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|British and proud|
Day 4: A divided city...So today was our last day and we had arranged for a "Black Cab" tour of the Shankill and Falls Road areas of the city. For our generation references in the news and on TV to the "troubles" of Northern Ireland were almost a daily occurrance whilst growing up. Images of riots, fire bombings, street parades and funerals were regularly shown to us during the '70s and '80s, and today gave us an opportunity to learn more about this complex and wretched era of British political history. Our cab collected us from the hotel promptly at 10:30 and the driver - John, immediately began his friendly, balanced, and very informative commentary. The two particularly sensitive residential areas of Belfast are the Falls Rd area, and the Shankill Rd area, the former is almost entirely Roman Catholic, republican and pro IRA, and the latter is nearly all Protestant, Loyalist and pro Great Britain. We had no idea that the scale of "hatred" and "antagonism", (John's words - but very apt), between these communities was still so strong. There is a "Peace wall" running between the two areas - concrete and steel, 30 feet tall, the gates of which are locked every Friday night for the weekend, to prevent violence.
|A gate through the "Peace wall"
|The ruins of the Crumlin Rd Court house, derelict and wrecked by years of attack and violence
Day 3: A drive up the coast
|The Castle at Carrickfergus|
|Cosy harbour near Ballygalley|
|Crashing waves off the coast|
|Jan watching her step!|
|Tasting a wee dram|
Day 2: Titanic and City Hall
Last night in town was fun, we found a few great pubs, thanks to Andrew and Julie for the recommendations - The "Morning Star", followed by "Robinsons". The former was a bit of a "Gastro"pub, and any pub that has its own resident butcher is OK by me, and the beer was really good too. Here's a joke we saw chalked on the menu board:
Q. What does an Irish 7-course meal consist of?
A. 6 pints of Guiness and a potato...
Robinsons promised live "Traditional Irish" music, and in a beautifully authentic Victorian back parlour we eagerly awaited the entertainment... Sadly for our taste the music was more "Folk thrash" than lilting Gaelic ballads, the only words we could discern above the frenzied guitars were the occasional "bejaibers!", "begorragh!" and "taytoes", (for any Irish readers - only joking!) Two pissed up Chinese guys who kept heckling and asking for "Scarborough Fair" were very amusing! It was a fun experience and after our drinks we left "Homeward Bound", (a song I doubt they would consider singing).
In the morning we breakfasted at a local cafe - porridge and fruit salad, very nice, and then caught the train to the Titantic Quarter for our visit to the "Titanic Experience".
|Harland and Wolff's massive cranes|
The museum/exhibition is really good, great value and very interesting. Facts about the process of building the Titanic are truly breathtaking, the scale of the ship, the Harland and Wolff ship yards and the ultimate tragedy of the ship's maiden voyage all make for a enthralling visit. The actual building that houses the "experience" is impressive as well - highly recommended. Did you know that two firemen on the Titanic got left behind in Southampton because they spent so long in a pub?...
|The Titanic museum|
|The Titanic was literally built here.|
As it was raining hard when we left we got a taxi back into the City, the driver was chatty. When we arrived at the City Hall he told us we could take a free tour of the building, it was still raining, so we went in.
|Well what a stroke of good fortune! Belfast City Hall is a wonderful building, full of civic treasures, fabulous decor and fascinating history The guide - Christopher, was a mine of information and the tour he conducted was relaxed and entertaining, well done Belfast City Council!|
|A reception room|
|The ceiling in the entrance hall|
We're back at the hotel now having a break, our plans for the evening include a meal out and a visit to the Belfast Empire Comedy club, report to follow.
Day 1: George Best airport and beyond
Our trip away to Belfast has begun; we arrived safe and sound, have done an initial "recce" of the city and are now chilling in the hotel before sallying forth once again this evening to find a pub (or two?), for a drink (or two?) Jan is watching Pointless at the moment and taking it way too seriously...
After checking into the friendly, budget, Ibis Hotel we explored the locale and soon realised we are in the heart of the student neighbourhood; loads of fresh-faced youths with too much disposable income and time on their hands milling around discussing which lectures to avoid this week... We ate a late lunch at a very trendy independent diner - Maggie May's, we were the only folk in there not in track suits or spending our student loans.
|Maggie May's - shake anyone?|
The specialities of the house are countless different flavoured milkshakes: Snickers shake? Mars bar Shake? Malteser shake? I was tempted to ask for a "Hippy hippy shake", but settled for a sausage and ham omelette instead - I opted for the healthy alternative.
In the City centre, opposite the Ciy hall, we found possibly the best visitor information centre we've ever visited. So much helpful information, so many helpful staff and all the "I love Belfast" t-shirts you could ever want, all under one roof. We have now sorted transport to the Titanic museum tomorrow, a hire car and scenic coastal route for Wednesday, and a walking tour on Thursday, all in less than 20 minutes. Well done the Northern Ireland Tourist board!
|Belfast City Hall|
We also got suggestions for hostelries for tonight, so here goes...