Backpacking Europe 2015- Northern Ireland to Scotland

Bangor, Northern Ireland

The Last Coffee and Crossing The Irish Sea

Monday, January 5th, 2015

10:00 AM IST

The Smyth home, Bangor, Northern Ireland

So, I am now in a netherworld of being in one destination a bit longer than I expected as I eagerly look forward to my departure from the Emerald Isle and arrival in the land of Scotch and rain. As I get my morning coffee in the Smyth house, Ethan arises looking as though the previous week has hit him with a vengeance. I am inclined to believe my day will consist of largely television and planning, not an entirely unwelcome past-time. Just as I settle in and Ethan tucks the blankets on the couch all the way up to his chin, Tim appears in the doorway. He mentions he’s heading into town for a few errands and would be happy to give me a lift if I wanted to get out of the house, as he side-eyes his obviously sick son.

11:00 AM IST

Bangor Town Square, Bangor, Northern Ireland

Tim drops me off in the center of town, and says he has a few errands to take care of but would love to meet for coffee afterwards. I happily agree and set off to wander the streets of Bangor proper, admiring its seaside-town charm which is cozily quiet in the winter.

Clock and pagoda in the seaside square.
Clock and pagoda in the seaside square.
Murals that flank the street running parallel to the ocean
Murals that flank the street running parallel to the ocean

After a bit of wandering, Tim and I meet on the corner and we pop into a coffee shop together for a chat.

12:00 PM

Caffe Nero, Bangor, Northern Ireland

Coffees in hand, Tim and I sit down for a lovely chat. He talks a lot about working in Belfast during the heart of The Troubles. He describes being in the salon, then someone would run inside and tell everyone there’s a bomb. The whole street would evacuate, the bomb would go off, and then everyone would return to work. He tells me about a family who lost both sons to the violence. He then talks about his own sons, and all the hope he has for them, peppered with his fatherly concerns for the ways they go about their daily lives. Tim cares a lot about his family and his community, the stories he tells about his clients make his face light up just like talking about family. It’s so lovely to see. Too soon the coffees are empty and we head back home.

Tuesday, January 6th, 2015

8:00 AM

The Smyth house, Bangor, Northern Ireland

The last morning, the last coffee, and the last hugs and goodbyes are in order at the Smyth house. I can’t thank them enough for their kindness. Tim and Jane, if you’re reading this, you always have a place in New York if you ever choose to visit.

Ethan and I head out a bit early so he can show me one last spectacular view of the island before he drops me at the bus station and heads to catch his first day of classes at the University.

10:00 AM IST

A castle atop a hill, near Newtonards, Northern Ireland

A short climb on this unseasonably sunny day brings us to what will be my last overlook on the island. A traditional Celtic castle presides over sweeping green hills that melt into the blue-green sea.

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I breathe deep and we wander around a bit, just soaking up the sun and chatting about the journey ahead of me. Then it’s time to depart for the bus station.

12:00 PM IST

Belfast Europa Bus Centre, Belfast, Northern Ireland

Ethan pulls to the side of the road and I hoist my backpack out of the trunk, balancing the weight on my back once more. We hug and say goodbye, a task which is not getting any easier. Now, I’ve got a couple hours to kill before my bus leaves. For £32 ($49.75) I’ve booked a combination “Coach and Sail” ticket through Stena Line which means I’ll catch a bus here that will take me to the Stena Superfast VII Ferry which will then whisk me across the Irish Sea to Cairnryan, Scotland. A second bus will then take me the rest of the way to Edinburgh. The whole journey is about 7.5 hours but for under $50 it’s quite the steal and I’m looking forward to the ferry ride.

I prop myself up against my backpack and begin to idle away my time with a bit of reading. I also, stemming out of curiosity and to stave off the pang of loneliness that’s arisen from that last goodbye, flick idly through Tinder to see some local faces. I laugh slightly as who should pop up, but Ethan. And I speak for everyone when I say, you see someone you know, you always swipe right. Ya know, just to see. As the picture leaves frame, another un-ceremoniously pops up and I shake my head at my own curiosities and the lameness of my past times. Soon my bus pulls in and I offload my bag into the cargo space and find a comfy window seat. As the bus begins to pull away, I feel a slight vibration in my pocket. My Tinder notification pops up on my screen. Ethan and I are a match.

3:00 PM IST

Belfast Ferry Port, Belfast, Northern Ireland

A short bus ride takes me to the ferry port. Now, the ferries I’m accustomed to are small barges that serve to literally just transport people and vehicles from point A to point B. Looming in front of me, in stark contrast, is what is essentially a small luxury liner. We are shuffled through a small security checkpoint, metal detector and bag x-ray. Then luggage is offloaded at a drop point (all baggage is checked free! No size or weight restrictions) and we board the ferry. I find myself on the mid-deck and follow the signs for the coffee lounge. The expanse takes me by surprise.

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2015-01-06 15.06.11
A happy dork enjoying the leather window seat

This is nothing like I expected. I order a tea and a sandwich and binge on free WiFi. As we slowly pull away from port, I begin to explore the rest of the ship. There’s an on-board spa, small casino, VIP Lounge and a duty-free shopping mall. A restaurant, a full bar, and a cafe offer a variety of food options. There’s also sleeper cabins and of course, two decks to enjoy the sea breeze. Now, the magical and un-planned perk of this crossing is that we just so happen to be mid-crossing when sunset hits.

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The colors are breathtaking as they frame the shrinking Isle. The ship glides through the water with impeccable smoothness and the 2.5 hour sail goes by all too quickly. This is it, I’ve crossed the sea to a new island, a new place to explore. Offloading is easy, I grab my bag from an airport-like luggage conveyer and board my last bus in the dark. My travel pillow is by far my most useful accessory these days, providing an essential head rest on these long bus rides when I want to catch a bit of sleep, or a back support for when I’m sitting up reading.  I doze off for the dark and quiet bus ride into Edinburgh.

9:45 PM GMT (Greenwich Mean Time)

Edinburgh Bus Station, Edinburgh, Scotland

Bleary-eyed, disoriented and with a phone barely hanging onto battery life I stumble into the bus station. There’s no wifi here and as I look at my map I saved before departure, It’s a slightly twisting route in the dark to arrive at my hostel. So I default to the safety plan and hail a cab sitting outside the station. The driver is friendly and knowledgable and its only a few short minutes until I arrive at my hostel, only setting me back about £5.

10:00 PM GMT

Castle Rock Hostel, Edinburgh, Scotland

I arrive in front of a towering stone building reflecting the gothic-style architecture of the neighborhood. Inside is an intimate wooden reception desk flanked by a second wooden door. I check in to my room with a courteous attendant who goes through the normal run down of hostel offerings and events. This time, just to see the difference, I’ve booked a bed in an all-female dorm. When I arrive in my room, it’s something that most other hostel rooms are not, dead quiet. Literally, not one person is speaking, though they are all doing various activities. It’s a bit unnerving really. I quietly lock up my valuables in the small bedside locker, change into pajamas, and fall asleep almost instantly.

If you guys want any more information on where I’ve stayed, tips for travel, or just want to say hi, leave a comment for me below! Next up: Edinburgh-Whisky, Rain, and War.

One Comment

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  1. These are great stories, well written and really put the reader in your shoes. I really like the links. Nice touch.

    Like

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