Normally, I’m great at planning things. I coordinate trips, events, meet-ups, whatever with few problems and I honestly enjoy doing it. For some reason though, this weekend was nearly, though never quite, a disaster at every turn.
I’ve been in Ireland for two weeks now and, first of all, it’s fabulous. Irish people are nice and their accents are charming and, despite the occasional rain and persistent wind, it’s so beautiful. Last weekend my study abroad program took a group of us to Dingle and the Ring of Kerry in the southwest of the country which involved no planning on my part (yet I still managed to forget to bring pajamas) and was a great trip that meant a lot of driving through a lot of Ireland and periodic stops to see different areas.
This weekend, since my Irish immigration status is still technically waiting on my appointment next week, I wanted to travel but not be at a risk of getting shut out of the country. For Ireland, the solution is simple: go to Northern Ireland. Northern Ireland is technically a different country and part of the United Kingdom and while that meant I had to trade in some Euros for Pounds, there isn’t actually a hard border or any sort of security between the two countries so getting there was simple.
Now, the entire island of Ireland is about half the size of the state of Iowa so you can get from Dublin to Belfast faster than you can get from Des Moines to Kansas City. Dublin Coach offers a ten euro, two-hour ride up, which was easily booked online ahead of time but fast forward to 12:45 pm on the day we were leaving and there was frantic messaging, two people sprinting from campus to the first bus stop, the other two trying to find each other in the crowd, and the bus filling up and pulling away just as the two sprinters make it to the bus stop, sweating and panting.
While I say I’m studying abroad in Dublin, Maynooth is actually its own town and is even outside of Dublin county (just barely but enough) so getting downtown is a trek. From the school, it’s a ten or fifteen-minute walk to either the bus or train station then another 40-50 minutes on either transit so if you want to go anywhere, you have to have time. We didn’t. We had to call an overpriced taxi and still ride for a half hour to the bus stop that would take us to Belfast.
Once we arrived in Belfast, the AirBnB I booked was actually fabulous but the cab driver couldn’t seem to grasp the concept and was thoroughly confused why we couldn’t navigate ourselves to this house and scared us by saying the area wasn’t safe for Americans, even though we had no problems. As the college kids we are, we made ourselves a family dinner before playing some drinking games and staying up later than we should have for having to wake up to catch our tour bus the next morning at 8:45.
Now, if the whole of Ireland seems small, Northern Ireland is only about the size of the state of Connecticut but is full of some pretty amazing sites and, apparently, a lot of Game of Thrones filming locations. I tried watching Game of Thrones several years ago and made it through about two seasons watching the box sets before I had to leave them behind and was too cheap to buy a subscription to HBO. Admittedly, I’ve always wanted to continue watching them but at this point, I’d have to start over and I’m really just not willing to get into that kind of commitment right now. Despite my limited interest in the series, two of the four people I was travelling with were really in to the show and seeing the sights and, since the tour took us to other beautiful locations that we would have wanted to go to for one reasonable price, the five of us went on that nine-hour Game of Thrones tour and only had a few regrets.
Here’s the part of this blog where I try to explain different things that happened in Game of Thrones, really poorly, to give an idea of some of the places we saw. We drove past some sort of relevant black castle, stopped at the harbor where Arya climbed out of the water after being stabbed by someone, saw the cave where some evil lady gave birth to a shadow baby/assasnin/something, a limestone quarry that I missed how was relevant, a castle something was based on, buildings with murder holes where you pour liquid lead below on your enemies which inspired a gruesome scene with Daenerys’ brother, some relevant fields and hills, and the dark hedges from when Arya is pretending to be a boy to escape people trying to kill her.
Along with all those locations which clearly stuck with me, we went to the Giant’s Causeway, one of Ireland’s most beautiful landscapes and a strange natural phenomenon of hexagonal, heptagonal and octagonal rock formations on the ocean, which dip underwater and reemerge in Scotland. Honestly, I’d go there several more times and spend more time just marveling. At the maybe relevant limestone quarry, we also went across the Carrick-a-Rede rope bridge, which is suspended a hundred feet above the water and links to a small, fairly irrelevant island. It was terrifying and overpriced but again, meant some phenomenal views.
During the bus ride there were also copious amounts of sheep, which never failed to excite me and when I saw lambs running, I screamed loud enough for a lot of the bus to probably hate me. As I was sitting with one of the other girls who wasn’t into Game of Thrones, we spent much of the trip making plans to replace one of our friends with a sheep and if we were to lose anyone on the trip, a sheep double would do. Let it be known if I die in Ireland, I have a group of people promising to name a sheep after me so if they fail: Hunt. Them. Down.
In a truly Haley fashion, I got sick that evening and slept through whatever shenanigans were happening downstairs. In the morning, me and one other girl burnt breakfast, setting the fire alarms, and our friend in the shower, into a panic, cementing “Everything’s fine!” as our phrase of the weekend after messing up several other things.
We then went to the award-winning Titanic museum, as Belfast is known for building the Titanic and I guess not much else. There were five twenty-somethings in an overpriced museum about industry and death so it maybe wasn’t my best choice but, as the designated mom of the little college family, we did all the kids activities and were really into the slow informational ride and I only lost one of my kids once. I suspect going in a smaller group on a weekday would make that experience a little more worthwhile but the museum itself is so well-designed and gorgeous, I can see it’s significance in the city.
Honestly, for such an easy trip, I will almost definitely be going back up that way and spending more time enjoying the scenery, rather than keeping such a tight schedule. And next time, I will get my sheep.