Denise Goldberg's blog

Ireland at last
Explorations in two countries, from Belcoo to Belfast

Monday, January 19, 2009


Looking back, thoughts from July 2003...

This seems to be my year for wandering far from home, and for exploring islands. I've had Ireland on my mind as a destination for a while, and it finally bubbled to the top this year.

I was leaning toward visiting Ireland in the spring, but in mid-March I realized that I was longing for sunshine and warmth, and I started to rethink my plans. I decided to visit one of my favorite islands to satisfy my need for the sun - the Big Island of Hawaii - but at the time I planned that trip, I also committed to cycling in Ireland in 2003. I was afraid that if I just went to Hawaii without continuing to plan a trip to Ireland, that the Ireland trip just wouldn't happen. Nothing like planning two trips at the same time!

Touring for me is about the journey, but it's about the destination too. Ireland is supposed to be a superb place for cycling with quiet roads, beautiful countryside, and friendly people. It feels like it's a good time for me to start an exploration of Ireland. I'm not naive enough to think I will be happy with only one trip there, especially since I'll only be there for two weeks, so I think this trip will be an introduction for me. After all, I've learned over the years that one trip to a destination usually isn't enough!

Ireland - one island, but two countries...

My first thought was to visit the Republic of Ireland and not Northern Ireland, but that quickly changed. The more I read and talked to people, the more I realized that Northern Ireland shouldn't scare me off (and you know, I'm not easily scared!). I'm sure there are places there that aren't safe places for wandering - actually the only thing I've heard is that there are some sections of Belfast that it would be best to avoid. But really - there are places here that aren't safe either, and that's probably true of many cities. It helped to chat with Maggie when I ran into her at the YMCA. She grew up in Northern Ireland and her family still lives there. It helped to do some reading too.

Of course there are places that look interesting to me in both countries, so...

My decision - one island, two countries, and I'm visiting both of them!

Country references... to avoid confusion

As you read my journal, you'll see references both to the island and to the countries that make up the island. I've tried to be specific in my references, but after a while I'm sure the name game can be confusing.

Maybe this will help (and maybe not):
  • I refer to both the island and the Republic of Ireland as Ireland.
  • I also refer to the Republic of Ireland as ROI, "the south", or "the republic".
  • I think I consistently refer to Northern Ireland as Northern Ireland, but there may be cases where it is referred to as "the north".

The posts in this journal are organized with the newest on top. If you'd like to read the journal in the order in which I experienced it, please use the blog archive in the side bar. You'll need to open all of the sections, then click on the posts from bottom to top. Once you've read a post, if you click "previous post" at the bottom of the screen you will be taken to the next entry in the order in which the entries were written.

Monday, October 6, 2003

And next...'s time to dream again

People are already asking me where my next trip will be. And right now, I have to say that I don't know! I know that I'll be out there again with my bike, I just don't know where that will be.

Will it be someplace totally new to me? Or will I return to somewhere I've been before? There are quite a few destinations floating through my mind, from new places (for me) in Europe, to returning to places I've loved in North America (Glacier National Park in Montana and probably up into Alberta, Bryce and Zion National Parks in Utah), to exploring new places in North America (Vancouver Island and Nova Scotia are still on my list, and exploring new places in the southwest sounds like a good idea too). While I really want to go to Australia and New Zealand, I'm holding those locations for when I can manage a longer stretch of time. I'm still constrained by vacation time - but doing two shorter trips worked well this year. Maybe I'll try for a repeat next year.

Right now as we're going into fall and cooler weather, I'm wondering if I'll make it through the upcoming winter without escaping to someplace warm. Will a long weekend or two to a warmer locale help me through the winter, or is another week-plus trip to someplace like Hawaii in my future again? Only time will tell...

Sunday, October 5, 2003

Thoughts on touring in Ireland

Do you think it's possible to tour in a place only one time and not go back? When I was younger and more foolish I thought I could go someplace once, and then just move on to the next interesting spot. Now I know better - if I tour someplace and I enjoy it, I'm destined to go back. And I will be returning to Ireland someday. Besides visiting areas of the country that I didn't get to this time, I'd like to spend more time riding in Donegal, and I'd like to spend more time wandering and absorbing at Giant's Causeway.

I have happy memories of my two weeks in Ireland. It was a great place to ride for more than one reason. The people are wonderful, the scenery is beautiful, and the roads are lightly traveled. When I talked to locals - non-cycling locals that is - they always told me that there was too much traffic on their very narrow roads for good cycling. But, as we all know, traffic is relative. There weren't any roads that I rode on that I would consider too busy to be comfortable. That said I would not have been happy riding in central Dublin. But then again, I'm not happy riding in the center of Boston either.
One thing that you should consider if you're thinking of touring in Ireland is that most of the roads are very narrow and for the most part there are no shoulders. I didn't find this to be a problem, although I'd imagine it could be a challenge if there was a lot of traffic. Not much traffic, so no shoulders was not an issue for me.
I originally had planned to ride about 50 miles a day, but after some thought adjusted the mileage downwards to 40 miles a day. I've always thought that 50 miles was an ideal daily mileage, but I'm really happy I made the change on this trip. I was always relaxed, never feeling like I had to push on when I really wanted to stop and take pictures and talk to people. And I was finished riding by 3 almost every day. That gave me time to relax, take a shower, sit and work on my journal, wander and explore the town that was my home for the night. I was a happy cyclist!

The planned tour worked well for me, but if you're looking for the freedom of deciding where (and how far) to ride each day, Ireland is an easy country for a show up and just ride tour. There are B&Bs and hostels available all over the country, and unlike places where you have to know where the B&Bs can be found, these are very well-signed. And since it's a simple matter of buying an inexpensive train ticket for your bike, the trains can be used as an alternate mode of transportation when you want to avoid urban cycling (as I did leaving Derry and entering Belfast) or when you want to quickly get to another area of the island. I really wish this roll-on-board option was available on more trains in North America - I'm sure I'd make use of it!

On the reservations front - I think I'd be inclined to plan ahead and make reservations if I was traveling in an area that was a tourist magnet, or if I was traveling in high season (which I believe is July and August). There was only one night on my tour where the B&B I stayed in was full, but it's possible that was due to my visiting in September rather than in one of the more popular months. I did two tours this year, and both were planned out ahead of time with reservations set before I left home - my Hawaii tour which I planned myself, and this tour which was planned for me. The two tours were very different, and I enjoyed both of them. If I'd been able to stay in B&Bs every night in Hawaii that would have been my first choice as it was in Ireland.
A couple of plugs for my favorite B&Bs: My favorite room was at the Island View House B&B in Donegal Town, and my favorite hostess was Helen Dunlop at Ballyness B&B in Bushmills. All of my B&Bs were good places to stay (the names can be found in the journal entries for each day), but these two were my favorites.
On the travel front - that is, the getting to the tour travel - my first day was a very long travel day. I flew from Boston to Dublin, took a bus to Belfast to meet Tony, and then we drove to my first B&B in Belcoo. I was pretty much sleepwalking by the end of the day - but I'll do the same thing again on my next trip. I'm not one of those people who happily assemble my bike in the airport and ride out. I usually plan for a non-traveling day as my first day on tour. I use that day to assemble my bike, get acclimated, do a little riding, and rest. I considered staying in Dublin the first day, but then I would have had another travel day to get to my bike start location. The long travel day worked well for me, as did the non-traveling first day.

I did have some food issues on this trip, but they really should be blamed on the fact that I spent most of my time in very small towns, not that there is an issue with the food in Ireland. I had the same issues on my trip across the United States in 2002. I tend to eat a diet that is a combination of vegetarian and fish, leaning more heavily to the vegetarian side. I could get vegetarian dishes in most places - but they typically only included vegetables with no protein source and no grains. And I do need more than vegetables! Of course once I got to Belfast and Dublin this food issue absolutely disappeared. Fish was readily available everywhere, and was very good. And yes, you could get non-fried fish - it's not all fish and chips! Most pubs served lunch and dinner, but pubs were out for me. I'm very picky about the air that I breathe, and I refuse to sit in a place that reeks of smoke. There were no non-smoking areas in pubs (yes, I'm spoiled by where I live!), so I didn't eat there.

The other food issues revolved around my usual touring snack foods, which typically include fruit, nuts, energy bars and Gatorade. Fruit was readily available, and once I figured out that peanuts were often behind the counter in small stores I was all set there. I never found energy bars other than cereal bars in any stores, and that surprised me. I eventually figured out that Kellogg's Elevenses bars were good, so that filled in the energy bar gap - but next time I'll consider bringing a larger stash of my favorite energy bars with me. I never found Gatorade, but I could usually find Powerade. Of the three available flavors, I only liked one, so I was forever on the hunt for blue Powerade. I must have done something right on the food front though, because I managed to maintain my weight on this trip.

Let's see - the money... as I mentioned earlier, I was juggling two forms of currency - pounds sterling, and euros. I came home with some of each, and I ran into an issue when I went to change the money back into US dollars. There was no problem with the euros, or with the pounds that were issued in Great Britain, but I was unable to exchange the pounds that were issued by the Bank of Ireland. Luckily I only had a 5 pound note from there... So - a word of warning if you're planning on traveling in Northern Ireland (and according to the banker, there would have been the same issue with pounds issued in Scotland or Wales) - if you still have pounds left at the end of your trip, try to make sure that the bills come from Great Britain and not from a Northern Ireland bank!

Friendly people, lightly traveled roads, beautiful scenery - a wonderful place to ride. I'll be back some day.

Saturday, October 4, 2003

A review and thumbs up! Tony Boyd of Iron Donkey

Looking back after the trip...

This trip was a first for me - a solo self-supported trip that was planned by someone else. Iron Donkey offers self-guided tours, and has a selection of 5 pre-planned trips. Of course, being me, I had to do something slightly different I asked Tony to plan a variation of two of the trips for me, and what I actually ended up with touched pieces of three of his standard trips. Custom trip planning - not a bad way to go!

Tony supplied a map, directions, B&B reservations, and his knowledge of the area and of the roads. I had a cue sheet and highlighted map for each riding day. The directions were excellent - even though I was surprised when I first looked at them to see that there were few road names or numbers in the directions. Like my back roads rides at home, much of my route through Ireland was on unmarked roads. Not a problem - the distances noted in the cue sheets helped me to make turns at the right times. And the roads were as promised - back roads with little traffic. I was on roads that I would have found on my own, and roads that I wouldn't have seen without Tony's directions. I'd say that most of the roads are small roads, but those teeny tiny ones - the ones I thought must be driveways and not roads? Well, I needed a little help to find those... and I got it!

As a self-guided tour, my day to day itinerary was planned ahead of time. As you'll see if you read the rest of my journal, I took some liberties with the directions, shortening, lengthening, or changing days as I saw fit. Having both the directions and a good map made me very happy! My behavior with following the planned route (or not) was typical for me. When I was following Adventure Cycling's routes last year I found that I strayed off route on occasion, and the same was true on this trip.

I was very happy with my accommodations. Every one was different, and every one had a very friendly host or hostess. I was often greeted with an offer of tea or coffee before I got settled in a cozy room. And all of my homes for the night were within walking distance of restaurants - which to me is very important. I know some people don't mind riding to dinner, but I prefer to get cleaned up and then give the bike a rest for the night.

Choosing a self-guided option on this trip worked well for me. I didn't need to spend time ahead of the trip really researching the entire island of Ireland. I spent enough time reading to decide the general area I wanted to visit, and used Tony's expertise to pinpoint the towns and things to see. I did some more reading after I received my itinerary from him, but I didn't feel pressured to spend a lot of time doing research before I left on the trip.

Tony did a great job of putting this trip together for me. He gave me a lift from Belfast to my first B&B. That was the last I expected to see or hear from him - but he actually stopped by at the end of my first day of cycling (he was heading home from starting another group of cyclists off in the southwest), and he called to check in with me on my last day of riding. That was a nice touch, and as I said, totally unexpected.

Saturday, September 13, 2003

A long day's journey home

I love traveling, but I really wish I could just snap my fingers and be instantly transported home at the end of my trip. If I could be like Dorothy in her ruby slippers in the Wizard of Oz: "there's no place like home, there's no place like home..."

It was a smooth travel day, but it certainly was a long one.

Breakfast at Mercer Court started at 7:30, which gave me a chance to get a bite to eat before catching a taxi to the airport. As we got close to the airport I started to tell the taxi driver that I needed to go to international departures, but then I realized that unlike my home airport, most of the flights leaving Dublin are international departures! I arrived at the airport and found the check-in line for my flight. I was standing in line when I looked at my ticket. Uh oh - something just doesn't look right here. It turns out that when I flew over the agent pulled the wrong ticket coupon. The coupon I had left was to fly from Boston to Dublin. But, but... I left the check-in line and went over to the Aer Lingus purchase tickets line, which luckily had no one in it. I explained my problem to the agent there. She looked at my ticket - which clearly had the second coupon pulled and not the first, shook her head, showed it to the agent sitting next to her, and then wrote a change sticker for me. Whew!

Back in the line to check baggage... I was all checked in a good hour and a half prior to my flight, so I wandered upstairs for a cup of coffee. No need to sit at the gate for that long! When I finally got to the gate, I saw a swirl of flashing lights outside, luckily surrounding the plane next to the one I was supposed to board. It was a Bulgarian Air Charter plane, and there were five fire trucks and numerous security cars around the jet. For all the vehicles and the fire personnel, there wasn't really that much activity. Two of the fire trucks left after about 15 minutes, and they made an announcement that the flight would have a half hour delay due to technical problems. Technical problems? A fire? Or? About 15 minutes after that they told people on that flight to come back to the gate at 11 (another hour away) for an announcement - which I didn't hear because I was on my own plane by then. I'm glad I wasn't scheduled to depart on that plane - I think those passengers were in for a long delay. Before I boarded my plane they pushed the problem plane away and wheeled up an Air Canada jet. Time for a different flight.

We left Dublin for a 30-minute journey to Shannon. I figured it would be just a quick stop there to pick up more passengers - but I was wrong. We all had to disembark in Shannon to go through US Immigrations! OK, so it was longer than I thought it would be. Painless, but an hour-long stop.

We took off from Shannon for the real flight - and the plane was totally packed. We arrived in Boston 5+ hours later, a full half-hour ahead of schedule. That was nice - but the baggage handling in Boston wasn't. Getting checked bags at Logan Airport is usually slow, but this was the worse I've ever seen. After a while we just had to laugh. It seemed like the airplane unloaders (or whatever they are called) took a few bags off the plane, loaded them on the baggage conveyor, then took a break. Five or ten minutes later, another cluster of bags, then a break. Five or ten.... well, you get the picture. I waited almost an hour for my bike and duffle bag. They finally appeared though, went through customs (no purchases, no duty, no hassles...), and walked outside to a beautiful, sunny 70+ degree day.


Friday, September 12, 2003

Another day, another city, and a busy one at that

Belfast to Dublin by train

Today is a travel and a wandering by foot day. If you're only interested in the cycling parts of my trip, stop reading now!

My room at the Malone Guest House had a phone, and I tried to access the Internet last night, but for some reason I couldn't connect. I woke up early today, and - success! I was able to upload five days worth of journal entries, and check my guestbook entries. Thanks to everyone who wrote. I'll send replies later, no time this morning - it's time for breakfast and then I'll be off to the train station to catch my train to Dublin.

I had a breakfast conversation with woman from Dublin. She's in Belfast for 10 weeks for training for her job. She grew up in Dublin, and went to university in the south - and this is the first time she's been in Northern Ireland. I guess it's not just people from foreign countries who unnecessarily stay away from here.

There was a card for a cab company in my room: "fonaCAB - BELFAST & BANGOR". That struck me as funny. Am I in Ireland? Or am I in Maine?

I asked Ruby this morning how long it would take to get to Belfast Central rail station, and how far in advance I should call a cab. She asked me the train time, then called a cab to pick me up at 9:30. That was easy. And it turned out that my cab driver is also a cyclist, so we had a good time talking on the way to the train station. He said it was a pleasure to meet a real tourist. It seems that many of the people who visit Ireland do so to trace their family roots as opposed to explore the country. And that's one of the first times I've heard "tourist" used in a positive sense! While I was in the waiting area, I noticed a sign on the wall that to me is very telling of the acceptance of bicycles here: "For your safety, please do not cycle on the station concourse or platforms". As I was walking to the platform to board my train, I saw 4 people pushing bicycles out of the concourse. No problem with getting bikes on trains here - just roll them aboard. There is a fee, but I thought it was very reasonable. The conductor was right about the Dublin train - it's much newer, with much more comfortable seats. I guess this is really more of a long distance train, as opposed to an inter-city commuting train. And by the way, Rover said that he likes this train better too - it's so much smoother!

The only bad thing about traveling with a bike is hauling it back home again. It's so much easier to travel with my bike when it's a bike and the case is a trailer. Even with my Bike Friday folding into a normal sized suitcase, it's still a heavy item to haul about. Actually, it's not the bike that bothers me since the case rolls - it's all of my other stuff. I've been using a very lightweight duffle bag that folds into a very small space when not in use. That works - I just wish it had backpack straps on it. That would make it much easier to handle the two pieces of luggage. As it is, I just try to minimize the amount of walking I have to do with my luggage. It probably means that I will take a taxi to the airport in Dublin tomorrow morning instead of taking the much more reasonably priced bus.

I spent about half of the train trip talking with the couple who sat opposite me. The seats in the train were a mixture of forward-facing and backward-facing seats. I was sitting facing forward of course - my tendency to get motion sickness seems to be worse when I face backwards. There was a nice couple from Belfast sitting facing me across a table. We all stayed to ourselves initially, mostly reading, but we started talking after an attendant came around with a cart selling coffee, tea, and snacks. My seatmates were headed to Dublin for the weekend to visit relatives who just returned from Australia. He was telling me how he used to cycle in Dublin many, many years ago - when it was still a reasonable place to cycle. After I arrived in Dublin and saw how packed the streets are I was very happy my bike was packed and I wasn't riding it!

Another American stopped me after I got off the train. He had overheard my conversation and asked about my cycling trip. It turns out that he cycled around the western states many years ago. It's a small world isn't it - cyclists everywhere! He's in Dublin for the day to visit his future in-laws.

I made my way out of the train station and found a taxi to take me to Mercer Court, my home for the night. Mercer Court is actually the student accommodations for the Royal College of Surgeons, used as a B&B when school isn't in session. The rooms are a bit spartan - as expected for a dorm room - but the price was very reasonable, and the place is centrally located. The hotels in central Dublin are pretty pricey, so I'm very happy I found this place. And I was lucky - my room was ready when I arrived at 1, a full hour before check-in time.

I headed out and found a cafe - lots of those around here - where I picked up a sandwich and something to drink. The sun was out for a while, so I found myself a place to sit in the sun while I ate my lunch. Then I started walking. I walked, and I walked, and I walked...

Dublin is a very alive city that is just teeming with both people walking and people in cars. As I said before I was glad I wasn't fighting the traffic on my bike - but it was fun to watch the bike messengers negotiate their way between cars, buses, and pedestrians. I guess bike messengers are the same everywhere. The sheer crowds made it a bit overwhelming for me, but I just kept right on walking. My first stop was one of my favorites - St. Stephen's Green, which is a really pretty park. Lots of people there...

I walked down Grafton Street, which is one of the main shopping streets. It reminds me of Newbury Street in Boston, but on a much bigger scale. And they are serious about their shopping streets here - it's a pedestrian area, no cars allowed! I could easily have skipped this street, but it was on the way to the next place I wanted to see - Trinity College. But if I skipped it I would have missed the living statue. A guy was decked out in a green top hat and mostly green clothes. His skin was painted gold - with what I don't know - and he was standing on a box that served as a pedestal. He stood perfectly still, and then he would suddenly start moving and reacting with the crowds. Very strange.

I stopped by the main tourist office, which is housed in a beautiful building that used to be a church. The vaulted ceiling and stained glass windows are still exposed - very nice. I had picked up a tourist map at Mercer Court, but I decided I wanted a map with a little more detail. After looking through the free stuff - mostly brochures - I found a decent map to purchase. But while I was perusing the free brochures, I saw one that caught my eye titled Baileys cow parade. What? Well, you remember those funny pictures of decorated ducks that I took in Eugene last summer? There's a similar thing going on with cows here, and the brochure includes a map that shows where the cows are hiding. It turns out that CowParade is a public art exhibition that features fiberglass cows that are decorated by artists and placed around a city. At the end of the "parade" the cows are auctioned off for charity. I did a fair amount of walking this afternoon, some of which was on a mad hunt for these cows. It turned out that instead of placing the cows on the street outside, they were hidden in shopping centers. I finally figured it out when I saw a sign at the entrance for Stephens Green Center saying "the cows are here". I hate shopping centers, but I had to go in to see the cows. I saw 3 there and one at the tourist information center. There are many more, but I was walked out for the day, so I'll have to be happy with the four that I found! There's supposed to be more information online at, so I guess I'll have to take a look at it when I get home. Maybe they have pictures...

Speaking of pictures, when I got back from my walk around Dublin, I decided to figure out how many pictures I've taken on this trip. And the answer is - a lot! I have a total of 639 pictures. That doesn't mean that they are all good pictures, but even so, that's a lot of pictures. I guess you could say that my camera was my constant companion. Just think how many there would be if I hadn't had some of those gray, dreary days. I'm actually amazed that I didn't have any days where I felt I had to protect the camera and lock it away in my waterproof trailer. Most of my ride-in-the-rain days were through heavy mist, and even the few times that it was really raining it just wasn't raining that hard. My rain jacket covered the fanny pack that I used for my camera, so it was protected enough for the conditions I encountered. Amazing, since this tends to be a rainy country.

Odd thought for the day - I'll be very happy to be back in a country where the sinks have a single faucet where hot and cold water is mixed. I haven't seen a sink like that since I left home.

I checked about transportation to the airport before I came back to my room for the night. There are two buses that are very inexpensive, but the closest bus stop is several blocks from here. It could be laziness, but I tend to think it's unwillingness to walk blocks hauling gear, so I've arranged for a taxi to the airport in the morning. Breakfast starts at 7:30, and my taxi is coming at 8:15, so I'll have a chance to grab a bite to eat before I leave for the airport and my day of hurry up and wait. My flight makes a stop in Shannon before heading out over the Atlantic and back to Boston. I can't believe I've been here two weeks - I arrived early on a Saturday morning, and I'm leaving on Saturday morning. I wonder if that's an equipment turnaround...

It's very hard to believe it's time to go home. I guess that means it's time to start dreaming of my next trip. I wonder where that's going to be.

Thursday, September 11, 2003

Mist and sun along the Antrim Coast

Cushendall to Larne to Belfast by bike and train

If I had been even slightly considering riding all of the way to Belfast the headwinds would have convinced me the train was the better end to my journey. And timing is everything - just as I pulled into the train station it started raining. I started in the mist this morning, but this was real rain.

I went to sleep at 9:30 last night, and the combination of a shorter riding day and a good night's sleep worked wonders - I feel much better today, no more exhaustion. I did feel a bit like the princess and the pea last night though. There were two beds in my room, a double and a twin. I was going to use the double bed, but it felt very lumpy to me. The twin had a good mattress on it, so that won!

It rained overnight again. That seems to be an every night occurrence. I was happy to see that while the ground was still wet when I woke up, the rain had stopped. A good sign.

I shared the breakfast room with a German couple who are driving around Ireland. They did the southern part of the island on a previous trip, so this time they flew into Dublin, drove immediately to Galway, and started wandering from there. I asked it they'd stopped at Giant's Causeway, and they had. She told me she was disappointed, because although she had seen pictures before, she believed the legend of the giant building stepping stones all the way to Scotland. The causeway stones continue into the ocean, but she thought there would be more going out into the water. Guess that's what happens when you imagine a legend to be true. We had a good laugh about it. They drove over Torr Head yesterday - the scenic route that I skipped because of the 15% grades. They said it was beautiful, but a challenging drive even in a car!

I headed out into a very heavy mist. As usual, I was wearing my wind vest, no rain jacket needed. The worst part about the mist this morning was the difficulty I had seeing through the water drops on my sunglasses! And of course, the low clouds and mist made it difficult to capture the scenery with my camera. I tried, but I won't know how good the attempt was until I see the pictures on a full-sized screen. It was really beautiful, with craggy hills emerging from the mist. The headwinds started immediately, so between stopping to take pictures (fog or no fog!) and my slow pace because of the winds, I was making forward progress pretty slowly. Then I thought I saw some cyclists coming toward me. No mirage - it was Michelle and Peter from near London. We stopped, leaned our bikes against the stone wall on the side of the road, and just stood and talked. They flew into Belfast yesterday, and are planning to spend two weeks in Ireland. They are heading for Ballintoy today, Giant's Causeway tomorrow, and then they're off to Donegal. They are staying in B&Bs too - they said they wouldn't consider camping in Ireland because it's just too wet. We were talking about traveling with bikes - packed and unpacked - and as it turns out they just hand the airlines their bicycles, totally unpackaged. They remove the pedals, and I believe they have to turn the handlebars, and then they just hope the bike doesn't get damaged. I'm not even sure that US airlines would accept a bike like that, but Michelle and Peter said that all of the UK touring cyclists that they know check their bikes on planes unpacked. They had an interesting setup - it looked like they were traveling with a single set of panniers. Peter was riding with rear panniers only, and Michelle was riding with front panniers only. And she had them mounted on the front rack. That's only the second time I've ever seen someone riding with 2 panniers on the front. Most people I've seen riding with two use the rear rack. It sounds like Michelle and Peter have done a lot of touring - including a 6-month trip to New Zealand that made me (and all of their friends) jealous.

Good conversation break over, and I headed south again into that wind. I noticed a change though - the mist had stopped, and it was getting brighter. The clouds seemed to be lifting, but the sky stayed gray. I saw one other touring cyclist heading north who waved but didn't stop. He was very heavily loaded with 4 big panniers plus stuff strapped on top. His must be a camping trip. I kept cycling into the wind, thinking of other things - and the sun came out! Wonderful warmth... I was just about to stop for some more clothing layers, but instead I stopped to get rid of my wind vest!

As I was riding through a small town I stopped in a parking area to take a picture. A man who was working across the street called out to me and asked if I'd lost my car. Of course not - this is my preferred mode of transportation!

As I wandered down the road, I began to see more and more shore birds, including quite a few herons and egrets. I thought I might be able to pull off a picture of one of these magnificent birds, but they must have sensed me coming - they took off before I could pull the camera out.

It seemed to take me forever to get to Larne, probably because the wind was keeping my speed down to 8 to 9 miles per hour, pretty slow considering that the road was flat. I pulled into the train station and bought tickets for me and my bike (or my BIKE DOG according to the ticket). One of the NI Rail folks offered to watch my bike so I could run out to the store and pick up some food. Just as I got back, the rain started. I really timed that well. My ride went from mist to chilly and gray, to sunny, to gray again - and I just missed riding in what would have been a pretty unpleasant rain. Instead I got to sit in a heated waiting room and wait for my train to Belfast. After I got on the train the conductor sat with me and chatted for a while. He told me that the train with the outside handle only is an older train, and he said that the train we were on today was also pretty old - but this one has doors that open from the inside. He said that the other doors are actually considered safer because they can always be opened by a passenger, while the doors on today's train have to be released first by the engineer before the "Open" and "Close" buttons work. He said that the train I'll be on to Dublin is much more modern. And it sounds like almost all of the older trains are going to be replaced in the next year or two. That sounds like a pretty big project.

I was a lot more comfortable on this train than on the last one because even though my bike was in a separate compartment it was in the same car with me. I pulled the bike and trailer up close to the door as we left Belfast Central station since I knew my stop was the next one. I wanted to be sure to have both pieces off of train before it took off again. I know that the conductor was signaling the engineer when it was clear to leave the station, but since the conductor was at the middle of the train and I was in the back it still made me a bit nervous. I just had images of half of my stuff continuing to the next station! Of course that didn't happen.

I got directions from the station to Malone Road and headed to the Malone Guest House. When Ruby opened the door, the first thing she asked was if I wanted to put my bike in the garage. I told her that I needed to pack it, and she opened the garage door so I could work in there. After my visions of having to pack the bike in the rain, I had a nice inside spot. Very nice. And the rain had stopped again anyway - it was bright and sunny when I arrived in Belfast! A quick half hour later, the bike was all packed, and I headed to my room for a shower. Then I went wandering through Belfast. As I was walking around wearing a skirt and a sleeveless shirt, I noticed most of the people around me were wearing coats. Am I fighting the change of seasons? I was warm enough without any extra layers, but then again I was moving.

The guest house is about a half a mile past Queen's University. I walked back to the university, then continued on to the center of town. I had two things I was looking for - a bookstore to pick up reading material for the plane, and some interesting food. I found both easily, even though it involved a good two hours of walking! I found a Waterstones Books, which when they were in Boston was my all time favorite bookstore. I browsed there for a while, and picked up a mystery for airplane reading. I'd passed quite a few restaurants on my travels, and one of them caught my eye, so I stopped there on the way back for some dinner. I ate at an Indian restaurant called Monsoon. The food was very good, and a nice change for what I've been eating. Having a variety of good foods to choose from is definitely a positive thing about being in a city instead of in a little town!

I'm actually amazed that I found my way back to the guest house with no false turns. I pretty much followed a straight line into the town center, but coming back the streets kept angling off. Hmm...which street did I come down? And you know what - I've found a place that's worse than Boston from a road sign standpoint. I haven't seen any road signs since I've arrived in Belfast. They must be there, right? Could I be looking in the wrong place?

I found the answer to my question about where apples in Europe generally come from. I've seen some from New Zealand, but it looks like the local crop comes from France and Spain. I should have guessed that, but it took labels in the stores to clue me in.

Tony just called to check on me. He's in Connemara with a group that he's guiding, but he wanted to make sure that I'd made it to Belfast and that I'd had a good tour. That was a nice touch.

Tomorrow - Dublin. I'll be taking a train in the morning that should get me there at about 12:30. There's an earlier train, but I decided I didn't want to make myself crazy with rushing around early in the morning. This one will allow me to have a leisurely breakfast before I head to the train station. I'll have a half a day to wander around Dublin, then Saturday morning I head back to Boston. It's hard to believe this trip is coming to an end. Well, then again, it's easy to believe since my bike is securely packed in its case!