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Monday, July 14, 2014

Newlyweds in the Old World: Northern Ireland

To read about the first leg of our honeymoon, Dublin, click here.

Northern Ireland

Having drunk the Irish capital dry, we hopped a train at Connolly Station and headed to Northern Ireland which—as a tidbit of information to the geographically challenged—is a constituent country of the U.K. making it a distinctly different nation from normal Ireland (or, the Republic of Ireland if you prefer).

Giant's Causeway
Giant's Causeway
Giant's Causeway
Giant's Causeway
Our first stop in Northern Ireland was the village of Bushmills where we stayed at the Rest A While B&B.  I only mention the name because we had such a pleasant experience and I want to give them the recognition they deserve.  Rest A While is close to town, the proprietor is exceptionally friendly and helpful (she gladly stored in her fridge the bottles of beer I brought so I could enjoy them chilled), and the room was as comfy as the backs of the bleeting sheep outside our window.

Carrick-a-Rede rope bridge
Carrick-a-Rede rope bridge
Carrick-a-Rede rope bridge
Rest A While also provides a bike rental service which Nicole and I used to great effect, spending an entire day riding the rugged, Cliffs of Insanity-esque coastline of County Antrim (the actual filming location of the Cliffs of Insanity is in southwestern Ireland).  Meandering through the rolling pastures dotted with puffs of white—and the occasional black—woolen ruminants, we pedaled narrow, winding roads to Dunseverick Castle, the Carrick-a-Rede rope bridge, and the real-life Q*bert game board known as the Giant’s Causeway.  Indeed, while this particular portion of our journey featured very little beer, it was my favorite.  This rural soul of mine often needs a break from the stuffiness of the city.  Sitting atop a craggy sea cliff, one simultaneously feels akin to a Celtic warrior on watch for Viking marauders, a tweed-coated poet inspired by the brutal majesty of the rock-strewn shores, and an archaeologist/adventurer à la Indiana Jones exploring hidden caves and ancient ruins.

Dunseverick Castle
Take note: I said the day featured very little beer; I didn’t say it was devoid of booze, though.  The astute reader may be thinking to themselves, “They’re in Bushmills, eh?  I wonder if there’s any connection to that famous distillery.”  There is!  The world’s oldest licensed distillery, the Old Bushmills Distillery, sits at the edge of town.  We took the tour and, while my alcohol familiarity pertains mostly to beer, I felt I was at least half-knowledgeable on the inner workings of whiskey since, before distillation, it’s basically hop-less beer.  After the beer stage, though, it’s all Greek to me.  I suppose that’s why one takes the tour, though: to learn something new.  Heck, I didn’t even know whiskey’s clear before being put in barrels; that’s 101 stuff to a true aficionado, I'm sure.  But, hey, I just drink the stuff (occasionally).  We also learned that Bushmills bottles for Jameson, that all the barrels used by Bushmills previously held a different liquid (usually Bourbon or sherry), and that bungholes smell quite lovely when they're of the whiskey barrel variety.  After the tour, we received a dram of our choosing.  I had the spicy Bushmills Black Bush and Nicole tried the Distillery Reserve, a whiskey only available at the actual, physical distillery. 

Black Bush
After a very full day riding country roads, we left Bushmills for Belfast.  We were lucky to get out, too; we left on Sunday morning and, apparently, because the nearby town of Portrush is home to numerous nightclubs (and the home of two crappy roller coasters we rode despite their shoddiness), the taxi drivers are too pooped from chauffeuring drunk Saturday night revelers that they take Sunday off.  Thankfully, our host at Rest A While personally knew a driver and basically made him give us a ride.  So, once again I say, Rest A While’s a good place to stay when in Bushmills; they’ll go up to bat for ya.

We only had two half-days in Belfast so we didn’t fully immerse ourselves in the local scene.  We went to the weekend market at St. George’s and, most pertinent to the nature of this blog, The Crown Liquor Saloon, likely the most ornate pub one can hope to set foot in.

Across the street from Europa Hotel (which claims the notorious title of “most bombed hotel in Europe”), The Crown, a masterpiece of Victorian design, envelopes patrons in a cocoon of opulence.  Impervious to the passing of time, the palatial Crown is firmly stuck in the 1880’s with intricately tiled floors, stained glass windows, pressed tin ceiling, elaborate wood-carved lions, fish-scaled pillars, and bar dividers, and, a treat for those familiar with a certain bar on Denver’s Colfax Avenue, authentic Irish snugs.  Though we were but two people and the snugs large enough to comfortably seat the Nuggets’ starting line-up, Nicole and I snuck in and enjoyed the gilded cubicle for a few minutes.  We left the door open to signify our openness to company but I think it’s an unwritten rule that if the snug is occupied even by only two people, stay out.  Topping off the lavish atmosphere was true, traditional, CAMRA-approved cask ale—the first we’d seen on the trip and certainly not the last. 

General musings on Northern Ireland
·         If you decide to engage in any outdoor activities along the northern coast, beware the stinging nettle (urtica dioica).  It’s a prolific, tall, purple-stalked weed and, as the name suggests, it stings like a S.O.B. when brushed up against.  Seriously, for 15 minutes it feels like a swarm of disgruntled bees on the infected area and it bubbles the skin like a burn from a cast-iron stove.  After a quarter-hour it subsides but, until such time, it’s a world of pain.  I came in contact with it so many times I started to develop an immunity.

This plant sucks
·         On our bike ride worthy of a Kerouac novel, we stopped at the world famous Giant’s Causeway and Carrick-a-Rede rope bridge but, honestly, my favorite site was Dunseverick Castle.  It’s not the most impressive castle in the world (it’s not even the most impressive castle in the vicinity [See: DunluceCastle]).  In fact, it’s basically two rock walls.  It’s heap of rubble.  And that’s what I love about it. 

One feels a stronger connection to the ancient ones when visiting a structure that’s not been polished and refurbished by modern hands.  Also, since it’s not quite as awe-inspiring as other castles, most tourists forgo Dunseverick Castle, leaving alone people such as myself to peacefully sit by the lapping North Atlantic and contemplate human history, our place in the natural order, and the legacy we leave for future generations.  It’s kind of hard to engage in such meditative exercises when kids in popsicle-stained shirts, angsty teenagers, and suburban parents with clicking cameras are running around.  It’s for these reasons I also prefer Hovenweep slightly more than Mesa Verde.

Into the snug at The Crown
Aside from the castle itself, Dunseverick’s setting is a place of grandeur.  The castle sits atop a seaside, grassy mesa which, itself, is surrounded by a horseshoe of cliffs with a U-shaped valley in between.  At the ends of the valley there are secluded, rocky beaches sheltered by the soaring bluffs and it’s all absolutely magnificent.  And dangerous.  Being a fan of the Moab area, I’m used to being at cliff’s edge.  A dry cliff’s edge.  At Dunseverick Castle, the rim is covered with wet grass, mud, spongy soil, and sheep droppings—it just begs for the foot to slip.  Plus, those damn stinging nettles everywhere.
·         Probably the best burger in Europe can be found at one of the booths in St. George’s Market.  I don’t know how they make “pepper sauce” but it tastes like crushed black pepper in viscous liquid form.  Superb!

Musings on Northern Ireland’s beer scene
·         Northern Ireland’s Beer Scene?  Well, it exists, I’m sure.  We simply didn’t get to experience much of it during our short visit.  I drank a lot of Whitewater Brewery’s offerings while in Bushmills but we never actually went to the brewery as it was quite a bit out of our way.  They have a few breweries in Belfast, too, but most were not within our general area and one was only a Guinness outpost.  Truly, I cannot comment much on beer in Northern Ireland as we spent too little drinking time there.

Favorite beers from Northern Ireland
·         Colorado Red from Thornbridge Brewery.  This is actually an English beer and I bought it in Dublin.  But, I drank it in Northern Ireland so I’m counting it.  I bought it for the name which derives from the fact it was a collaboration with Odell Brewing Co.  Enjoyed at Rest A While.
·         Nicholson’s Pale Ale from St. Austell Brewery, our first cask ale of the honeymoon.  I liked this more for the environment I drank it in, The Crown Liquor Saloon.  This beer is also of English origins.

Stay tuned for the next leg of our honeymoon: Glasgow.



Atop a seaside mountain overlooking Giant's Causeway
Most bombed hotel in Europe

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