DON’T MESS WITH SANTANTA OR YOU’RE A WEE DEAD MAN

At 5:00 AM this morning the alarm went off reminding me that today was early to rise and early to travel. By 6:45 we had been on two tubes and the Gatwick Express from Victoria Station. Due to early morning stupidity we had not read our boarding pass info and spent the first 15 minutes in the wrong terminal. With a sarcastic look from departure security we about faced and picked up our pace to get to the 4th train of the morning delivering us from the south terminal to the north.

Gate 55E was ours and with “speedy boarding” we were first on and first sat in 1A & 1B. It was aboard Easyjet flight bfs1879 that we were charmed by the sweet tones of our in flight director Santanta. “Mind your wee feet”. “Take your wee seat”. “Watch the wee safety presentation”. “Do all these wee things or I will cut your wee hands off you wee bastard”.

Don’t get me wrong, I enjoyed the conversation between Santanta and her colleague wee Julie about binge drinking and the great craic they had on the weekend. Far be it from me to suggest this may have been inappropriate to Santanta or she would kick the wee shit out of me.

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So we are up and flying northbound over Surrey en route for airspace over London. Our flight path will take us up country and then a gentle bank to the left should deliver us across the Irish Sea, the Isle of Man and back down into Belfast in a flying time of 65 minutes. Oh, I must sign off until a little later as Santanta is delivering my wee bacon sandwich and I better have correct change.

We left Budget Rentals at Belfast International with an upgraded car, unfortunately still only appropriate for circus folk. If you are happy to attach your knees to your chest and travel for several hundred miles like that then I highly recommend the the Peugeot 208.

Anywho, we drove as recommended towards Larne. Just before entering the city limits we turned north and on to the Giants Causeway Road. This route is possibly the most scenic road I have ever travelled. I can’t imagine how many legitimate millions of pounds this country has lost in tourist money due to travellers apprehension of being caught in sectarian violence.

This is by far and away a stunning place to visit. As we wound our way up the east coast we passed through countless villages that all had their own unique charm. We stopped for breakfast at a pub named Mary McBride’s in the port village of Cushondun. Even though by the clock it was lunch the cook at Mary’s suggested the local breakfast. Bacon, sausage, black pudding, white pudding, fried tomato, fried egg and lots of fried soda bread. To drink we had black juice from a farm called Guinness.

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We sat in a tiny snug in the front of the pub. There was no mistaking by the colour of the flags flying in town what affiliation it had. The bar was simple but authentic. I spotted a hurling stick hanging behind and above the bar. That comes out in times of need so it does.

We gazed at the dozens of old photos hanging around the room. Dale asked the bar maid who the old man with the huge hands and wavy grey hair was standing behind the bar in one photo. The bar maid replied that old man is Mary!

Breakfast settled and off we go to the next town to ask offensive questions. And the next stop was Bushmills. Bushmills the village exists for Bushmills the distillery. The oldest licenced distillery in the world. In 1608 it was given royal licence and has triple distilled its whiskey to perfection ever since. Our tour guide was a local girl named Laura who had the patter down to a tee.

We both learned a lot on the tour about whiskey and the area. 150000 litres of whiskey begins its life per 24 hours at Bushmills. 124 full time staff manage 60 acres of production, bottling and distribution. The other thing we were reminded of today was how good it is to be Canadian thanks to our American Cousin’s performance throughout the tour.

From Bushmills we drove up to the Giants Causeway but couldn’t come to terms with the $50.00 entry fee per person. We drove on to see beautiful castle ruins and more jaw dropping scenery until we arrived in Port Rush. Awesome spot, lovely people and great espresso. Eyes open and gps set for Belfast.

One hour and twenty minutes later we were driving through IRA neighbourhoods taking photos of memorials, murals commemorating fallen comrades and some of the hardest looking people and their Pitt bulls I have ever seen. I can honestly say that I have driven through some rough places around the world but this place has an edge.

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The Falls road is the main artery by way you immerse yourself in all things republican. From there the adventure could not be complete without taking the journey to the other side of the 80′ high “peace wall” to Shankhill road and the Loyalist area of town. Gone is the green and here comes the Orange. Union Jacks and lots of orange. Same vibe as before but more of it. It seems to me that all of it is the land time forgot. People must choose to live here and live this way with this hate. I know it’s much deeper than that but half a mile in any direction and you are back in “normal” areas. All that to say that we got some hard looks and were reminded on several occasions by the local police operating armoured Land Rovers at checkpoints that these people still mean business.

We moved on to our accommodation for the evening. The Europa Hotel is the nicest but the most bombed hotel in Europe. It is constantly “under renovation” and in our case it was again. We checked in and went to our room. Really nice. The best hotel we have stayed at this trip.

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Over the road to the Crown Bar made famous for the above noted reasons and many pints of the blackness. We missed dinner so Tesco’s sandwiches were smuggled in later. The barmaid had a minor hairy but let it go. And then the event of the evening kicked off as an extremely drunk fifty something blonde woman stumbled to the bar next to Dale to announce she was from California and a millionaire. This was met and countered by Paddy behind the bar with I couldn’t care less love you’re not getting served here, you are too drunk. This clearly infuriated the ridden hard and put away wet Botox monster, so she had a drunken Californian millionaires tantrum and turned to speak to Dale. She continued with her stories of woe and then stole his pint and skulled ye vessel in a heart beat. Just like that, it was gone and so was she. Score at the end of the game, pathetic drooling Californian looser 1-Dale 0.

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In fairness to the fine bar staff at the Crown, a fresh pint was placed in front of Dale in moments and that quickly turned his frown upside down for a moment.  Dale’s thirst was quenched but he didn’t like the L in the L column.  Show me a good looser and I’ll show you a looser.  That’s what my high school coach used to say.  Tomorrow more touring about and more stupid stories to tell, I hope!

Cheerio,
Mark

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