Belfast to Giant’s Causeway

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Quick disclaimer: If anyone wants a more up to date feed of my travelling, feel free to follow me on both Twitter and Instagram (same username) @jvierephoto. My workflow and travelling habits are dis/allowing me to use certain forms of social media…

Anyways! Belfast. It took an arm and a leg to get here from Galway. The journey took me to Dublin Airport, which was close to three hours, and then a second bus that took another two. So I got into Belfast later than I wanted. I won’t lie, the parts that I wandered around were not the prettiest. I’m not sure what I was expecting. Well, actually, on the bus I was wondering whether or not there was going to be border control. As an American, you hear about the recently subsided violence between Northern Ireland and the Republic. But I couldn’t conceive what it would look like in actuality. I sort of had a DMZ scene in mind, but that wasn’t the case. I guess you need your passport if you were to cross a body of water, which, if you think about it, is quite fascinating. Consider that all the violence that occurred took place between two “nations,” according to one side, yet no one really cares enough to establish border control. (Maybe that’s my American take on it; there aren’t always huge walls between countries). But then again, when I went through Heathrow Airport, there was a good deal of security.

Here's me making an ugly face in a really strong wind. Giant's Causeway is right behind/below me. I kind of walked around a "trail's closed" sign and ascended several hundred meters.
Here’s me making an ugly face in a really strong wind. Giant’s Causeway is right behind/below me. I kind of walked around a “trail’s closed” sign and ascended several hundred meters.

Without any border control, people obviously come and go as they please. For work, tourism, family. Yet, it becomes quite apparent that you’re no longer in the Republic of Ireland as soon as you get into Belfast. For one thing, the accent is different. Full-Brits (that’s what I’ll call those from mainland England) are not friendly. Northern Irish are somewhat friendly, yet I think I rubbed one of them wrong when I mentioned I was studying in Galway. Neither party is as friendly as West Coast Irish. Throw Dublin into the mix; from what I’ve heard, they’re not entirely friendly (towards Americans at least). But that is my vantage point as an American. It fascinated me to hear my Northern Irish coach (bus) driver think that the Northern Irish are a friendly community. Whoa-me saying that sounds like I’m accusing them not to be! Well, to be honest, I didn’t quite know what to expect because the violence was so recent. I don’t know if there is still an unspoken animosity. But the scars of the violence are evident in the façade of Belfast. (Definitely check out the Instagram feed. I’m getting some good shots with the iPhone and 5D).

But another indicator that you’re out of the Republic of Ireland is the currency. The UK’s pound is something like 1.8 to the USD, which is absurd and makes me furious (to the point that I’m including it in this post). The Euro equally disgruntles me, but the pound really sends me over the cliff. I have no clue what I’m talking about in terms of economics or business, but the quality of living here is a) not higher than Galway and b) not higher than America. The fact that consumable goods that are cheaper in quality here are almost double the cost than they would be in America is beyond my comprehension. But the Irish and English banks offer no-charge on withdrawing from ATMs, another indication that there is a strong attempt to revitalize the city. I’ve heard from West Coast Irishmen that as a result of the Troubles, Belfast economically suffered from the spite it received from the Republic. In other words, it’s visibly evident that the Republic spurned the Northern Counties to the point where a lot of streets are empty with abandoned shops. It’s an eerie feeling which I have not felt since the summer of 2011, when I first drove through some hardened areas of West Philadelphia.

But check out the architecture; definitely affluent in some areas. Listen to the driver’s accent too.

Enough about money and my ranting about the state of Belfast! (I hope to find some better spots to get another impression tomorrow). The countryside of County Antrim is beautiful. According to my awesome coach driver Pat, the scenic Coastal Route is globally ranked among the top 10 of some list of coastal roads. Even with the February weather, that was self-evident. Contrasted with Ireland’s other coastal region, this land was more in line with what I preconceived Ireland to look like; the grassy rolling hills and sheep. (Sheep are any and everywhere. But this land is richer with volcanic sediment, which historically caused it to be contested among Gaelic and Anglo rulers. The English Pale, that is Ireland’s east coast, is better for crops. You could see that in the shade of the grass. It wasn’t like Connemara’s, West Ireland’s, harsh countryside, which is littered with rocks).

This was a really cool trail that I wasn't suppose to be on. Oh well--yolo right? Yet there was a point where I was setting up my tripod and both it and me almost got blown off. Maybe I should've followed the rules?
This was a really cool trail that I wasn’t suppose to be on. Oh well–yolo right? Yet there was a point where I was setting up my tripod and both it and me almost got blown off. Maybe I should’ve followed the rules?

Because the Game of Thrones set was filmed throughout this area, I couldn’t help think of another sci-fi book, the Lord of the Rings. And then I had myself thinking that this area kind of looked like New Zealand. Maybe not the same (haha) but the land experienced some volcanoes and glaciers to form a really unique terrain! There were a bunch of Brazilian kids on the bus who also seemed to love Game of Thrones. It’s a very big deal here in Northern Ireland, particularly because the crew works out of Belfast. (They’re coming back here in June/July to start filming for Season 5 already…)

But let’s jump to the Giant’s Causeway. I have seen pictures and I have heard stories. It’s best to just visit the scene and experience it yourself. I had no idea Scotland was so close by, so that was a surprise for starters. The actual landmass is indeed uniquely shaped like stairs or a footpath. I scoped out the area pretty quickly and initially set up my tripod in an area away from other people. Then I got bold and went right for the money shot. There are jetties of the “causeway” that have massive waves crashing into them, causing the water to have a spray and nice visual effect over the rocks. I had to have the shot. There I was, edging out further on the slippery rocks in front of the other tourists who thought that their zoom lenses would suffice for this scene. I love what my 50mm makes me do! I started snapping away, fearing for the 5D as it got some ocean spray. I’m  not sure if I got the shot at this point, but I kept recomposing until I heard a really loud whistle. Startled from my laser-like focus on the waves crashing, I turned to see some type of authority figure. I picked up my tripod and headed over to him as he joked, “They (the waves) are coming in too big and too frequently!” Then it hit me that yes, in fact, they were. And if it wasn’t for this man, I probably would’ve just squatted there as water surrounded my small patch of dry rock.

I love this panorama! This IS the Giant's Causeway, from a high vantage point. The tourists congregate in the center left. Those are the "steps."
I love this panorama! This IS the Giant’s Causeway, from a high vantage point. The tourists congregate in the center left. Those are the “steps.”

So we backed away as I chatted him some more, seeking where to plant the tripod again. It took me a good 15 minutes to go about 15 meters into another, smaller jetty that was displacing the water in a visually captivating manner. The rocks were so slippery that I had to use my Manfrotto as a cane as I ventured out into the quickly ceasing low tide. Once positioned, I realized that yes, again, I was surrounded by water. But this time, since I was away from the tourists, there was no one to blow a whistle at me. My heart started pounding as 10 foot waves broke in front of the lens. I was just far enough away from the spray but I didn’t want to lower the tripod any more than it was already at for fear of getting washed away. A wave broke in front of me and judging from the current, another was going to break to my right. I turned the tripod head and got the shot of the day. (Sorry I don’t have it uploaded yet…such a tease).

Follow me on Instagram for more photos of the trip. I hope to have some edited-RAW files up soon…

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