Rivets and Icebergs

For our last day in Belfast and Northern Ireland, we chose the Titanic Belfast attraction. Titanic Belfast is a visitor attraction opened in 2012, a monument to Belfast’s maritime heritage on the site of the former Harland & Wolff shipyard in the city’s Titanic Quarter where the RMS Titanic was built. It tells the stories of the ill-fated Titanic, which hit an iceberg and sank during her maiden voyage in 1912, and her sister ships RMS Olympic and HMS Britannic. The building contains more than 130,000 sq ft of floor space, most of which is occupied by a series of galleries, private function rooms and community facilities.

Dave and I grabbed a taxi from the hotel and decided on the deluxe tour. We purchased the White Star Premium Pass which offered us discounts in two restaurants and gift store and entry to the attraction as well as an hour walking tour and entrance to the Nomadic, tender boat.

We had a couple of hours before our guided tour, so we were outfitted with headphones and started on the very extensive, multi-floor exhibition. They begin with conditions in Belfast in the early 1900’s and how the company was formed, how the ship’s plans were created and the how the ship was built.

There was even a gentle, but very clever ride, reminiscent of Disney ride showing the building process with narration of a riviter behind it. Such backbreaking work in the shipyard.

Each display was VERY well done going into as much detail as you wanted or as little. Every floor was crowded, but not to the point you couldn’t get to each visual and enjoy it.

Obviously, the end of that fateful cruise was looming and they did a wonderful job of showering the hard work each shipyard worker endured and how the design of the ship was created using the best materials available to them at the time.

As that fateful day neared, the rooms darkened and the tone changed from hopeful and excited to dread and fear as the alerts about icebergs were sent…ignored, then disaster as a result. One felt your heart grow heavy as you listened to first-hand accounts from survivors as you looked at some of the last photographs of the ship ever recorded frozen in time.

We had to end our tour right then because the guided tour was about to start. Libby, our guide, was a perky Irish Lass who told us about a lot of the symbolism surrounding the construction of the attraction and took us through the Harland and Wolf buildings where the designs of Titanic were drawn. Those buildings are now a very expensive hotel.

There was amazing attention-to-detail put into the design of the attraction as well as the grounds surrounding it. The wooden benches outside spelled out the last message of Morse code from the Titanic. The outline of the entire ship was embedded into the pavement where the ship sat under construction. I was a amazed how narrow it actually was, but it was very long.

There were vertical steel beams to indicate where the Titanic and her sister ship, the Olympic would has sat in the shipyard. However, they indicated the height of these beams were only about a quarter of the actual height of each ship.

Even the design of the main building itself represented the full height of the bows (front) of each ship and they were covered with thousands of steel plates representing the workers. Really well done.

Of course most everyone is aware of some of the “famous/rich” people who were on board like the Asters, Molly Brown, etc., but our guide told us about the Sage family. They had 11 members of their family on board. All went down with the ship. Only one body was recovered….a 12-year old boy from the family. All of those stories need to be told.

After the guided tour, Dave and I enjoyed lunch in one of the four cafes and had a terrific ham and cheese quiche. Then we continued with the rest of the exhibit.

They continue with the inquests after the sinking including the findings in the number of life boats which no doubt resulted in numerous deaths. The movies made about the sinking and the technical advancements in not only ship building, but underwater discoveries were also explored.

A highlight for me was the astonishing way they displayed the wreckage in the sea floor. They had a glass floor in a darkened theater and lit the scanned images underneath it as if you were in a submersible floating over there ghostly wreckage. It was brilliant and sad.

The last part of the tour was spent touring the SS Nomadic. It’s the last remaining ship of the White Star line sitting in dry dock. It was mainly used a tender to transfer passengers from ship to shore and transferred passengers from Titanic on it’s last stop in France before it sunk. The last time for many to be on dry land.

We were both pretty pooped after a long day on our feet, so we grabbed a taxi back to the hotel and decided to eat dinner in the hotel for the first time. It was great and I asked to take a piece of lemon meringue pie back to the room. They wrapped up a plate including a pitcher of cream for me to take.

Oh, and I now have Dave’s cold. Cheers!

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Past, Present, and Future

This morning Dave and I checked out of Fir Tree Hotel. I can honestly say we will not miss it and will not be visiting again. You’ll notice we haven’t posted any photos of it or our room. Onward…

We are now headed to Belfast to drop the car off at the airport, get a cab into the city and check in to our hotel for the next three nights.

Dave indicated I had not taken a photo of him driving the car. I took a short video in Scotland of him, but realized he was right. So here it is!

He did a great job driving, despite my nagging him he was too close to the curbs and hedges and a GPS/SatNav that died and having to use a different one. We really liked the Audi we got upgraded to by the nice man inside the airport at the Hertz desk. He was great even taking us outside to let us know where we’d be returning the car.

Dave got us safely back to Belfast airport today. It was a shame the young men who man the outside Hertz rental car pick up & return were so unhelpful and rude. Both at pick up and return, they were unpleasant to deal with.

Anyway…the taxi driver and hotel receptionist more than made up for the airport dudes. Both were extremely friendly and helpful and answered all our questions.

We were both hungry and walked over to White’s Tavern for lunch and a pint. I had Bangor’s (sausages) and Mash (potatoes) and Dave had fish n’ chips and we both had Guinness. What a cool pub. Supposedly haunted, it originally was established in 1630. Which means it has been a pub since around the times the Pilgrim’s landed. Think about that.

Our first order of business after checking in at The Premier Inn, was to take a hop-on, hop-off bus tour of the city. We walked to the first stop and were glad to see the tour was just about to leave. We sat on the outside, upper deck of the double-decker bus and were whisked around the city for an hour and a half tour.

Unbeknownst to us, there was a woman’s rights march today in Belfast and the bus had to wait for the march a bit and drive a slightly different route.

The tour showed the good, the bad, and ugly. Unfortunately, there is still some major bad and ugly in Belfast with the religious differences and segregation. There has been peace, but you can tell the unrest could bubble up at any time. After photographing a few of the murals dedicated to those who sacrifices or were innocently killed, I stopped photographing them. I hate war, I especially hate violence, and I wasn’t crazy about it all being a focus of a tour bus. It is, however, part of Belfast’s past and should be remembered to not repeat in the future.

There are some historical buildings in Belfast NOT associated with The Troubles, and they were pointed out and they drove through what could be considered the “slums” of the city as well as the more affluent neighborhoods. It was uncomfortable to me to not only take the tour bus down the streets of these poorer neighborhoods, but for the tour guide to be talking on the speaker about how poorly they live….while driving down the street and people who live their walking about. Edinburgh, this was not. And perhaps that is WHY they do it. They need to show the world.

We also drove to the Northern Ireland parliament building which is very grand, but way outside the main city.

After the tour we walked around the city for awhile and did a wee bit of shopping. Dave picked up a free Guinness hat and I bought one of the two things I’ve been looking for in Ireland: a Claddagh ring.

There is an old Irish saying that goes, “With These hands, I give you my heart and crown it with my love.” The Claddagh ring consists of a heart with a crown held by two hands symbolizing love, loyalty and friendship. There are specific ways one is supposed to wear them as well.

Dave is still not quite over his cold and I was starting to get a sore throat so we cut our night short and hope to get some rest.

Too Many Castle Photos You Say?

Our last day in Ballintoy greeted us with more haze and clouds, but still warm and no rain! We’ve been very fortunate thus far.

This morning I tried the white pudding for breakfast and found I quite like it. White pudding is broadly similar to black pudding, but does not include blood; modern recipes consist of pork meat and fat, suet, oatmeal and breadcrumbs formed into a large sausage. It had a nice crunch and wasn’t as spicy as the black pudding from yesterday. Would I go out of my way order it again? I’m not sure, but I wouldn’t turn it down if offered.

 

We met a nice older couple from southern England over breakfast this morning and shared pleasant conversations about travel and places we’ve all visited. The O’Rourkes were lovely.

We shared our day’s plans with Theresa and she told us to take any of the breads and muffins we’d like with us for our lunch. I had just enjoyed a piece of what I believe was strawberry bread that was delicious, so I grabbed two pieces of that and two muffins. Theresa gave us a small container of butter and two plastic bags to take. Great idea!

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If you have tired of descriptions and photos of ancient castles, then look away, because this one is a doozy. Our last castle in Northern Ireland was Dunluce Castle. Even though it was abandoned in the late 1600’s it was amazing how much of this castle remains, especially with it’s ocean-side, cliff-top setting.

It has easy access and an easy-to-read map describing each area. A lot of archeological work has been done on the grounds and some of the photos and artifacts are on display.

I was fascinated with the “lodgings” or guest quarters where each room had their own fireplace. This was actually OUTSIDE the castle grounds. One of the two-feet thick walls had fallen over at some point and it has been left right where it fell.

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The views out every window and ledge were stunning. Dave and I both took so many photos from different angles and locations. We would rate this attraction high on our list of must-sees.

We kept seeing this spectacular sand beach while touring Dunluce and were able to pinpoint where it was. A short drive along the coast and there it was…just ready & waiting for us. It’s called White Rocks Beach in Portrush and it’s wonderful.

Dave and I settled into a nice spot on the sand, enjoyed the rolling waves and people watching and had our baked treats we had brought with us from the B&B. A terrific spot. And, yes, it does have white rocks,

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Our next destination was to  Carrick-a-rede rope bridge. Although both of us had already agreed we probably would NOT walk across this narrow, rope bridge, we DID want to see the way to get to it and enjoy the view on this suddenly warm, sunny day. The path TO the bridge wasn’t too bad, but it would have been a bear for both of us to complete on the way back. So we enjoyed the tremendous views.

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We went back to the B&B for a rest before dinner and the TV was on in our room. Really odd since we haven’t turned on the TV since our vacation started.

Then we went back to the Fullerton Arms for dinner. When we walked in to the place, it was noticeably quiet and dark. The power was out. Just as we were deciding what to do, the power came back on. I had fish n’ chips and it was fantastic. We then drove to Ballintoy Harbour for a final look. It was lovely being bathed with sun this time instead of haze.

We returned to B&B and the TV had come in again in our room. Then we learned there was s power outage here as well. I guess it’s not that unusual.

Dave andI go inland to Strabane tomorrow. I will miss Ballintoy, it’s scenery and the very friendly people. Thank you!

 

Deer, Duncan, and Downpours

The quiet morning by the Loch. The birds chirping. The spectacular views. Ah…Scotland!

Dave and I enjoyed a restful night and arrived in the breakfast room ready to meet the day. There was a lovely woman from England at the table and we were shortly joined by another couple from the Lake district of England. The food was excellent and company was as well. We spoke of history, travels and language. Enjoyable.

Our first stop today was to drive down to a viewing point to see Castle Stalker. It is one of the best-preserved medieval tower-houses to survive in western Scotland. The castle is privately owned and apparently the family that lives there DOES give private tours, but we were just going to stop and take a few photos from it.

The weather was perfect and we enjoyed a short stroll to the edge of the lock. Upon doing so, I spotted something tall in the field and it turned out to be a very large deer. We were surprised how unaffected he/she was by our presence and allowed us to walk quite close to take videos and photos.

Castle Stalker has been featured in May television shows and movies throughout the years. We can see why. What a picturesque setting as it rises from the rocky island.

We continued our drive and stopped for another castle drive-by. This time is was the ruins of Kilchurn Castle across the loch through the trees.

Our next stop was the ancestral home of Clan Campbell at Inverary Castle. What a stunning building inside and out. A very unusual entrance, at least compared to other castles, with the hanging flowers.

However, we needed food! So we stopped into the on-sight tea room for a bite to eat. Dave ordered some coffee and a ham salad, which he loved. I had a fruit scone, butter, jam, and a wee pot of tea. We sat outside in the shade (yes, it was very warm again) at small bistro tables with the castle directly beside us.

The Duke of Argyll, Chief of the Clan Campbell lives in the castle with his young family and they’ve done an amazing job of allowing the public to view a certain number of rooms, maintain a fabulous garden & gift shop, and keeping it their ancestral home as well.

The grounds are very sprawling and the large garden as lovely. Many of the early spring flowers had gone by, but all the rhododendrons and azalea were in bloom. Some of these bushes/trees must be VERY old because they were very large.

The rooms inside gave one a real taste of the 17th century through the Victorian age sprinkled with photographs of the present Duke and his family.

Although, I hate war of any kind, I have to admit the armory room is impressive. They indicated the last time these weapons were used was at the Battle of Culloden. One certainly looked at them with a sense of sadness and respect.

The extremely large silver bowl on the formal dining room table was given to the Duke at the time by Queen Victoria and we learned the gilded sailing ships are actually filled with soup, the top is removed and they roll them around the table for the soup to be served.

Dave and I walked around the beautiful gardens admiring he grounds and expansive tree collections just like Balmoral. There was one HUGE tree truck that caught my eye and I had to have Dave take a photo of me with it for perspective.

I snapped a few photos of Duncan at the entrance as this would be his last castle in his homeland of Scotland then the clouds moved in and we could see rain was coming.

We were able to stay ahead of the rain for awhile and enjoy still more stunning scenery around Loch Lomond. Dave’s ancestors went to Northern Ireland from an area/river here called Glen Douglas, which we were able to find. Dave walked along the path his ancestors walked 450 years ago and he paid his respects. I snapped a photo of him walking the road and also a massive tree that MAY have been there at the time. Who is around today to prove us wrong, right?

Then the skies opened up as we tried to find our B&B for the night. The GPS was leading us in all sorts of directions and finding certain places proved difficult. Those darn back, country roads!

We finally found the entrance gates to the 19th century lodge, the Mulberry Lodge and were greeted at the door by owners Yvonne and David. Our room was a lovely back room facing the lovely gardens and a small deck overlooking the gardens with a bistro set. Fresh flowers, interesting artwork and a painted bookcase on the wall…literally! The sitting room and breakfast room were great. Like an old country manner.

Dave and I wanted to eat some place nearby and Scottish, so Yvonne generously offered to make reservation for us at the Clachan Inn/Pub for dinner. We cleaned up and drove in to Drymen and discovered this lovely, very old white-washed stone building.

The Clachan Inn is the oldest registered licensed pub in Scotland (1734). It has a lot of character and warmth and we thought we’d give Scotland ONE last change on their fish n’ chips. They did NOT disappoint and they also had Belhaven Best, so I was happy.

Glens, Lochs, and Left Lanes

As Dave and I were getting ready for breakfast this morning at the Rowan Tree Guesthouse, I noticed the lovely rose garden they have outside our bathroom window. Very pretty and an unexpected surprise in this setting. We enjoying a filling breakfast, then had a rather LARGE errand to run.

Today was the first day Dave drove in Scotland in over 30 years. It didn’t start off well last evening when we got about a block and a half from the hotel and the GPS/SatNav that he bought a month ago literally croaked on us. Thankfully, Dave knew of a nearby store that could help. So, we drove over there this morning and they were stumped at what happened and were clearly amazed and amused by the sound emanating from the wee black box. They even gave us 25 pounds off the listed price on a replacement model. Nice, nice lady & gentleman there.

So, with another brand new GPS in hand, we headed west. It was going to be a pretty straightforward root, but we were not expecting the beautiful views, winding roads, and quaint villages we drove through. This was a good test on Dave getting comfortable driving on the other side of the car and the road. He did great though.

We made a very brief stop at Huntingtower Castle. It was basically just a look-see and not something we intended to enter. It was lovely though. We fell in love with the village of Crieff with is beautiful homes and commanding views.

A quick stop at Loch Earn to take a few shots resulted in some really nice photos of it’s tranquill waters.

The weather was just about perfect, if not too hot again. We were expecting rain and never saw a drop of it.

Then we had lunch at Mhor 84. Dave and I had stopped here before five years ago, and meals did NOT disappoint. Fantastic lunch! I had the Scotch Rarebit and Dave had Mac & cheese. He said it was the best he’s ever had.

I saw our next stop mentioned by a Twitter follower from the UK. We read about it and decided to find it and check it out, it’s Falls of Falloch. Found at a non-descrip sign and a short walk in the woods. What a delightful spot! Loved the sound of the water.

As the mid-day sun started to become intermingled with clouds, we entered the most exciting part of the trip for us…Rannoch Moor and Glencoe. Although the drive across the A 85 was brilliant in it’s own, the anticipation of not only seeing Glencoe, but arriving before any rain wear is needed, was high!

Stunning vistas, rolling hills, majestic mountains and the deepest valley’s you’ll find. Glen (or valley) Etive and GlenCoe provided us with today’s best scenery for sure.

We found a quiet spot away from the buses and people and just sat and enjoyed this priceless view.

Although Dave and I did NOT want to leave, we needed to get to our next overnight accommodation in Ballachulish on Loch Leven. The Tom Eachainn Guesthouse has lovely views over Loch Leven in a quite neighborhood. The owner Sue, greeted us at the door and gave us a recommendation for dinner, which we took.

The Holly Tree Hotel is 4 miles away on Loch Linnhe. The views from the restaurant were beautiful and they served Belhaven ale! The bartender was shocked that I was one having the full pint and Dave had the half pint. Dinner was great. I had scallops & Dave had lamb.

We saw two fabulous cars in the restaurant car park and contemplated which one we thought was the “hotter” set of wheels. I thought the green, soft-top British Kallistro Panther was hot and Dave chose the White Mercedes behind it.

Afterwards we took a stroll along the Loch edge and saw a seal in the water. Then on the drive home, we saw a rainbow. I think we may have had a few angels with us today.

The Heavenly Highlands with Helen

We awoke to yet another foggy morning, but it was dry and breakfast was waiting! And what a wonderful breakfast it was. Michelle and David were wonderful hosts as a lovely arrangement of fresh produce and other locally-produced goodies were on display.

Cold items like cereal, yogurt, granola, meats, cheese and breads were offered, but the hit of the morning was the rhubarb jam. It was so sweet and tasty. None of us opted for the full Scottish breakfast, but instead had mostly eggs & toast. Just the right amount.

After being invited into the kitchen and checking out, we had a wonderful chat with Michelle & David again and told them how much we enjoyed our stay, the B&B itself, and the room. They also exchanged business cards with Helen as I know she enjoyed it too.

Then we headed out into the foggy mist to drive inland. We made a very quick stop at Crathes Castle, but it wasn’t open yet, so Dave just got out and took a few pics.

Then we headed to Balmoral Castle, the private royal residence for members of the British Royal family since 1852, when the estate and its original castle were purchased by Prince Albert, consort to Queen Victoria. Balmoral remains the private property of the royal family and are not the property of the Crown.

As we headed west, the fog started to rise and sunshine greeted us by the time we reached the car park at the castle…just as Helen said it would. However, we did make one small detour right before going to the castle by visiting Crathie Kirk (Kirk means church) which is best known for being the regular place of worship of the royal family when they are holidaying at Balmoral castle, which is right next door. It’s a wee church with some wonderful history. Then onto the big house – Balmoral!

The castle is an example of Scottish baronial architecture, and after many additions by successive family members, it now covers an area around 50,000 acres. It’s a working estate that employs around 50 full-time employees. There are grouse moors, forestry, and farmland, as well as managed herds of deer, highland cattle, and ponies. The Queen DOES love her horses.

Helen, Dave and I picked up the audio tours and set out to explore the sprawling estate. Helen had never visited here either, so it was fun to experience HER first time there as well. The tree-lined roads and paths offered a lovely respite from the hot sun. Yes, I said hot sun!

The working vegetable gardens were compact, but highly efficient. All planted to ready for harvest during the Queen’s annual August holiday. They were growing a lot of potatoes, root crops, leafy greens, peas & greens.

There were also hundreds of wee flower seedlings just freshly planted to be ready in time for fresh floral bouquets in August as well. The rose garden was just getting started with new growth. It must look lovely in the sunken garden when they’re in full bloom.

We didn’t hit all of the tour highlight, but many of them within a comfortable distance. A water garden area was lovely and many of the perennial bushes were blooming throughout the grounds.

The castle itself is small, by castle standards, and because it’s also a private residence the only room open to the public is the Ballroom. And because of that you spend more time outside, so we were truly blessed with great weather.

The ballroom is actually the last stop on the tour and it has some wonderful artifacts like all of then Queen’s Christmas card photos on display. And for those fans of the Victoria series on PBS, there is a painted portrait of her beloved dog Dash hanging there. We were NOT allowed to take photos, but it certainly gives off a warm, cozy feeling as it was not very large. I found a fun video on YouTube of the Queen, Queen Mother, Princess Diana. and Prince Philip dancing in this ballroom. WATCH VIDEO ON YOU TUBE.

Lunch was next and we enjoyed some meat pies and sandwiches from the small cafe then we were on the road our last adventure visiting, but not going in to Breamar castle and driving through the stunning Glenshee area.

Helen is often accompanied by a wee stuffed sheep named Morag and she was featured in many photos from Helen’s tours. Five years ago on our first trip to Scotland, Dave and I adopted Duncan. Well, Duncan and Morag had a lot to catch up on. Mainly little Morag, who is now traveling with Morag. We allowed them some privacy to get reacquainted before parting ways again.

As we left Breamar, the fog was starting to move in quickly. We were able to see some amazing mountain vistas before it overtook the glens and stopped in one area to take some photos.

Perth was our destination city for the evening and wouldn’t you know it, the sun came out again. Helen dropped us off at the car rental office, so Dave and I could pick up our rental car for the rest of our journeys in Scotland. Many hugs all around and many, many thanks to Helen for her hospitality, friendship, and touring expertise. We are blessed to know her.

Our B&B for the night is the Rowanlea Guest House where we checked in, met the owners, ordered our breakfast, and settled in. Unfortunately, the brand new GPS Dave bought is suddenly not working. We may have to go old school and use Maps! Stay tuned!