The first thing we thought when we rode into Armagh was, "Oh no. Not again."
Like so many cities in the UK, the centre of Armagh is an elaborate one-way system. This immediately brought out Neil's inner German, and we spent 10 minutes riding in ever decreasing circles, lest we "illegally" ride the wrong way to get to our bed and breakfast.
That's one of the hard lessons Jess has learned over the years as the stoker - she can plead and reason and argue all she wants, but right or wrong, the captain is in control of where you actually go. This is why communication and mutual understanding are so important. It's true what they say – wherever your relationship is going, a tandem will get you there faster.
Eventually, we found ourselves in front of VII Houses, a charming restaurant/bar/B&B in the heart of town.
Upon ringing the doorbell, we were greeted by a very jolly owner who was absolutely tickled by our entire get-up. He kindly offered to keep our bike in the bar on the first floor as it was closed to visitors for the rest of the year, and helped us navigate it through the very narrow foyer (which seems to be a common feature amongst townhouses in this country).
The lengths that people will go through to accommodate our ridiculous monster bike inside their homes have continuously surprised and humbled us. It seems to come with the territory of looking at everything as if it's a good laugh, something to crack jokes about later with your friends. People in this part of the world are conversationalists par excellence, and a constant supply of fresh yarns is essential to keeping the craic going. In this tiny land of raconteurs, we're manna from heaven.
"Youse are athletes, so you won't have any problem with the fact that I've put you on the top floor. Come on! Git up those stairs!" the owner said with a laugh.
We giggled with him, but inwardly we groaned, as this was the absolute last thing we needed. With our final burst of energy, we climbed the four flights of stairs to our lovely double room with ensuite bathroom, which set us back £75 for the night. The super comfortable bed sank under us as we sighed in relief, not only because a long day in the saddle was done, but because the rest of the way back to Belfast should be easier and, dare we say it, more enjoyable.
After a round of showers and putting ourselves back together, we went out for a quick evening stroll around Armagh.
There weren't many people outside and even fewer restaurants that were open, similar to previous experiences in the other places we'd stayed at. Unless you live in Belfast or Derry, folks here don't seem to eat out that often, especially during the week, and you'll often have the run of the town - or in our case, hobble. It was unseasonably warm for late September (which does not mean it was warm, by the way), and we went through our nightly rigmarole of walking to every single eating establishment around so that Neil could weigh up the pros and cons and then make his final selection, even though Jess had already made up her mind 3 restaurants ago.
We rested our laurels at Embers, a combination of coffee shop, pub and dining room, and most importantly, still serving. Famished, we tucked into an American feast of BBQ ribs, chicken wings, french fries, and garlic bread, and as is so often the case, the waitstaff stared aghast at the couple in the corner who would not stop eating.
In the end, we disgusted even ourselves with the devastation we wrought. But when you're burning close to your daily calorie count with each ride, you need to catch up somehow. We've experienced the detrimental effects of cycling on an empty stomach, and it's not good.
Afterwards, we waddled our way to Turners Bar at The Charlemont Hotel (again, on account of it being the only one that was still open) and enjoyed a pint and game of cards. All of a sudden, something caught in Neil's eye and made it water uncontrollably, rendering him blind and providing a convenient excuse for his appalling performance at gin rummy. We took that as our cue to go to bed. It had been another long one.
Taking advantage of the super lax check-out time of 12 noon (what a gift!), we were able to have a proper lie-in and sleep until mid-morning. Knowing that our next ride was a paltry 41 kilometres, we decided to hang about in Armagh for a bit longer to do some sight-seeing, instead of wolfing down our breakfast and hitting the road.
Speaking of breakfast, the policy at VII Houses is different from all the other B&Bs we've stayed at because they own Bagel Bean across the street. When you walk in, go to the counter and tell them where you're staying, which then grants you a hall pass to anything on their menu. As their name suggests, there are many varieties of bagels and coffees on offer, making the New Yorker in Jess incredibly happy.
Since we had some time this morning, we decided to hunt for a laundromat. Speedy Cleaners on Upper English Street was just the ticket and truly lived up to its name by washing and drying an entire pannier's worth of smelly cycling kit and civvies in an hour and a half. This wait was just enough time to walk around Armagh and see it properly in the daylight.
The city is most well-known for its status as the ecclesiastical capital of Ireland, home of the Archbishops of Armagh and not one but two cathedrals, both of which are named after Saint Patrick.
Confused yet? Well, a photo is worth a thousand words.
Before we knew it, it was 1 PM and time to hit the road. We packed up our fresh laundry and loaded the bike in front of the B&B. The owner and his handyman friend looked on, and in a delightfully Northern Irish way, wished us a safe onward journey whilst simultaneously shaking their heads and wondering why on earth anybody would ever want to do this.
Goodbye, beautiful Armagh, we wish we could have stayed longer.