Wednesday, August 7, 2013

UK 2013 - day 1: Belfast, Coastal drive, and Cookstown.

Hey, rise and shine! Life is beautiful and vacation has begun!

After a miserable flight + 48 hours of no sleep (Thursday night - trying to get my online class done; Friday night - unable to sleep in a tight airplane chair); loaded with about five Red Bulls (which made me j- j- j-jittery), we've landed full speed ahead In Dublin to begin our vacation.


Flight - 
Man, those people that travel business class are lucky! ... and rich of course... Those chairs are nicely spaced and lay all the day down for a nice bed-like experience. If you can afford it, travel business.

But we can't. We fly tight economy. And it gets us there.

We flew United, but the flight was operated by Aer Lingus. Unlike Virgin Airlines, the Aer Lingus flight is bare bones. They don't give us little knickknacks like Virgin gave us last time.

If you can, avoid landing in Dublin. Their immigration lines are long and painfully slow. Thank God there was free wi-fi at the airport. We facebooked away... and I posted this pic:
Do I look like I haven't gotten any (sleep, I mean) for 2 nights?

Car rental - 
If you have a credit card and you think that it covers you rental insurance ... Don't go to Ireland, Jamaica or Israel.
I called Capital One to make sure the counter lady from Enterprise wasn't lying ... It is true. We had to pay for insurance.
And insurance cost an extra €100 over our budget. .... Well, well, well, here we go, starting our vacation over-budget ... My so neatly well-planned budget.

Finding the Enterprise counter was a little bit of a comedy - a comedy of errors, that is:
First Dean sees a shuttle for Enterprise from the second floor window. He then decides that we are supposed to go wait for the shuttle outside. As usual, I followed him, even though I knew there was something wrong with what he was saying. I tend to follow Dean's senseless ideas for the first few seconds ... then I panic. "This ain't right. This ain't right." I just keep saying that till Dean yells at me. "Then what are you going to do?"
That was when I figured that looking for a random shuttle spot made no sense, that the smart thing to do was to look at the booking confirmation paper. Hey! It said - "counter inside the airport." H'm....

Back inside the airport, we followed signs for rental agencies. When we did find the car rentals, where was Enterprise? ... Oh! there it is! Hiding behind a corner past every other car rental window! We found it after walking in a loop a few times on the first floor.

Mistake - We bought a full tank for €60. That is a bad idea. Don't do that. The counter lady will say that their "petrol" (gas in Brtish) is cheaper. ... Maybe in her own fairy tale land. You can always find cheap petrol around.

Besides, if you are trying to make sure your tank is empty, you won't be able to check your mileage. And Dean and I like to check our mileage. You know these car rentals work as test drives for us. Mileage is a big deal when you test drive.


It is NOW, after you've been to the counter, that you go to the shuttle.

My Irish English goal: Our shuttle driver John spoke a very much Irish English. I understood about 25% of all he said. My goal by the end of day 4 in Ireland is to understand at least 50% of what the Irish people say.

John explained to us that the riots we had been reading about on the news are fruit of a yearly celebration in which the protestants go to the Catholics streets to display the victory of the Protestant king over the Catholic one. - I don't recall their names. ... James? William? .... They always have the same names. It's either James, William, George, Edward ... Do they only have four male names in England?

Apparently the public display of happiness got violent this year - hence the riots.

Our Car

Our car is a cute white VW Up! (yes, with the exclamation mark). So teeny tiny, but so spacious inside. Its trunk fit our full size luggage and both our backpacks. It drives very well, according to our official driver Dean. Mileage? ... Yeah, we won't be knowing that. ... Way to go, Vee. But we assume it is over 50 mpg.


SIM Card -
We have a travel phone that I bought in Brazil. We put local SIM cards in it every time we travel abroad.
We didn't buy our SIM card at the Dublin airport because Dublin is not in the UK and we wanted to buy a UK local number. Little did we know that this would lead us to our total inability to make or receive phone calls for about a week.
Word to the wise, buy your SIM card at an airport. You'll find out why in the next few days.
We should have driven straight to the Belfast airport and bought us a SIM card.

Trip North - 
We were not staying in Ireland. We were staying in Northern Ireland.So we headed out of the airport and into Northern Ireland right away.
Having planned so poorly for this trip, I forgot to check for toll booths. There was one soon enough, on M1. But all was well because we did have Euros with us. Thanks, Mom! That payment you made me in Euros (and I wondered, "what the hell am I going to do with this?"), that saved us.... Moms know better, people. They always do. There is something about moms. ... Which is why I am not fit to be one.

And here is something I liked about that place - the toll booth.They had a sign said "ARRIVE ALIVE" - I like that philosophy. During this trip, I will find myself repeating that line to my husband Dean a few times, in a panicky voice, and hands over my face. "Arrive alive! Arrive alive, honey! Arrive alive!"

Entering Northern Ireland is a mystery
We knew we had reached Northern Ireland because, suddenly, the road signs were only in English  (rather than the bilingual English -Gaelic signs from the Republic) and the speed signs were in Miles instead of Kilometers. No Passport check, no immigration booths, not even a sign saying "Welcome to Northern Ireland."



Your SatNav / GPS needs maps
The SatNav (GPS in British) found our first destination - St George's Market, in Belfast. So there we went.
But it was only able to do that, because we had UK/Irish maps downloaded to it.
Do remember to buy UK/Ireland maps for your SatNav before leaving the United States. It doesn't come with foreign maps, you know.
... A lot of people don't seem to know that. ... Just saying.


Belfast
We found a "multi-storey car park" (parking garage in British) for £4 all day long, on Montgomery St. It was neighbor to the car park (parking lot in British) we stayed for free last time. This time it wasn't free anymore. But you can't beat 4 pounds a day. That is because it was a Saturday special. On regular week days the price is spicy (that means expensive in Portuguese).


St. George's Market is open Fri-Sun - each day with a specific type of market (variety; crafts; and mix). But they always have food - good food. And they let you sample!!! Yum! Yum!


We had lunch at the Lebanese guy, after trying other samples. At St. George's you can always ask for samples. Dean didn't get any ...(samples, I mean) I don't know why. I get them anywhere I can find them. And I always promise I will be back, because I always think I've found the best food in the market. ... yeah ...

At the Lebanese guy we got Falafel wrap for Dean, Falafel salad for me. I got the Falafel salad because of the generous portion of humus it comes with.

Yummy  yummy humus - one of my all time favorite foods.

Falaffel, on the other hand, are those little cakes to the side. It turns out they are made just like the Brazilian acarajé. Just the base ingredient is different, the preparation is the same. Check out the videos:
video video










After lunch, we walked to the Linen library - just across the street from City Hall - to do some genealogy search. It turned out we had to already know something about our people in order to find them in those genealogy books available there.
But Dean had fun looking at the information either way. Disappointing, but fun.
Later I sat down at their cafe - with free wi-fi - and downloaded some plans from 2011, since my planning for this year was pitifully disorganized.

For this year I had planned the black cab tour of Belfast - that one that takes you to see the political murals and stuff. Would they be running with the riots going on? It would hurt to ask. So we called from a pay phone (yeah, those red cabin phones!!!). But their phone number didn't exist! Well, it was on the website. I had just double-checked at the library cafe. I guess that settles it. We are not doing black taxi tours. Let's just go for option 2: a coastal drive.

Oh, wait! First things first! Around the corner from the library there was a Boots - a pharmacy where Dean wanted to go buy shaving supplies. Dean and his old-timey shaving mania. As for me I bought a nail polish remover to get my nails done. I was planning on getting my nails done... a few times maybe... It wouldn't happen for the whole trip... but, hey, no one ever said wishful thinking was bad.

I took pictures of a demonstration going on in front of city hall. Who knows what that was about. I should have asked.


Coastal Drive
We used our Ireland Drives book and drove up the coast all the way to the town of Cushendall. Not sure how to pronounce that. I've pronounced so many city names wrong during this trip it is not even funny. Every so often I'd be talking to someone and they'd say the right name of the place.

Me: Oh! That is how you say it?
Local: Yes! How have you been saying it?
Me: (awkward look) Never mind, never mind, never mind.

It was a tough ride for me - who had been awake since Thursday morning. It was now Saturday afternoon, the 5 Red Bulls had worn out, and my body was calling it quits.
What happened? Well, I am famous for falling asleep in the car... (even on the driver's seat, which almost cost me my life once, but let's skip that story) So I missed some beautiful coastal views.

Dean was also tired from the miserable overnight flight. I felt bad and wanted to help him stay awake, but hey, have you ever seen a blind person trying to guide a friend who wears glasses?
I was a useless blob on the passenger's seat.

Cushendall had free parking - I love free parking! We stopped and went for a walk in a park they mentioned in our book.
But, first things first, we walked into their little grocery store and bought - guess what - caffeinated drinks! My body doesn't work without caffeine anymore. It just doesn't. Why try? I will just hurt myself. As in, rolling over with the car while I am asleep behind the wheel. ... let's not talk about that.
Then, properly caffeinated, we went for a happy stroll through the park. We looked for this Laide Church to see some Celtic crosses the book mentioned, but we didn't find it.  We didn't care to keep looking. We had enjoyed our 45-minute stroll through the park, and we wanted to make it to Cookstown alive. I know a thing or two about sleepy driving. ... Not fun.




Lodging and Dining in Cookstown
The Belfast House was easy to find. It was right off the main road, above a Subway restaurant.
We checked in, chatted with locals, and, since they don't serve dinner there, we ate at The Royal Hotel for only £17.

We had eaten there last time too.
Just that this time, we met a group of Americans that are staying at Fortview Manor - the B&B I had tried to book for us, but they had no rooms available! Guess who had booked those rooms! Yeah. The Americans dining at the Royal with us. Here comes the neat part. They bought a bottle of wine, because it was so cheap, but they couldn't drink it all, so they shared it with us. Free wine. Can't whine about that.

Back to the Belfast House, I showered and Dean passed out in bed. So as I was writing my journal, my Dean was fast asleep, poor baby. The sleep of the just ... and the drivers.

I liked our room. It was nice, spacious and comfortable. Pretty much all you can ask of a room.
It was around 1am by the time I finished writing this journal. I was so tired, but I couldn't close my eyes - too much caffeine.
But I knew I had to sleep, do I just stopped writing and hit the sack.
By the way - there was a lot f noise outside at 1 AM. Funny thing is, the city was so dead at around 8PM when we got there! But by 1 AM it was very much alive. Alive and loud. It doesn't bother us. We knew what we were getting ourselves into when we booked a tavern/inn. That's what Dean always asks for.
"Can you please book us a tavern? The kind that has the pub downstairs and the lodging upstairs?"
"Do you know how much work it is to find those places ... honey?"

But, do remember, if you don't like noise, don't stay at a tavern. B&B's are the place for you.

We've stayed at B&B's before. They are quiet. They have that great-grandma's home feel to it. You know, by 8 pm everyone seems to be in bed, and those party animals like us, who arrive at the hotel between 10pm to midnight, have to tiptoe our way to the room, avoid flushing till morning, and ... try not to get any action in bed ... (unless you don't mind entertaining all the other guests with ... never mind).


Today's expenses:
Car rental $462.14 (credit)
car park  at Montgomery st multi-storey car park - £4 (credit)
lunch at st George's market £10 (cash)
boots £9.20 (credit)
Eurospar Cushendall £2.99 (cash) - this is a grocery store
the royal hotel £16.70 + £3(tip cash) dinner
Belfast House £55 (credit)
Boots - £9.20(credit)






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