Christmas market, snow and summer tires in Northern Ireland

Esben travels quiet a lot for work. Usually he’s home for two weeks and then away for two weeks. Lately, he has spent most of the time in France, England and Northern Ireland, and we have often talked about how nice and easy it would be to go on a weekend trip in connection with his work. But somehow it’s not so easy in reality. Until now.

We had five hours to spend in Schipol airport before catching the flight to Belfast, but luckily, Esben had been upgraded to gold member at KLM the week before, and since he was allowed to bring a guest, we could spend the time in the lounge with brunch and champagne. I guess I should start actually signing up for those frequent flyer miles when I travel…

I have never been to Ireland before, and wasn’t really prepared for the beauty of the rugged coastline as we descended towards Belfast. We got the rental car and took the short trip to Belfast. As we saw the line of cars waiting to get into the parking house we realized that we had arrived on Black Friday. Somehow we were still lucky and managed to find a parking spot in the otherwise completely full compound. And then we were ready to explore the city of which we knew next to nothing. First thing I noticed was that people actually chose to cross the street when there were no cars – even though the light was red! In Germany your fellow pedestrians would have let you know what a horrible role model this behaviour makes you (yes, seriously, I have seen it happen). Strange how such a small thing can feel so liberating, and sad to be reminded, yet again, that it’s high time for us to move.

We loved the diversity of the people in Belfast, and especially the street musicians on all corners. At the Christmas market we got faux lego figures for Runa and Mattis. And as I hate buying stuff just for the sake of buying, our souvenir from the trip was a french organic soap bar, also bought at the Christmas market. We could have stuffed ourselves with fudge and chocolate cake, but Esben was getting hungry for real, so we stopped in a tiny and laid-back Japanese restaurant for the most delicious soup. After warming up we made a quick stop in a clothing store, but quickly ran away again after seeing the piles of clothes thrown around by eager Black Friday’ers. And then it was time to leave the city and head towards our rented flat.


Japanese soup in Belfast

When people tell Esben how exciting it must be to be traveling so much for work, he is quick to point out that biogas plants usually are located far out in the country side where you don’t annoy people with the occasional smell of farts. And in Northern Ireland it’s no different. So we embarked on an hour-long trip towards the north. While we drove it started to snow and when we pulled in to the rented flat, it was dark, cold and wet. And as we settled in it became clear that the heat had only recently been turned on, and the flat was freezing cold. But never mind, we heated our quickly bought Indian ready meal, and took the blankets into the living room where we had dinner in the sofa, assured that the place would be warm in the morning.

But as we woke up, we realized that the heat had been automatically turned down during the night – and we were still cold. While I tried taking a shower without touching the freezing tiles, Esben hunted down the thermostat to set it to our liking, and soon we were off to explore the country side of Northern Ireland. Since we were in no rush, we decided to take a turn towards the “scenic route”, and followed the coast line towards the north. We came through little villages and crossed picturesque old bridges. It was beautiful – our only problem was the combination of light snow, hills, and the summer tires on the rental car. At one point we couldn’t get any further, and Esben almost got the car stuck while trying to turn on the narrow road, the local guy standing next to me remarked that we must be used to this – we’re after all Scandinavian. I didn’t give him an explanation about the wonders of winter tires.

We made a few brief stops to enjoy the view, but as we approached the town of Ballycastle, we decided it was time to warm up with some english breakfast (for lunch) and to get some chocolate to keep us going. We continued to Bushmills, without buying the whiskey, passed by the Giants Causeway, and saw the ruins of the Dunluce Castle, located dramatically on the coast.

Neither of us ever watched Game of Thrones, and evidently passed a few very important locations without stopping. But we did make sure to pass the Dark Hedges, which Esben had learned from colleague he had to. I did actually read the first four books of the series, and now I kinda want to watch it also. After another scenic route and another return due to snow we made it home early enough to take a break before going out for a great dinner in Cushendall, the nearby village. Where they refused to serve wine for some reason.

We both vaguely remembered learning about the conflict in Northern Ireland in school, but couldn’t really remember what it was all about. Youtube documentaries, however, reminded us what the conflict was about, and as we had a couple of hours in Belfast before I had to catch the plane home, we decided to go and see the murals on Falls Road. It’s sad to walk along this road and see the wall that has been made higher over time to keep people apart. And really, it seems, it’s a matter of people of lesser means not having fair options in life.

When I happily told my colleague Claudia that we would spend a November weekend in Northern Ireland, she looked at me as if I was crazy; but why??? As I flew home I was really glad that we went. The trip was of course much too short, and much of our time was spent in the car, but it still left me feeling as if I had visited a place so different from everywhere else, and with a long history of its own that I guess we tend to not really know that much about in Scandinavia. I hope I will be back some time. Maybe in the summer – or when winter tires have become the norm 😉



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