As we continued east we stopped just over the border in UK and had lunch for the first time. BLT’s with “chips” did the trick across the street from a sizable park with some majestic trees beginning to show signs of autumn. We also stopped in Enniskillen for a bit of a stretch and were intrigued with the fishermen. They had lots and lots of equipment, including enormously long poles, but no nets or catch that we could see.
Then it was more driving. After some confusion with a booking for a BnB and not finding other hosts home either, we ended up at a pricy city hotel/conference center. We again had a suite with a washing machine and refrigerator, a second bedroom locked off, two twins beds for us, and a large bathroom with tub. Since we actually had eaten lunch we chose light supper at the hotel.
Waking to gray skies and drizzle, we had our breakfast buffet and headed east. We weren’t quite sure where we would end the day. The Mourne Mountains in the southeast are reported to be picturesque, but they were feeling shy today hiding in the low gray clouds. Newcastle was the longest stop and perusing the shops brought us to a wonderfully aromatic butcher/deli. As I ogled the goodies on the shelves I came across the cheese section on the other side of the store. Oh, they had cooleeney cheese, the type of brie I found in Dingle last year and enjoyed in a baguette sandwich. I just had to buy a round! Along with olive oil/sea salt crackers and a bottle of water we had a snack for lunch a couple of days.
Before leaving we decided we would continue to the coast where one can take a car ferry from Strangford to Portaferry. The ten minute ride for the car and two passengers came to just under seven pounds. The ten minute ride seemed quick and quiet. As I needed to pee and Bill needed a break from the stress of confusing Google map directions, we rested in Portaferry Hotel bar. The other goal was to find a place to spend the night. The hotel was expensive at about $155 with breakfast. The wifi was so much better than any we had had, even at the hotel conference center by far. I went to reception to inquire about a room while Bill finished his beloved Guiness. The clerk confirmed the rate and asked if I wanted a room with a view of the lough for over thirty dollars more. I declined. The owner/manager was sitting behind the clerk and said I could have the more expensive room for the standard rate! Well, he wanted to show me some rooms so upstairs we went. Both had a view. The second room had a king bed and single with a slightly better view of the sea from the bed. We agreed to take room ten for the standard rate. Score!
Back in the bar I told Bill the good news so when he was done I showed him the fancy Georgian style room with a view. He was quite impressed! After bringing up the bags we checked out the area around the hotel. The aquarium includes seal rehab and release so we decided to check out that. The entry was about twelve dollars each but since it was helping a good cause, we paid and enjoyed the exhibits. The clerk gave me a map which she said included the hours of feedings. Fortunately I gave the list a look as just after we got to the first exhibits the feeding of the otters was taking place. We booked through several displays and found the river otters outside being fed small fish by the workers. Two of them were brought from zoos where they weren’t happy, became a couple, and gave birth to a son nine months ago. They are Oriental otters and do not have the temperament of our sweet Emma at the Toucan Rescue Ranch. After being fed they spent a few minutes outside and then disappeared into their den. Later we saw them through a window. The parents were playing with each other while the young one curled up nearby in the corner. We then enjoyed watching the rays, seeing a female seal in the hospital resting from puncture wounds on her back, saw two healthy ones in a pool outside, and then saw the rest of the fish, a few rainforest species, and headed back to the hotel.
Dinner at the hotel was the best food we have had the entire trip. It was tasty, fresh, and seemed created by a chef who cares. My crab risotto was a bit too spicy for me, but not heavy. Bill’s meat and onion pie had a flaky crust and finally had mashed potatoes which weren’t at all dry. As the meals were so well prepared we opted to try desserts. They, too, were of high quality. Sticky toffee pudding and fudge cake with salted caramel were served with ice cream. Yum!
After another big breakfast, this time eggs Benedict on Irish soda bread for me, we meandered around town. The rain had stopped and the sun was trying to evaporate the remains. The village is picturesque and seemed quite small. After checking out of the hotel we wound our way around the peninsula gradually heading north. The town of Greyabbey is home to Grey Abbey, the only Cistercian abbey in existence in Ireland founded by a woman. Back then, in 1193, she was the wife of an Anglo-Norman invader. The Gothic style was unusual for the time. The neighboring cementary is chock full of leaning tall gravestones as well as the short stubs. The sunshine provided warmth as we wandered around the grounds.
Not being in a hurry we stopped by the Ulster Flying Club which offers pleasure flights and training flights. As the weather had been so unpredictable we hadn’t made plans to take advantage of their business, so perhaps on another visit we will do so.
We found our way to the Air BnB in Belfast, dropped off our luggage, and returned the car to Sixt. The mile walk back was certainly needed after not getting much exercise for two weeks. A quick stop at a convenience store gave us a bottle of water and some fruit, and then we settled in to our digs.