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Northern Ireland2

July 2nd, 2000 · No Comments

We rode from the Republic of Ireland into Northern Ireland without even noticing the distinction. The sameness was further vocalized when one of the riders asked in a local shop for a pin of Northern Ireland. The shopkeeper tartly responded, “there’s only one Ireland lady, and you are standing in it!” Oops!

The money is different, here you can only spend the Queen’s sterling. Other than that things appear to be the same, that is until we got to Belfast.

July 3, 2000 Portnoo to Belfast

Day 185

The night before I arranged to ride with Ramona and Jane. We agreed on a time to meet and that we also wanted to take some time to go sight seeing. The Giant’s Causeway is the most visited tourist spot in (Northern) Ireland and we wanted to see it, even if it meant taking a train to finish off the day on time.

As things go when 3 people are riding together, one always seems to have a problem. Today was Jane’s day. On the way up the hill, just a few blocks from breakfast, Jane’s chain just fell off in the road. Plunk! Just like that she was out of commission. Jane headed back, Ramona and I headed forward.

We toured the Giant’s Causeway. It is a geologic wonder wrapped in a charming Irish myth. The Giant built a bridge to the neighboring island where his girlfriend lived. The bridge has since washed away, but the curious stone rock formations stand both on the mainland and the island in the sea. The rocks are cylinder shaped sticking straight up and down. They almost look like logs set upright, side by side.

At the Causeway I noticed another local attraction, it was an interesting rope bridge. I love picturesque type things like this and insisted we go. Ramona was not excited about the prospect, but being the good sport she is, agreed to at least take a photo of me.

We rode off, enjoying the marvelous Irish coastline. It was one of those days when cycling was so good. The scenery boasted our spirits and helped us climb the hills without too much complaint. We got to the rope bridge, it was a popular attraction and the parking lot was full. Already there were many Odyssey riders present, indicated by all the bikes locked along the fence. We locked ours also and set off for a 1 1/2 kilometer hike. It was worth the walk. This is what I expected Ireland to look like, beautiful emerald green hills and ocean.

The rope bridge was very exciting. It is a working bridge used by the salmon fisherman to bring in their catch. There is a salmon net alongside the island, where the salmon are caught coming from a stream, into the ocean. The fisherman use it in season and the tourist love it for the charm. At the bridge there is a sign, warning us only 2 people should be on the bridge at one time. We saw the sign and started enforcing it, by telling everyone that walked by. It wasn’t long before we had a traffic jam, of folks wanting to cross the bridge. Finally a park ranger came along to speed things up. He told people to go ahead and cross, the sign didn’t mean it. Well! So much for obeying the law!

The bridge was scary. When people walked on it, it would bounce like a trampoline. As the wind blew, so did the bridge. Ramona was encouraged by others and actually did join us on the other side. It was just a simple exercise of mind over matter. Look straight ahead and not down!

We enjoyed sightseeing so much that time flew. Before we knew it, it was 2 o’clock and we still had about 75 miles to go to get to Belfast. Reluctantly, we decided to head inland to the nearest town and catch the train. I say reluctantly on Ramona’s part, not mine. I was ready and willing to do the train today, my ear was still not better and I’d had enough biking. Now I was yearning for a hot shower and a nice clean bed.

We had signed “off route” that morning, so leaving the designated route was not a problem. The only problem was the uncertainty of what we would encounter. We only had a simple road map, so we hoped we weren’t headed for any long climbs. As it turned out we climbed for awhile, finding ourselves on top of a ridge, we could see forever! From that point on our ride into Ballymoney was downhill. It was a great choice on our part, about 18 miles of easy riding.

The train station was simple to find. Most towns mark both the bus and train station on directional signs at every round about. We rode up, bought tickets and within an hour were on our way to Belfast.

Our timing in Belfast was rather poor or terrific, depending on your viewpoint. I had received several emails from Larry, telling me “to watch my tail feathers.” I wasn’t quite sure what I was watching for. When I got off the train in Belfast there were ordinary people everywhere, just going about the business of life.

That night some riders went to the movies, only to come out into a burning blockade. A car was turned over, up-side down on fire. They tried to hail a taxi, but none would stop. They ended up walking for several blocks before finally getting a cab to stop for them. As it turned out, the cabs have computer screens in them telling where the trouble spots are, they avoid fares in the trouble spots. How handy!

July 4, 2000 Belfast Layover Day

Day 186

For those who wonder: Yes, they have fireworks on the 4th of July in Belfast, but they aren’t the friendly kind!

I was tired and not feeling like doing much. I worked on the website, which took all of the morning and half the afternoon, did my laundry and napped. Somehow, I managed to waste a day. My fellow riders were taking “black taxi” tours from the University to the various hot spots around the city. The “black taxi” tours seem to make their living from showing tourists the centuries old neighborhoods that celebrate hating each other. It felt to me like a great tourist attraction, a money making scheme, in a very weird sort of way.

I stayed safe in my dorm room.

The next morning we were scheduled to catch one of two ferries to Scotland. The early ferry was also the Fast Ferry, getting there in half the time as the second one. My goal was to catch the early ferry so I could ride to Glasgow. Luck was not shining on me this morning. When I went to rescue my bike from the storage room, it had a flat on the front tire. Again!

I was not prepared to change a flat, for some reason my tools were not where they should be. I ended up borrowing stuff to repair the tire. It took forever and I finally gave up on the 6:30 a.m. ferry. It was not to be.

As it turned out I gained enough time by taking the second ferry, I was able to shoot some pictures of the Belfast aftermath. The previous night of rioting in the streets left a mess. The hooligans pile tires on pallets in tall stacks then set them on fire. They burn for a long time, as my 10:30 a.m. photos show, they were still smoldering. The streets were full of garbage and broken bricks. Fences from the medical office were torn down and laying in the street. It was a mess.

We learned later the day we left Belfast was the same day the army was called out and the city was shut down. Had we stayed another day, we would have been trapped in Belfast until after the violence was quieted.

After my hectic morning, it was a relief to get on the ferry and rest. Gary and Gloria entertained Al (the alien) by showing him how to use Pocketmail. Al had been bugging me to teach him for days. Since Gary is a former IBM employee, he was the perfect instructor for Al. Lucky for all of us, Al is a quick learner, he now can “phone home.”

Tags: British Isles · Ireland