27 May 2006

Land of the Giants

"Finn was here!" is what the rocks seemed to be screaming out to us. How could there be any doubt that the legends about the creation of the Giants Causeway are true? The shapes and formations created in the rocks are for too unnatural to be ... well ... natural. Just amazing! I couldn't help but kick off my shoes and walk barefoot over the rocks. Smooth and warmed by the sun my feet literally tingled to be walking in the footsteps of giants! We didn't spend a lot of time here and barely did it justice... you need to pack a picnic and spend at least half a day here to explore and appreciate it more fully. Next time we visit that is what we will do!

On the same day we also visited the Old Bushmills Distillery (which I've already written about) Dunluce Castle, Portrush, and the rope bridge at Carrick-a-rede. We had such a beautiful day and it was a bit of a shame our "hit and run" tourism didn't allow us to spend more time in each spot but time was of the essence and we were trying to see as much as possible with the short time that we had.

Dunluce Castle was really impressive! Once again I felt a bit dwarfed by the notion that where I was now walking, once people lived. The thought of engineering the structure of the place now is amazing let alone attempting it way back in the 13th century when they did not have the luxury of cranes, diggers and earthmovers.

On to Carrick-a-rede and the infamous Rope Bridge.... OH.MY.GOD!!! Words fail me! The walk over the bridge, whilst a bit freaky, was totally worth it once you got across to the island and checked out the view! I get tingles up my spine just remembering... it was quite overwhelming to see such a beautiful place! I really cannot do it justice with words so I can only encourage you to go look for yourself!

We had passed through Portrush on our way through on this trip and made a quick stop to photograph the 1st tee at the golf course. On the way back we took a bit longer stop because the Northwest 200 was coming up and practice racing was going on. We thought we should take the opportunity to look at some of the course and take in the atmosphere... and fumes!!

Looking back it's hard to believe how much we were cramming into each day and although I feel a bit sad to have not had more time I certainly would not have traded our day for anything!

17 May 2006

Hic.... hic....HIC!

I'm a qualified Irish whishkey tashter.....
.... I got the sherficitate to prove it.... hic!!

On one of our day trips north Tommy took me to see the Old Bushmills Distillery. We decided to do the guided tour so we could get a good look at the inside workings... no photos of that I'm afraid, due to the alcohol fumes we couldn't have any electronics ons. Of course if you took deep enough breaths..... ahhhh luffly luffly luffly!!

At one point during the tour the guide asked for volunteers... I had no idea what it was we were volunteering for but figured - what the heck! Boy did I score! As part of the ticket price you could taste one of their range of whiskeys at the end of the tour but I lucked out and got a lesson on the finer points of whiskey drinking. We got to sample 3 of the bushmills whiskeys and compare them to scotch and bourbon.... as well as our allowed sample.... phhhooooaaarr! Luffly luffly luffly!!

The only problem was acclimatising to the real world outside again!

16 May 2006

The end of the golden weather.....?!?!

We took off with Janet for a day trip to the Kingdom of Mourne , a visually stunning part of N. Ireland, though visibility was really low today. The miles and miles of stone walls dividing fields still blow me away. Not a great day for photographs. It was still spectacular to see the mist and rain rolling off the mountains and down the lough though. I think Janet thought it might be payback for when she and Terry where visiting me in New Zealand. I took them to Mt. Ruapehu to show them where a lot of the battle scenes from Lord of the Rings where shot......we couldn't see the end of our hand let alone the mountain!

The Mourne area was made famous by the Percy French song, 'Where the Mountains of Mourne Sweep Down to the Sea'. Known to be sung by many an Irishman abroad, especially when full of alcohol and with a compulsory tear in the corner of the eye.....it does seem to capture a lot of the romance and feeling of the place.

The Mountains of Mourne through the mist.

Janet took us through a number of old villages and past historical sites then we came to Annalong, a small fishing town. We called into a place called the Harbour Inn for evening tea, yummmmmmm! I had the haddock and chips, Janet had haddock and champ and Janene had an awesome looking 8oz irish salmon with a chilli sauce and champ. Great combination!!!

Have lined up a game of golf with my brother Steven so I'm looking forward to that We seem to play every funeral and wedding, I wonder is he keeping score????

14 May 2006

Ever felt as though you're being watched?

That there is someone peering out from behind a rock or a hill or a tree?

Has your hair stood on end as you expect something big to happen at any moment?

That's how I felt as we walked into the Giant's Ring. The air is alive with the stories of people who have been there.

It is an awesome place to visit, the rocks in the centre were once someone's grave. They are worn smooth by the elements and the hands that have rubbed them. The magic is evident when you touch them, they are almost electric and the very thought of people moving them into position without heavy machinery is astounding.

My imagination runs rife ... I cannot even begin to explain the stories and legends that went through my mind. The lives that have been entwined in this place over time, it blows me away.

I do not want to leave but as we head back to the car park I know that a part of me has now been added to the story.

13 May 2006

It was an odd feeling to be at the funeral of someone I had barely known and yet heard so much about. The traditions and funeral protocols here are different to many of the funerals I have been to. The service for Tommy's mum was held at his sisters home and performed by someone who had known the family for a long time. Because of that it seemed a very personal service and most people agreed it was very fitting.

After the service the coffin is lifted and carried out with immediate family, sons, brothers, taking turns to carry the coffin and those wanting to show their respect walking behind. I joined in alongside Tommy's aunt and sister but discovered later that traditionally women do not take part in the walk. Whether it is because times are changing or whether it is a sign of the mettle of the women in this family, I do not know, but there were a good few walking behind us.

After the burial and prayers at the cemetary there were cups of tea and sandwiches back at the house. It was then that family connections are remembered. Photos materialise from handbags and pockets and along with them stories and memories of weddings, christenings, picnics, parties, holidays, mischievous antics and parties. It was an amazing experience, these people truly do have the gift of storytelling.

I have to say I feel honoured to have been a part of this and to have been made to feel so accepted despite being a complete stranger to most people there.

10 May 2006

The days are becoming a bit of a blur. We spent an evening of wine and good company with my brother Steven, his partner Patricia and beautiful wee daughter Kate. They live in a tranquil part of County Down called Hillsborough. HM the Queen, famous politicians and various other dignitaries stay at the castle . Some very important meetings have been held here apparently (though in reality they are just popping over for an Ulster Fry and a couple of pints of Guinness.) The photo above is the local church, not part of the actual castle.

Kate is very camera shy so it was quite a feat of trickery using 2 cameras to actually catch her for this shot. As she spun away from Janene's camera I got her with mine, hence the startled rabbit face. Well worth it though. Apparently before I got here she thought her Uncle Tommy had a ponytail and a bald head.........I sometimes wonder how my family talk about me while I am not here! Still a bit shy but took to Janene very quickly. She has a way with her!

Janene posing by the lake next to Hillsborough Castle.
Ach love... it's always nice to have a wee reminder of yer home....

but this is a bit overmuch....

cabbage trees everywhere, in gardens, in cafes, planted in the ground or in pots... there was even one in the forest walk we went on! Combine this and the occasional sighting of flax... and what appears to be toitoi...

and this weather...

I'm beginning to suspect a conspiracy. Was I drugged and lead to believe I've flown to the other side of the world? Maybe.... somehow.... I've been set up in some strange reality show... anyone seen the Truman Show??....hmmmm.....

Need I say more?

8 May 2006

The day started out as all good days should, with an Ulster fry. Soda bread, potato bread, egg, bacon, sausage, tomato, where's the black pudding damn you???............I'm dribbling on the keyboard.

The woman is a witch, all doubt has been erased from my mind forever. I don't ever remember having days like this when I lived here.....I only lived here for 27 years mind you.

We headed up the Antrim Coast road, a beautiful drive on the right day and they don't get any more right than this one. Terry took us to one of the Glens of Antrim, a first for me. We went to Glenariff Forest Park. Pictures included, nuff said.

It's true all over the world. We sight-see and look at places when in other countries but rarely look in our own back yard. Taken for granted springs to mind.

Now this wee photo of Janene melts me, don't ask me why or how I took it, it was just one of those spontaneous ones.

Topped off with the barbecue at Torr Head, it was an awesome day all round. After my mum it has been a bit surreal, but days like this make you realise what it's all about....leaving blog immediately before violins and angels appear......talk later.

7 May 2006

"Pack a coat! A good waterproof one!!"...

that's the first thing Mum said when I told her we were off to Ireland. Okay, maybe not the first thing but it was pretty near the top of the list... in the top 3 at least.

So when we woke up in Dublin the morning after flying in and Terry looked out the window wondering "What's that blue stuff up there then?" I have to say I wasn't overly surprised by that comment, after all I had been warned by many people about the weather. We started our road trip back up to Belfast and Terry said to me "It'll not last you know. By the time we get to Norn Iron it'll be back to grey and thunder." I wiggled my fingers at the heavens .... dooo-doooo-do-dooo...

When we hit Belfast the skies were still clear....

"Yer woman there, Tommy, I think she's a witch. Look what she did to the weather"

I think Terry was quite relieved when it clouded over and drizzled later in the evening. Tommy too because he'd been warning me about the weather... along with EVERYONE else!!

So what I want to know is... what is all this about then?

I'm beginning to wonder if it's all a cunning plan to keep people away from such a gorgeous place! I've seen rain one day since we've arrived, the rest of the time it has been amazing. Despite assurances that the weather is normally never ever like this I have to wonder... Terry seemed awfully prepared when we decided to go on a road trip up the coast today!

I'm not going to rattle off great detail of all the places we went, basically we aimed for a place called Torr Head and stopped off to stretch our legs and look about other places on the way. It was a very lovely day so we had some fabulous sceney on the way...


We arrived at Torr Head and the sky was beautiful and clear... we could see Scotland off in the distance.

Just absolutely stunning views.

We climbed up the to the old coastguard station that you can see on the hill there.... it was disused and in ruins but it seemed like the perfect spot for a barbeque... and Terry had come prepared!! He cracked open his disposable barbie and set to cooking us up and entree of bacon before spoiling us rotten with the main course of Northern Ireland Sirloin!! You couldn't ask for better!

After all that decadence Terry was starting to feel a bit under the weather. It was getting on in the day, heading towards 6pm, and the other places we had thought about visiting were closing for the day so we decided it was best to aim for home. We'll be back up that way for more though... stay tuned!

Oooooh! The market!!!

Friday morning and Tommy was with his Mum at the hospital so.... Terry took me shopping! He
had been up early to take Janet to the airport for her girls weekend away. He cooked me lovely scrambled eggs then we set out. We were keenly waiting at the bus stop by 8 o'clock... the early bird gets the worm and all...

We could smell the markets well before we entered them. The fish stalls were right next to the main entrance so we got a good whiff. Interesting to see the different varieties of seafood. Some I recognise like gurnard but then there were the massive crabs and prehistoric looking ling.

There were loads of food stalls... veges, bread, cakes, lollies, cheese, tea, olives, butchers, deli.... amazing! We got to sample lots of goodies, if we go again I'll skip breakfast and fill up there... yum yum!

There were also stalls with 2nd hand stuff, books, clothes, jewellery, craft, t-shirts... loads of stuff... I wasn't really there to buy but I did find a couple of brooches I had to have... as mementoes of the trip of course!

I tried to keep my mouth shut and blend in so I could immerse myself in the atmosphere and the accents. The singsong banter, arguments and bargaining all really interesting to listen to.

One thing that strikes me is how personable people are. We grabbed a coffee and sat ourselves down next to a chap - Mervyn - who.... somehow??... got onto the subject of the state of the health system. It would seem that many of the problems we have at home are not isolated. Mervyn however had a far more interesting account having worked as a porter. I'll not go into it here, but he had me shedding more than a couple of tears.... laughing my head off that is. Suffice to say his tale involved a "short wee man rapidly approaching 6 foot", a peculiar buzzing sound and a set of forceps! Oh Lordy!!

The morning after mum died I woke early. Decided to take Janene on a tour of the 'old home town' from my perspective and memories of the place, rather than getting on a tour bus. Too sterile. I've been away about 20 years in total which is so difficult to believe sometimes! I'm lucky though that I've been able to get back every 2 or 3 years and the changes to Belfast have seemed to happen gradually. Dramatic though. All for the good!
No route was planned out, the whole drive was instinctive, almost on autopilot, and looking at the photos later it was interesting to see where my head was at. Probably 'up your arse' as the lovely Terry (our host and my best mate for many years) would say often.


I headed for the 'Newton' or Newtownards Road which is where I was born and grew up in the early 60's. Working class, Harland and Wolff shipyard country. Found our old street where the first house we had lived in was, though the old houses are gone replaced by modern red brick. Down Dee Street and our first close look at the 2 big yellow cranes that dominate the East Belfast sky line, Samson and Goliath.

After getting told off by another security guard (see Janene's post re Heathrow airport arrival) about taking photos, we finally found a good vantage point to take a couple of pictures.

From there we headed through the city, up the Crumlin Road, out towards the International Airport then back again via Ballysillan and the Shankill Road. Saw a few of the colourful murals reflecting the Troubles from the late 60's to mid 90's.

Must be a throwback to living here in the early days, but I seemed to spend a wee bit longer taking photos on the protestant Shankill Road than on the catholic Falls Road, Janene's camera had a fast shutter speed but not fast enough. No offence intended to anyone, it was all psychological combined with a lead foot at the approriate time.

It was good to see the artistic side being used for something more positive when we came across this mural of the legend, Geordie Best. For those of you who never knew him or saw him play, go and gt a DVD or archive footage. This man was the greatest to ever kick a football.

OK just a quick announcement. Mum passed away peacefully on Friday night at 11.08 pm. My brother Steven and I were with her. She has been ill for quite some time so it was expected, just good to see her go so peacefully.

4 May 2006

Hello!! Sorry about the downtime, it's all a bit of a blur really!! Just a quick rundown of the adventure so far...

Chris dropped us at Auckland airport on Monday morning. We got all checked in and sorted then hung around in the bar for a bit before heading off to board. We misjudged the time needed to get through customs which left us running for the plane... great for Tom and his adrenalin rush... maybe not so great for my nerves! We made it though so that's the main thing ... I have to trust that Tom knows what he's doing given that he's done all this before, but even so... LOL

The flight to Malaysia was about 11 hours. We were lucky enough to have a double seat (next to the window) to ourselves so no clambering over others and vice versa.
Flying over Australia and watching the desert below was amazing... so many interesting colours and patterns and the vastness of it had me glued to the window for a lot of the time.

We landed in Kuala Lumpar at about 9:30pm, a bit later than scheduled. Because we'd checked our luggage all the way through to London we could head straight from the airport into the city. We jumped onto the express train and managed to negotiate the Central Train Station to catch another train to Chinatown where we had a room booked and were hoping to do a bit of shopping. I just have to say that our small experience of the transport system was amazing... we could hardly believe how easy it was to get tickets through the vending machine and to find our way around... and cheap!!

We very quickly checked in to our motel which was right in the night markets then back out onto the streets to look at the stalls. Tommy wasted no time and was straight into bartering and buying... what a shopping fiend!! In the short half hour or so we had before the markets closed for the night he had bought football shirts, belts, sunglasses, a wallet, DVDs and more football shirts... legend! I suppose it helped that he had a mental list to start with. I just wandered about looking in case I saw something but then didn't really have the energy or inclination to bargain.

After the markets closed we found our way back through the labyrinth of halls and lifts and stairs back to our 6th floor room and hit the sack about midnight ready for an early start.

5:30 our alarm went off and we staggered down to reception to meet our taxis. We were handed some sandwiches (breakfast was included in the room rate) and off we went. The taxi ride was great... averaging about 140kph in a wee datsun sunny (or similar) with a neon buddha on the dash, weaving from one lane to the next, seemingly at random... there was next to no other traffic so I'm not quite sure why the lane changing was necessary aside from providing a bit of entertainment. Made it onto the plane with a little more time up our sleeve this time... yay to that.

13 hours more of flying time and barely any sleep, we landed in Heathrow. Tommy flew through customs thanks to his home passport and then waited for me to get through the loooong foreigners queue. He thought he'd take a photo of my official entry into the UK....

here's one of me next to a big sign ... "NO CELLPHONES, NO CAMERAS" I'm pretending I have no idea who Tommy is... I could see security bearing down on him!!

Being the high flying international covert operations spy he is... he actually managed to take more photos as he was talking to security... you never know what secrets you'll discover in the carpet....