Well, last weekend I took a wee trip to Belfast for a few days as a belated 40th birthday present. On the one hand, it was timed conveniently with St. Patrick’s Day. On the other hand, it was inconveniently timed with one probably one of the worst spring weeks on record weather wise. However, I was determined to enjoy it and share some of my trip with the readers of the blog.
Saturday 16th March
My trip started in earnest with a Black Taxi tour of Belfast. These can be themed to the various aspects of life in Belfast. The tour we took explored the human lives behind “The Troubles” with a driver who lived in the times when they were most prevalent.
Given that this could have been an uncomfortable experience with the wrong guide, we were given a tour where no one side in “The Troubles” was favoured and the tour was poignant along with being informative, especially when we got to see the murals, both well known and more obscure, depicting the human cost of the political situation in Northern Ireland and “The Peace Line”.
The afternoon and evening was spent in various pubs and restaurants in the centre of Belfast including “Bittles Bar“, which resembles an iron (as in an iron that presses your clothes), “Alley Cat“, where I experienced my first taste of Pulled Pork sliders (mmmmmm), “The John Hewitt” Bar, which had nice beer, a warm welcome and live traditional Irish music, and “Made In Belfast” where I was served what must rank as the largest portion of mussels as a starter that I’ve had, or ever likely to see again, in my lifetime. (So much so, that I left quite a bit of my main and I didn’t have dessert, something that my family were shocked to see… I hardly ever say “No” to dessert).
Sunday 17th March – St Patrick’s Day… or “The Day of the Man Flu”
Well, it had to come. I had been looking forward to this trip for nearly a year, only to be floored with the swimmy headed loveliness and hacking cough of “man flu”. (Dum dum dummmmmmmmmmm).
Saying that, I was not going to let a cold, albeit a heavy one, ruin this holiday and I was determined to enjoy myself. Hell, if you can’t enjoy yourself on holiday, when can you. The plan for the first part of the day was to see the St Patrick’s Day parade in Customs House Square from the sanctuary of “McHugh’s” bar. Unfortunately, the organisers of the parade had erected barriers to prevent us from seeing the event. That said, on a very cold early afternoon, it was a lovely place to immerse yourself in the “craic” (along with the Irish Whiskey, to which I have become a convert to as I previously hated whiskey/whisky) and an impromptu display of Irish dancing by a little girl who mustn’t have been more than five years old. (A real “Awwwwww” moment).
The Albert Memorial clock, Customs House Square, Belfast
(PS – The clock genuinely is a bit wonky, it’s not my poor photograpy skills)
Following this pit stop, it was off to see the “Titanic Belfast” Experience located in what has become known as the “Titanic Quarter” where, most famously, the Titanic and her sister ship, the Olympic was built in the Harland and Woolf shipyards.
I heard about the “Titanic Belfast” Experience around four years ago when I last visited on holiday during a guided walk of the Titanic Quarter. It’s a tourist attraction which not only focuses on the Titanic herself, but also the local industries of Belfast, including linen and match production, which were the inspiration behind making what is, and continues to be, the most talked about ship in history, the tragedy along with the cultural impact, and the research and discovery of the Titanic by people such as Dr. Robert Ballard.
With information written on boards, as in traditional museums along with interactive displays and a time capsule ride that takes you around the Belfast Docks of the time of Titanic’s construction, it’s a place that I would recommend to all of the family as even the most knowledgeable of “Titanoraks” will learn something new from this place.
Kate and Leo’s costumes from “Titanic”
The “Samson” and “Goliath” cranes of the Harland & Woolf shipyards
“Titanic Studios” – Home of “Game of Thrones”
Monday 18th March
A bit of an early start that day, but a great day all round as I set off on a coach trip of Northern Ireland’s northern coast. After a journey that took in Carrickfergus Castle, Glenarm, Carnlough, Cushendall, Cushenden and Ballycastle, we took in our first main stop of the Carrick-A-Rede rope bridge.
Now, I have to say that heights are not my thing, but I decided that to go there and not walk across the rope bridge would be a waste, even with the foul weather. What I was greeted with was one of the most beautiful natural viewing experiences that I have witnessed. If you ever get the chance to go to the rope bridge and feel that you can cross it, please do as you will be rewarded with some beautiful scenery.
And I still ask myself, “What was I thinking?”
So, after I got back to the coach (thankfully with my knees no longer knocking), it was on to the main event of the day of the Giant’s Causeway. With a landmark as well known as this due to the power of television, it’s easy to think a bit underwhelmed when you see the final image in “real life”. However, the Causeway itself lives up to the billing of it being the handiwork of the giant Finn McCool with its stark beauty, especially on a cold and blustery day like the one on which I visited it.
We were meant to make a quick trip to Carluce Castle on the way back to Belfast. However, mechanical trouble on the coach prevented this and we ended up going to our final stop of the day, the “Old Bushmills Distillery“. Now, as I said earlier, I’m not a particular fan of whisky/whiskey in general, but I did love the Bushmills with Honey and ended buying a bottle at the airport. Purely for medicinal purposes… honest.
Apart from the technical hitch, it was a brilliant day out and I’d heartily recommend it. (Make sure you get Ian as your driver if you use “Allen’s Tours” who was knowledgeable and polite throughout).
On our return to Belfast, we went to a fantastic Chinese buffet restaurant called “China China” in the University district. I have been to similar restaurants, but I have to say that this was the best buffet restaurant going with the food being fresh, full of flavour and not just spice, and the staff are friendly and attentive. Highly recommended.
Tuesday 19th March
A very early wake up this morning as we were off to Dublin. Now, on the mainland UK, we have a bit of a beef going on about rail fares with prices making it difficult to be friendly to the environment and leave the car at home. However, there are bargains to be found if you book in advance in Northern Ireland. For example, we caught the 6:50 am train (which would be considered as peak travelling time) into Dublin and returned at 8:50 pm for the princely sum of … wait for it, this’ll test your faith… £10… return. YES… £10. I’ve been on rail journeys where it costs £5 one way where the journey is barely fifteen miles, never mind £10 for a 200 mile return journey.
On arrival in Dublin, we went on a Bus Tour which took us around the various sites of the city including Trinity College, the home for the Book of Kells, the statue of Molly Malone (also known, unfortunately as “The Tart With The Cart”), “Dublinia”, the Guiness Storehouse, St Patrick’s Cathedral and the River Liffey.
Unfortunately, as with the majority of the week, the weather was not with us with rain and snow. This meant that the majority of our time in Dublin was spent… Yes, you’ve guessed it, in the pub. However, it didn’t mean that we didn’t have a great time as we had great food including a nice take on the Cheesesteak Sandwich in the “Porterhouse” pub, visited Dublin’s smallest pub in “The Dawson Lounge” and lots of lovely people to boot.
Trinity College, Dublin
Molly Malone – And before you ask… No, I did not do the traditional thing of rubbing her for good luck.
The Dawson Lounge – Dublin’s smallest pub
The Liffey Ha’Penny Bridge
St Stephen’s Gardens, Dublin
You’ve read it right… “The Leprechaun Museum”
Wednesday 20th March
It was inevitable. No sooner than you’re really getting into a break away than you get the last day. However, I used the day to go to jail… literally… by visiting the Crumlin Road Gaol. The tour explained the jail’s role in the penal system within Belfast from it’s inception as a prison that housed men, women and children in the Victorian age through to its use as a prison which housed republican and loyalist prisoners and, finally, to the prison’s closure in 1996.
As a fan of “Man v Food”, I was really happy to try “Bubbacue” which takes a taste of America into Belfast with sandwiches and platters with pulled pork, chicken, sausage and, for me, beef brisket (with an extra portion of burnt ends on top) plus corn bread, fries, pickle, ‘slaw and creamed spinach. This was my first real go at this cuisine and I loved it.
And no sooner had my weekend started than I was on a plane home with a suitcase of laundry, a litre bottle of Irish whiskey with honey and some happy memories.
If you ever visit Northern Ireland, I hope that you try some of the places I’ve visited and things I’ve done, and that you enjoy your time in Ireland as much as I enjoyed mine.
I have a couple of more trips planned for this year with a potential return to London for the London Anniversary Games plus my confirmed trip to Holland to visit my friend and fellow blogger Mendy (aka the “Hot Cute Girly Geek“) in September where I will be taking in places like the Efteling theme park, the Anne Frank Museum, the Van Gogh Museum and other places of interest.
(NOTE TO SELF: Next time I go to Ireland, try to go in the summer.)