Market Day

On our last day in Belfast we went to St. George’s Market. It’s a huge room filled with booths selling food and crafts, and if you like markets (like I do) then it’s the place to go in Belfast.

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Lookout Point

Belfast city center has a lovely little look-out point at the top of Victoria mall (inside). After climbing up approximately fifty-bajillion stairs (read: about six staircases), you read the viewing platform. Of course, if you’re lazy, you can take the elevator.

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Some of the surrounding roofs are “green roofs,” meaning they use sustainable methods to lower their environmental impact. The ones below have grass planted on the roof to absorb runoff and add insulation. In other cases they might be covered in solar panels.

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Hop-On (but don’t Hop-Off because it’s the last tour of the day)

After the bus tour to Giant’s Causeway we did actually go see Belfast city on one of those hop-on, hop-off tour buses. (Hint: we didn’t hop off.) Here are some of the things I saw:

One of the many signs referring to “Her Majesty.” So when the UK gets a new monarch, all these signs will need to be changed from “Her” to “His.” I wonder how much leeway time they get…

I don’t know what this is, but it was cute.

That big bell tower (which I can’t stop referring to as “little Ben”) is leaning a little to the right–can you see the tilt? That’s because it’s built on the banks of a river that flows through the city… uh, under the city, now. In a pipe.

The titanic museum: The titanic was built in Belfast. Each of the points is the size of the Titanic’s front bit. Also, in an amazing use of irony, the whole building looks like an iceberg.

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I don’t know what this is. It’s very…uh, orange.

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This is the little baby ship that used to ferry rich people to the Titanic. Later it was used as a floating restaurant.

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I don’t remember who this lady is. She’s got a hoop. How nice for her.

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This is an old prison. It’s connected to the courthouse across the street via underground tunnels, for ease of transporting those proven guilty.

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Here you can see evidence of the unionist population in Northern Ireland. There are two main groups, politically speaking: Unionists–i.e., those who support the union with the rest of the United Kingdom, and Nationalists–those supporting one single country and government for the island of Ireland, and disconnection from the UK.You can generally tell the political orientation of a community by which flags they’re flying; the union jack or Ireland’s white, orange, and green stripes.

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Here you can just catch a glimpse of Belfast’s housing system. Yeah, all the houses look the same. It’s a little frightening. It just goes on and on.

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There were these giant posters scattered throughout the Belfast residential areas, which our tour guide referred to as “murals.” Now, I have always assumed that murals are painted, and some of these were quite obviously prints. So…call them what you like, I guess.

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There was also a, uh, lovely representation of their majesties waving at the crowd street.

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This is The Crown Bar. It’s kind of famous, and also kind of pretty. I think I have a better picture of it to post later. We were going to check it out, but it was full. All the time.

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And lastly, the opera house.

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Belfast, Giant’s Causway, and my Sister’s Spirit Animal (Bus Tour #2)

Our first outing in Belfast was actually out of Belfast, on our second bus tour. The main attraction of this one was Giant’s Causeway, which is a super cool geological phenomena that I will explain more later. First: a castle. Carrickfergus Castle, to be exact.

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Can you find the wee soldier on the ramparts?

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In front of the castle there is a statue of Prince William of Orange, since he used to be in charge all up in those parts.

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Now, William of Orange is famous for a very different reason than just Carrickfergus and the little fact that he ended up the King of England. He is also credited with the orange carrot. Yes, you read me right. Without this dude here, we wouldn’t be buying orange carrots in the supermarket. …we’d probably have more variety, actually, seeing as how the purple and white carrots were way more widespread before the orange took over… but anyway, back to the story. William was a pretty popular guy in Northern Ireland and also in the Netherlands. The Dutch just loved this guy. And I mean really long lasting love–the kind that inspires farmers to breed special vegetables in homage. According to the tale (and various google results), the dutch farmers bred purple and white and maybe other colored carrots together to get what we know today as the orange carrot.

After Carrickfergus Castle we drove through mini-tunnels and over roads and past pretty rivers and stuff.

IMG_1143IMG_1149IMG_1157(I give that last one a five out of five, would drive past again.)

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We stopped again at some cliffs that you could cross on a rope-bridge. The bridge is right between the mainland and that first big hunk of not-mainland.

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Can you see it, there on the right?

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It’s a long way down, folks.

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On the walk to the rope bridge we passed some cows. Striped cows, to be exact.

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At first I thought they were all wearing white blankets. But no.

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In other, closely related, news: my sister seems to have found her spirit animal.

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After the cows we actually did cross the rope bridge.

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It’s actually a lot steadier than it looks. It hardly sways at all. Even Monkey took it pretty well–although she had a ride.

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On the other side of the bridge were a couple row boat pulley systems, which I’m pretty sure are no longer in use. They were originally used to lower men and boats up and down from the water below to check fishing nets and traps.

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There was also this extremely unspecific warning sign:

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And less ambiguously, these gorgeous views:

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After the rope bridge we went to lunch. At a distillery.

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We had Irish lamb stew/pie with mashed potatoes, and a slice of whiskey cheesecake for dessert. It was all very tasty!

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After lunch we stopped briefly for a photo-op of this old castle:

IMG_1246I have to tell you I don’t remember the story behind this one, except that it was abandoned when a back section literally fell off into the ocean, and the people inhabiting it at the time didn’t know how to rebuild it.

I look very smug for some reason, though.

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Then, we finally, finally got to Giant’s Causeway. Where it was raining. Because, Ireland.

Before you look at these pictures, let me explain in the simplest way possible what Giant’s Causeway is and how it came to be. So, first; Giant’s Causeway is an area of shoreline in Northern Ireland composed of really super old stone pillars, each of which is hexagonal (has six sides). Some of these pillars are low enough to serve as stairs, and are so flat and even it appears that they are man-made. In fact, according to geologists, the pillars of Giant’s Causeway were formed by slow cooling lava about a bajillion years ago (and yes, that’s approximate). The lava made a deep pool, which took hundreds of thousands of years to cool; because it was so deep, the top cooled off faster than the bottom–just like when you blow on your cup of coffee to cool off the top later and make it drinkable, the air and water cooled off the top layer first. Because of it’s cooling process, as the lava hardened it began to crack, and these cracks appeared at regular intervals because of geological reasons that basically come down to the basic shape of stone is hexagonal. (You know how salt is always square?  Like, when you look at tiny bits of salt they’re always cubes. Well tiny bits of this rock are always hexagonal.) At the wind and sea broke down bits of the other rock layer, they exposed the hexagonal pillars underneath, which is what we see there today.

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So why is it called Giant’s Causeway? Well, there’s an old Irish legend that tells the story of the giant who lived here, named Finn McCool. Now Finn McCool wanted to expand his territory, and he could see Scotland just across the water. He thought he could fight the Scottish giants and get their land–easy-peasy! So he decided to build a causeway, or road, over to Scotland, and he used all the handy stone pillars to build it with. However, when Finn McCool got to Scotland, he discovered that the Scottish giant Benandonner was even bigger than Finn McCool, and the Irish giant was afraid to fight him. So Finn McCool ran back across the causeway to his wife, Oonagh. But Benandonner ran after him! Luckily, Oonagh was very intelligent and quick-thinking. She wrapped Finn McCool up in some makeshift baby clothes and put him to bed. When Benandonner showed up, she proudly showed him her “son”. Benandonner assumed that such a huge baby would grow up to be an even more enormous adult, and became afraid in return. He didn’t want to face whatever father had given that baby such big genes! So Benandonner ran straight back to Scotland, and tore up the causeway behind him as he went, which is why it now only exists on the Irish coast.

And there you have it, folks! According to Irish legend, men don’t know how to pick their battles and also apparently don’t know what babies look like. But don’t worry, the women are there to help you out.

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Travel Day: Glasgow to Belfast

Going from Glasgow to Belfast was possibly one of the most beautiful trips we took. We went from train to ferry to bus, and it was totally worth it.

IMG_1094IMG_1095IMG_1097IMG_1098IMG_1103IMG_1109IMG_1108Monkey joined us for the ferry ride, as well.

IMG_1105IMG_1110IMG_1114It was windy on the ferry boat.

IMG_1112Very windy.

IMG_1116The inside of the ferry had a crazy number of activities: lounges for normal passengers, truckers, company members; cafes, a cinema which played a free movie on our two hour journey, a spa (which you had to pay extra for), sun deck, and more.

IMG_1125IMG_1126IMG_1127Next up: Belfast.

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Glasgow and the Tenement Museum

IMG_1064I was super excited to get to Glasgow, but it turns out there’s not much “touristy stuff” to do there. We did go to the tenement museum, which is a fully preserved tenement house, with a small informational display and gift shop. It was actually pretty cool!

in Glasgow, tenement houses were really just a specific style of apartment that most people seemed to have lived in during the early to mid-1900s. This specific tenement house was owned by a relatively wealthy person, so it had a bathroom, kitchen, bedroom, and living room, plus two more beds stuck in closets for other people. They just slept in closets. I think we should bring that style back for expensive college towns–students can rent a closet-bedroom, with use of the kitchen and bathroom, for $100 plus a share of utilities. What do you think? Sounds good to me!

Anyway, the house had been owned by one Mrs. Toward, so had moved in with her mother at a young age and never quite moved out. She died in the hospital and never got the chance to clean out the house. When it was turned over to the Scottish Trust it still had preserves in the pantry and soap in the bathroom!

IMG_1068IMG_1066IMG_1065Unfortunately, there are no photographs allowed inside the tenement house.

When we left the tenement museum we found a very pretty little synagogue around the corner. It was closed, but I could still grab a shot of the outside.

IMG_1069Our walk took us into the shopping area,

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where we found a so-called American Candy shop, which in reality sold some American candy, some American sugary breakfast foods, like Lucky Charms and Poptarts, and a crazy amount of candy that I have never seen before and I doubt is actually American.

IMG_1081We walked past a really sad looking TARDIS,

IMG_1083caught a glimpse of the skyline,

IMG_1084a pretty building,

IMG_1085and just about the absolute cutest Nero Coffee ever!

IMG_1087Before we left Glasgow, I figured I should take a picture of our hostel, The Tartan Lodge, to show you; it’s in a renovated church, and was pretty nice for such an unorthodox building design.

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Searching for Nessie (Bus Tour #1)

Referendum results day dawned glum and wet–perfect weather, I suppose, for the almost fifty percent of the population who were terribly disappointed by the news: Scotland is, indeed, remaining a part of the United Kingdom.

We booked ourselves into a twelve hour tour, going up to Loch Ness and back again, with a few other stops along the way. It turned out to be a great decision. We went on the Wee Red Bus Tour, which, according to my handy-dandy photograph, is run through Heart of Scotland Tours.

IMG_1032Our driver, Patrick, was absolutely fantastic. He wore a kilt and matching socks (with tartan fringe!) and told us all about the three kinds of kilts that all good Scotsmen should own: one casual, for everyday wear; one formal, for weddings and funerals and other special occasions, and one for some other situation that I don’t remember because this tour was over a week ago, now.

On our way out of Edinburgh we passed these giant kelpie statues. In mythology, the kelpie is a water horse that kills unsuspecting humans. It is said that once you touch a kelpie, or climb on its back for a free ride, you can’t let go. It will carry you straight into the nearest body of water and to your death.

IMG_0958Our first stop was at a nice little brewery. They took us on a free five minute tour of their facility, which smelled simply awful (scent: 1 out of 10, do not recommend).

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The brewery also had a nice little cafe where I purchased a mid-morning snack of mocha and cheese toastie.

We passed through a few towns on our journey, so of course I took pictures of random pretty things, like this river.

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After a while the area became more mountainous…

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And then, all of a sudden, we were very definitely in the Scottish Highlands!

IMG_0979IMG_0981We stopped again for a photo-op at the Three Sisters peaks. Only two of them would fit in my picture, though. That’s ok; we’ll call it one for me and one for my sister.

Two of the Three Sisters mountains.

Two of the Three Sisters mountains.

Honestly, though, I think the valley between the three sisters and the neighboring peak was prettier by far than the peaks themselves.

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At our next rest stop–a nature preserve and lookout point, we checked out the souvenir shop. I am not ashamed to admit I now own a “Wee Coo” key chain. “Coo” is how “cow” is pronounced in the Scottish accent. And I can’t turn down anything that says “wee.”

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Here’s another pretty loch (lake).

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And then, finally, we reached Loch Ness. There’s a canal running to (from?) the loch with gates that were kind of cool to look at. At one point we thought they were going to open, but no luck.

 

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Look to the right…

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…now look to the left.

This is Loch Ness: I was expecting to be way more impressed, actually. It’s just a big lake. I mean, it’s pretty, but it’s still just a big lake.

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Since we were there, I decided to do a little Nessie-searching, with my own dark, blurry photographs for proof! Let’s see if you can find the Loch Ness Monster in my pictures, below.

Is it that, over on the right?

 

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Nah, that’s just part of a tree branch.

What about in the middle, there?

 

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No, that’s a piece of wood as well.

But this one–it’s the correct shape, right?

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Unfortunately, it’s a duck

Maybe this one? You decide.

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On the edge of the lake was this large building. I’m not sure what it is, but it’s kind of pretty in a Harry Potter sort of way.

 

 

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This teeny-tiny little light house didn’t seem to be doing much, but it was day-time. Maybe it’s still in use at night. Although, the only boats that we saw going out were tour boats which stop at night, so I don’t think there’s much use for the light house anymore.

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On the bus ride back we drove past some absolutely flat lochs that made for good mirrors of the surrounding mountains.

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And a few more pretty mountains, of course.

 

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We stopped briefly at the Scottish World War II memorial, which was very nice.

 

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Also, sheep.

 

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Also, highland cows. Highland cows have big shaggy bangs, and seeing them always makes me wonder if they seem to stand in one place all the time just so they don’t trip with their eyes covered.

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Here, for your pleasure, is a highland cow trying to scratch his butt. You’re welcome.

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As the light grew dimmer, we passed our final view. This bridge is very old, and sometimes considered one of the wonders of the world for it’s beauty and engineering. I thought it was interesting, but not quite at world-wonder level.

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Castle in the Clouds

While the majority of Scots were out voting, we spent the afternoon touring one of the main attractions in Edinburgh: the castle. Unfortunately, it was a little cloudy.

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The great hall had a really cool ceiling; it’s actually the only remaining ceiling of it’s kind in the area.

IMG_0901Then, back into the fog we went.

IMG_0904IMG_0905IMG_0908Inside one of the exhibits I found this informative display:

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It’s a fork, everybody.

The jail was pretty cool, as well. There was a reconstruction of the original conditions,

IMG_0918a couple wooden doors with designs carved into them by the prisoners, including this early rendition of (supposedly) the USA’s stars and stripes:

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(on the left)

There was also a model ship that prisoners had built during their free time.

IMG_0923As you can see, they had a lot of free time.

Many prisoners also produced crafts for sale, which they passed through the bars of the prison walls during a designated time each day.

Then there was this sign, explaining how the French government made sure the French prisoners were living in relative luxury, while still not actually getting them out of prison. (That’s ok. The prison was eventually shut down in part due to too many French prisoners managing to escape.)

IMG_0925After seeing the castle, we went down into the city for dinner. This lady was giving ghost tours:

IMG_0949We tried some haggis with mashed potatoes and turnips with dinner. It was weird, and kind of tasted like chopped liver. Not terrible, but I would eat a whole plate of it myself.

IMG_0951And then we went to bed.

IMG_0954Goodnight Edinburgh!

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Political Passions

First off, I’d like to say that the only reason you’re getting these pictures now (after the voting is over) is because for some reason (wifi? wordpress?) I could not upload them in real time. And even though the referendum has been decided, I thought you still might like to see what the atmosphere in Edinburgh was like on voting day.

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On our way to Edinburgh castle we passed a group of reporters who just seemed to be waiting for people to go crazy.

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We also passed a nearly unprecedented number of street-bagpipers.

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And lots of people wearing shirts, holding signs, or waving flags to indicate which decision they advocated.

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This person is waving a flag with lion on it. It’s something like the crest of Scotland; not currently an official flag, but used quite often in-country.

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Here, someone waves the Basque separatists’ flag. Basque, Italy, Catalan, Spain, and Flanders, Belgium all have their own separatist/independence movements, and many came to support the Scottish and encourage people to vote “Yes.”

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Below, supporters of Scottish independence have laid out candles in the shape of the unofficial flag of Catalan, Spain (left) and the flag of Scotland (right).

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Graffiti was scrawled in chalk all over the stone city; “Yes”es and “No”s warring for supremacy, and occasionally responding to prior writers’ opinions.

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This group celebrates with a bundle of “Yes” balloons in the colors of the Scottish flag.

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Although the shop is empty, the owner or workmen have hung “Yes” posters inside the front window.

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Scottish Independence?

We just left Cambridge, and I have some London and Cambridge pictures left to show you, but I’m a little backlogged and I think you should see these new posts right away. Because I am now in Edinburgh, Scotland. And the referendum–whether or not Scotland will secede from the United Kingdom, is going to the popular vote TODAY.

So, first, let me show you what England looks like on the train: (hint: it’s mostly sheep and cows and one field of miniature horses that I didn’t manage to snap a shot of. Sorry. They were cute.)

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In Peterborough we saw firsthand the dialect differences between the US and England:

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“Well jeez! Sometimes you’re just not in a very friendly mood!”

We got in to the Edinburgh train station last night, and as we were walking to our hostel we passed the hill with Edinburgh Castle on top; it’s in the center of the city, and visible for quite a distance. Well last night someone was projecting a huge “NO” on the hill. “NO” as in “Vote NO on the referendum tomorrow.”

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A few minutes later the projection was gone. I guess they got caught.

Even the local burger place got in on it; they were running a “Burger Referendum” and each of the two specialty burgers bought–named, of course, after the main pro-UK and pro-Independence politicians–got tallied up, with the winner to be announced today.

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So the people vote on the referendum today, and the votes will be counted by around 3a.m., and announced officially early tomorrow morning. Stay tuned!

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