This was the best day ever! And it was a long one. We woke up at 5:30am per Kevin's insistence. We drove two hours up into Northern Ireland to Giant's Causeway. I wasn't too happy to wake up so early, but I ended up being extremely grateful because we got to Giant's Causeway before it officially opened. Not only did this mean we didn't have to pay to get in, but also that we were the only people there. We walked along the shore until we reached the area where the strange geometric rocks grew out of the ocean. Irish folklore holds that these hexagonal stones are the ruins of an ancient bridge built by a giant and destroyed by his rival. While my parents got their tripods out, focused on getting the perfect picture, I climbed up and over the rocks, simply trying to take in all of the beauty of this place. I was amazed. Even though all the world's territories have been charted, the earth remains laden with the mysteries of God.
We wandered around the rocks for awhile while other visitors began to slowly trickle in. We continued along the path past a geologic formation nicknamed "the organ" and up into another stunning bay called "the amphitheater." As we headed back to the car, past the Giant's Causeway, we noticed the increasing number of tourists. We were all quite glad to have had the chance to explore with nobody else around.
We then drove up the coast a little ways to a quaint bistro called The Red Door where we had brunch. The weather was warm, sunny, and clear, so we walked around and took a few pictures. Then we drove down the hill to a strange little harbor called Ballintoy Harbour. It's hard to explain what it looked like: a dozen rocky hills that formed little islands next to a small harbor for fishing boats and a seaside laden with caves. We climbed around and explored a bit before continuing on our way.
We drove an hour and a half to Belfast. We checked in at our large brick bed & breakfast, then went straight to the new Titanic museum. The exhibit was really well curated and gave a much different perspective than usual. It focused less on the lives of the ship's passengers and more on those who lived in Belfast and helped build the ship. We spent several hours there and I really enjoyed it.
On our way out of the museum, we noticed a group of strangely-dressed people waiting around outside. We learned they were filming the pilot for a miniseries directed by Ridley Scott and based on the video game Halo. We talked to a few of the extras and watched for awhile before leaving.
We then jumped in a taxi for a black cab tour of the city. Our driver took us around a protestant area of the city and showed us several paramilitary murals painted in support of the Ulster Freedom Fighters and in memorial to those who had been killed in the fighting, often referred to as "the troubles." He took us to the large wall separating the protestant area from the catholic area. My parents said it reminded them of the Berlin Wall. We then went through the large gate, which is closed each night at dusk, and into the catholic area. We went to a memorial for those who had been killed. We saw several houses backing the wall. Their backyards were enclosed with large metal cages to protect them from whatever might be launched over the wall. I was amazed. I had no idea that this fighting still continues, although it is getting better and the majority of people are not affected. But my heart is broken by the situation. It's a highly political dissension under the guise of religion, but its clear that Jesus isn't in any part of it.
From there, we wandered into a small, packed restaurant called Hadskis. There were no regular tables available, so we had to sit at the counter. We were upset about it at first, but it turned out to be amazing! We were essentially sitting in the kitchen and were able to watch the kitchen staff's every move. We pointed at different items, asked what they were, asked recommendations from the chefs, and talked to them the entire time. And we soon learned that these weren't just average cooks, but serious chefs, some of whom had traveled the world in pursuit of Michelin-quality training and experience. It doesn't sound that great on paper (or on the internet), but it was an amazing end to an amazing day. By the time we went to bed, we'd been up for about eighteen hours, but it felt like we'd had an entire week's worth of experiences.