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Northern Ireland
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07/03 Northern Ireland, Portrush to Belfast

Today was a scheduled 85 mile day that included three major sights -- the Dunluce Castle, the Giants Causeway, and the Rope Bridge. With the last 6 miles right in Belfast proper, we knew we wouldn't want to ride the whole thing, so we asked Joan to pick us up between 3 and 3:30.

The Dunluce Castle is a medieval castle on a rock that hangs off the edge of the land. It's in partial decomposition, but enough walls and roofs remain to easily discern the old castle. It's a nice change from the refurbished castles we've seen in France and the totally ruined castles and pieces of castles we've seen all-over Europe.

Next we came to the Giants Causeway, Ireland's most famous sight. A spillage of 40,000 "hexagonal" (but mostly 5-sided pentagons) columns of basalt form a 60-million-year-old honeycomb path from the foot of the cliffs into the sea.

Legend has it that a giant was in love with a lady who lived on an island out in the ocean. To make it easier to visit her, he placed these columns as steps from the mainland out to the island.

Next, along the causeway coast we saw the famous "rope bridge." It is a rope bridge that reaches from the cliffs on the mainland about 50 feet to the top of an isolated piece of the mainland that is now an island.

The bridge is reconstructed every year from May to September to provide the salmon fishermen a way their catch from off the island. The island forms a blockage for the salmon migration down the coast. When the salmon cruising down the coast run up against the island, they detour out and around it. That sets up an easy and obvious place for fishermen to set their nets.

We had a snack at the rope bridge refreshment center at about 1. An hour or so later we had a soup and bread snack in Ballycastle. We were back on the road about 3, so we thought we'd just wait there for Joan. We waited until 4. Then Lisa convinced me that we should start riding because something may have happened to her and she might not show up. So we rode.

We rode through some more beautiful Irish countryside on our way up the coast. We were starving so we stopped at 6:30 in Cushandall for a hamburger. As we waited, Larry and Joan drove up.

So why weren't they here at 3:30? They couldn't find us. It's a mystery, because we were on the route the whole time.

(A later evaluation indicates Joan may have followed the A2 in and out of Ballycastle, rather than taking the short detour that the route took to go by the seafront area. That would have bypassed where were waiting. It would also explain why she never saw the 8 Odyssey riders who were waiting at the bus-stop a half block from us.)

We felt very sorry for Joan, who was very distraught and stressed out when we finally met. She had been driving around looking for us for quite a while.

We're thinking of doing something to make our bike more visible. We may have to add a flag or balloon or something.

Most of the rest of the route into Belfast was on a road right along the North Atlantic Ocean. Mostly flat, curvy, little wind, constantly changing ocean scenes -- beautiful and sometimes breathtaking!

On the way into Belfast, following the route along A2, we came upon a road blockade made up of primarily children and women. There were many police in bulletproof vests standing around the demonstration. It turned out that the blockade was in support of the Orangemen who have been not allowed to march for the past four years.

The women told us to turn around, we couldn't go through. We tried to explain who we were and why we needed to go through (we had no idea where we were, and wanted to follow our DRG.) The lady called, "they're foreigners, Tony. What should we do?"

A policeman came over. We explained again who we were and why we needed to go through. He said to turn around and wait.

He talked to the demonstrators for about 10 minutes, then came back and told us they (the demonstrators) were going to let us through -- wait for his wave. In 3 or 4 more minuts he waved us to come forward. The demonstrators reluctantly split and opened JUST ENOUGH space for our car to squeeze through.

Joan was driving. She hot-footed it away from the demonstrators. We came upon several more groups of demonstrators but they had not yet formed a blockade. A few of them had collected piles of rubbish and wood that appeared to be materials to block the road (or start a bonfire.) At any rate, we made it through to Queens University without further incident.

Love to all, David and Lisa

07/04 Belfast, Ireland

This morning we had breakfast at the university cafeteria. No, the "full Irish breakfast" is no different from the full English breakfast -- cooked eggs, bacon, sausage, toast, fried potatoes, hot or cold cereal, juice and coffee or tea.

After breakfast we arranged a "Black Taxi Tour" of the political areas, then we left for a walking tour of the downtown area.

For starters, we walked by the Queens University Belfast. It has an architecturally beautiful building that was designed in 1849, modeled after Oxford's Magdalen College. We did not tour because they were in the midst of graduation exercises.

We then walked "The Golden Mile" of Belfast along Great Victoria Street. It contains many of the "gems" of Belfast, including the Grand Opera House, which was cyclically bombed by the IRA, restored at great cost, and bombed again. Another is the Crown Liquor Saloon, which has been restored to a showcase of carved wood, gilded ceilings and stained glass. A third significant building is the Europa Hotel. It has the dubious distinction of being "Europe's most bombed hotel" with 32 bombs in it's history.

We then walked through the "Cornmarket" area. This area has been a marketplace since Belfast's early days. It is now primarily a pedestrian shopping area. We had a very tasty lunch in the Cornmarket area, then we headed back to the university for our tour.

At 2, Wyn (a rider from Texas), Bill (a rider from New Jersey), and Cheryl (staff from Minnesota) joined Lisa and I on a Black Taxi Tour. The tour took us to Shankill Road in the center of the Protestant area, then to and across the Peace Line, which is the infamous wall between the Catholic and the Protestant areas, then to Falls Road in the center of the Catholic area.

It is incredible that this intense rivalry goes back to the 15th century! There is such bitter feelings between the Protestants and the Catholics that neither dares visit anyone in the other area during the day, nor even set foot in the other area after dark. They still randomly beat up and/or kill one another in "turf battles."

We saw many murals on the walls of buildings in the Protestant section, a few on the Catholic Section. The murals depict various military factions in baklava's (full head covers with eye and mouth holes) holding automatic weapons or martyrs (people who have died for "the cause") or the "flag" of the military faction.

We saw piles of wood, tires, old furniture and other debris waiting to be set on fire on the 12th (or before.)

Oh, I don't think I talked about the 12th. On July 12 every year there is a big Orange march protesting the move to join Northern Ireland (or Ulster as the Protestant English call it) with Ireland. On the 12th there is a HUGE bonfire in the center of the Protestant section commemorating the day. The buildup to the protest starts on July 2 with the collection of bonfire materials, demonstrations, protests and night riots.

We saw last night's riots, protests, barricades and car fires on television tonight. After dark, we heard the wop - wop - wop of helicopters until the wee hours of the morning. Lisa was glad we'd be leaving soon!

After dinner tonight, Tim (TK&A) dropped a bomb on the group -- he handed out a revised schedule for the next 6 months. No Russia. No Japan. 5 days in Helsinki instead of Russia. And, in lieu of Japan, 15 days in Cairnes, Australia with one short riding day.

There was LOTS of unhappiness and dis-satisfaction about the new schedule. MANY, MANY riders expressed the desire for keeping both Russia and Japan as options. Also, there was displeasure expressed about the long layover in Cairnes. Anyway, Tim said he would take the comments into consideration. Also, he said he would try to facilitate a visit to St Petersburg for those who wanted to go to Russia.

Finally he told the group that the ferry tomorrow did not leave at 9 o'clock in the morning as earlier indicated, but rather at 7:40. That meant everyone had to be at the ferry terminal at 6:40 a.m.

The meeting ended at 10:30. We went back to the dorms, packed, and listened to the helecopters flying over.

Love to all, David and Lisa

07/05 Belfast, Northern Ireland to Ayr, Scotland

First, we forgot to mention a strange thing that happened yesterday. Belfast was a mail stop, and Lisa received a letter from Kent, England. The envelope was simply addressed to "Ms. Rider #211" with the Belfast address. She couldn't imagine who it was from. Turned out it was from a man she talked to one day on the ride, told him about our trip, etc. (These kind of conversations with the locals occur on a daily basis.) He had gotten the rider number from the yellow tag on David's bag (that Lisa was holding, we think.) 211 is actually David's number, and the tag has his picture on it (as they all do.) The letter-writer said he thought Lisa was carrying a picture of her boyfriend on her number! Anyway, he apparently had looked up the Odyssey 2000 website, and found the mail stop address there. The letter itself was actually very nice -- nothing weird -- just saying he enjoyed the conversation, he was a bicyclist, too, and things like that. But quite a surprise to receive!

Now back to today.... The day started at 5:30 in the morning as we hustled to pack our gear, load the bike and gear in the car and have breakfast so we could leave for the ferry by 6:30.

We left about 6:40. Larry was driving (because it was his day to drive.) Joan was directing from the DRG. Joan said to go under the freeway then turn right. Larry saw some riders turn sooner so he followed them. That took us onto a freeway leading out of town. We turned around and got on another freeway which took us out of town in another direction. Finally we got off the freeway and followed signs to "City Centre."

As we were driving, we passed through riot areas from the night before. Lots of smoldering fires in or alongside the road. Lots of barrier debris in the roadway. Many burned-out cars. It was quite an eye-opening sight. We got through the riot areas safely and made it onto the ferry on time.

The Stena Lines ferry took us to Stranraer, Scotland, landing about 9:30. WE'RE IN SCOTLAND! HOME OF THE GAME OF GOLF. WILL I HAVE TIME TO PLAY?? PROBABLY NOT. )-: NO TIME

Lisa, Joan and I hopped onto our bikes and started down the route. We agreed that Larry should pick us up around 3-3:30 so we could all go in and get lodging lined up.

What a beautiful biking day this was! The route pretty much followed the ocean. We went through ocean-side meadows with the mountains bordering close by. The weather was perfect -- warm sun, cool air. The climbs were long but moderate. The downhills were long, gentle and smooth -- which means FAST for tandems. We LOVED it!

We finished the ride about 3:30. We checked at the university to see if any dorm rooms were available. It seemed that one person who had the keys was off today. The second had gone home early. The third wasn't due until 8 p.m. We decided not to wait.

But Larry wasn't there yet. He finally pulled in about 5. (He got lost several times, he said.) Joan rode up right after Larry got there. SHE FINISHED THE WHOLE DAY!. (We were all very proud of her.)

We all went to town to get a B&B for the night. We ended up at a really nice Scottish house run by a very Scottish lady named Ann. (There are a lot of "Ann's" and "Mary's" in Ireland and Scotland.) She was a DELIGHTFUL lady.

The entryway of the house had a wall to wall carpet in a red Scottish Tartan Plaid pattern. Two "curling stones" were sitting on the carpet by the phone table.

"Curling" is a Scottish game played on very smooth ice wherein "curling stones" are slide along the ice with the intention that they stop at a desired place. It's kind of like rolling a bowling ball down an alley but putting just enough speed on it that it stops dead right next to a pin without hitting it.

Love to all, David and Lisa

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