Jun 2019 - NCL Pearl - Northern Europe Tour - Part 5 - Belfast & Dublin

Day 9 - Belfast Northern Ireland, UK

We awake in Belfast port, the cruise terminal is on the small side :)  So we sit outside for breakfast and wait for port authority clearance to disembark before finding our driver. We have a private tour booked covering the north east area of N. Ireland.

The Dark Hedges, Ballymoney, our first stop of the tour. You can park at the hotel nearby for a small fee & walk over to the Hedges.  So atmospheric & romantic, plenty of people even though we were quite early.

By the way; you may (like myself) be wondering what on earth is all the fuss about regarding this avenue of beech trees. Well as pretty and atmospheric as they are, they were also a location in HBO's Game of Thrones which has boosted them to the level of a major tourist attraction.

They were planted along the entrance road to Gracehill house (originally over 150 stood along the track) in the 18C by the then owner James Stuart.

Next we head North to the coast and to take in the view of Dunluce Castle. This is also a Game of Thrones location (Seat of the House of Greyjoy). Northern Ireland must be quite sad the HBO series has finished as it seems to have created quite a tourism industry of its own & many jobs. The surrounding beaches are vast and stunning.

A short drive to our next stop is the iconic site of the Giants Causeway. Be prepared for some walking, to reach the actual site from the National Trust centre is 0.6 miles, although there is a bus.

You are given an audio guide which gives geological information & explains the myths and legends of Finn the giant! Most enjoyable climb & visit.

Further along the coastal road near Ballintoy is another National Trust site - The Carrick-a-Rede. Once again its quite a walk ( 0.6 miles, no bus!) from the gate entrance to the actual bridge so give yourself plenty of time. It's not for the faint hearted, us! so we sat this one out to admire the magnificent views.

Salmon would come through this area to spawn in the nearby rivers and the bridge was built by fisherman as the island was a great vantage point to catch them on the journey. In the 1960s up to 300 salmon were caught every single day of the season - by 2002 that number had reduced to only 300 for the entire season and it was abandoned. As far as I know it has no connection whatsoever to Game of Thrones, however the area you park your car in (a disused quarry) does. This show gets everywhere.
Day 10 Dublin

A short overnight sail down to Dublin city..Last time we were in Ireland we spent time around Cobh (Cork) visiting the gaps, passes and west coast areas - along with a castle where you kiss a stone - you know the one & we did! I would put a link - but I discover its an area I still have in draft but have never quite finished writing. I suspect the same thing happens to Michael Palin on an off day so I'm letting myself off.

We have a private tour booked which will take us firstly out of the city and into the lovely  countryside of the Wicklow Mountains & Glendalough Abbey, it really is quite beautiful; we will then  head back into Dublin to see the city & Trinity College.

We had docked opposite Aviva Stadium & had a great breakfast on the aft deck before we headed off to meet our driver.

The drive south through the Wicklow Mountains really is a lovely trip. Quiet and often empty roads with wonderful lush scenery that make the term "The Emerald Isle" all the more relevant.

Glendalough is in the Wicklow National Park which is situated south of Dublin on 20,000 hectares of mountain scenery with many roads crossing through it. There's a nice visitors centre which will provide you with maps highlighting all the various hikes for all abilities.

In the depth of the valley lies Glendalough monastic city, one of the most important monastic sites in Ireland. Its been here since the 6C and has survived everything from Vikings to Victorian tourists stealing parts to build new houses.

With its beautiful setting and its fairytale round tower you do wonder if you have actually wandered into some fantasy land (Now I have no idea if any of Game of Thrones has ever been filmed here - but every main road (and they all lead to the village of Hollywood) carries the name of a film that has been filmed in these parts- from Star Wars to Braveheart.

We arrive back in Dublin by mid afternoon. We have plenty of time to explore the city as sailaway tonight is at midnight giving you plenty of time explore the many bars and pubs. Dublin really is a beautiful city with many wonderful Georgian and Victorian building. Our route takes us past the National Museum (above).

Its a short walk from the museum to Trinity College. We arrive just in time for the last tour of the grounds which is given by a third year German Mathematics student who speaks cut glass English that would make the Queen proud. You purchase the tickets in the courtyard as soon as you enter and the price includes your access and ticket to the book of Kells Exhibition and the old library.

The term copyright features quite predominantly in Trinity Colleges history - the architect who first designed it published his plans (showing off) before the first buildings were built - so the college didn't pay him and simply stole the plans and built it anyway.

The library at Trinity is a copyright deposit library. There are five in the UK including the one here in Dublin) which means they are allowed to hold by law every single book that has ever been published in the UK. By the way the copyright library is not the beautiful Venetian influenced architecture in the centre of my photo, that's the geology building. It's the brutalist 70s building to the right of the golden ball.

The highlight of Trinity is its library which was built around the 1720s - it houses over 200,000 of the colleges most ancient books. Before you ask it is not Hogwarts library and they have never filmed any Harry Potter here - however a film connection does exist. Trinity took Lucasfilm to court claiming the Jedi Library is a direct copy of Trinity Library.

Other than how beautiful the library is, it is of course also the home of the book of Kells which is presented in a separate exhibition downstairs. Also in the center of the library is the harp of Trinity (you'll recognise its shape from the Guinness pint glass you will hold!).

Exhausted we head back to the ship in time for yet another fabulous dinner, tomorrow we have another sea day - time to relax, recover and take the weight of those tired feet. We then head south east towards France.

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