Monday, September 13, 2010

Days 334 & 335 – England to Northern Ireland

September 4 & 5, 2010 – Milton Keynes, England to Cross Keys, Northern Ireland

Milton Keynes is not a place one typically visits in England, but my good friend Mary lives here and we’re crashing at her place. Tomorrow morning she’s taking us to her childhood home in Northern Ireland, so after a nice dinner and some catching up, we head to bed.

Much to everyone’s chagrin, we have to wake up at 4:00am – affectionately referred to as “STOOPID o’clock” by Mary – to catch our 7:00am flight to Belfast. Last night’s dinner also included a couple bottles of wine so we’re a bit slow and we just barely make the shuttle-bus to catch our plane.

It’s a quick flight and after we disembark, we pick-up our hired car and head out to Mary’s hometown of Cross Keys where Ellen – Mary’s Mom – is eagerly awaiting our arrival.

The three of us are barely in the door and Ellen is already serving us up a traditional Irish fry-up, which includes eggs, bacon, sausage and 4 types of fried bread – potato, pancake, soda and multigrain.

Apparently the Irish like their fried bread.

Much to my disappointment, I spend our first afternoon in Northern Ireland in bed – I’m fighting off a bit of a cold. So while I’m resting, Eric and Mary visit Bushmills Distillery, the oldest whiskey distillery in Ireland. Based on their abundance of energy – and Eric’s numerous purchases – it seems they had a fabulous time learning about the whiskey-making process… and more importantly the whiskey-tasting process.

A visit to the town of Cross Keys wouldn’t be complete without a pint of Guinness at the local pub, which is appropriately named the Cross Keys Inn.

Mary’s thrilled because she also gets to catch up with the local gossip.

When we eventually go to bed, Eric and I enjoy the silence so much, we both sleep in – I finally get up at 10:00am and Eric is out for the count until noon. He wakes up just in time for the 1:00pm roast dinner Ellen has prepared in our honour.

Almost all of the family has shown up, including Mary’s sister Katherine, her husband and their two sons. The roast dinner is one of the main reasons we’ve come to Northern Ireland and it meets all our expectations and more.

We spend the remainder of the day touring around the countryside and driving along the coast. Unfortunately our luck runs out and we’re greeted with heavy rain and fog, so the sightseeing really consists of hedges and quick glimpses of what might be either the ocean or road signs... we're not sure.

We do manage to get in a quick hike at a local waterfall before the rain really starts though.

In the evening Eric and James Henry – Mary’s Dad – settle in to watch some hurling over hot totties. “Hurling” is an awesome / insane Irish sport and Eric takes advantage of James’ knowledge to learn more about the game.

Meanwhile Mary, Ellen and I multi-task – we both watch the hurling and knit pom-poms… don’t ask. It’s for charity and Mary has conned Ellen and I in to helping.

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