“The weather’s pretty good but there’s a still southerly breeze blowing – so the final approach might be a bit choppy.”
When a pilot is so specific, you know it’s going to be a rough landing. Fortunately, we’re flying on a smallish properllor plane, so we feel every last jolt as we descend into George Best Belfast City Airport. It’s the kind of staggering home he’d probably have approved of.
That said, it had been pretty much smooth sailing for the journey so far. I’ve made a note to book more afternoon flights in the future, having printed off my boarding card and cleared security at East Midlands Airport in about 15 minutes. This is something of a personal best – at busy times it can take over an hour.
So I’m pleased to be on the ground, and with the brisk southerly blowing my eardrums out, I can just about hear the woman at the bus stop, who’s just heard there’s been a major crash on the link road, and “the whole of Belfast is gridlocked”. She wasn’t wrong. Over an hour later a packed bus is crawling through the city centre. But what a pretty sight it is.
This is City Hall. Built in 1906, a centrepiece of civic pride, and home to Belfast City Council. I always think it’s a good sign of a place that makes an effort to light up public buildings. And there are free daily tours. But right now it’s time to substitute public buildings for public houses. And this one has its own personalised doors for customers.
The Crown on Great Victoria Street is probably the best known in Belfast. Its lovingly (and expensively) restored features are considered so important that the building was acquired by The National Trust. Midweek, and the bar slowly starts filling up, the air filled with a whole host of European accents and languages.
High class whiskies could almost be the name for a band, and my primary reason for visiting is to see as much live music as possible. Various websites list The Garrick on Chchester Street as a good bet for a Wednesday, though when I get there the crowd is engrossed with a football match. I ask the bar tender when the music session is likely to start, getting a typically Iridsh reply of “Sure, it’ll be on anytime – as soon as the turn arrives.”
It turns out that the turn is, in fact, four traditional musicians complete with flute, pipes a guitar and a drum. These small sessions happen almost every night in towns and cities across Ireland. The key word is “informal”. Although the customers clearly enjoy the performance, there’s almost no acknowledgement of the band at all. Loud conversations continue all around, mostly about Donald Trump, or, in the case of the very drunk youngsters across the bar, how many Jaegerbombs to order.