Jet lag! So, it really hit us after all! We have been on the road for well over 10 months and we have always flown in the same direction around the earth. So far we have been able to avoid jet lag by simply flying at the right times of the day and arriving on more or less “human” hours, thus “circumventing” the daily rhythm and the habits of our bodies without too much of an issue. But the flight from New York to Dublin began in the evening and only lasted 5,5 hours from terminal to terminal. With the 5 hours that Dublin is ahead of New York we ended up arriving at apprx. 0700 in the morning without having slept properly (the trip simply wasn’t long enough to fully relax and calm down). This knocked us out and we had to take an afternoon nap in our Dublin hotel room. This then led to insomnia the following night, etc etc. As I write these lines we have been in Ireland well over a week and we have just barely gotten rid of the fatigue. But taken into consideration how many miles we have traveled during the past year I actually think this is quite OK. It could have been much worse!
We have been to Ireland before. In fact, Alexandra has studied here many years ago and knows the country quite well. We started out by driving north. To Northern Ireland. This is a place that I have only heard of in the news, when trouble arose between the protestants and the catholics. Bombs, murder and tall walls with barbed wire on top. IRA. There has been many sad headlines over the years, but at the moment things are quite peaceful.
But before we left Dublin we had to go through the hazzle of renting a car. As in the US the rental companies are very keen to optimize the revenue and are therefore offering various extra services. Chairs for toddlers, booster seats, GPS devices, extra insurance. All extremely expensive! We carry our own insurance, also covering rental of cars all over the world. But once again we had to argue and explain why we were not interested in their extra insurance which would in fact quadruple our daily rental cost. We had actually gotten a nice offer from the first company, but as we politely declined their insurance offer, they would not let us have the car after all. We got another online quote from a new company, and thus we were eventually able to get a nice Ford Focus, at a lower daily cost, fully insured! I have said it before and do not mind saying it again: You should always be very careful what you accept at the counter, when you arrive late, tired, with a whole mountain of luggage and you are only thinking of checking into your hotel and go to bed. A smart trick often used by the rental companies is to check out your load of luggage and then, more or less as standard, kindly suggest that you upgrade right away. They are only happy to give you a “nice” offer.
Every time we have politely rejected their offers and every time we end up with an offended clerk, only giving us casual and indifferent instructions about where to pick up our car. It is really the same circus every time. I take it that there must be a universal training program for clerks on how to deal with “difficult customers” not willing to pay for all the extra services. Sad!
But finally we were able to get on our way in the Ford, and drive towards Belfast, Northern Ireland. The trip towards the north is very beautiful and you instantly realize why this is also called “The Green Island”. It IS green! Oftentimes intensively green! This in spite of the winter season and that there are no leaves on the trees. We got the occasional, and for Ireland obligatory, rain showers, but still managed to get to Belfast in just about two hours. After having been on the road in Australia, New Zealand and the US for so long, it is really nice to drive around a country where you can literally get from A to B shortly.
You do not really realize that you cross a border and enter another country. All you see is a sign by the roadside indicating that you are now entering Northern Ireland - part of the United Kingdom. Common for all roads throughout Ireland (including Northern Ireland) is that they are often uncomfortably narrow. And even on curvy country roads, where the cars can just barely pass by, and where cars are oftentimes parked by the roadside, you will find maximum speed restrictions of 80 or even 100 kilometers per hour. I have not yet found a police car anywhere trying to enforce those rules. Really no need for that!
Unfortunately it was pouring down with rain on the day we had decided to be in Belfast. On one side sad, as this reduces ones incentive to explore the city. But on the other side it was a great day for a museum visit.
We wanted to see the Titanic Belfast museum, which opened about 5 years ago in the docklands of Belfast harbour. Here they have created a very exciting and engaging exhibition about life in Belfast around the time when Titanic was built. You get a very detailed insight into the life of the average working class family, the problems of the upper class families, Belfast’s role on the global scene at the time, etc. This can all be rather dry and boring stuff, but right here it was presented with modern, interactive tools making it very intriguing. And then we were told the entire story about how the greatest luxury ship of it’s time was designed and built, and also about the virgin voyage that turned out to become the final voyage. I never thought about the fact that Titanic was built in Belfast, but of course it is an obvious theme to turn into an attraction. We spent many hours here and if you ever go to Belfast, I strongly recommend visiting the Titanic Belfast museum!
Our next stop was Portrush on the very northern coast of Northern Ireland. This is a cozy little coastal village. Somewhat windblown, but during the summer season undoubtably a very attractive holiday destination. Mid february there is not much going on, but we did find a bit of local life. We went for a walk along the beach promenade, where construction workers were re-establishing the beach promenade facilities after a recent, serious winter storm. We found a small town hotel on the main street, with a pub on the ground floor, serving solid, hot food at a reasonable price. After months in boring, indifferent US chain hotels with absolutely no personality and charm, it is a true delight to check into a hotel where you feel at home instantly and where you are greeted with genuine pride and joy at the reception counter. Stairs and hallways in the old, crooked house were all leaning and the floors were creaking. But it was nice and clean and we had everything we needed within easy reach.
The next morning we drove the few miles out to Giant´s Causeway. A spectacular, natural phenomenon consisting of pentagonal shaped cliffs grouped in large piles. It looks highly peculiar, and could easily be mistaken for man made. Of course there are several legends tied to the place, including giants and supernatural powers. It is a very beautiful area. And, a bit unusual for the season, we were able to enjoy the visit with a few rays of sun. The wind showed us no mercy though, but after 10 months traveling around the world we have learned our lesson well, and we had dressed for the occasion. To stand here, at what seemed like the end of the world, on the bare cliffs, made a great impression on us. The colours, the light and the smell of sea. The constant roar of the giant waves hammering towards the coast. Above us the dark, gloomy clouds threatened to leak any time. A very dramatic sight. It remained dry throughout our visit, and only started to rain as we drove south-west on the country road towards Westport.
We arrived just before dinner time. Our Bed & Breakfast did not have any open kitchen, so they provided us with a few tips for places to try in the town center. Mid february Westport is also an out-of-season holiday town, and many of the local restaurants and pubs were closed. The italian place that we wanted to try was fully booked. So we ended up in a rather tacky fast food restaurant, having a pizza, before we returned to our Bed & Breakfast for the night. Once again we were blessed with regards to having a very personal and positive experience. A nice old and beautifully restored house. A host taking his job seriously and doing his best to make sure we had a great stay. And we did! After months in the US with “empty” breakfast experiences (carb- and sugar loaded) it is a tremendous joy to eat breakfast that will keep you going well into the afternoon, instead of feeling tired and grumpy, on a “sugar-crash” just 40 minutes after leaving the breakfast table, which happened quite often in the US. We did try to bring our own breakfast whenever possible, but it was not always easy. Here in Ireland it doesn’t seem necessary.
Right now we are residing in Renvyle on the west coast. A raw and brutal area, where nature is in charge and where the locals adapt accordingly. Together with Alexandra’s sister we have rented a cottage for the week. Nice views over the coast and surrounding mountains from all the windows of the house. We are all having a great time together, 3 children aged 6 months to almost 4 years (Anton being the oldest), Alexandra’s sister, Alexandra’s mother, Alexandra and I. Anton and his cousin Benjamin have not seen each other in well over a year, so it was exciting to see how it would all go. Thankfully the house is very large and there are plenty of rooms where they can go to be noisy and play. But for those moments where this is not possible we have more or less created our own inner “filter” - sifting out the background noise in order to make everyday life bearable. It is good to see them play together, almost without any arguments. We do have the occasional episodes where only the one orange airplane will be interesting for both of them to play with, and they will have to take turns, and where no alternative toys will do. But I guess that is just normal with kids at that age. Generally speaking things are going quite well and they are having a blast together. After months with just having sporadic friends to play with it is good to see Anton having a laugh and play throughout the day with a boy his own age. Someone that he will also play with in the future.