Day 15: Belfast Murals and Queens University, and the drive “home” to Dublin

October 16, 2010 16:41 – 16:41

Today was our last full day on the island. After checking out of Ballycanal Cottages (which I highly recommend if you’re into self-catering), we first headed to Belfast to take pictures of murals, and as it turns out… to search for restrooms.

One thing I’ll contrast about Northern Ireland and the Republic of Ireland… if you need public restrooms, head south. Northern Ireland is almost as stingy with restroom facilities as the U.S., and that’s going some (so to speak). Mid-tour, we both needed a restroom. We spent a good half hour looking for one, but were not successful. So, we abandoned our mural tour and headed for the Belfast Museum. We couldn’t find really close parking, but about an hour into our quest, we found a space near Queens University’s Student Union. Relief! Thank you, Queens.

In any event, here are the murals we did see, mostly along Falls Road, Shankill Road, and Springfield Road, in that order, with a few other things thrown in for good measure.

In some cases, they’ve painted over some the more inflammatory murals. I don’t know what this one said, but I presume that’s why it’s been blanked out.

There were also these four tile murals:

But, there were also some that apparently are just for fun.

This one’s out of reach unless you want to climb:

This one was in front of a church. A huge bus was blocking about half of it (the half you don’t see).

We saw several that were supporting a less controversial cause.

This next one, taken on Springfield Road, is out of sequence, but it seemed more germane to include it here.

Meanwhile, back on Falls Road:

Here’s where we didn’t have lunch.

We also passed by a Sein Féin office:

Next, up on Springfield Road, here’s what we saw. Here’s why the lad’s broke:

They’re all over the U.K. and Ireland. We’ve not had need for their services.

Oh, and by the way, did you know that the Kennedy Centre is having a boot sale (a tailgating sale event, we gather):

I think the following is supposed to be a giant bed spring:

It was next to this place:

Or, maybe it’s because it was on Springfield Road.

And, this was when our Quest for the Loo began. About an hour after our search began, we found relief at the SU loo. After using the loo at the Student Union, we asked an SU information guy for a pub recommendation for lunch. The winner was Eglantine. We both had the haddock & chips with a half-pint of Harp Ice each. The haddock was probably the best fish I’ve had in Ireland yet. Very fresh and cooked perfectly. The batter wasn’t as heavy as you’d find in some places. It was actually very much like my own—light and crisp. Hmmm… I wonder if that’s why we liked it so much.

After lunch, we ambled back to the car—next to the student union—and I took some pictures of Queens while Karen browsed a small bookstore.

I wasn’t quite sure what this sign was about:

After that, we decided to set a course for the Republic. Keeping in mind that it was shortly after lunch, and we’d had a fair amount of liquid with lunch, we were desperate for a restroom as we drove through the Mourne Mountains, south of Belfast. Even when I stopped & bought £20 worth of petrol, we were told “staff restrooms only.” What kind of gas station doesn’t have customer restrooms? The ones in Northern Ireland, we discovered.

Ultimately, we saw a sign that guaranteed restrooms—TESCO. Our friend Lola hates Tesco, as well she might. They’re as corporately annoying as Walmart. But, like Walmart, when you need a restroom, they’re at the ready. We rewarded their being there by buying tomorrow’s breakfast there (sorry Lola, but all’s fair in love & loos).

At that point, it was getting on to 4 pm, so we decided to set a course for the Carlton near the airport in Dublin. Once you leave Northern Ireland on the M1, you quickly encounter a couple of really terrific brand new motorway plazas—you guessed it: restrooms. There might be such plazas in Northern Ireland, but I didn’t see any. The ones we stopped at had a top notch coffee shop, a Burger King, and a breakfast bar, among other establishments. While much cleaner and newer, these remind me of the turnpike plazas (such as Maryland House) in Maryland and New Jersey.

After checking into the hotel, we returned the rental car to Hertz to save time tomorrow morning. To get back to the hotel, we took Hertz’s shuttle to the airport, then walked half a k to the other side of the airport (would you believe there’s a church at the airport?), just in time to catch the Carlton’s courtesy bus. The ringing church bell told us we were heading in the right direction (as earlier advised by the hotel clerk).

The nice young woman who checked us into the hotel also advised that if we were going to eat at the hotel’s restaurant, we should have dinner either before 7:30 or after 9 pm due to a large party (over 60 people) who were due to arrive at 7:30. So, we opted to quickly return the car, and then eat. For dinner, we both had the daily special—rump roast with mixed vegetables (including the first non-peas green veggies I’ve seen in an Irish restaurant—perfectly cooked broccoli and green beans!). When you order any kind of roast here, they always bring it with at least two kinds of potatoes (no famine here), usually mashed and roasted, and always peeled (guess they don’t know that that’s the best part). Once, we had four different kinds of potatoes with a meal—mashed, roasted, croquettes, and chips. Did I mention that this is Ireland? And, the large party was arriving and beginning to order as we were finishing up. So, it worked out well.

After dinner, which was okay, but not stellar, we headed up to the room to see if we could get onto the internet. We struggled for about 10 minutes, then I called the front desk. Apparently, they were supposed to give us vouchers for the internet (free, but it has an annoying login and registration process). Another nice young woman brought the vouchers up and gave us each instructions for getting onto the internet. Once we had those, it worked fine. If you have Verizon’s Wifi Hotspot application, that works here, too. At the moment, I’m not sure if I’m using the voucher system or Verizon. Whatever I’m using, it seems to be dropping the connection every once in a while. It’s not super fast—only 1.5Mb (standard DSL speed), but it’s better than O2 and O3, which we used in Galway.

Our flight tomorrow is at 11 am. The hotel person told us we should leave here no later than 8:30 am. Ouch. Even though the airport is only 5 minute away, we’ve been told that when you fly out of Dublin, U.S. Customs does their bit here, rather than back in the U.S. It gets you out of the airport sooner on the other side of the Atlantic, but the downside is that you need more time here. So, it’s a tossup as to whether it’s worth it, in my book. If all goes well, we’ll be landing in Philly at 1:40 tomorrow afternoon, all set for a 2-4 hour drive home. It should be about 2.5 hours. But, when we went to Philly on Friday afternoon before we left, it took more like 4 hours. Hopefully, it won’t be that bad tomorrow, but given that it’s the opposite of head-out-of-town-Friday (i.e., return-home-Sunday), we could be in for a longish drive. I wonder if I’ll be able to adjust to the other side of the road again.

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