Day 4: Onward and upward to Belfast

I can almost still hear my in laws imploring me in English and Russian (which I don't speak), to NOT DRIVE IN DUBLIN.  We had no plans to, but since we were driving north to Belfast first and rentals are cheaper in the republic, we ended up renting a car through Dan Dooley in Dublin city center.  FYI, you will get screwed with insurance no matter how you slice it: our Mastercard would cover it, with a 2000 euro deposit, or you can get basic insurance from DD that you pay the first 1000 euro for.  You can do even more insurance that you only pay the first 120 euro for any damage, but that will run another 12 euro or so per day, so it really depends on how much damage you plan to make. ;)  I don't drive at all (I did just get my learner's permit, so lookout!), so poor H was going to have to figure out how to drive on the left side with a manual transmission.  It was still not a bad deal, at 215 euro for 10 days, still miles cheaper than the shitbox we rented in Uruguay last year for a few days.

Before setting off to get our Irish shitbox car, we tried to get out into the city to see at least one more Dublin sight.  We chose Dublin Castle, which is not terribly impressive in it of itself (at least from the outside, we didn't have time to do a tour inside), but the the Chester Beatty Library is pretty cool, if you are the sort of person who gets excited by seeing an original manuscript of Dante's Divine Comedy (which I am).  While seeing the exhibit on Leonardo's notebooks on water and its properties was fairly cool, I only care so much about the flow of streams and the optimum design for a waterwheel.  Even cooler was a lot of the manuscripts by lesser known people on science and technology.  I took an awesome class Italian Renaissance history and literature my last semester in school and did a small presentation on Marsilio Ficino, who, in addition to writing insane-sounding medical tracts about drinking the breast milk of a young (but willing, at least) woman to stay young, apparently was the first to use the semi-colon, as I learned at the library. Some pix of Dublin Castle:

Our desire to look at ye olde books sated, we went to pick up the rental car.  Other than a wrong-turn going through North Dublin, it was fairly smooth sailing getting out of the city, but we had enough taste of the traffic to be glad we were leaving.  I was really excited to listen to Irish radio, which I had heard was excellent, and we caught a very long call-in program about an Irish woman who wrote a tell-all memoir about her abusive father and childhood that was apparently a "pack of lies" according to her siblings. The scandal is over a documentary made about the family and her book and how she failed to show up for a lie detector test four times.  It was really interesting but a little tedious, especially as she wasn't on the program to tell her side to the lie detector saga.  We also heard a great show of all complaints, mostly about things like drunken rowdy teenagers on the Galway-Dublin train and drunken rowdy teenagers at a concert at Malahide Castle.  Gripping stuff.

The drive was fairly easy once we were out of the city, other than some close brushes with the left-side rearview mirror.  I guess when you are used to being on the left side of the car, you misjudge how much room you have on the left side when you switch sides.  Thus, we clipped the poor mirror several times accidentally.  This a theme you will hear often.  We were also pretty surprised at how little fanfare there was when we crossed the border into Northern Ireland.  Other than suddenly much improved roads and lack of Gaelic signs, you'd have no idea.  I realize they took down the checkpoints that used to be on the border, but it's kind of disappointing to cross a border and get no passport stamp.

Got to Belfast after a few hours, but realized I had no idea where our hotel (The Merchant Hotel) was, though I had printed out the confirmation and even brought them their Hot List certificate, nothing had the address.  So after a long time of driving around lost, we found the tourist office where I loaded up on maps and even a fancy brochure on the hotel.  The Merchant is very central, in the Cathedral District, which is vaguely like Soho, if you squint.  It's a few blocks of cobblestoned streets and, of course, cathedrals, with a smattering of restaurants and bars.  We checked into the hotel, which is very homey and welcoming, and I asked about Black Taxi tours, as there seem to be a million to choose from.  The receptionist suggested, *without irony*, that we take the Bentley.  H and I found it hysterical for days the idea of touring the previously troubled areas of West Belfast in a fucking Bentley.  Our room was lovely, a Loft Suite with an awesome bathroom and nice sitting room:

A few issues with the room: while it was quite romantic, we could have used some more lights.  It was impossible to see anything even in the day with the grey Belfast weather and lack of lamps in the room.  If they are trying to gear the room towards a couple, why no minibar?  I liked the fact that if your rate included breakfast, you could get it in your room for the same price as in the restaurant, but sometimes you don't feel like trompsing down to the hotel bar for a nightcap.  Unlike the Shelbourne, however, there was a lot of places to put your stuff, closets and drawers galore.

Will continue later, gotta go home…

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