Planning a trip takes inspiration and luck. When mom is involved, you get both. Once she came up with the brilliant suggestion to spend a few days in Northern Ireland before Iceland, I knew we had to see the Dark Hedges. I’d seen many photos and would always get drawn into their unique, solemn beauty. Along with the Giant’s Causeway, they were my must-see.
In keeping with our tradition, mom and I decided on a mini road trip along the Antrim coast. We began at the rental car counter at Belfast Airport where something very cool happened. The agent asked us if we’d like a Mercedes (at no extra charge) since it was the only automatic left. (So happy I’d pre-booked an automatic!) Um, yes please! Then he commented on it being rather large and was that ok. Remembering how small the roads were last year in Ireland, my expression started to wane. Then he told me that when you get offered a free upgrade to a Mercedes, you say YES! I thanked him profusely. Boy, did we luck out! It drove beautifully and was so comfortable—perfect for our little road trip.
After a night in Belfast, we hit the road heading for the Giant’s Causeway, but first we had our much-awaited stop at the Dark Hedges. When we were getting close, we stopped for directions. Though in retrospect, it was unnecessary. Once you were near, you couldn’t miss the many cars. When I fell in love with photos of the Dark Hedges, I had no idea they were a Game of Thrones filming location (having never watched the show). Now the size of the crowds made sense.
Note – When visiting the Dark Hedges, park at the Hedges Hotel, which is a two-minute walk. The high influx of cars driving and parking on the road where the Dark Hedges are can damage the root system, especially when cars park in the dirt right up against the trees. Appreciate their beauty, but be aware of the impact we can have as tourists. Treat the area with respect.
I headed out, excited to get some great photos. Then it began, this game of leapfrog, trying to get the perfect photo. There was always someone in the way. One of the people already there told me how someone would always leapfrog just in front and ruin the people-free shot. Then, another person would move in front again, trying for their own shot, and the game would continue. He’d been there quite a while and was finally giving up.
Mom started chatting with him and getting his life story—her specialty. After he took a photo of us (expertly angling the shot to hide the other tourists behind us), I began my own attempts at getting a people-free photo. Talk about a frustrating exercise in futility! Each time I was about to take a photo, someone would hurriedly rush forward. Then, just when it looked like it was clearing, my finger literally on the button of my camera, a black cab rushed past and parked right where all of our cameras were pointed. I got so annoyed that I commented to the driver that he parked in front of everyone, ruining all of our photos. He just shrugged, not caring. Then he picked a couple of small branches up off the ground, instructing his passengers to pose as if they were sword fighting à la Game of Thrones. It was the height of blatant tourism that is becoming all too common. Thankfully, they didn’t stay long.
After they left, I finally thought I’d get my photo. All of us who’d been waiting were ready, but then the tourists started showing up from the opposite end of the road, moving towards us doing the same leapfrog game on their end. I finally gave in to the futility of it and took a few snaps despite the people and cars in the distance. Though, to my delight, when I got a look at the photos, the people were so small that you couldn’t really see them.
I was quite happy with my photos and grateful for the memories. Mom was in good spirits as well, having learned all about her new friend and even gave him career advice. Mom simply adores meeting and chatting with new people. We got back in the Mercedes and hit the road. It was a beautiful day, the sun was shining, and we were traveling in style.