Northern Ireland is very pretty and also Game of Thrones happened there and they are VERY PROUD OF IT THANKS FOR ASKING. Here, hold this sword while we snap your picture. That’ll be 25 pounds.
Oh God it’s been so long since we’ve written, this is going to be a trial. I HOPE YOU APPRECIATE OUR EFFORTS. I know my mom does, at least. Hi Momsy. I hope you enjoy these updates that reassure you we are alive.
When last we left you, we’d just eaten ridiculously delicious things on our first night in Belfast, and it was great. We’re actually in Edinburgh now, and leaving bright and early tomorrow morning, and many things have happened since then. So let’s get started!
DAY 11 – BELFAST
Truly the breakfast buffet at the Maldron is one of the most impressive I have ever encountered. It was enormous, with basically everything you could hope for. Multiple fruit options, granola, 10 kinds of cereal, multiple kinds of toast, pastries, gluten-free options, and a full Irish Breakfast buffet selection, so I ended up with a bunch of white pudding, beans and sausage with a side of fruit salad every morning, and Adam ended up eating like 5 pieces of toast and two croissants, as is his wont. I really appreciate this buffet, is what I’m saying. I miss it. I wish I could wake up to that every morning.
We left our hotel after breakfast to go find ourselves a cheesy bus tour to take us up to the Titanic Quarter – because we had tickets to the Game of Thrones exhibition right across the street from the Titanic Museum! We wandered over to the nearest stop on the tour and I told the man there that we wanted tickets for the tour. “Okay, follow me.” he said, and just took off walking. For like six blocks. I was starting to wonder if he was going to murder us at one point. But it turns out they only sell tickets at their first stop in Belfast, so he was walking us to Stop #1. Along the way we met other guides, all walking folks from other stops to the bus. It was kind of funny how they were all greeting each other like some bizarre tourist pilgrimage.
We boarded the open-top city tour and took it 5 stops to the Titanic Quarter, so we got our first spin around downtown. We were quite early (we’d been expecting to join halfway through the tour so we left a lot more time) so we took some pictures of the very impressive looking Titanic Museum and wandered our way over to the Game of Thrones exhibition which was in some kind of weird… airplane hanger style tent?
Worth noting that Belfast included LOTS of Game of Thrones stuff so if you aren’t caught up and spoilers matter to you, I would recommend skipping everything between the sections of all caps below.
GAME OF THRONES SPOILERS AHOY RIGHT UP TO THE END OF THE LAST SEASON YOU HAVE BEEN WARNED HERE THEY COME HERE THEY COME DON’T READ MORE IF YOU DON’T WANT SPOILS YOU HAVE BEEN WARNED.
Notably, next to the exhibition, over several intimidatingly high fences, was a set which was unmistakably the dragon-scorched Kings Landing. This was… probably the coolest part of the whole tour. We couldn’t see much of it (dude I would have bribed someone if there was someone to bribe to let us in) but you could see the scorched and broken front gates, and burned out windows, and a collapsed metal dome – it was great and sadly did not photograph well. God I wish we could have walked through it. Seriously. Why did HBO not make a tour like the Harry Potter tour in London. So rude.
The exhibition itself was also very cool. If you ever get a chance to go, I HIGHLY recommend the audio guide. I usually find audio guides a real pain in the butt but this one basically added narration from the crew on how all the props and costumes and sets were created, troubles they had, and little anecdotes from the set. My favourite story was probably from the prop master, because he said Jaime Lannister’s gold hand was the most difficult prop to manage, because if it was left on set one of the cast or crew would inevitably try it on and then wander around with it. So he was always chasing after it, and ended up making 20 or 30 versions of the hand, not only because they needed extras for continuity in case one got damaged, but also because people kept losing them.
Other notable things included seeing the dragon skulls they had in Kings Landing. Balerion the Black Dread is a VERY BIG DRAGON, you guys. Holy hell. His skull was like twice my height. Even though it was a totally fictional creature and a fake prop the thought of it made me scared, so – well done, propmasters.
Also, something I’d never noticed until I saw the costumes in the same room together – when Cersei goes full evil queen and switches to her black dress, she’s wearing THE SAME FABRIC AS TYWIN. I can’t believe I’d never noticed that before. That is such an excellent touch. The costume designer for that show is a legitimate genius.
OKAY THERE’S A SHORT BREAK ON GOT SPOILERS NOW YOU CAN READ AGAIN IF YOU WANT.
The exhibition was actually pretty quick to tour through, so once we were done we hopped back on the tour bus and finished our tour. It was a really big tour and took us all around the city, which is more expansive than I realized. The most ridiculous thing we saw was the parliamentary buildings – they are at the top of a hill, at the end of a long, long walkway. It looks like a palace. It looks so unfriendly and unwelcoming. If that was built with the intent of it being a government building… YIKES. Looked more like a palace, sitting high above the citizenry. Kind of gross, especially given the history of conflict in the region.
Touring Belfast you realize how open the wounds from the Troubles still are. It makes total sense – that conflict was NOT long ago – if I had grown up there I’d still remember it well. I can’t imagine how the threat of Brexit must make everybody here feel. You still see flags everywhere, denoting individual household loyalties. God – yet again, I am struck by how many problems joining the European Union solved for the UK, and I can’t believe how shortsighted people are to even consider giving it up. (Although I expect that most people wouldn’t want that anymore anyway…)
On a lighter note: boy, there are a lot of murals in Belfast. And I find most of them, uh… extremely ugly. WHOOPS
With the tour over we went back to the hotel, settled ourselves into the bar and waited for Alan and Judy (Adam’s parents) and the New Horizons Band to arrive! They do trips with their band every two years, and when we decided to go to Ireland this year and their band was also going to be there at the same time, we decided to find a time to cross over! Belfast was the place. We greeted them in the lobby and admired the truly military level operation that was their group of 93 people and all of their instruments being loaded off of a bus and brought into the hotel.
Their travel tours are arranged by sadists, so after 7+ hours on a plane, a delay due to lost baggage at the airport, driving all the way from Dublin to Belfast, and the elaborate unloading and check-in procedure, why NOT go on a two hour walking tour?
We are filthy moochers so we followed along with their walking tour. We went all around the city centre, including the shopping streets, the cool restaurant and bar district, and past a shocking amount of churches. The tour guide was cheerful and had fantastic delivery, and it didn’t really feel like two hours of walking. She also gave us a list of restaurant suggestions about a mile long, so we were set for the rest of our time there!
We had dinner at one of her recommendations that night – a fusion restaurant called Ginger. It was extremely tasty. I think that people in Ireland have perfected making soups – which is no surprise, considering their usual weather. Every soup I’ve had in Ireland (Northern or otherwise) has been amazing.
After dinner Alan and Judy were totally wiped out, and we had an early start, so we went straight to bed!
DAY 12 – BELFAST
Oh lord this blog is already so long, why do I write in such long wrambly forms.
Adam and I had big plans today – we were going on (what we thought was) an eight hour Game of Thrones filming locations (plus Giant’s Causeway) tour! We woke up and met Alan and Judy for breakfast (although they had to wait until 8am to enter the breakfast room because their group was so enormous they split them into two) and then rolled out and bought snacks and drinks and a packed lunch and hopped on the bus.
At which point we found out that they’d switched us to the 10 hour tour, which included lunch and way more time at each destination. Hooray and whoops – what a waste of a convenience store sandwich.
HEY IT’S TIME FOR MORE GAME OF THRONES SPOILERS AND IF YOU DON’T WANT TO READ THEM YOU SHOULD SCROLL DOWN AND LOOK FOR MORE CAPITAL LETTERS LIKE THIS BECAUSE THAT’S WHERE THEY END.
The tour was extremely cool. We started out by stopping in a fishing village shortly outside of Belfast, where they filmed the scene where Arya clambers out of the water after getting stabbed in Braavos. She fell into the water in Spain, and climbed out in Northern Ireland. That’s pretty impressive. We also stopped into a cute souvenir shop (that smelled delicious because they’d just made spicy soap) and I got a pair of Selkie earrings which I am very excited to wear – they are A+ cute.
After that we drove for a while and stopped at the Cushendun Caves, which are a pair of side-by-side caves which were both used for filming extremely different scenes. The cave on the right is where Melisandre birthed the scary shadow baby that murdered the heck out of Renly. The cave on the left is the secret boat access to the Red Keep where Jaime and Euron conveniently happened to arrive at the same time and they fought and the stupid garbage pirate finally died. God Euron sucks. I hate that guy. This was a very pretty spot, though, and instantly recognizable.
Adam: I think that the weird rocky beach where Jamie fights Euron was weirdly the most exciting location to visit (besides seeing burned king’s landing of course) because of how instantly recognizable it was. This may be mainly because we only just watched these episodes. Either way I think it was the highlight for me.
Noémi: Ditto, even though Euron sucks.
ALSO THIS IS REALISTICALLY WHERE THE GAME OF THRONES SPOILERS END. THERE ARE ONLY VERY GENERAL AND BROAD WORDS ABOUT GAME OF THRONES FROM HERE ON OUT. YOU ARE SAFE TO PROCEED.
From there we drove for quite a while to the Giants Causeway. The Causeway was one of my bucket list locations – I’ve wanted to see it since I found out it existed. It looks so cool and magical, I was very excited. And it was… well I don’t know what to tell you, it was a bunch of rocks with an enormous crowd on and around them. They’re very neatly shaped rocks but they aren’t very exciting. I ended up being kind of disappointed. If we’d had more time to visit we might have done the cliff walk which seemed to be really beautiful – but that’s less about the causeway itself.
Then it was lunchtime, which tours around here always seem to schedule at like 2:30pm. In no way is 2:30pm a decent lunchtime when you have to have breakfast at like 8am, folks. Unacceptable. The restaurant was Game of Thrones themed and featured one of the “Doors of Thrones” which are spread across Northern Ireland. This one was the Targaryen door. It was beautifully carved and featured both dragons and horses to represent Dany. Man, where is the Tyrell door – I want to see my faves. They also had a cheesy seat where you could get a picture taken of you with a cloak on on the Iron Throne – but the cloak was like… a Night’s Watch cloak and it’s like – do you not understand what the deal with the Night’s Watch is, they definitely cannot be kings. Also it did not get cold enough in Kings Landing for anybody to be wearing cloaks like that. Even Ned wasn’t wearing a fur cloak.
Adam: It’s all sort of just a gross touristy mess. You sit on the throne wearing a night’s watch cloak while holding like. Jamie Lannister’s sword? It’s just a mishmash of recognizable items that it feels like were just thrown into a room by aliens who saw a few promo images from the TV show and said, here look, here are some of those things!! From that show you love!! Pay us to hold them!!
Noémi: From there we went to the… Carrick-a-rede rope bridge? I think I’ve got that right. I’m not googling things anymore, I’ve already been writing for like two hours. We thought that our tour guide said we had like 30 minutes to visit the rope bridge so we should go fast, so we took off at a clip… but when it became clear that the rope bridge was like 1.5 KM away from us… it became clear that she had meant we had an hour and a half. What a long, exhausting and beautiful walk to the bridge it was. I am super goddamn scared of heights so I was considering not going on the bridge, but after walking all that way to get there I sure as hell wasn’t going to NOT cross it.
So that’s how I ended up crying in front of a bunch of strangers, anyway. I am really scared of rope bridges. I do not like them. And they wouldn’t let Adam stay next to me because they said he was holding people up. Probably not realizing he wasn’t, I was. Because I could barely move. Partially because I didn’t want to hold one of the handrails because I was scared of opening my hand because I felt certain my wedding ring was going to fall off and into the sea if I opened it. (I took my ring off for the trip back, it helped)
BUT I MADE IT, and across the bridge a truly amazing view was waiting for me. Also a bunch of seagulls and weird birds that looked like penguins. They smelled terrible. I mean like wow, they were on the cliffs below us but the smell was everywhere. Apparently when you get too many birds together they just REEK. Also probably they were storing some rotting fish in their nests or something. Gross, birds. Get it together.
From there we went to the Dark Hedges, which appears as the Kings Road in GoT. It is a very iconic location that… does not look as impressive IRL as when it is expertly composed and shot. The giant trees that line the road seem to be dying, also – they’ve had a few of them fall down recently and one of the ones we passed was totally hollowed out.
Also, while we were there, two people on our tour got engaged. It was a surprise engagement. The lady screamed. It was VERY CUTE. ROMANCE.
Then we made the drive back to Belfast. As we got off the bus, Adam’s phone rang. It was Made in Belfast calling, but we didn’t realize it until it was too late. We’d made a reservation there for that night, but apparently my efforts to change the time after we got pushed to the upgraded tour didn’t work and it was set an hour too early and they cancelled it. I got disproportionately upset about this because I was very tired and wanted to eat – but fortunately (after figuring out that the number displayed on their website does not work if dialled as is, and you’re supposed to know to remove the 0 from the area code) we were able to get a new reservation for 8:30pm.
It was a very tasty meal but not quite as mind-blowing as the first one. I got plenty of pictures though, as you might expect.
Then we were SOOOO tired. We slept.
DAY 13 – BELFAST
The band had their concert at the Titanic Museum on this day, so we started bright and early by heading to the museum and going through the exhibits. It is a pretty good museum – not amazing, but it’s definitely thorough. It has remarkably bad design, though, especially when you first enter. You enter into a room full of written text on the wall, explaining the history of Belfast industry and their shipbuilding industry in particular. The information is good and interesting, but 1) having a 30+ minute section of your museum which is not much more than large passages of text and accompanying photos SUCKS, and 2) the whole thing was arranged into narrow corridors that were very difficult to pass through when more than one person was ahead of you, which meant it felt VERY crowded even though I’m pretty sure we arrived at the slowest point of the day. I felt it was claustrophobic and hurried through as fast as possible.
After that you take a ride on a narrow elevator up fake steel scaffolding, which was very cool. Then you have the option on getting on a cable car ride that shows off the shipbuilding process. Listen, riding on a cable car is ALWAYS a good time, but I’m not sure this is worth the hype and the 20 minute wait. It added so little to the material. If anything the cable car was actually a distraction from the dioramas and films they had it tour past – it lifts and lowers and spins and I was just spending most of the time thinking “why did they bother?”
However, they did focus, correctly, on the coolest parts of the Titanic story. First, they showed you replicas of the inside of the ship – and the clear class divides really speak very poorly of the rich, tbh. Especially knowing how they were favoured to escape the ship. Gross. Gross. Super gross.
Second, they had a quiet, sparsely decorated room that just featured recorded interviews from the survivors and the transcription of the calls for help and responses from nearby ships. That one was probably the most affecting. God that would have been a bad way to die.
Finally, they had a room which showed a video of the wreckage of the Titanic lying at the bottom of the sea and examining all of the debris around it. This was super cool, except the narration was… hilarious. It was like one guy was operating the cameras and was a huge know-it-all and the other guy had no idea what was going on, but both of them felt no emotions at all. “Is that an anchor?” “Yes.” “Bet it weighs a ton.” “Two tons, I think.” It is hard to describe in writing how much these guys sounded like serial killers observing a crime scene of their own making.
Adam: “Looks like a deck chair.” “MmmmHHMMMM.” Also I got cracked up by the disproportionate awe at some of the things they found. “Oh my God. Shoes.”
Noémi: Then we went outside for the concert. We arrived just as they started playing. Adam was on video camera duty, so I wandered around and listened in on the tourists who were passing by and enjoying the music. They tried to play as many songs as they could that were featured songs that would have been played by the Titanic’s Orchestra. That was pretty cool!
The band packed up after the concert and Adam and I went back to the gift shop, picked up a Christmas ornament, and then caught a super sketchy taxi back into town. Yet again I was worried I was going to get murdered. The guy didn’t have a meter running, his license number was missing from the inside, and he drove a very strange route to get us back. What the heck, taxi man.
Adam: He was aggressively trying to get strangers to carpool with each other in the taxis which I actually was really into.
Noémi: Spoiler alert: we didn’t die. And he didn’t charge us more than I was comfortable paying. It was fine.
Then we had lunch with Alan and Judy (who joined us until dinner because they had a free time break) at this place called Yugo, which called itself “Oriental Fusion with an Irish twist” which YIKES are you still allowed to use the word Oriental in the UK, yikes.
Anyway all of their food was actually delicious and I suspect they used that word because it is pan-Asia fusion with Korean/Thai/Japanese/Chinese influences all mixed together but still Y I K E S.
After that we walked to City Hall! Our walking tour guide had strongly recommended we visit and see the lavish interiors. They were indeed lavish. What is with Belfast and ostentatious government buildings? At least this one is relatively normal levels of ostentatious, but it sure doesn’t seem like a welcoming place for citizens to voice their concerns.
Also, the entire first floor is a museum? And it takes like an hour to tour? That was very strange. I learned a lot about Belfast, though.
Adam: In general I feel really uncomfortable about how rich and lavish the government buildings were here. The parliament buildings were especially gross, seriously, it was just an absolutely absurd amount of land, with a lavish, swooping grassy hill leading up to the building for an entire kilometre, lined by perfectly spaced trees, and extensive gardens and statues. Then there was this city hall, much larger than it needed to be, stained glass windows, marble staircases, just so much money poured into this building. Government buildings just should not be this expensive. It just felt so wrong.
Noémi: Oh man speaking of Belfast and learning about it, I wish we’d been there like a week later so we could have seen bonfire night. People were building some crazy bonfires. Like 5 stories high levels of crazy.
We went to a chocolate shop called… Hotel Chocolat or something? And had some tasty iced chocolate drinks and ice cream. Adam also spotted a hot chocolate maker that melts the chocolate itself and basically drooled over it. I think he’d shoot a man for one. Except we’d need one with a North American plug. That thing would definitely need a heavy-duty converter to operate.
Alan and Judy had a group dinner to go to that night, so we split up, and Adam and I decided to have a quite night in of board games (Patchwork and Dino World!) and take out. We tried out a local burrito chain, Boojum, and were immediately furious that they don’t operate in Vancouver, because DAMN, that was a tasty burrito. Why do we not have these. I’m furious. I want a custom burrito bar.
After Alan and Judy came back we joined them for some drinks in the lobby and spent a long time talking about Game of Thrones (Judy swears she’ll try reading it one of these days) and then went up to bed because Adam and I had another early travel day.
DAY 14 – ON THE ROAD TO EDINBURGH
We woke up uncomfortably early (like 6:30AM, so like – normal work time at home but a time that only weirdos wake up otherwise – sorry weirdos, it’s true) and joined Alan and Judy for our farewell breakfast. Also had to say farewell to the buffet, which is sad. They were in Belfast for one more day and then heading on to Galway. I hope they had a good time! (Adam might know, I believe he’s been in text contact)
We took a cab ride with a friendly cabbie to the airport. When he gave me back my change from the ride he gave me a 10 pound note I didn’t recognize. Turns out Northern Ireland has their own bank? I was sitting there marvelling at it confusedly which led the man to believe I thought he was scamming me, so he gave me an English note. I’m sorry, cabby man. I was just confused and bewildered. But I do appreciate your reassurance.
Oh God so then we were at the airport. The George Best City Airport, specifically. This is actually a pretty nice airport, but it also was my first introduction to budget airlines and UUUUGHHHHH YOU GET WHAT YOU PAY FOR.
We were flying with Flybe, and they had sent us a huge angry message the other day about how their carry on limits are way more restrictive than we’re used to and if our bags are too big we have to check them for like $70 each. “No problem! We’re both carrying a carry-on that is well below the maximum allowed on a normal flight. Surely it’s not THAT small of a limit”
Yeeeeeeah my backpack barely fit in the bin’s limits, Adam’s roller bag didn’t happen. Although only by like 3 centimetres. Bye-bye, 70 bucks. And then we got on the flight and discovered it would ABSOLUTELY FIT UNDER THE SEAT but whatever I guess. Grrrrr.
Literally everything else about this flight was fine but boy that was a real mood-killer. Also when we got to the other side, Adam’s suitcase wheel was loose again! Siiiigh. More repairs needed by the time we get on our next plane.
We got on a bus into Edinburgh, both in a grumpy mood and hungry. The bus was nice though and not long after we were checking in at our weirdly futuristic hotel, the Hub by Premier Inn. If you have never stayed at one of these things (they’re quite new) literally everything is operated by computers. You check in using a computer console which spits out your room cards, you have to pass through like 5 security doors on your way in which all activate using your room key, and your lights, temperature, and do not disturb sign are all available on an electronic console above your bed.
It’s weird and gimmicky and also pretty great. Also MY GOD IT WAS AFFORDABLE. Half the cost of anywhere else we stayed. Highly recommend you use one if you can put up with having a tinier hotel room than usual.
We went to a steakhouse for lunch. I severely regret not getting a steak. Adam got a steak because he is a sensible human who knows how to live his best life and it was RIDICULOUSLY GOOD. My lunch was also pretty good but it was just a very good lunch, nothing inspiring. Good cocktails, though!
We were so burned out from many early days and knew we had a big day the next day, so we figured our best plan was to do what we did in Dublin and go see a movie. After all, we couldn’t risk getting spoiled for Spider-Man: Far from Home more than we had already! The movie was extremely good. I strongly approve of Jake Gyllenhaal Mysterio. For some reason I feel like I started to hate that guy recently but he was very charming in this movie. I am sure Adam has more to say about this.
Adam: I mean I actually really like Jake Gyllenhaal so when I saw he was the cast for Mysterio in this movie I was absolutely delighted. He ended up being super charming when he needed to be, and when the true Mysterio show starts at about 4/5ths of the way in it is absolutely delightful and truly ripped from the pages of the comics. It was everything I could have hoped for and I was grinning like a lunatic through the whole thing. And they gave him the stupid fishbowl head. What a sweet thing to do.
Noémi: Also there were like 30 minutes of ads and trailers before the movie, firmly worse than movies at home. Yikes.
On the way back to our hotel we found a Board Game Cafe – more of than when we get to the official Edinburgh post. We settled into our room, watched Stranger Things… and then realized it was waaaaay too late and we should have dinner and after 11pm the only thing open was McDonalds so Adam got more chicken strips and was pleased. Also almost everyone there was super dressed up because it was Saturday night and everyone got married.
The next day we went to Loch Ness, but that’ll wait for another blog post because I’ve been writing for four hours and we should probably do something with our day other than chill in the hotel room. Although chilling is pretty good too.
Edinburgh post is probably imminent because I don’t want to fall too far behind and London is gonna be BUSY AS HECK so don’t worry, you’ll hear from us again soon.