have the coach we did because this one was a right crap-shoot, even dripping water onto some of the seats from the lights.
We drove back to our crippled coach— which, by the way, had an axle pointing at a downward angle, and the wheel behind the one that had come off looked to have been working its way off as well— to pick up the luggage, and went off on our way to Derry-Londonderry.
Due to our delays we couldn’t proceed on schedule as planned, so day eight essentially became a travel day with a lot of time on the bus. We passed by the grave of William Butler Yeats but had no time to stop as we had planned to, instead continuing on to the Ulster American Folk Park. The park itself was created to preserve the homestead of Thomas Mellon, whose descendants today are evidently hugely wealthy and wished it to be maintained in perpetuity. However, the Folk Park also contains various other structures of the 19th century, giving some idea of what life would have been like at the time. To be perfectly honest the place kind of creeped me out, notable the wax figures in many of the places, but the history was interesting.
After the folk park we proceeded to our hotel, which was actually about 20 minutes outside of Derry, and settled in for the night. Our real bus joined us around eleven pm, and evidently they’d had to dismantle the back of the bus entirely to get at and replace the axle. Supposedly the trouble stemmed from the bolts on the wheel having been tightened too much, but who knows. Everyone agreed the outcome could have been far more catastrophic than it actually was.
The next day we rearranged our schedule a bit and went out for our city tour of Derry. For those not brushed up on their history, Derry-Londonderry was essentially a warzone up until 1998, when the Troubles came to a close. Our guides for the day summed up the true terror of the times by noting that at the time, Baghdad, Beirut, and Belfast would be mentioned in the same breath on the same level of severity. Only six weeks ago the Peace Bridge opened across the River Foyle which separates the Catholic and Protestant sides of the city, so to speak, and murals in the Bogside depict and commemorate the struggles within the city itself.
First we walked the walls, listening raptly to the tales given us by Ronan O’Brian, our tour guide— who looked to have stepped out of the Himalayas, as his mother was Chinese. However, his accent was all Derry and his rich voice told us of the history of the city in brief, leading us through the colorful and bloody trials of Ulster. Once back to our meeting-point near the Guild Hall, Ronan handed us off to Caroline, our guide for an optional excursion to Inishowen Peninsula. She took us up into the hills of Ulster to see a beautiful and commanding view of three of the counties of Ireland from the ‘Sun-Palace of the Gods’, the Irish name of which being Greanan Aileach; it is a small ring structure of stone with no roof.
After departing the view we set off for Buncrana through beautiful countryside, listening all the way to Caroline’s stories. She had grown up in and lived her young adult life during the Troubles, the period of violent unrest over civil rights and religious prejudice and discrimination. Such sad stories she had…stories of blood and fear, grief and anger and atrocity and finally…hope. She remembered being held at gunpoint at one stage, remembered the death of three twelve-year-old boys from Buncrana, remembered all her Protestant neighbors leaving for fear of the violence, as her family was Catholic and therefore ‘safe’ in their neighborhood.
Walking the city walls, and listening to Caroline’s stories, it was almost as though you could feel the city grieving up through its stones. Maybe that’s just me taking poetic license or being the overly-sensitive dreamer I’ve been accused of at times, but it’s very true that the people living in Derry, and indeed the city itself, are still scarred and only in the process of healing. However, to accompany the grief, you can sense the faint breath of hope, a little stronger now than it must have been ten years ago.
In any case, as we said our goodbyes to Caroline and to Derry, I know I wasn’t the only one reflecting upon all we’d heard thus far. After lunch we departed for the Giant’s Causeway.
That was an interesting site; the actual center above the Causeway itself was under heavy construction, and the Causeway was either a 20 minute walk or a 5 minute bus ride down the seaside hill. We chose to walk down, stopping to take pictures on the way, and when we got to the Causeway I was struck by how similar the structures look to what you’d find at Sheepeaters’ Cliffs in Yellowstone. Hexagonal pillars of basalt thrust up out of the sea, black where the sea touches them, spotted with lichen where it doesn’t, and all of it making for interesting footing as you make your way down to the water.
Legend holds that the Causeway was created by a giant crossing the sea— and creating the causeway before him— to visit a woman and take her to wife. However, his rival took offense to this and followed him from Scotland after he’d take the girl. Hearing of his approach, the first giant, ostensibly Irish, begged for his mother to hide him. She did— by dressing him in swaddling clothes and putting him in the cradle! When the rival arrived she chatted with him, and eventually left for fear of the Irish giant after having noted the size of the baby.
In reality, the causeway was created when incoming seawater hit hot molten rock and lava, apparently.
In any case, we lingered on the rocks until we realized how long the line for the bus was. Unfortunately, Mom lost her balance and fell twice, the first time toppling sideways but emerging relatively unharmed. The second time she rolled and twisted her ankle. By now she says it’s only stiff, and she’s managed to walk on it, but we made sure to ice it when we got back to the hotel.
Today started a little later, though not by much, and we left Derry for Belfast. You’ll have noted from earlier paragraphs that Belfast was also a center of strife, but that isn’t its only claim to fame. Belfast is also the original home to the Titanic, and boasts a proud maritime history. We got to see the cranes which once constructed ships, now devoted to other projects, and drove around Belfast listening to the facts and figures of the city. This guide did not divulge her stories of the Troubles, being what Peter (our tour director) called a guide in the ‘old style’.
We fairly rushed through Belfast and then left again for a 1 o’clock ferry to Scotland, bidding Ireland goodbye—although for my part, it’s only a short goodbye. The crossing only took about an hour as we sailed over the Irish sea, then listened some brief historical notes on the Scots-Irish and the Scots themselves as we drove in to Glasgow. The terrain looks much the same, green hillsides dotted with sheep, but of course we haven’t gone to the Highlands yet.
Upon arrival in Glasgow we went straight to dinner where they actually served us something other than pork, chicken, or salmon— we were amazed! Nearly everyone at the table ordered the sea bass offered (except Megan, of course, who got pasta instead), and I have to say…it was really delicious. Everything was, really, and we had a good time. Then off to the hotel, where we (Mom, Megan, and I, not anybody else) discovered we’d apparently been left off the list and had no room. Though that was quickly remedied, we had to lug our bags upstairs ourselves, but the trade-off was we get a room right by the elevators rather than a mile away down some twisty hall with three doors you have to go through. Unfortunately we only have two beds, so Mom and Megan are sharing.
Happily we slow down from here on out; we have two nights in Glasgow, then move on to the Isle of Skye where there won’t be room for our suitcases, so we’ve been instructed to pack only our hand luggage for that detour. I’m looking forward to it; the scenery is said to be absolutely fantastic.
Until next time, farewell!