Wednesday, May 28, 2008

May 28th - Belfast/DownPatrick

We woke up the next morning to a perfect sunny day. You couldn't ask for better weather. Jesse got up extra early to get a few more pictures and talk to Stephen just to hear more of his accent.
It was sad to say goodbye to our hosts, and their lovely little B&B, but unfortunately all things must come to an end. (By the way, doesn't Stephen look like a young Liam Neeson?)

Our first sight seeing stop was this castle in Carrick Fergus. It was very old and built right up against the ocean. Jesse and I wandered around the outer wall taking pictures for a good 15 minutes before we realized that you could go inside it. It was just like every stereotypical castle you would imagine being like. It had towers with battlements and arrow slots. It had a courtyard around the keep. In the keep itself was a banquet hall and armory and living quarters. You had to climb up this narrow spiral stone stairway to get inside the keep.
There were even bathrooms. This particular bathroom was the 'finest' in the castle and when King John came to visit he reportedly used it. So that picture is of King John on the john.
Another interesting part of the castle was the murdering hole. The castle gatehouse had two portcullis (or large metal gates) so that when you visited the castle you would go through the first gate and then they would close it behind you so you were trapped between the two gates. Then you would state your name/business etc and if for some reason they didn't like you, there was a room just above the gate with a small hole in the floor so they could pour boiling oil, or shoot arrows down on whoever was trapped in the gatehouse.
When we were at the top of the keep in the armory there was a boys school there on field trip. They were explaining the history and how a knight would armor himself. They boys got to try on armor and pretend they were knights. I think Jesse wanted to be a little Irish school boy for just a moment so he could join in.

After that we went to DownPatrick which is where the St Patrick's center and grave is located.
We had to go through Belfast to get there. While stopped in traffic I was looking out the window and watching the town. I noticed a lot of graffiti and murals on the sides of buildings. When we left St Ronans, Judith had briefly talked about how there was peace now and more tourists willing to visit Northern Ireland. I had always heard about how they were fighting and car bombs and the IRA, but seeing the murals kind of brought it home. Some were peaceful, some were quite scary. It's just crazy to think that just a few years ago the city was so violent no one in their right mind would travel to Belfast.
That mood continued when we got to the St Patrick's Center. We watched a film about his life. (He didn't rid Ireland of snakes by the way - the climate did that).
The over arching theme to that film was unity. How Patrick wasn't Catholic or Protestant, but a Christian and he can be embraced by all Irish. And how he is embraced and celebrated the world over (but many protestant Irish refuse to celebrate St Patrick's Day because it is considered a Catholic holiday). It's a very touchy subject over there and they are just starting to heal.
After a look at the gift shops, and the necessary purchase of gifts, we stopped for lunch and got some fish and chips. Jesse's fish looked like an oven mitt. It was such a pretty day we decided to eat outside on the lawn beside the Center.
They have these beautiful little white flowers that just cover the grass everywhere you look. At first I thought it was clover, but it seems to be growing next to the clover (which is also all over the ground). I wish I knew what these flowers were because I would love to have them in my yard.
Just down the way from the center is St Patrick's cathedral. To be honest, I wasn't that impressed with the inside. The walls were all white and the place was way to bright. It looked modernized. The coolest thing about it was there were these coat of arms all along the walls. I looked at each one to see if the Magees (Jesse's family name) were anywhere. They weren't.
Jesse did find these neat little candelabras with shamrocks on them.
Outside the church is where St. Patrick is supposedly buried. While we were all outside looking at the graves, Jesse's sister, Jenny, nearly got locked in because she had spent too much time inside the church. But it gave Jess a lot of time to get pictures of the scenery.
Then sadly, we had to head to the airport and leave Ireland. One last look at the emerald isle as our plane headed towards London.

In London we checked in at the swanky Sofitel St James. It's a 5 star hotel that normally costs $600 a/night. (Believe me, we did not pay that!!!)
The whole place was decked out. They had a tea room downstairs all pinks and roses where a harpist played. Even the hallway to our room was cool. The rooms themselves looked more like New York apartments than hotel rooms. It had a huge tub that I took a bubble bath in. When I sat down in it the water came right up to my armpits. The beds were down mattresses with down comforters and down pillows. Once you lay down on one of those beds you don't want to get up for hours. I could get used to living like this.

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