She Was Fine When She Left Belfast!

I heard that line five or six times today, visiting Titanic Belfast. Everyone who said it chuckled, but you could tell that it was only mostly a joke.

I forgot this morning that it was Sunday. Which means Sunday bus service. Which means that, when I missed my bus to the city centre by about five minutes, I had an hour to wait for the next one. Rather than sit at that stop1 and look like an idiot, I decided to walk down a stop or two and catch the bus there. At least, I told myself, I would be making forward progress.

So, about the time my legs get tired and I start looking for another bus stop, the schedules on all the stops start reading, “No Sunday Service.” I wind up walking down past The Barking Dog, where I had dinner last night, to Queen’s College before I find a bus stop with service. And I got there just in time for the bus.

Once downtown, I found the pick-up spot for the City Sightseeing tour2, got on, and then got off five minutes later at the Titanic exhibition hall.

This was my first good view of the building. The sun decided to help me out and light up one of the walls and not the other, making for a pretty impressive first sight.
This was my first good view of the building. The sun decided to help me out and light up one of the walls and not the other, making for a pretty impressive first sight.
The building is built so that, from above, it looks like the logo for White Star Lines, the owners of the Titanic. Each of the pointy bits is built to stand as high as Titanic's hull, and points in one of the cardinal directions.
The building is built so that, from above, it looks like the logo for White Star Lines, the owners of the Titanic. Each of the pointy bits is built to stand as high as Titanic’s hull, and points in one of the cardinal directions.

 

There's a figurehead statue sitting out front that I thought looked pretty cool.
There’s a figurehead statue sitting out front that I thought looked pretty cool.
And a big sign out front in case you forget where you are. It's made of sixteen tons of steel, the same as Titanic's anchor. This is one of the brief moments in the sign's life when there are no tourists posing in the letters.
And a big sign out front in case you forget where you are. It’s made of sixteen tons of steel, the same as Titanic’s anchor. This is one of the brief moments in the sign’s life when there are no tourists posing in the letters.

I went inside and saw the exhibition. Now, I’ll be honest with you – I’m not tremendously interested in the Titanic. I never saw the Cameron movie3, never got into the whole doomed ship idea. It was a huge ship, and it went down. It was a tragic loss of life, but so were lots of other things.

What the exhibition did that I found fascinating was give a sense of historical context to the whole event. And it made clear that Olympic, Titanic, and Gigantic4 were thoroughly stunning feats of engineering. And not just for their time, either – we’re talking even by today’s standards.

Some perspective. This is MSC Magnifica, the largest cruise ship that currently puts in to Belfast. She is only 72 feet longer than Titanic, and apparently not as tall. So, in 100 years, only 72 feet longer. That's something.
Some perspective. This is MSC Magnifica, the largest cruise ship that currently puts in to Belfast. She is only 72 feet longer than Titanic, and apparently not as tall. So, in 100 years, only 72 feet longer. That’s something.

I didn’t take a lot of pictures inside the exhibition. Most of the stuff that I found interesting was written, and that makes for boring photographs. The three interesting shots I took – replicas of the first-, second-, and third-class staterooms – aren’t very good, but I’m putting them up here, anyway, because – as I said – interesting.

First Class Cabin. The ultimate in sea-going luxury. White Star couldn't compete with Cunard on speed, so they decided to outdo them with style.
First Class Cabin. The ultimate in sea-going luxury. White Star couldn’t compete with Cunard on speed, so they decided to outdo them with style.
Second Class cabin. A significant step down, but still with carpet and good wood furnishings. Even a small couch.
Second Class cabin. A significant step down, but still with carpet and good wood furnishings. Even a small couch.
Third Class cabin. Hard to believe, but apparently even this was luxurious and roomy compared to third class on other ship lines.
Third Class cabin. Hard to believe, but apparently even this was luxurious and roomy compared to third class on other ship lines.

There was even a ride in the exhibit that took you in a little car down and around a representation of the hull that showed how it was built. That was pretty cool, too.

After going through the exhibit, I took a bit of a walk around, waiting for my Titanic Walking Tour to start. I found a couple of cool things to take pictures of.

This is the sleeping giant above Belfast. Folks call him Gulliver, and say that he was the inspiration for Swift writing Gulliver's Travels. Hearing them talk, however, I'm unsure whether the giant was named Gulliver before the book was written, or was named that afterwards in honour of Swift.
This is the sleeping giant above Belfast. Folks call him Gulliver, and say that he was the inspiration for Swift writing Gulliver’s Travels. Hearing them talk, however, I’m unsure whether the giant was named Gulliver before the book was written, or was named that afterwards in honour of Swift.
This huge crane was used to build ships. When it was built, it was so large, they named it Goliath.
This huge crane was used to build ships. When it was built, it was so large, they named it Goliath.
So, here's the problem with naming things with superlatives. About three years after they built Goliath, they built another crane that was ten metres taller than Goliath. There's no one in the Bible bigger than Goliath, so they named it Samson. Good name, still biblical, but implies massive strength rather than massive size. Anyway.
So, here’s the problem with naming things with superlatives. About three years after they built Goliath, they built another crane that was ten metres taller than Goliath. There’s no one in the Bible bigger than Goliath, so they named it Samson. Good name, still biblical, but implies massive strength rather than massive size. Anyway.

The walking tour started at 1:00, and was fascinating. Claire, who led the tour, knew everything about the Titanic, how it was built, and how it fit into history. She really brought home the historical meaning of the Titanic and her sister-ships, and made it clear that Titanic was so much more than just a ship that sank.

Here are a few pictures from the tour.

It's kind of hard to see in the picture, but the yard here alternates patches of ship's decking with grass. The decking represents people saved when the Titanic sank, and the grass represents people lost. It's divided into first class, second class, third class, and crew. The ratio of grass to decking gets dramatically - and depressingly - higher as you go down the social ladder.
It’s kind of hard to see in the picture, but the yard here alternates patches of ship’s decking with grass. The decking represents people saved when the Titanic sank, and the grass represents people lost. It’s divided into first class, second class, third class, and crew. The ratio of grass to decking gets dramatically – and depressingly – higher as you go down the social ladder.
One of two drawing rooms where the plans for the ships were drafted. Note the cathedral ceiling with large skylights - called a Belfast roof - to allow a great deal of natural light for the architects and draftsmen.
One of two drawing rooms where the plans for the ships were drafted. Note the cathedral ceiling with large skylights – called a Belfast roof – to allow a great deal of natural light for the architects and draftsmen.
Three thousand workers had to come through these gates every day. They were only open for twenty minutes - if you didn't make it in, you didn't work. Unemployed people would line up outside hoping someone wouldn't show for work, so they would have a day to prove they were good enough to be taken on permanently.
Three thousand workers had to come through these gates every day. They were only open for twenty minutes – if you didn’t make it in, you didn’t work. Unemployed people would line up outside hoping someone wouldn’t show for work, so they would have a day to prove they were good enough to be taken on permanently.
Drydock 1
This is the Alexandra Graving Dock, the last place Titanic rested on dry ground. After her hull was launched, she was taken to a deep-water wharf and outfitted and completed. Then, she was brought here to be painted, have her hull inspected, and her screws attached.
The gate that closes off the dry dock from the Irish Sea is 44 feet tall, and made of the same steel, by the same men, in the same fashion as the Titanic.
The gate that closes off the dry dock from the Irish Sea is 44 feet tall, and made of the same steel, by the same men, in the same fashion as the Titanic.
44 feet down, at the stern end of the 850-foot-long dock. Pictures can't express the size of the place.
44 feet down, at the stern end of the 850-foot-long dock. Pictures can’t express the size of the place.
Each of these stacks of keel blocks weighs four tons. They were moved about - including being hauled into and out of the dry dock - by hand...
Each of these stacks of keel blocks weighs four tons. They were moved about – including being hauled into and out of the dry dock – by hand…
...and there were an awful lot of them, running the whole length of what would have been Titanic's keel.
…and there were an awful lot of them, running the whole length of what would have been Titanic’s keel.
Here's looking up the side of the dock from the bottom. The man taking the picture should help give some sense of scale.
Here’s looking up the side of the dock from the bottom. The man taking the picture should help give some sense of scale.

That was about it for the tour. We had a quick look in the pump room, and that was that. We did walk by Titanic Studios, where they film Game of Thrones, but there wasn’t really anything to take a picture of, there – just some big, warehouse-type buildings.

By the time I got back on the tour bus, it was 3:30 or so, and the tours stopped at 4:00, so I just had time to ride around the rest of the circuit and fail to take any good pictures. It’s just too hard to do from the top of the bus5. The sheer amount of interesting stuff I saw in that time has got me questioning whether I need to spend a third day on touring just the city, sacrificing one of my planned trips to Marble Arch Caves or Downpatrick. I’ll see how I feel about that tomorrow.

So, at the end of the day, I went and had a nice dinner, and noticed that The Great Gatsby was playing in about an hour in the theatre right near by. I decided to go see it, and I enjoyed it, and then realized that, with Sunday bus service, I had missed my last bus back to the Old Rectory. After trying and failing to hail a cab, I found a helpful watchman at the grounds of City Hall6 who not only told me the rules about which cabs can pick up where, and which need to be called by phone, he let me borrow his phone when I had no luck dialling the cab company7.

Obviously, I made it back. Now, it’s 12:30, and I need to get up early to take full advantage of my second day of touring. City Sightseeing has a courtesy bus that I can call to pick me up here in the morning, so that’ll help maximize my day.

But still. Sleep time. Good night.

  1. Which is right across the street from The Old Rectory. []
  2. With a little help from someone from a different tour company. I tell you, everyone in Ireland and Northern Ireland seem to want to go out of their way to be helpful. Marvelous people, the lot. []
  3. And never plan to. []
  4. Later rechristened the Britannic. []
  5. There’s one picture from my tour of Dublin that I took from the top of the bus that turned out great, and that I really like, but it was completely accidental. []
  6. There’s a big Continental Festival going on this bank-holiday weekend, and he was watching the many tents spread on the City Hall grounds. []
  7. Did I mention how amazingly helpful everyone is? They are all amazingly helpful. This fine gentleman is not unique, though he is a sterling example. []

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