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Published: June 22nd 2019
Besides hearing first-hand and learning something about "the Troubles" and what it was like to live in either Ireland during those very recent thirty years, this Trafalgar tour has visited many interesting places. Belfast was Belfast, still emerging as a modern city beginning to welcome visitors. The hotel where we stayed (the Park Inn, part of the Radisson group and therefore expected to be quite good) had lots of little problems, from having no extra blankets even though the heat was turned off (I find that with temperatures in the 40s and 50s F it is much more pleasant to have heat in the rooms when we return from a chilly and wet outdoors, or after showering), to several rooms losing electricity the morning we left. (I am happy I was not in one of those dark rooms!) We were thanked repeatedly for choosing to come to Belfast as visitorship is relatively new and people are still somewhat fearful. Many travellers visit the Republic of Ireland, but currently many fewer travel to Northern Ireland; one local cabbie compared tourists' thinking of Belfast as a destination city with someone's wishing to travel to Beirut or Kabul in Afghanistan.
Londonderry was much more lovely than Belfast. Our hotel was across from the river, almost two miles away from the city center, but on this gorgeous, sun-filled day, walking on the river path was very pleasant, although several in our group chose to take taxis to and from. The first afternoon we were here no one wanted to walk into the city as I did, but it was such a lovely warm day, and we were spending so much time sitting in our bus that I needed to move. So, even though I was told most restaurants had already closed for the day, armed with a map and directions from the hotel staff I set out on my own alongside the beautiful River Foyle, heading into the center of Londonderry to see what I could find; if nothing else presented itself I could always shop for something at Tesco.
Along the pleasant river pathway the first mile or so was absolutely wonderful. I walk fast, but in group tours this can rarely be accommodated, so just walking at my own comfortable pace, in the sunshine, was delightful. Until I got to the double bridge. This is a two level structure, and I was told to go across on the lower level. Not questioning this as I had no reason to doubt the hotel staff's directions, I followed the sidewalk down, took my life in my hands (people in Ireland drive fast!) as I ran across to the other side where I could see a walkway, and was confronted with a cement barrier. There was the sidewalk right beyond, but no good way to get over the barrier. Should I attempt clambering over? This seemed to be neither a graceful nor a good choice. So I stood there a few minutes debating what to do when a car pulled up and the young woman driver asked if I was lost. "No," I said, "but I can't see a way to get over this barrier to the sidewalk to cross the bridge." "It's blocked again, is it?" she replied. And then she offered me a ride across the bridge. I thought, why not, and got into her car. Two small children rode in the back so it seemed safe enough, plus I've had many many happy experiences by trusting and accepting help of various kinds from total strangers, in the US as well as in several foreign countries throughout the world.
In her car we chatted about lots of things: travelling, children, where all in Ireland our tour would visit, where I would travel afterwards, if she'd been to America; after telling me that yes, most restaurants had already closed for the day, she ended up driving me to Tesco where I bought some of the necessities of life: good dark chocolate and wine. Being vegan, when I travel I always bring nutritious foods with me (nuts, excellent GoMacro or Lara bars, and healthy good dark chocolate) to sustain me when restaurants present me only with plates of greens, or white pasta with few or no veggies. Plus I wanted to try chocolate from Ireland, so that was on my list to buy too. After shopping at Tesco (apparently, except for the language spoken, the stores are the same worldwide), of course I had to get back to the hotel. The sun was still shining, but the streets in Derry were a bit confusing, and I did not want to be faced with potential pedestrian problems on the double bridge again, so I crossed over the very accessible, curving, newish and pretty Peace Bridge, seeing the lovely River Foyle again below, and walked the distance back on the other side of the river. It was a longish walk back, and I was pleased I had made the decision to go out exploring on my own. The day was still warm and lovely and I wanted to enjoy it as long as possible, but the sun was lowering and chocolate, nuts and wine were beckoning, so I went back to my room for the night, happy with my first fine adventure in Londonderry.
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