The plan this morning was to bus out to a certain car park in the south end of Belfast to take a walk through the woods and fields to the Giant’s Ring. When I woke up, though, I was really feeling yesterday’s walking in my knees and feet. So, I decided instead to spend the morning taking a tour of the Belfast City Hall.
Incidentally, admission is free to all, and tours run several times a day. The City Hall was financed by Belfast’s two gasworks when it was built, and the plan and understanding – carried through to this day – is that this building belongs to the people of the city, and they share it freely with visitors.
After touring the City Hall, I walked down to the bus station, and caught the bus to Downpatrick, because there was some stuff there I wanted to see.
So, I got back on the bus, and made it back into Belfast in time to have dinner and catch the Ghost Walk tour. I don’t have any pictures of that, mainly because it was still daylight, so not very scary, and the visuals weren’t half as interesting as the stories.
The stories were very good, though; we had unmarked graves, live burials, grave robberies, plague, ghostly warnings, and all the rest. It was tremendous fun.
And then I came back to the Old Rectory. I’m going to bed now. Tomorrow, I will see about taking a bus out to Enniskillen, then a taxi to Marble Arch caves.
That’ll be fun.
Much more spartan than those at the more modern Crumlin Road Gaol. [↩]
Last tie I was in Belfast, I took a tour up around the Antrim coast to the Carrick-a-Rede rope bridge, the Giant’s Causeway, and Dunluce Castle. It rained pretty hard the entire time, and I got drenched. More to the point, I didn’t really get any good pictures.
This time around, the sun was shining pretty much the whole time. There were some threatening clouds in the afternoon, and I felt a few tiny drops when I got back to Belfast, but really, the weather was pretty much perfect.
So, yeah. You may have seen some of these pictures from last trip, but I think these turned out nicer.
After this, it was back to the bus, and back to Belfast. My legs are worn out, and I’m going to bed soon.
Those of you who have been looking at my itinerary have probably noticed that I didn’t go to the Ghost Walk last night. That’s because the schedule has changed, and they only run on Wednesdays and weekends. I’m going to try and make that tomorrow night.
I’m reserving judgement on what I’m going to do tomorrow until I see how well I recover from the exertions of today. I had planned to make it out to the Giant’s Ring, and maybe to Downpatrick, but I may try for Marble Arch Caves tomorrow if I’m still tired. Or I may just decide to try and see some of the places in Belfast I haven’t made it to, yet. I haven’t got anything definitively booked, so I can be flexible tomorrow.
In other words, stay tuned. Not even I know what I’m going to do!
I’m back at the Old Rectory earlier today than yesterday. I want a good sleep before tomorrow’s tour of the Giant’s Causeway and Antrim Coast. And last night was a late night1.
Weather today was a mixed bag. There were periods of moderately heavy rain2, as well as some nice, sunny periods. I was riding on the City Sightseeing city tour, and my plan was to get off at Stormont to tour the Parliament Building, but it was closed for the bank holiday. It was nice to see the grounds, and I might have got off to wander the grounds a bit, but the rain was moderately heavy at that moment.
So I rode on back into Belfast, to Crumlin Road, which used to be called the Murder Mile because of the number of killings that have taken place there during the Troubles. And these were big parts of the reasons:
In addition, the condemned prisoner got a few extra perks – extra tobacco allotment, some stout from time to time, and so on. The whole prison had to be locked down if the condemned prisoner was being moved, taken out for exercise, or taken to bathe. Thus, there was a small washroom attached to the cell, with a toilet, sink, and a tall cupboard.
The cupboard held the restraints used to bind the prisoner when being taken to be hanged. At the time of execution, the prisoner would be bound here, ready to be led away, and then the guards would slide the cupboard away to reveal a door into the scaffold area. From the time of binding to the time of actual execution, only a few minutes would pass, with no time for the prisoner to bolt or struggle.
After that, I caught the tour bus back around Shankill Road, Falls Road, and the Peace Wall. Unfortunately, it had really started raining again, so I stayed on the bus back around to the city centre. I needed to get more batteries for my camera, anyway, and it was lunch time. So, I took care of those things, and looked at the time.
It was just about three by then, so while I could take the tour bus back somewhere, if I got off, there wouldn’t be another one for me to get back on. I decided to do some walking around the downtown area and the cathedral quarter, instead.
At that point, I was getting tired, so I walked back toward the bust stop, ducked into Tesco for a sandwich and some drinks to take back to the Old Rectory for dinner, and then spent the last couple of hours doing up this post.
Now, bedtime. Up early for the Giant’s Causeway.
Mary here at the Old Rectory said, “You push yourself hard.” My reply, “Only because I’m stupid.” And then she says, “Well, at least you’re honest.” See? They know me here.” [↩]
And, about half an hour ago, there was hail for about thirty seconds. [↩]
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
Which is right across the street from The Old Rectory. [↩]
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. [↩]
So, I’ve made it to Belfast. I have to say, if you have the option of traveling business class, it’s pretty awesome. Bigger, more comfortable seat, better food, airport lounge, all that stuff. I really enjoyed it.
The plane got in to Dublin about a half-hour early. It was a little chilly this morning, but not too bad. I just put my rain jacket on to block the wind, and I was plenty warm enough. Irish customs was really fast and easy: “How long are you staying in Ireland? Business or pleasure?” and boom – I was through. Literally no more than ten seconds.
Once through, I made my way outside and caught the Airlink bus that runs from the airport through the city centre.
The bus ride in to Grafton Street was easy, as was getting my errands done there. The difference in stress levels this trip compared to the early days of last trip are amazing – just the little bit I know about the place from being here before makes everything easier and less frantic. And, of course, I ran into an old friend.
From there, once my phone was linked to the 3 network, I called up a walking path from Grafton Street to Connolly Station, where I was to catch the train north to Belfast. It was about a mile walk, but my luggage wasn’t too heavy at that point, so I decided to do it; if nothing else, it would let me stretch my legs after the long flight and also refamiliarize myself a little more with the city.
I made it to the station and got on a train, and then had to fight to keep from falling asleep. I nodded off a couple of times on the two-hour trip, but thankfully, a young lady got on and proceeded to carry on a telephone conversation in a loud, somewhat shrill voice that carried through the entire train car, and I didn’t have to worry about sleeping anymore.
Gerry greeted me, took my breakfast order for tomorrow1, and led me up to my room – the same one I’d had last time.
I saw Mary again this evening, and she helped me get a table at The Barking Dog, which restaurant I hadn’t been able to try last time. It was a bit of a walk, again, both there and back, but at least I’ll be good and tired when I go to bed tonight.
And now the post is done, the first day of my holiday is done, and I’m pretty much done. To bed. Tomorrow, I have tours!
I confessed to him that I’ve had dreams about his full Ulster breakfast since last time. [↩]
I spent some time over the past couple of days figuring out how I’m going to be spending my time in Belfast, the first stop on my Ireland trip for next summer. Surprise, surprise: I’m not going to have the time to do all the things I want to do. But I’m going to get to do a lot of them.
The first couple of days, while I’m feeling the crappiest from the flight over, I’m going to spend on the Hop On/Hop Off bus tour, seeing the city as a whole and stopping at all the interesting spots I didn’t make time to see last time. I’m going to take it easy, and keep in mind I have two whole days to do this, though if I find that’s too long, I’ve got the option of taking an afternoon to go see Belfast Castle and climb Cave Hill. But the Cave Hill walk is about three to four hours, so that – plus a lunch or dinner at Belfast Castle – will take the entire afternoon. We’ll see.
But the Hop On/Hop Off tour will take me to the Peace Wall and the murals on Shankhill Road and Falls Road, and to Crumlin Road Jail, and Stormont with the parliament buildings, and Queen’s University1, and probably several other places I don’t yet know that I want to see.
The company also offers a package deal – 48 hours of Hop On/Hop Off bus tour with a bus tour to the Giant’s Causeway (and Carrick a Rede, and the Glens of Antrim, and Dunluce Castle, and Carrickfergus Castle, and… you get the idea) for £30. That’s good for me, because it’ll give me another chance to see the Antrim coast, and maybe it won’t be raining the entire time2.
Aside from that, I want to take a day trip out the Marble Arch Caves, and maybe another one to Downpatrick, to see Down Cathedral and St. Patrick’s grave. I’m thinking I can do that the same day I head out for a nice walk to the Giant’s Circle, just outside of Belfast.
I also want to make sure I get to try The Barking Dog restaurant. It was recommended to me last time, but I couldn’t get a seat, so I’ll give it another try3 this time. And any other restaurants that get recommended.
So, with that stuff in mind, I’ve updated my itinerary. Have a look, if you’re so inclined.
I saw the outside several times last time I was in Belfast. This time, I want to take the tour. [↩]
Now, I really wanted to have only one stop on this flight1, and I spoke to some other travelers last time who recommended Aer Lingus, so I tried to make that happen. I was successful, but ran into a couple of snags. First, I had to travel through the US. Not a huge deal, but I’ve heard far too many TSA horror stories to be completely comfortable with flying through their jurisdiction2. Still, if it saves me four to six hours sitting in another airport or on another plane, I’ll take it.
The second hitch is that all the Satruday flights, which I had intended to take, were full3. After thinking long and hard4, I decided to fly on Friday, instead. That’ll cost me one more vacation day, but I can live with that. So, I booked the Friday flight, with a return flight on Sunday three weeks later.
That gives me a total of 23 days in Ireland.
Once I had the flights confirmed, I e-mailed The Old Rectory in Belfast to book my stay there. I was very flattered that Mary remembered me (and this blog), and am just waiting for final confirmation of that booking before I check it, too, off my list.
I’ve still got eight and a half months before my trip, but even doing this little bit of planning has got me excited to see Ireland all over again.
Flying non-stop from Winnipeg to Dublin is still just a fool’s dream, but I really didn’t want to go through London or Amsterdam. [↩]
Of course, I happily drive down into the US at least once a year, and never have any problems. It’s really just the TSA I’m scared of. [↩]
According to the Aer Lingus site, anyway. Some reseller sites still listed seats on the Saturday flight, but didn’t offer little things like being able to choose my seat. I wanted to be able to choose my seat. [↩]
So, I woke up this morning feeling like I’m coming down with a cold. I’m not happy about that, but I’m glad it held off so long. It’s going to make the flight home unpleasant, but at least it didn’t really cut in to my trip very much.
I hauled myself out of bed, and got moving with a fair bit of effort. The breakfast put a much nicer light on the day, and I went off to wander Belfast on a last rainy day.
My first stop was the city centre, because I knew where there was a pharmacy, and I needed cold medicine and ibuprofen. While I was down there, I went back to Victoria Square, because it’s a very cool shopping centre.
After that, I headed out to see the Ulster Museum. The bus stop was right in front of Queens University.
The rain let up for a little while around then, and I took the opportunity to take a wander around the Botanic Gardens that surround the Ulster Museum.
I also managed to have lunch at The Crown, the oldest bar in Belfast. It’s a glorious place, full of etched glass, stamped tin roof, gold trim, and actual gaslights. It was way too packed for me to get a picture, but you can see one here.
I also tried walking out to the area where the Titanic was built, but it really started raining again, and I lost my motivation. Sorry, gang.
So, I made it back to the Old Rectory. Tonight is my last night here, and then I’m back to Dublin on the bus. I want to hit Grafton Street one last time to pick up some last-minute gifts for folks back home.
Y’know, I’ve stayed in some really good places on this trip: Ariel House, Garnish House, The Moorings, Saddler’s House. Now, I’m at the Old Rectory and I have to say I like it best of all. This is not to denigrate any of the other places I’ve stayed – they were all great – but the Old Rectory is absolutely amazing.
Mary and Gerry are both great people – friendly and helpful and very welcoming. My room is great, and breakfast this morning was the best I’ve had in Ireland. Again, this is not to say I haven’t had good breakfasts in other places, but this one tops it.
So, if you’re coming to Belfast (and you should come to Belfast – it’s a wonderful city), this is the place you want to stay.
Today I took a tour of the Antrim Coast with the Black Taxi company. Norman was my driver, and he was a really good guide. Unfortunately, it rained pretty much all day, so we didn’t linger at a lot of places, and where I did go, I got soaked. This also meant that some of my pictures didn’t turn out because of water on my camera lens. But I got some.
Our first stop was the Carrick-A-Rede rope bridge.
The next stop was the Giant’s Causeway. It really started raining and blowing out there, so I have fewer usable pictures than I wanted.
Then we were on to Dunluce Castle.
At that point, cold and wet and tired – there was a lot of walking, and a lot of that walking involved steep hills and slippery stone steps – we headed back to Belfast. I spent some time drying off and warming up, and then went out to dinner. I had planned to go to a restaurant called The Barking Dog, which Mary had recommended, but they were booked. Instead, I went around the corner to a place called Abacus and had some very nice chow mein.
Tomorrow, I’m going to hit the Ulster Museum, Friar’s Bush, and The Crown. My trip is almost done.
This is going to be a short update. I spent most of the day getting from Derry to Belfast. I’m staying at the Old Rectory, which is not really within walking distance of the bus station1, so I broke down and took a taxi rather than try an suss out the bus schedule.
The Old Rectory is amazing. My room is large, comfortable, and beautiful, and the welcome was warm and helpful. In no time at all, I had all the information I needed to find my way back to the city centre on the bus – and then back to the B&B, which is the important bit. Also, a list of good places to eat.
So, I headed off to the city centre to take a look around. Not a lot of pictures, but a couple.
One of the things I find I really like about every city I’ve seen in Ireland is that they all have a pedestrian-only shopping district near the city centre. Belfast is no different in that regard, but it also merges the shopping area into a large shopping centre that is open to the air except for a dome. It was a very cool place, and I’m upset that the pictures I took are all crap. I’ll have to head back there and try again.
While I was there, though, I noticed that the theatre was about to start showing Tinker, Tailor, Soldier, Spy, which I had been wanting to see. And I went and saw it.
And that’s why I don’t have more to show you today. Tomorrow, though, is my tour of the city and the Antrim coast. Should have plenty of pictures for you from that.
Well, it kind of is, but not when I’m carrying my luggage. [↩]