Back to Belfast (2004-03-16 - 3:42 p.m.)
I've heard it said
It's time to switch to whiskey, we've been drinking beer all day!"
That's my little Corb Lund Band tribute to Ireland. That's right: I got to go on a tour of the Old Bushmills distillery! And if you don't drink Guinness around here, whiskey's the next best thing.
So yes, I made it to Belfast. I actually thought the trip would be much worse than it was. It was long, but it was scenic and I really enjoyed seeing more of the countryside (even out of the windows of a bus). Unfortunately, though, the trip didn't get off to what you'd call a very good start. I couldn't check out of the hostel till 8 am, which took forever. I made the mistake of grabbing breakfast after that, and the even more dire mistake of taking the Circle tube line to Victoria station. I knew it was slow, but I thought that not having to change trains at King's Cross would make it faster even so. I was apparently wrong. My bus was due to leave at 9 am, and as the time ticked nearer and nearer the train I was on suddenly and mysteriously decided to stop in the middle of a tunnel and just hang out there for a while. To say I was frustrated would be putting it mildly. When the train FINALLY decided to move along into Victoria Station, I leapt out and literally ran the three blocks to Victoria Coach Station.
I rushed into the station and asked the first uniformed person I saw which coach stand I needed. She told me it was #16, up at the top, and I had better run. Being Canadian, and stressed (so not thinking in Brit-speak) I assumed this meant upstairs. Of course it just meant at the end of the row, but by the time I figured this out and started running it was 9:00 on the dot. I reached the coach and gestured at the driver, who waved me away. So I found another guy in uniform, who told me the coach driver was just being bloody-minded and I should be able to still get on. He hauled the coach driver out, who proceeded to start screaming at me at the top of his lungs (precipitated by my apologising for being late). I haven't heard such a tirade since I was late for an exam of Doug Wong-Wylie's once in second-year university! It started out "Sorry doesn't bloody well cut it, you're bloody well late, you're lucky I didn't sell your seat to someone else, I shouldn't even let you get on..." and took off from there. The bus attendant guy smiled at me sympathetically, but that didn't help much as the entire bus was sitting in rapt silence watching me be chewed out by the bus driver from hell. I amused myself on the way out of London by composing a very blunt and well-written letter telling him exactly what I thought of him and his screaming fit, but by the time we got off the bus seven hours later I had calmed down enough not to give it to him.
However, once I calmed down a little the trip was quite pleasant. (Better once we got rid of Mr. Horrible Bus Driver at Carlisle, though). After Carlisle I was watching the countryside go past and suddenly noticed that it had become ridiculously beautiful sometime in the last few miles. Then we pulled into Dumfries, and I realised that it was because we'd hit Scotland. What a gorgeous country. At that point, I was happy I took the bus and had an opportunity to see these places. It was interesting - Scotland (and the very north of England) was full of low stone walls dividing the fields. These served exactly the same function as the canals in Holland, and the hedges in Ireland. I'd be interested how they got those walls to stand up. I didn't see any mortar, although perhaps it had just worn away. I also saw a lot of sheep with spots of colour on their butts, and even some with numbers! I thought it was pretty funny the first time I saw a blue-reared sheep.
I had been looking forward to the ferry ride, because I like boats, but it turned out not to be very fun at all. There was what appeared to be an entire school of screaming wee'uns, all wearing green football jerseys and all running around the ferry. Also, you weren't allowed out on the deck, so I couldn't even see the water. Luckily it was a short ride and after about the first 45 minutes someone corralled all the kids into the front of the ferry, so at least you couldn't hear them as much.
From the ferry station it was a short bus ride to Europa station, where I was picked up by John. It was great to be back at familiar Dunluce Ave with familiar people who even seemed happy to see me! The only downside was that John has suddenly taken up smoking again. I'll leave that there: suffice it to say I'm not overly pleased.
Kerry the American roommate has her sister staying this week as well, and as soon as I walked in Kerry said, "Do you want to go to the Giant's Causeway tomorrow? I booked us a ticket!" Which was great, although unexpected, because I had been meaning to go last time I was here but was too sick to make the effort.
The tour was great. It was on a mini-bus, driven by a guy from Glasgow who was very obviously speaking v-e-r-y s-l-o-w-l-y so all the tourists could understand his accent! We went up the coast road through some of the Glens of Antrim and saw some absolutely gorgeous scenery. We passed some old caves that used to be used as a house, an illegal still and an illegal school for Catholics! We stopped at the rope bridge, but unfortunately it wasn't in use yet.
Okay, more later - a few very busy days are too much to tell in one sitting.
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