“When we cross the border, you’ll see the yellow line turn white. Also, everything’s more difficult. You’ll use pounds instead of euros, miles instead of km. It’s all UK there, so be prepared.”
She said it as a joke, but part of me thought she was being somewhat serious. The girls behind me continued to talk.
Friday night blurred into Saturday morning. I hadn’t slept a wink.This wasn’t new for me. I always had issues sleeping a lot. I got dressed, figured my hoodie would be necessary since the weather predicted a lot of rain while I was in Belfast. That was the plan, did I mention? I had booked an all day bus tour to Belfast, which included a taxi tour or a trip to the Titanic museum, and then the Giant’s Causeway, and then The Rope Bridge…somewhere near the GC. Let me tell you now – had I known that my worst prediction of a bus tour would be worse than I could have imagined (I can imagine terrible group tours), I don’t know that I still would have gone. I never do group tours, I always prefer to travel a lone, and explore on y own – I like to observe and watch on my own and then when I don’t do that I regret not – this definitely had me thinking twice, because two and a half hours on a bus (twice, there and back) with 30+ strangers for an entire day – WTF WAS I THINKING???
I don’t blame the tour company, it was pretty good aside from the people on the bus, so if you like people, and hate traveling alone… Go for it. If you’re me, and hate people, and need to be able to hear yourself think and want to enjoy the drive – drive yourself… Or take a smaller group tour (if you can find one).
Alright, where was I? Oh yes, so I walked the 2 miles to the Starbucks tour stop at College Green at 6am. Yep – 6am. The tour was supposed to leave at 7 (I don’t think we actually left until nearly 8). I wandered around, found the one open store at the College Green and bought some orange juice. Here’s where my day started with loud college girls who don’t know what they want and think their situation is more important than anyone else’s. I quickly got in and out of the store, while the girls gossiped and argued and yelled at each other. I hoped that would be the last of the youths I’d have to deal with for the day, but alas, I’d be wrong very shortly.
I went o the Starbucks and stood as the group gathered. I looked around and saw the National Wax Museum tucked around the corner from SB, hidden in this little crevice of the street. I watched as tour bus after tour bus gathered across the street, until I felt a vibration in my pocket. More people had gathered around me, and as I pulled my phone out I saw a crazy photo of my two faves, J & L, trying to FaceTime me. My phone had connected to the SB wifi apparently, so they were able to get through. At 645am, it was 1045pm for them. I slowly walked backwards and reluctantly answered. Of course, I was greeted with a great big …
Some conversation out loud happened, I’m sure I annoyed the people waiting for the tour nearby, and eventually I found my headset in my bag so I could talk to them more privately. The desired to see the hot girls, but luckily for me and sadly for my boys, they were not around. A very brief time later, while still on the phone, I saw my bus come up. I had to hang up abruptly on the boys (sorry guys) and head over to the stop in front of what I think was the national bank of Ireland. It looked more like a giant courthouse.
I stood behind several college kids. Portuguese? Maybe? It definitely was a form of Spanish. The tour guide was an older man, who seemed to have just the type of personality I love in tour guides – the nonsense, sarcastic, I’m just going to have fun and whatever to everyone else. He came out with a clipboard and checked all the student tickets. I waited patiently in line with the rest. He was making sure the large group of college students was all on board. Three were missing.
“One second, ” He said to me. “I’ll be right back.” He ran around the bus and across the street to check on the group gathering on that side. I figured out that it was the same tour, just a different group.
He came back three more times and kept apologizing for making me wait, and he thanked me.
“No worries, I’m good. ” I said.
” Alright, name? ” He asked, I answered.
“Just you?” He asked again. I replied with an affirmative yes. “Where ya from?”
“California..” I replied, trailing off. I got ah, ‘ah ha’ type of nod. Oh dear.. Stereotypes??
He let me on the bus, and ten minutes later the bus was full of people. I had found a nice window spot and had a quiet older woman, who didn’t speak English sitting next to me. It seemed to me she had a group of friends, and one of them was standing. Moments later there were ten people standing on our bus, and the bus was suddenly moving. We drove very briefly, and then stopped somewhere on O’Connell street, which wasn’t far from where we had been. The bus pulled over, and the guide directed everyone standing to come off.
“I’m just going to take this group over to another bus, they have more room It’s the same tour, just a different group.” The bus from earlier had moved as well.
I watched out the window, and the woman next to me was looking behind her arguing in what I think was Russian with someone else. The one woman who was clearly with the older woman next to me, was outside talking to the tour guide. He came back up onto the bus and said…
“Is there anyone traveling alone who would be willing to go on the other bus so this woman can be with her group?”
Yes… Guess what happened next? I dare you. You’ll never guess… Oh wait.. it’s me, you just might get it….
So, I stood up and the older woman thanked me and the tour guide thanked me several times as we ran across the very crazy busy street to the next bus. He introduced me to the female tour guide with a very heavy Spanish accent, she was slightly confused, but checked me off and I cut her entire group’s line and got on the bus. I walked towards the back, it seemed less people heavy, until I saw a group of another set of youthful girls talking. I sat down, hesitantly, two rows in front of them. There weren’t any other window seats available and if you know me, I like the window. I would soon regret this.. Very soon.
Close to 8am, the bus finally started up, and we were off. This tour guide wasn’t exactly my personality type, but I dealt with it. She tried hard, and she was excited about her job and she was knowledgable. She just wasn’t funny. I need funny. I will give her major points for some. Awesome music played on the way back at the end of the day. We’ll get there.. Bear with me, Saturday was a long fucking day. Yes, Mom, Gramma, I said long – fucking – day.
Two point five hours to Belfast. Lots of green, lots of trees, sheep, cows, ruins of old stone castle-type buildings. The bus driver was seriously hauling ass up north. There were so many college kids on my bus, I thought my brain would explode with annoyance. For the entire two hours, this group in the far back, just three rows behind me, was talking over the tour guide, no matter what anyone said or did. I think two were speaking German to the other two who were speaking French, none were speaking English, and all were giggling loudly. For awhile I tried to tell myself they were translating what the tour guide was saying, just so I couldn’t get so annoyed and I’d have to be okay with it. Yet, there were times when it just clearly was them gossiping and talking about something totally unrelated to the trip.
I felt bad for the tour guide, Jackie, as we’ll call her from here on out. She kept asking people to be quiet, but these girls just did NOT get the point. I’m not 100% positive I know what Jackie was talking about on the way up. I couldn’t hear her, mic and everything – speakers, etc, thanks to the rudest college girls I’ve met in a long time.
Alright, I’ll try to contain my anger (it’s two days later and I”m still pissed). So, the green landscape, and houses we passed on the drive was what I needed. Being in the city all week, nothing seemed like what the theme of Irish culture is. I’m still not positive I’ve been engrossed in it. So much seems too American, so the landscape helped me a great deal to feel like I’m in Ireland. I hadn’t even heard one Irish song all week. NOTHING. Not walking near pubs, or anything. So sad. I would later thought, thanks to Jackie.
Belfast was very industrial. It seemed quiet for an industrial city. It also looked like it’d been driven around the block a few times. Then again, it has a history of war to it. The bus pulled up to a giant metal and class museum, that stood out amongst the harbor buildings, and warehouses. It had four point sides, designed to represent the front of the Titanic. Since it was the Titanic museum, that’s pretty dead on… Literal. If you’ve ever been to the Rock and Roll Hall of fame (In my Dad’s favorite city ever)… It’s kind of like that, except, it’s not a pyramid; It’s just this giant thing that doesn’t fit in with the rest of the city around it, and it stands for something that most people don’t even realize it has any connection to the city it’s in – until they get to that city and have that run-on-sentence moment of ‘OH SHIT, that happened near here?!’ Ya, don’t lie, you know you’ve done that somewhere.
Where was I? Oh right, so I’m at the museum, rushing to get off the bus and away from the noisy girls, and thankfully they weren’t taking the taxi tour. It’s called a black taxi tour, but the taxis were everything but black: two white, one green, and a grey. Also, I’ll never forget what my taxi driver said:
“…so if you’re driving in a taxi in Belfast, chances are they’re former criminals and they’ve killed people, and have been in prison. ”
When asked what he was in prison for… “I decline to comment. Haha” The heavy Scottish-Irish accented driver said, as he passed around photos of him with guns.
Moving on, as I’m sure my family will enjoy hearing that one. So, taxi tour, political tour around Belfast between both factions of the city – half basically IRA/Ireland and the other half UK. Before we all got into taxis, they were sorting out how many people there were, and where we should all go. As I got off the bus, I answered that I was a solo traveler and they pointed me to the front car. 2 minutes later, they asked for a volunteer from the front car to go alone with the another car – yep, me again. WTF not… I’ll just pass myself around like a…….well, there are so many ways that sentence could go poorly. I think I will just *clear my throat* and move on.
Sorry I need to pause here again, as I type this on the train, because I just read the scrolling sign, that said ” Passengers wishing to report antisocial behavior may do so to staff…” I’m sort of paraphrasing but that first part is definitely what it said – “ANTISOCIAL BEHAVIOR”. Now.. I know what they mean, but geez. I’m sitting here in all black, headphones, and alone at a table for four- if I had my hoodie on I’m pretty sure I’d be reported if anyone took that so literally.
Alright, back to the 4-mile long walls, all 20-something of them in Belfast separating Catholics and Protestants… Irish and British. Driving around the low houses, and through gates… With giant murals of historical figures on both sides was fascinating. We stopped at one of the walls, where people have signed peace messages. Maybe I’m crazy or have a weird sense of logic, but I don’t the idea of walls, and the fact that they still have to have walls even during I “peace time” seems…wrong. I didn’t want to sign it so I didn’t. I felt acknowledging it’s existence that way was just as bad as it being there. I also feel it’s more respectful to not take photos of the murals, but again, I’m weird. That’s just how I am – these all have significant meanings for people and I don’t have 100% understanding, and until I do, it’s not my place to write a message or share photos of people who apparently did a lot of killing on both sides of the wars. I hate politics, but this didn’t feel political – it felt personal, radical, and religious based. Some day I hope they can work things out, but the fact that I had no idea that Northern Ireland was basically the UK too, definitely shows my naïveté in other worldly matters but again, it’s also none of my business. The puzzles here in my mind are spinning.
When my driver asked me why I didn’t sign it, I just simply said:
“I don’t like walls.” He replied by saying no one does but they exist. In my mind I thought to myself, True, but they don’t have to.
I don’t remember much of what the drivers said in describing the areas they took us to, mostly because I couldnt’ hear them. I just remember a large bonfire area, and most places looking like military grounds and barracks. Some houses lined up like townhouses and others just mildly apart. All weren’t very tall even thought they had two stories, and the doors were small and narrow. People must be small out here?? Or maybe they were once upon a time.
We made four stops – in and out of the car, mural after mural, location after location of political figures and situations. It was 90 minutes, of me trying to adjust to being on the left side of the front seat of a very old and dirty taxi, and not driving. Around this corner and that. The closest thing I can compare it to is the scene, I think in one of the Harry Potter movies, with that double decker bus and driver that is driving around like a mad man, almost tipping the bus over with the high speed turns. Was that Azkaban? My mom would know. With this I was attempting to wear my seatbelt, but I gave up after a point. I also should mention that out of all the tours in Ireland, I end up on one with a group of people from Los Angeles – IN MY TAXI. WTF world karma…that’s just.. Why??
Anyway, after the tour was over, they dropped us back off at the Titanic museum. I took a quick run to the “toilets” and then back out to wait for our bus. The tour bus I had originally been on earlier in the morning with fun tour guide appeared first. They’d be ahead of us by about 20 minutes or so the rest of the day. I’d find myself waiting for my bus 2 more times while standing next to this first one, and realize that everyone on that bus was staring at me through their windows. I was always on time or early…unlike the talky talky college girls who were late twice and had to sing. That was the punishment if you were late: You had to sing.
So eventually the girls showed up, did their best “wheels on the bus” German style, and we were off for another hour long drive to Giants Causeway. Now, I didn’t even know I was going there nor did I have any idea what it was, but by the time we got there I just could not believe how many people were there. We pulled up, and it was just barely dripping with some spots of rain. Not really any rain. Of course, as Jackie would continually say,
“It’s not raining…..yet.” I guess it’s an Irish thing.
On the way to the Causeway, we stopped briefly on the edge of a cliff, that was a good view of Dunluce castle. Apparently Game of Thrones is sometimes filmed there. I should have also mentioned that there are other places in Belfast where it’s filmed. Jackie pointed a few out by the harbor at the Titanic Museum. I don’t watch enough of it to recognize -I’m still trying to get into it, but if you know me, I can’t get into ‘hyped up’ shows.
So, we finally pull up to the GC hotel hill and there are more rolling green hills, and cars parked on grass fields. White hotel buildings, a small restaurant on the right of the bus, and straight ahead a road that lead under a tunnel, and down quite a bit far. I practically flew off the bus and headed straight down the road in the direction, as I was told was the Giants Causeway. SO. MANY. PEOPLE. It was Saturday, and it was about 130pm. There were so many families, school groups, tour groups. I do not do well with so many people. Not like this, not in crowded, narrow walkways, and really where was I going? To see a bunch of rocks in some crazy formations…possibly some stones brought over from Dunluce, maybe a wishing throne that you’re supposed to shake your butt on for good luck?? I dunno, I couldn’t focus. I walked so fast down that hill, snapped a few photos of the areas with all the people walking all over, and then stood in line to take the shuttle back up the hill. I had a flashback to Hobbiton in NZ where I couldn’t get a decent photo of it without a crowd of people in it.
Ugh. I hate people. I needed time – some quiet time to myself to decompress before the 2 hour drive home. After I got back up from the shuttle, I went to the NOOK restaurant. I glanced at the menu, saw that there was nothing I could eat, and instead ran back out and found the entrance to the back. Just around the corner from the stone building, through the wood gate with a sign that read “Beer garden and disabled entrance”. I snuck through and found a small grassy area, surrounded by tall bushes, with two picnic tables. A short stone wall separated the area and the parking lot on the right. Some coffee cups and a pot were on the farthest table. This is where you should imagine a glowing aura around the area for a sigh of relief. Feeling a bit more content at this site, I sat down at the nearest table. I could hear the crowds, but it was a low mumble. It was peaceful. I pulled out the orange juice I hadn’t touched all day, and my mini notebook. I wrote down a few things about the day and how ridiculous it was.
A group of older guys and a girl came through the gate. They headed past the stone wall and to a car. The gathered a few things, jackets I think. It had started to rain a bit more. They walked back over to the gate and I heard one say something about a prank on Americans. Is this where I have to try to NOT look like I’m American? I don’t think my hoodie and Warby Parker glasses are a total give away right? ..Right.
A couple of adult families, a group of girls with bikes, and high school boys would also come by. Also, a football team. All walking through, having their mild conversations and giving me weird looks as I sat there staring over the cars to the hills in the distance, covered with small white farmhouse-like homes.
Keeping an eye on the clock, I finally moved out and went for a walk around the restaurant and front area with signs and traffic jams. I took a few photos, not as many as I’d have liked. I think I forgot to mention that my camera battery lied to me that morning. The battery died before 10am, even though it read full when I checked it before leaving. I’m not my grandpa nor did I have time to try to be to draw anything. Here’s where I stood the longest next to the bus formerly known as mine. The buses were lining up on the entrance hill, one after another. I waited anxiously for bus number noisy to appear. A shuttle and then another bus, and finally mine. It was raining pretty well now. *Shrugs* what do I care? I walked over and hopped on mine, and made my way back to my seat, hoping the noisy girls had gotten lost and would be left behind. Jackie had said that has happened and somethings they will do that because they have to stay on schedule. Sigh, but no such luck. Everyone arrived on time… And off we went to what I had thought was back to Dublin – but no, there was another stop to some Rope Bridge. WHAT? Well I guess you definitely get what you pay for – an all day tour of Belfast.
So the rope bridge was on the coast, at a location where you could literally see Scotland from the parking lot. Like.. I waved to it. I’m going to keep this rope bridge visit short, and suffice it to say I have been on two rope brides in two different countries. Woo. Nothing special happened here, I basically sat after and waited on the bus with a headache looming.
Actually, I did have a small conversation with Jackie about the noisy girls. She asked me to be all “SHHH” about it. So that they understand.
“It’s Universal!” She said. “They’ll learn and they won’t be rude anymore.”
Learn? MY ASS. They didn’t learn shit. (Who loves my grammar right there?)
Alright, so the entire drive back to Dublin was only mildly better thanks to the Irish music Jackie played. A few national Anthems, a few rock-band style Irishmen replicating American rock and roll, and some pub music. I attempted a few SHHHH when I really wanted to hear about the artists, but the girls didn’t care. They just giggled when I did it. If I had felt it’d be worth I would have turned around and said,
” Alright, I can appreciate that you guys are having fun and enjoying this trip together. That’s great, but you are being extremely rude to the rest of us by talking over the guide. Please be quieter. I don’t care if you’re talking, but I cannot hear her. ”
But, let’s face it, that just wouldn’t have done anything either. It never does.
Fast forwarding to the drop off at O’Connell street. I considered a bus back to the apt – but I was so anxious, I just high tailed it in the direction I thought was right and kept walking until I was home. I passed a lot of crowded bars, hotels, restaurants and cafes. At one point there was some very awkward group of seven dwarves and a male Snow White in costumes that clearly did not fit anyone. They were hanging out in the middle of one of the busiest streets. Some woman screamed in a very heavy British accent: “I”M COMIN’ FOR YA! JUST ‘AIT R’ITE ‘HER’E!”
I walked so fast, everything was a blur, but I remember feeling like I was trying to get passed people in LA in Santa Monica. That’s what it felt like. I barely remember getting home, and through the door. I was so tired and seriously craving peace, quiet and alone time.
Quiet, wasn’t really going to happen – over the next 8 hours: something heavy would fall upstairs, some neighbors would drop something else, and then someone would bang so loud and hard on an apartment door as if they were trying to knock it down and kill someone.
FYI: Sunday was NOT going to be a busy day outside…with anyone. Two errands would happen: one for tea at my new favorite tea shop, and one for dinner of the only salad without meat in Ireland, and a brownie. I would spend the rest of the time reading, or sleeping. Next stop: Cork.