My Journey Begins

City Center, Belfast, N. Ireland

Good Lord. There is so much that I have to write about and so little time. I’m not sure where to begin.

I’m having difficulty keeping track of time. I’ve no idea how long I’ve actually been in Ireland. It’s been somewhere around 3 days now, and a packed 3 days its been.

First, I miss all of you. A life-long dream of mine has finally come true and I want to share every detail of the experience with all. Yes, I truly wish you were here.

Okay, so what’s happened to date? Well, I’ll focus for now on the events. As time progresses, I’ll try to share some of the impressions that the events, locations and people have had upon me.

Bluntly, 2 April seemed to last an eternity. The flights from LAX to Chicago to Dublin were uneventful for the most part. Aer Lingus is a spectacular airline. The food and service were exceptional and the new Airbus 330 was quite comfortable even in coach.

At some point, it became 3 April. I arrived in Dublin at approximately 9:30 and spent a short while trying to collect all of my lugage. Everything arrived in one piece, myself included. The dive gear is in great shape and I’m looking forward to using it within the next 2 weeks.

I rented a vehicle, some new Renault 4-door, from Budget. I was quite surprised that the €700 quote became a €2200 rental once insurance was included. Note to those intending to travel Europe by car: your U.S. insurance does NOT cover international rentals. Not much can be done about that at this point.

Map in hand, I climbed into the passenger seat and realized that if I was going to be driving myself, I should probably sit in front of the steering wheel. Silly yank.

So, in the first few minutes I had to teach myself how to:

  • A. Drive on the left-hand side of the road
  • B. Drive sitting in the seat normally assigned to a U.S. passenger.
  • C. Shift using my left hand.
  • D. Interpret signs and painted stripes in order to determine the rules of the road.
  • E. All of the above without freaking out.

A couple of things I’ve learned:

  • Fuel is REALLY expensive: nearly €1.00 p/litre. €20 purchased approximately 1/2 tank.
  • There are homes north of Dublin that still have thatched roofs.
  • Remains of stone castles and towers are everywhere.
  • This country is beautiful.
  • The Republic of Ireland has converted to the Euro. Northern Ireland is still using the Sterling Pound. This, my friends, is a hassle. I’ve a pocket full of coin that I can’t seem to identify and a wad of cash in three different currencies that no one seems to accept.
  • Smoking while driving takes a considerable amount of work.

100 miles later, mission accomplished and I’m lost somewhere in City Center of Belfast with no indication of where my aunt and uncle live or their phone number. Thankfully, Aaron was still up late (it was about 2:00 a.m. California time) and he was able to locate the file with Aunt Pauline’s phone numbers and address. Within a frustrating hour, I was finally at their home in West Belfast, exhausted from nearly no sleep during the previous 48 hours and slightly overwhelmed by the concept that I was actually in Ireland.

It still doesn’t seem real yet, despite the last couple of days of touring.

Aunt Pauline and Uncle John have been fantastic from the moment I arrived. I entered their small home 

 (yes, that’s my hired car…ugly, isn’t it?). I was greeted with a hot bowl of broccoli and potato soup and a frosty can of Budweiser.

I’ve been provided a small room overlooking the back yard. The bed is comfortable and warm. Thus far, the hospitality is legendary.

My cousin, Donal, gave me a brief walkabout tour of West Belfast, providing much insight into determining whether or not the local neighborhood was either Catholic or Protestant. Yes, that is important to recognize here. The Troubles are very real to this day. I’ll write more about regional politic and the Troubles in the near future.

I crashed early in the evening and awoke about 2:00 a.m. with a horrible ear-ache. Fortunately, Uncle John scheduled a doctor’s appointment for me first thing in the a.m.

Day One: Belfast and touring County Antrim.
I attended my appointment and recieved a prescription for antibiotics. I’ve a bit of an ear infection that started last Friday and, thankfully, was only midly irritating throughout the flights. Socialized medicine is a great thing for inflictions such as this, even for a foreigner. It only cost 20 pounds for the visit and meds. That’s what I would have spent for the visit at home even with insurance. Good news.

Uncle John provided a brief tour of central and West Belfast by car, pointing out areas where the Troubles have been most severe. Again, more to come later.

I met up with my cousin John from London. He, his wife Ruth and their two children are in for holiday. They’re staying with my cousin Roisin (prounounced “ro-sheen”), her husband Kieran and their two children. The nine of us drove up north to Giant’s Causeway then to Castle Dunluce and back down to Belfast along the coast. Each location was beautiful and it was an enjoyable day. I’ll provide links and photos of all three tomorrow.

We returned in the evening and we all ate at Burger King. Stop laughing.

Later, John, Kieran and I hit a local pub for a few pints. I had a great time. They’re both great guys and we shared a lot of laughs and filthy jokes. You’ll get those soon, too.

Honestly, the Guiness here isn’t much better than what’s served on tap in California. Not a bad surprise, really. It’s still the nectar of the gods as far as I’m concerned. Side note: I get to smoke in bars again. Joy.

Day Two: Jet lag hits hard
I crashed hard last night. I awoke this morning around 8:00 and took my meds and then fell back asleep. 12:30 rolled around and I scrambled to get ready for the day. I had a hair appointment at Roisin’s salon, Random, in City Central (a region in Belfast) for 3:00. I dropped Uncle John off (with another fascinating tour of locations important in the history of the Troubles) and grabbed a quick bite of fish and chips at a local restaraunt.

Roisin’s salon is great and my stylist was quite good. I’m pleased with the cut and a bit more comfortable.

I’ve spent the last two hours typing away at a nearby Internet cafe. I’ve only a few minutes before the parking lot closes and the “boot-men” show up to tow vehicles so I’ll have to make the rest quite short.

I’m currently sitting in the cafe overlooking a busy street in City Central. This place is beautiful and saturated with texture. God, I love it here.

So, I’m off to get this posted and to send out the links to everyone. I’ll try to post more this evening.

In closing: I’m here. I’m safe. I’m having a wonderful time. I miss you.