Its been quite an interesting two days!
Friday morning we said goodbye to Dublin (for now) and cought a cab back to the airport (we know that route well!). Cab drivers in the Republic are particularly chatty and kind. Ours was quite curious about the rest of our trip, where we'd go after we hired the car. We had noticed that most Dubliners we talked to had the same thing to say about Belfast: "should be ok now, I've never been there though". We were getting the feeling that most people would no sooner make the 2:30 journey than we would hop a plane to Cuba. Our cab driver continued: "Well really, you should be ok, of course you'll be in a car with Dublin tags an all, so keep to the main streets, you wouldn't want to end up in The Falls or anything!"
Frankly, I wasn't paying as much attention as I should have because I was working on paying attention to how he was driving; hoping for a tip or trick. We managed to hire the car without incident (may I recommend Irishcarrentals.com over hertz?) and once we got the luggage in the car we were off. Suze and have a few rules for driving in other countries: First, she cannot just yell out. Secondly, I will not freak out either. Thirdly, she has to sit on her hands and speak calmly (reference rule #1). Finally "your drifiting left" is a perfectably acceptable way to say "watch out dummie you are about to hit a parked car!".
The M1 moterway
Dubliners are quite found of their new moterway (like our interstate) the M1 which connects Dublin to the North... sort of. The M1 is about the finest most modern highway in Ireland and for all of its 20 or so miles, it sure is grand. Truthfully, it was pleasant to start out on a decent sized roadway.
Bru na Boinee
Shortly before the M1 ended we pulled off to check out a site of cultural signifigance: Bru na Boinne. in the Boyne valley there are a lot of "passageway graves" or dirt mounds of historical merit. They are found all over the farm land and range in size. The most impressive is Northgate which, at 5,000 years old, pre-dates the pyramids. Northgate was an impressive grass covered mound with a quartz wall. We were led inside to a stone room with about a 10 foot diameter. Just above the entryway is a small 6" x 18" opening. Apparently, on the winter soltice exactly at dawn, every year light will shine through the opening and illuminate the chamber down the passageway. Why was this built? What is it for? Well, they don't know. Turns out they really don't know anything about the site at all, but apparently it still works on the soltice.
Shortly after the M1 ended, so did my driving pleasure. The roads were a cramped one lane affair all the way to Belfast. The boarder corssing was almost insignificant except for a Buaure de Change and a lot of anti-British graffiti. After picking up the Northern Ireland M1 equivilent, the A1, for about 2 kilometers we arrived at the center of Belfast....and promptly got lost. It was about the time I looked up and saw the murals that Susan saw a large sign that read The Falls (see cabbie's comments above). Were were in the heart of Catholic / Protestant conflict driving a Dublin registered (remember, Dubliners are Catholic)car. We finally made it to the hotel unscathed but shaken up. After checking we headed out for a bite and a few pints. We discovered the the center of the old victorian city is very charming and welcoming. We finished up with a pint at the old Crown Liquor Saloon, the oldest (and most crowded) pub in Belfast.
This morning we awoke to a driving ran and about 55 degree weather. Thought we were anxious to hit the road, Suze insisted that we try and learn a little more about the town. So we got a taxi... a Black Taxi tour is a tour in an older black cab lead by a local who has rather detailed knowledge about the town and its history. It turns out that Belfast is young by European standards and most buildings are less than 100 years old, just built to look older. But we weren't after an lesson in architecture. We were taken to the heart of the conflict (yep, the Falls, among other areas. Its really too vast to be summed up here, but Belfast is the closet I ever want to come to something like that again. Segregation is pretty much the law (different schools, areas of town, shops, etc). We couldn't get into most of the protestant areas because they are walled off with gates, which were closed today because a rally was expected. There were police everywhere parked in armored cars.
The storey of the murals is extremely interesting (see the photo library) and will be addressed at a later time.