We Will Arrive in Scotland a Week From Today

Stephen F. Dennstedt

A week from today we will be in Scotland and Ireland will be a memory. A great memory but a memory nonetheless. Our time in Ireland has been magical and it’s going to be tough to leave. Three wonderful months in total.

Our taxi from Courtesy Cabs will pick us up at our guesthouse at 5:45 a.m. to drive us the fifteen minutes to the Stena Ferry Terminal-Belfast (£6.50 GBP). Our ferry departs at 7:30 a.m. for the 2½ hour trip to Cairnryan, Scotland (£26 GBP pp).

We will arrive in Cairnryan at 10 a.m. and then cool our jets for 4¼ hours at the Cairnryan Stena Ferry Terminal to wait for our Citylink bus to leave at 2:15 p.m. for the 2¼ hour ride to Glasgow Buchanan Bus Station arriving in Glasgow, Scotland at 4:35 p.m. (£18.50 GBP pp). Any way you slice it it’s going to be a long travel day with a lot of waiting around and anytime you transit from one country to another it’s stressful—even if it goes smoothly (no two countries handle their borders exactly the same way). Even though we’re technically in the UK we’ll need to get an exit stamp from Ireland and an entry stamp to Scotland.

Saint Peter’s Church – Dublin, Ireland

The currency will stay the same with £ GBP (British Pound Sterling) and not the  EUR (Euro). The current exchange rate is about £1 GBP = $1.40 USD. I still have some  EUR left in my wallet (as well as some $ USD Greenbacks) so I will just keep those bills (and coins) tucked away for later use. This is probably WAY too much information for my average reader but some people use this blog to plan their own trips abroad so I try to include useful information when I can like schedules, lodging, transportation, food and the cost of things. Just skip over this stuff if it’s not relevant to you.

Rock of Cashel – County Tipperary, Ireland

Glasgow is a port city on the River Clyde in Scotland’s western Lowlands. It’s famed for its Victorian and art nouveau architecture, a rich legacy of the city’s 18th–20th-century prosperity due to trade and shipbuilding. Today it’s a national cultural hub, home to institutions including the Scottish Opera, Scottish Ballet and National Theatre of Scotland, as well as acclaimed museums and a thriving music scene. It’s home to over ½-Million people as of the 2011 census and the birthplace of Craig Ferguson Scottish comic and former host of the Late Late Show.

Clifden Castle – County Galway, Ireland

We haven’t planned (yet) our complete itinerary for Scotland but Edinburgh will definitely be another place we’ll want to spend some time in. Entering Scotland we’ll need to get our visas sorted out so we’ll know how much time we can spend in the UK. Some say three months and others say six months (depending on country of origin). The length of time allowed and the cost of living will decide how long we can stay—we would like to spend some time in Wales and England before we cross the channel to mainland Europe. We’ll just stay flexible and see what happens.

The ruins of the Ross Errilly Friary near the town of Headford in Connemara (County Galway) Ireland.

Leaving Ireland is bittersweet—on the one hand it will be exciting to see and experience Scotland but on the other hand we’ll be sad to leave our new friends in Ireland. I think Joel and I agree that Ireland is probably the friendliest country we’ve visited to date (followed closely by Colombia). And it’s also one of the most beautiful countries we’ve visited. And it’s nice to converse in the English language again though the English the Irish speak is something else again (God only knows what Scotland will be like with their heavy brogue). Like I mentioned in the title: one more week and we’re in Scotland.

Giant’s Causeway – Atlantic Coast of Northern Ireland


Exploring the Atlantic Coast of Northern Ireland

Giant’s Causeway – Atlantic Coast of Northern Ireland

Stephen F. Dennstedt

Out & about all day yesterday exploring the Atlantic Coast of Northern Ireland. The extended forecast called for decent weather and it delivered—mostly party cloudy conditions and a wee bit (Irish: Little) warmer than usual.

Okay, let me get my griping out-of-the-way first. I get it that everyone wants to visit the world’s iconic tourist destinations but do people have to swarm over these natural wonders like a bunch of ants? Why can’t we all just stand back and admire them?

For instance the Giant’s Causeway, on Northern Ireland’s Atlantic Coast, is world-famous for its huge geological volcanic columns (pictured above) and they are stupendous. But it was almost impossible to photograph them without people crawling all over them with their ubiquitous selfie-sticks and smartphones. Not only is it harmful to the structures themselves but it completely ruins unencumbered photo ops for the rest of us. Some of the best columns jutted out into the water and (you guessed it) they were covered with gibbering throngs of people.

Carrickfergus Castle

It’s not going to change (I’m enough of a realist to know that) and I’ve encountered it in almost every country we’ve visited whether it’s the Maya ruins in Yucatan, Mexico (like Chichen Itza) or the Inca ruins of Machu Picchu in Peru. People like to see cool stuff (me too) it’s just a shame that the world’s iconic sites have become so commercial, crowded and abused. It’s getting to the point that Joel and I sometimes take a pass on visiting some of these places because it can be so disappointing. We’re not about checking off boxes, we’re about having authentic experiences—end of rant.

Joel on the Carrick-a-Rede Rope (Suspension) Bridge

A few days before our tour we arranged to have a taxi pick us up at our guesthouse at 8 a.m. (and it was exactly on time). He drove us to our departure point in City Centre Belfast and we boarded our bus (it was a large group unfortunately—oops I’m starting to complain again). Our first destination was a short photo stop at Carrickfergus Castle (tough to get any kind of decent shot but I included one for reference). Joel and I both prefer the old ruined castles over the restored castles because frankly they’re more interesting and atmospheric (and by extension photogenic).

Old Bushmills Distillery 1608

Our second stop was to Carrick-a-Rede and its famous rope suspension bridge. Ever since Joel came across this bridge on Google he knew he had to find it and walk across it: Carrick-a-Rede Rope Bridge (locally pronounced carrick-a-reedy) is a famous rope bridge near Ballintoy in County Antrim, Northern Ireland. The bridge links the mainland to the tiny island of Carrickarede (from Irish: Carraig a’ Ráid, meaning “rock of the casting”). It spans 20 metres (66 ft) and is 30 metres (98 ft) above the rocks below. The italicised information is from Joel’s Facebook post with this photo.

Red Phone Booth – Old Bushmills Distillery

From Belfast we had followed the coast highway along the Atlantic seaboard and our guide said it’s the fifth most beautiful coastal drive in Europe. I’m not quite sure if I would agree with that but it is beautiful in a rugged sort of way and reminded me of California’s Highway One. We had already been on the road for about four hours when our bus stopped at a local pub for food & drink: we opted for the Irish burgers & chips (fries) and a pint of Guinness for each of us. In less than an hour we were on the road again and headed for the Old Bushmills Distillery.

Old Whiskey Casks on Display – Old Bushmills Distillery

It was a brief stop so we didn’t get a full tour (or a free tasting) but we were allowed to roam around for a while exploring the grounds. It was built in 1608 and is reputed to be the oldest whiskey distillery in Europe (it may or may not be but the Irish do have a way of ramping up their stories from time to time). Leaving Bushmills we head to Giant’s Causeway for our last stop before returning to Belfast by a different route. There was also a very brief photo stop to shoot the ruins of Dunluce Castle. Unfortunately, the sun was such that we had to shoot it from a different place.

Giant’s Causeway with People

The new location was great for the sun angle but lousy for the distance (at least for me with my 16-35mm wide-angle zoom lens—no reach). I’m including a record (not artistic) shot but you will have to look very hard to see the ruins against the cliffs—they’re basically the same colour. Find the white house in the upper righthand corner of the frame and look slightly beneath it to find the ruins. The other shooting location was much closer but with the ruins silhouetted against the late evening sun the shot would have been impossible so I’m glad the bus driver tried to get us a better opportunity.

Giant’s Causeway

If you’re a photographer, in good health and a competent driver the very best way to travel Ireland is by private automobile. Held captive onboard a bus with a non-photography tour group is frustrating. I saw missed shot after missed shot flash by my window and I wanted to shout STOP. But, alas, there was no stopping—and when we finally did stop (as mentioned before) the place would be thronged with people. I just have to keep in mind that we’re fortunate to be able to do this even if it isn’t always perfect. Being a grumpy old introvert isn’t the best personality type for group activities.

Ruins of Dunluce Castle (Just Below and Left of the White House)

Field Notes: A do-over for me would have been to carry that extra lens (in this case my 70-200mm f/2.8 zoom). I hate to carry extra gear in the field but I lost some shots when I needed some extra reach. Also, I need to get my attitude in check—I need to have more patience around crowds of people. But I’ve ALWAYS been like this so I probably won’t change, it’s just in the past I would typically be visiting places on my own (too early or too late for most people). With tours it’s the worst lighting of the day and the multitudes are swarming the sites. Ugh. Apologies for the photo quality this time around. SFD 

Booked to See the Sights on Tuesday

Stephen F. Dennstedt

We’re booked to see the sights of Northern Ireland on Tuesday. I’m finally over my nasty cold (once and for all) so after breakfast this morning we hiked the 2½ miles into City Centre Belfast (a wee bit farther than on Friday) to book an all-day tour.

We chose McComb’s Coach Tours at 22 Donegall Road (inside Belfast International Youth Hostel) and a very nice young lady (originally from Sri Lanka) helped us to set everything up—quick, easy and affordable at just £25 GBP pp.

Directly across the street from the tour company Courtesy Cabs had a booking office so we booked transportation for Tuesday morning at 8 a.m. to drive us from our guesthouse to our pickup location (we didn’t feel like we wanted to hike the 2½ miles back into town that early in the morning). The tour is all-day starting at 8:45 a.m. and ending at 6 p.m. and the weather forecast is promising with partly cloudy skies and a high temperature of 10°C/50°F. Sights on the itinerary include: Carrickfergus Castle, Giant’s CausewayBushmills Distillery, Carrick-a-Rede Island & Rope Bridge and Dunluce Casstle.

After a whole week of inactivity it will be great to be out & about shooting pictures again. It’s said that Giant’s Causeway is the Eighth Natural Wonder of the World so that will be exciting. General non-photography tours can be challenging for the photographer who wants to take their time photographing the sights but hopefully this time of year we’ll catch a break with crowd size. In Galway our all-day 40-passenger bus only had 11 people onboard and a repeat of that here would be very nice. But you never know until the day of the tour itself. Soon we’ll start to plan our transit to Scotland (and beyond).

Field Notes: My camera of choice will be my primary shooter, my Canon EOS 5D Mark IV full-frame DSLR. The ongoing dilemma is always about carrying one lens or two—I prefer carrying just one lens but I’m always worried that I will miss a shot if I don’t pack a second lens. I will definitely take my Canon EF 16-35mm f/4L IS USM super wide-angle zoom lens (it’s rapidly becoming a favourite) and maybe my Canon EF 70-200mm f/2.8L IS II USM telephoto zoom lens but probably not—I never seem to use it when I take it. If I only take one lens I usually find ways to compensate for any limitations it might present. SFD

On the Mend and Raring to Go

Stephen F. Dennstedt

We wasted our entire first week in Belfast waiting for me to shake a nasty cold (but not the flu thank God). By Thursday I was feeling much better and Friday morning (after breakfast at Linda’s Kitchen) we took our first short walkabout.

It’s about 1½ miles from our guesthouse to Centre City Belfast, a round trip of 3 miles, and I was plenty tired by the time we returned to our room. The older you get the longer the recovery time from illness unfortunately.

But I’m on the mend and raring to go—see what you youngsters have to look forward to? Tomorrow (Sunday) we’re going to try to book an all-day tour to some of Northern Ireland’s iconic sites like: the Giant’s Causeway and Carrick-a-Rede Island and its spectacular rope bridge spanning the Atlantic Ocean from the coast over to the small island. If we can arrange the tour for Monday or Tuesday that will be perfect—I’m looking forward to breaking out my camera again and getting some fresh images. Too many days without taking pictures makes Jack (or in this case Steve) a dull boy.

Giant’s Causeway – NOT MY PHOTO (Internet File Photo)

Like most mornings we ate at Linda’s Kitchen again this morning and had their Mini Fry (1-sausage, 1-bacon (more like thick-sliced ham), ½-potato bread, ½-soda bread, ½-pancake and 1-fried egg over medium) and coffee for £3.50 GBP. Last night (late afternoon) we had fish & chips from next door for £3.95 GBP and we’ll probably repeat that again tonight. The fish is thick filets of snow-white Cod, dipped in a light batter and deep-fried. Everything is traditionally wrapped in paper (although not newspaper like in years past) and served piping hot. Brilliant! Irish-speak for wonderful.

Carrick-a-Rede Rope Bridge – NOT MY PHOTO (Internet File Photo)

We do cook some of our meals here at the guesthouse to save money—they have a complete community kitchen and laundry facilities available on site. Our first week of internet service absolutely sucked and we were off-line more than we were on. The owner got so frustrated himself that yesterday he replaced all the old equipment with brand-new equipment and everything now works like a charm—we even have great connectivity in our room where before we could only use it in the downstairs common area. Temperatures are still cold at 3°C/37°F with 9 mph winds (wind chill -1°C/30°F).

Passion Doesn’t Have to Be Loud

Stephen F. Dennstedt

Passion doesn’t have to be loud. Passion can be quiet and still be strong. Life without passion is blah—like chips without salsa. I really feel sorry for people who don’t have passion in their lives—they are missing out.

I have three driving passions in my life: photography, writing and travelling. They go hand-in-glove in directing my lifestyle—they provide symmetry and context to my otherwise mundane life. They make me tick.

Thomas Heaton is a young photographer who shares my passion. At 35 he is exactly half my age (I turned 70 this past May). Like me he is quiet about his passion but you can see how it burns in him. Watch this short video and listen to him talk quietly about his passion and look at his beautiful images. He works hard at his craft and it shows. He is absolutely exhausted in this video but he can’t wait to share his experiences with you. That is passion and generosity that goes beyond the norm. Passion can be applied to anything you’re excited about—do you have passion in your life? If not why not? Enjoy.

Just Darned Grateful to Be Sick

Stephen F. Dennstedt

Just darned grateful to be sick. What? Don’t get me wrong—I’m a guy and I hate to be sick (and no ladies I haven’t endured the pain of childbirth). But I’ve never been much of a whiner either—just leave me alone and let me sleep.

I’ve been off social media for a few days, partly because I’ve been sick and partly because the internet bill hadn’t been paid here at our apartment. Both situations seem to have been remedied this morning. We now have internet service again.

And after a week I’m feeling better. I didn’t have the killer flu or anything as bad as that, just a simple cold and upper respiratory infection (sore throat, low fever and a nagging cough). Upper respiratory infections have been my nemesis since I was a kid especially if I’m in a cold and damp environment (weak lungs I suppose). I’ve had bronchial pneumonia probably more than any person I know. It’s cold and damp here in Belfast with rain and sporadic snow flurries. The current temperature is 1°C/34°F with winds of 20 mph (windchill -5°C/22°F). So I’ve been eating soup and sleeping nonstop for the past seven days.

You can do that when you’re retired although I hated to waste our first week in Belfast nursing a cold. So why am I just darned grateful to be sick? Because these past twelve months have been damned hard on my family & friends. We lost my nineteen-year-old granddaughter Lianne to bacterial meningitis, I have three friends battling cancer, two friends with spinal surgeries and another friend who is having an eye surgically removed in a few weeks. I read everyday that parents are losing young children to this new virulent flu bug going around and other friends are waging battles I know nothing about.

It makes something like a cold sound pretty darned trivial and it is. There are people who would trade places with me in a nanosecond. It’s easy (and probably human nature) to get irritated and frustrated with minor inconveniences like catching a cold or not having immediate internet service but in the big scheme of things those are petty annoyances at best. I disappoint myself when I succumb to the temptation and start singing the woe is me victimization song (thank God I only sing it to myself). How embarrassing. That’s why I am just darned grateful to be sick. Things could be so much worse.

Personal note: To all of my family, friends and acquaintances facing serious health issues you continue have my best wishes and positive thoughts. And to those of us who remain relatively healthy lets agree to stop complaining (at least to others) about our petty annoyances. We all face challenges in life and how we meet those challenges defines who and what we are. We should consider ourselves lucky and reach out to those who are really going through tough times. I often find those with the least amount of money are the most generous and those experiencing truly life threatening illnesses are the strongest. SFD

Linda’s Kitchen in Belfast Northern Ireland


Stephen F. Dennstedt

Linda’s Kitchen in Belfast Northern Ireland. When I talked about this place yesterday I referred to it as Linda’s Cafe but I was wrong (so sue me). It’s a small detail but sometimes I’m a stickler for the details—ask my former employees.

Anyway, we had our second breakfast there this morning. I had the Breakfast Bap (which is basically a huge breakfast sandwich): 2-eggs, 2-sausages (again the size of American hotdogs) and 2-bacon (like slabs of ham).

All of this goodness was stuffed into a large vegetable roll for £5 GBP. It’s a mystery to me how, for the most part, the Irish stay so thin eating like this. I’m a fat American and I’m having a hard time finishing my meals. Joel opted for scrambled eggs & toast for £2.50 GBP and added 2-sausages for £0.90 GBP. A smaller meal than mine but still a plate full. It’s a short and beautiful ten-minute walk through Woodvale Park to reach Linda’s Kitchen and the air is fresh and brisk. It’s still dropping into the low 30°F range at night and early morning and more snow flurries are forecast for tomorrow.

Today’s Irish Breakfast Bap £5 GBP

If we have our appetites back by this evening we’ll probably try the Fish & Chips shop four doors down the street. They also serve fried chicken. But right now I’m not feeling it. Unfortunately, I seem to have a cold and upper respiratory infection headed my way: sore throat, congestion, tight chest and fatigue. Well its been awhile since I’ve been sick so I guess I’m due, no fever at this point so hopefully we can rule out the flu (don’t need that complication). The nice part about being retired and not having to go to work is you can just hunker down for a few days when you’re not feeling quite up to snuff.

In my corporate days that never seemed to be an option. The bank used to tell us magnanimously to stay at home if we were sick but the reality was we were always so short of staff that it was almost impossible to comply—especially for management. Flu season was a killer at the bank and would last for months (the downside of working with the public). I would no sooner get one employee back than another would be out for a week. And coming back to work too early only prolonged the illness, as a retiree I can usually shake something off with a few days of rest but back then I would feel lousy for weeks on end.

Yesterday’s Ulster Fry Breakfast for £3.50 GBP

So until I can really get out & about with my camera my blog posts might dwindle a bit—or I might go off on a philosophical rant (like I sometimes do) and inundate you with esoteric posts and trivia. You just never know what might be coming your way and quite frankly neither do I until it happens. This will be our third night in our new digs and with the exception of the internet we’re pretty pleased with things. I usually have to come downstairs into the common living room area to get a good signal but that’s okay—it gets me out of bed.

Linda’s Kitchen

Field Notes: The photos included in this article are not mine, they are internet file photos from Linda’s Kitchen Facebook page. I always like to point out when I use photos that are not mine and give proper credit when I have that information available. I typically don’t mind non-commercial use of my photos either but I do appreciate being recognized for them. Making money (commercially) from unauthorised use of photos found on the internet (mine or others) is unethical and wrong. I know that it’s sometimes tempting but don’t do it. We creative types thank you. SFD