Ah morning! Ah deadline! Ah travel day!
It was actually cold this early in the city so I wore the hoodie I bought in Edinburgh.
Mornings feel unique to me, just like nights: still, calm and not many people out.
I fast walked through the city until I arrived at the depot.
Bus Delayed read the electronic TV. Least I now had time for coffee and supplies.
There was a small market conveniently next to the depot as well as the ever-present homeless guy who howled and yelled at anyone passing by. The more things stay the same eh?
Fortified with coffee, breakfast and snacks for later, my bus arrived.
It was only a couple hour ride until we arrived at the port city of Ayr. I wound up falling asleep once on the bus with my headphones on listening to music.
The ship was huge once we arrived in Ayr. I’ve never seen such a large ship! It was like a moving mountain.
We had to pass through customs though they didn’t seem too concerned with me once I told them my full plans. I was on my way to Dublin, but wanted to see as much of Ireland as I could.
The rule at the time was if you are a US citizen, you were allowed in the UK for up to 6 months without a visa. You couldn’t make any money during this time. If you wanted to make money in a foreign country, that was a separate visa.
There was lots of activity once I was on the ferry. We had to climb several floors to get to the deck with food and beverages on it.
I elected coffee vs beer. They did have breakfast for sale, eggs, porridge, fruits, your basic breakfast fare.
The coffee was incredibly hot so I added more milk than I usually do in order to cool it down. I was also able to fill up my water bottle thus maximizing my savings on the overpriced ferry food fare.
I selected a seat near a window as well as an outlet for charging my electronics.
Knowing how a previous hot coffee between the legs scenario played out, I sat my cup on a nearby table, thus making it a real coffee table.
I was soon joined by a scruffy looking man with a pint of beer who sat to my left in front of the window.
“You Scottish yeah,” he inquired after taking a big swig off his pint.
His eyes lit up when I told him I was American. It was always referred to as ‘The States’ by anyone when I was in Europe. Never America.
We chatted about The States, DC, Grand Canyon (usually the 1st thing people brought up aside from Obama) and his life in Northern Ireland.
He worked in Scotland, returning home to Northern Ireland on weekends. I was part of his commute which involved a couple buses and this ferry.
We were crossing the Irish Sea when he told me he mainly repaired cars and worked scrapping parts from some of the more damaged vehicles he came across.
He had a couple families due to his drinking, which he said was under control now seeing as how he was only drinking beer, not whiskey or ciders.
I was happy to have a pleasant conversation for a change. We talked for over a half hour before he turned and just stared out the window. I guess he was done talking.
Excusing myself, I circled the observation deck to take some pics of the Irish Sea.
The sea breeze was cool and water droplets pelted my face at times. I took the whole walk around the boat on the outside deck. Water as far as the eye can see.
It does take longer going by ferry but the feeling you get from being on the water is worth the time by my estimation. Wind in your face, water all around you was the way to go for me. A more elegant mode of transportation.
It was also just a bit less expensive to ferry vs airplane. Plus no metal detectors, pat downs, it was a very proper means of travel.
We ported in Larne where a row of buses waited us. You showed your ticket to a guy who directed you to the bus based on how you bought your ticket. Full ride included everything but you could just get a ferry ride or bus into town from this port.
It turned into a very grey, overcast day in Belfast upon our arrival as if rain could happen at any moment yet rarely did.
Maybe 15-20 minutes later we were dropped off in Belfast, Northern Ireland.
I hit the streets in search of my youth hostel. I was now noticing hostels used the word youth as well as having an age maximum. Happy to say I was just under that requirement for this trip.
Belfast was unexpectedly beautiful city. I very much enjoyed the half hour walk to my hostel. I noticed every sign was in 2 languages: English and gaelic.
I noted the street I needed to turn on to get to my hostel, as well as the restaurant’s name on the corner. Best to always have 2 points of navigation to find your way around.
Still too early to check in so I scoped out my surrounding areas looking for pubs, good food options and a grocery store.
I turned around once I arrived at Queen’s University. Big green space behind a black iron fence seemed like a good place to explore once I checked in.
My hostel was on Donegall Road. Off in the distance was a mound, very similar to Arthur’s Seat. This was the Divis Mound and was several miles outside Belfast so taking a hike up the mound was not in the plans this trip.
Across the street was a destination I marked to visit, a baked potato shop.
The bar next to it was seemingly a set out of an IRA movie, complete with a couple ever-present guys smoking out front, so I felt best to avoid it.
The girl who checked me in had long, thick red hair to match her thick Irish accent.
Pretty much every th word that came out her mouth sound like just a hard T. Every O sound was elongated like sew.
“Sew, ya want ta check in ta t hostel?” she asked. It took a moment to translate that, yet she was speaking English ha.
I was sharing a 6 bed room in the men’s dorm. Here the rooms were separated by gender as the showers were individual rooms with lockable doors.
Getting into the room, I placed my things on a top bunk near the window. I had a nice view of the now wet street below. It had began to rain as soon as I checked in.
Having no real choice, I laid down listening to the pouring rain.
Soon enough a couple guys come in and take the bunks across from me. They literally throw their things onto their bunks and back out the door.
It was still raining, though a lot less heavy and felt I needed to walk more, at least until sundown. Maybe get something to eat before heading to a pub I saw just down the street.
There was a small chicken shop that wasn’t a major US chain a few blocks away. It was a hybrid fried chicken/Pakistani spot.
Scanning the menu this was likely just supposed to be a fried chicken spot but they also had chicken and rice curry, and briyani (a Middle Eastern pilaf with spices).
Make mine a briyani please. I can get fried chicken anytime but I hadn’t seen this rice dish before.
It was delicious of course, a bit spicy causing a runny nose. A more flavorful chicken and rice dish than I was used to eating.
The rain began again outside, raindrops plinked against the windows. I began to chew slower and soon I was full. It was true, just slow down eating and you were full sooner.
I always feel bad throwing away food but they gave me probably 1 lb of rice.
“Can’t stand to see good food go to waste,” as my uncle used to tell us.
One particular breakfast, he scrambled probably 2 dozen eggs for 4 adults and 2 kids. He kept spooning eggs onto our plates until they were gone. We were young and still growing, you see.
I hurried across the street as it was still raining and headed into a huge, 2 story bar.
There were several big bouncers with tattoo sleeves out front of not just this pub, but every pub I passed. There must be fights all the time.
This bar was huge! 10 pool tables on either side of a huge room, bar along 1 wall. No place to sit near the bar so I sat along a wall near pool tables.
Of course first beer I got in Ireland was Guinness! So creamy and delicious, it made me feel what I’d heard was true, Guinness tastes better in Ireland.
It is nostalgia that makes you think, remember something tasting better, a more beautiful sunset, I feel. Just enjoy the moment, whatever you are doing, that is exactly what and where you should be.
There was an outside smoking section I availed myself of, a break from watching guys shoot pool and throw darts. It was a nice, brisk evening in Belfast.
Returning inside I sat watching sports highlights and a groups shooting pool.
A pretty blonde girl walked up to me, “Dew yew want tae plaay puhl?”
Of course I did! I met the group which included a couple gals and guys. Most of them were attached but not this one.
We talked about the States, Northern Ireland, beer while occasionally taking a shot at the balls on the table.
I got to know one guy the best, after a while I guess my charm wore off but not with this chap, he wanted to ask questions.
A tray of beers arrived with instructions to toast then chug them. I think it was a green bottle skunky beer so I was ok chugging it. Super cold brain freeze.
One doesn’t chug Guinness, that much I know.
I was led through a backdoor to a huge alley behind the pub. No one could leave through the front.
As I was about to say farewell and head home, I was instructed to get into the back of a taxi. I tried to pitch in on the fare but was waved away.
I had no idea where we were going, but I did know the name of my hostel, I could get back if necessary. There’s an app for that!
We were at someone house, with a front gate and everything! I followed everyone in, the pretty blonde who invited me was not around yet.
I spied an acoustic guitar in the corner so I began strumming chords, trying to make myself useful and entertaining. I wasn’t sure whose house we were at yet.
More people arrived and a beer was handed to me. I traded the beer for the guitar and they played a lot better than I.
Eventually the blonde who invited me to play ‘puhl’ arrived and nearly fell down some stairs. She had taken a few shots at the bar in addition to beer.
Her and several others disappeared into another room not to be seen the rest of the evening. I listened intently to the Irishmen playing guitar.
A long-haired chap sat and began rolling a joint. A couple of us followed him outside.
Ah ah, finally I met someone who lived here. We exchanged pleasantries and talked about life in Belfast. Long hours at work but he had a nice place to hang out in the backyard so he was happy.
He was excited about someday going to the States. I told him to just do it, go now. Only 1 life to live, so do what you want. They cannot take away memories, not yet.
The Grand Canyon came up again, he wanted to see that as well as just drive for hours across the country.
I was given instructions back to where the bar was, it wasn’t far and he said the area was safe to walk. It wasn’t raining so I figured why not walk for over a half hour at 3am in Belfast. What could go wrong? Nothing did.
What an amazingly long yet excellent day in Belfast!
Beer: Guinness Draught
Song: Them Baby, Please Don’t Go