With the exception of Seattle earlier this year we never eat at the same place multiple times during a vacation but while in Belfast we had breakfast both days at this cute little cafe called Panini on a side street in Holywood. Remember me saying the town was definitely an upper class suburb? Apparently it's always been that way - the store next to the cafe had a sign saying it had been serving the gentry since 1835. Well then.
After breakfast (eggs & bacon on soda bread with an extra powerful (that wasn't) espresso) we made our way out to the coast to see the Giant's Causeway. Unfortunately I saw a sign that said we were supposed to go one way while our GPS was telling us another and so I argued for a detour that wasn't the right thing to do and we ended up adding 15-20 minutes to our drive. We were able to buy gum though so it wasn't a total wash.
Giant's Causeway was one of my favorite sites to visit the whole trip. Like the perfect tourists we are, we watched the film in the visitor's center before heading down to the shore and I'm glad we did. We got to hear the legend of how the steps were formed according to local folklore. I won't ruin it for you but let's just say it had me laughing hysterically, especially their portrayal of the Scots. According to scientists, the 40,000 interlocking basalt columns are the result of an ancient volcanic eruption. I like the folklore reasoning better. The other great thing about the video was that we learned Alan's ancestors - the folks who crashed their Spanish Armada ships in Ireland and who eventually gave way to the Black Irish - landed ashore very near this area. So while we still had no idea where my family was from with the exception of "the Donnelly's were a very fierce and powerful clan from Donegal" we now had a pretty good idea of where Alan's roots come from (at least on this side; we still need to step foot in Sicily to find the other half).
The weather on the Antrim coast was beautiful - cold & bright, just the way I like it. As we got down to the rocks, it was also VERY windy which is evident in every single picture of me and what appears to be my flock of seagulls.
Leaving Giant's Causeway we drove a couple of miles down the road to the Old Bushmills Distillery, which because of its founding in 1601 makes it the oldest licensed distillery in the world. Based on the time we arrived we were fortunate enough to get a private tour of the plant and because it was a weekday - at this point we realized it was Thanksgiving! - the site was in full operation mode so we got to see not only where Bushmills is made but also how its made and by who.
It was definitely like being in an episode of How It's Made (in a good way). I wish our tour guide would have had a louder speaking voice because there were moments I couldn't hear a single word she said, but I got the general gist of it. At the end of the tour you get a tasting - we had a dram of the Bushmills 16 year single malt which is matured in a combination of American bourbon barrels, Spanish Oloroso sherry butts and Port pipes and the Bushmills 1608, a special 400th Anniversary whiskey blend containing 95% malt and 5% grain whiskey. The 1608 was definitely more robust than the 16 year, which we ended up buying for Alan's dad since he's such a whiskey fan. The longer we were in Ireland, the more I became a fan too and I definitely think of all the whiskeys I've drank the Bushmills Black Bush is my favorite for everyday consumption. [Because of the distilling process and how flammable the plant is you can't take pictures indoors so this is all I have - trust me, the tour is VERY cool inside.]
After Bushmills we drove a little way down the street to Dunluce Castle which we were once again fortunate enough to have completely to ourselves. While the weather may have been suspect during this trip nearly every single major site was completely deserted except for us. Oh, and it was FREEZING out there on the cliff where Dunluce is placed. The man who built it there must have been mad (especially since one night the entire kitchen fell off into the ocean).
Back at the hotel we rested for a couple of hours before driving into Belfast for dinner. We had heard that you must get oysters at the Crown Liquor Saloon so we tried to do that, but what each and every website and guide book that said to do this failed to mention was that oysters are only available at LUNCH. We were about 7 hours too late, but we decided to stay and eat upstairs before having a couple of drinks in the absolutely gorgeous Victorian bar downstairs. We couldn't get one of the private parlor rooms that were used back in Victorian times to separate the men from the women in the taverns but we did eventually get two barstools near the door which was nice because it was also very warm inside and I don't do well with heat and liquor. And speaking of heat, the lamps were real gas lamps not reproductions. At first I didn't understand what I was smelling (very faint) but then as I sat staring out into the room trying to figure it out I noticed that the bulbs were actually flames and it hit me. No one does that anymore!
We didn't get to take a famous black taxi tour of the city to learn about its history, including "The Troubles" which I'm kind of sad about but we only had so much time there and it just didn't work out. What is crazy is that while we were wandering around Belfast for two days thinking what an absolutely modern city it is and how there was no visible trace of the violence of the IRA there were bombings both immediately before and after we left the area. Ignorance is bliss, I suppose?