Category Archives: Belfast 2017

I’m the King of the world!

If your only knowledge of the Titanic story is through Leonardo Di Caprio and Kate Winslet, you’ve a lot to learn. I’ll confess now, I’ve never seen the film. And nor did I really know much about the doomed ship. Five years ago, and at a cost of £77 million, the Titanic Belfast opened on the site of the slipway from where she was launched. And it’s pretty hard to miss it.

I’ve been to a fair few “tribute” museums over the years, and a lot of the time they’re simply too overwhelming to take everything in. For instance, Nahville’s Country Music Hall of Fame is so crammed with stories and memorabilia, it’s almost too difficult to recall a single thing I saw. The difference here, of course, is there’s one central story.

Although there’s a lot to digest, the history of Belfast’s rich industrial heritage is told well, and much of the exhbition is given over to the Titanic’s construction at the Harland  and Wolf shipyard. Titanic Belfast is billed as an experience rather than a museum – and the most bizarre experience comes in the form of a ghost-train like ride through the shipyard’s workings. The small cars are lifted and lowered up, down and around – it’s clear that this is where a lot of that £77 million went.

Sadly there’s no full size replica of the Titanic, but there is the tug boat Nomadic, resting in a dry dock nearby – and giving you a small insight into life on board – complete with a hologram of a snotty French bar tender.

Back in the city centre, there’s a massive range of shops, many housed in historic buildings. Who knew that Primark could look so classy?

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Posted by on January 26, 2017 in Belfast 2017, Travel Stuff


A warm welcome in a Windy City

“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.

But what do the kids know? Guinness is clearly the order of choice, though other drinks are on offer with a definite hierarchy that could also be the first line of a racist joke.

I may save the tastings for a different night.

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Posted by on January 26, 2017 in Belfast 2017, Travel Stuff