Here I am writing away from Portrush in Northern Ireland. Yesterday (seems like months ago) I did get up before 6 AM to go topside on QUEEN MARY 2 to sail into Southampton waving at the QUEEN ELIZABETH 2 and QUEEN VICTORIA. To my surprise everyone else got up also to wave the Union Jacks we were given for the unique arrival and news media. Don’t ask how clever I was to get the picture below, but see if you can pick me out on the 12th deck portside waving away.
We had to vacate our cabins by 8:15 and my assigned spot to wait for debarkation was in the Royal Theatre. There was some delay but I was off by 9:30 heading to my bus for Heathrow. The one gliche I had was the flight I planned to Dublin. The Cunard representative told me to allow 6-7 hours to catch a flight. I wondered about that since it is only 1 ½ hours from Southampton to Heathrow. I knew better, but was overly cautious, and was afraid to book the 2 PM flight, so choose the 4 PM instead. Ends up I could have made the 12:15. Cost to switch flights was prohibitive, so I had too many hours in the airport. I arrived in Dublin about 5:40, cleared customs, got my bag and went to pick up my car. The agent tried to upgrade me to a larger car with GPS, but I said no. Think the problem was they did not have my car at the airport, and the offsite garage was closing. In time she got someone to bring me my car and I was off about 6:30 to the M1 and Northern Ireland.
I had planned to drive half way to Portrush, but Paul (my tablemate from Belfast) suggested that I stay in the Mourne Mountain area to see the mountains and that unique part of the coast this morning. So I got off in Newry (please get out your Ireland maps and follow along) just in time for the crowds (not a big deal there) seeing the Olympic Torch Ceremonies there (today there were ceremonies in Belfast and Dublin). I was hoping to find lodging close to the M1, but that not being the case I headed along the A2 towards Rostrevor as Paul had suggested. Entering Warrenpoint I saw a brown B&B sign, passed it, then slapped myself saying, “Ray, it is past 8 turn around and stop.” Which I did, and ended up at the Ryan B&B in Burren. In a residential neighborhood, and a modern home,
I knew what to expect from some of my research. Of course, I prefer old historic homes and inns, thus would normally have rejected something new, but it was late. Dan and Mena met me at the door, showed me a perfect room both large and extremely clean, and the price was just what I expected for such a home – 35 pounds for a single guest. I got settled, Dan recommended Bennett’s for diner in Warrenpoint, and off I went to an enjoyable roasted vegetables over pasta with sliced goat cheese topping, and my pint of Guiness. To bed at 10:30 not stirring until 7:15 – a very long day as I really did not sleep waiting to get up to wave my Union Jack on the QM2.
Now I have some general travel hints I want to share (but remember I write this for my pleasure and memory, and if it helps someone else or amuses, so much the better). Please remember that Ireland is one island, BUT two different countries. In the south is the Republic of Ireland, and Northern Ireland (much smaller) is a member of the United Kingdom. My comments will start to draw comparisons between the two based upon my visit to Ireland last year, and these are my observations and not criticism or complaints. Another thing I want to share (seeing the brown B&B sign prompted this comment) is that I have found historical markers and signs to be in the same brown color in both the US, Canada, and now Northern Ireland (recall it was the same in Ireland, and Italy too). Obviously these are officially sanctioned sites (think of the US National Park signs) and, since I love historical sites I am attracted by these, and usually stop thus discovering something unexpected. I assume that is why the Northern Ireland B&B signs are brown with a bed because they have official approval, and seeing so many I would never hesitate again to head off here without an advance reservation.
So this morning I was on the road at 9 AM travelling along the Irish Sea towards the seaside resort town of Newcastle. My first stop was at the Ross Monument which I read about last night. Major-General Robert Ross, born here in Rostrevor, was victorious over American forces at Bladensburg, MD during the War of 1812, and then is credited with the burning of The White House.
Continuing up the coast I jutted in and out of little villages finally ending up in Newcastle, a much larger resort town. From this point I drove towards Belfast arriving in the city at noon and got onto M2 about 12:30 arriving in Bushmill an hour later.
Bushmill was my first planned stop to take the distillery tour at the oldest chartered distillery – 1608. The next tour I could get a ticket for was 2:20, so I bought my ticket and went to their restaurant, recommended by Rick Steves. Well, the line was too long, so remembering a small grocery across the street I headed there. I have found in most overseas grocerys a fine selection of sandwiches and often warm meals for takeout. It was perfect and just the right timing for my tour. Unlike the Jameson tour I took last year (here comes a comparison) the distillery tour at Bushmill is a working tour through the actual operation (in the old buildings) – except currently it is their “silent” period when there is no distilling and the employees go on holiday and the equipment is maintained. At the Jameson distillery the tour is in the original building with everything set up as a museum as it would have operated, and the distilling is in a new plant next door. The tour guide was very knowledgeable and answered many questions in fine detail. To be truthful, both tours are a must (hint Scott and Rich).
I then headed to Dunluce Castle, with a fascinating history, dating to the 12th century and even crawled into the tunnel under the rock watching the sea come in and out before departing to Portrush for my B&B.
So much more to tell, but I have already written more than you may wish to read. Tomorrow morning I will head to the Giant’s Causeway and then travel to Londonderry and who knows what else. So I will close off now and post, goodnight, RAY