Updated: Mar 25, 2019
I ask, who on this Earth doesn't fancy an Irish accent, gingers and damp cable knit sweaters?
I had been to Ireland twice before my recent trip to Belfast. The first was castle-hopping from Dublin to Cork and back again. The second was to attend a work conference with Neil At the beautiful Merrion Hotel in Dublin.
These trips occurred very early on in our European stay, and I learned several valuable lessons from them:
1. Single Lane Track. Never had heard the term but I quickly learned what not to do on a small country lane suitable for only one car at a time. Always give way to the giant truck barrelling in your direction, even if that means driving into a hedge.
2. Always book ahead. You can't rock up to the Holiday Inn and expect a vacancy. This was 21 years ago, and the point is moot by the advancements in technology. Still, book ahead.
3. Ireland is a great place to see famous people. Well, famous Irish people. I suppose that makes sense.
Back in 1998, the Merrion Hotel, while hosting the work conference, was also hosting the world premier party for The Man with the Iron Mask. Gerard Depardieu, John Malkovich, Jeremy Irons and Gabriel Byrne all intermingled with the hotel guests. Spotting these famous folks was good fun for me, though I was disapointed by the glaring absence of Leo Di Caprio. Fresh off the Titanic, I suppose he was too cool to party in the hotel bar.
We were still giggling about this the next morning when we boarded our Aer Lingus flight back to London. The flight attendants seemed particularly peculiar. They were extra attentive to the passengers in front of us and I could not have guessed why. They were a bunch of scruffy teenaged boys. In 1998, Boyzone had released their biggest selling single 'No Matter What' and we were sat behind them on that Aer Lingus flight. Not being big fans of boy bands, we had no idea who they were. We learned about Boyzone fast while caught up in the paparazzi scrum that awaited them at the airport. It was quite hectic, but fun as we dissimulated their entourage and photo bombed at every opportunity.
Such pleasant Irish memories. My YES was emphatic when Emily asked to visit the Titanic Museum in Belfast. While no real fan of the Titanic, I do love history. The Troubles; a civil war in Northern Ireland between Loyalists and Republicans, ended with the Good Friday Agreement in 1998. I was very curious to experience Northern Ireland 21 years after peace. Our plan was to visit the museum, the Giant's Causeway and everything between over a long weekend. At the end of it all, it seemed a lot longer than a long weekend...
Our Friday night flight. It had not rained in two months and it was very hot. I proclaimed 'carry on only' as we were only there for a few days and would not need much. I was perfecting my skills as a carry on only packer and impressed myself with my efforts this trip.
Dilly and I met Sian at the airport after she had finished with work. Emily would join us the following morning. I dressed for comfort; in a tee shirt and elastic waist wide leg jeans. I was also wearing velvet sandals. I thought I looked quite fetching, but in hindsight, I know never to wear those jeans in public again.
Our laziness that evening outweighed our sensibilities and we checked our small bags. Mistake Uno.
Mother Nature involved herself in my travel plans and produced the mother of all storms. We sat on the plane for two hours before take off, and were lucky as most flights cancelled altogether.
George Best Airport, Belfast.
I was not sure how comfortable I was landing at an airport named after a raging alcoholic football player. The name almost implied an irresponsibility not good in aviation. But here we were, finally.
At baggage reclaim, six forlorn-looking bags rotated dolefully around the carousel. Six. An announcement proclaimed a problem in London and if our bags were not on the carousel, we should report to customer service. The flight was full and six bags had arrived. How long the customer service queue was? Long.
Still waiting in the customer service line. One man wrote out missing claim tags by hand as evacuation sirens screamed for us to leave the building. Not a person budged from that queue.
After two hours of waiting, the crowd went rogue and wrote their own claim forms on anything; from scrapes of paper to pages torn from books. I gave up hope of a reunion with my perfectly packed toiletries kit, tossed my claim form on the customer service desk and evacuated the building.
Titanic Belfast Hotel. Located in the historic Titanic Quarter, the hotel opposes the Titanic Museum. The hotel is the former headquarters of Harland and Wolff Heavy Industries and is a Grade B+ Building of Historical Significance. It features 119 nautical themed rooms, two restaurants, a nifty bar with original vaulted ceilings, 500 works of art and artefacts, and porters in tweed and flat caps. How else would you have your Irish porter?
I noticed straight away that the Titanic Belfast Hotel had a few major flaws. The hotel, opened in 2017, while elegantly appointed has no late night restaurant or room service menu. There is also not a spa. ?
Dilly and Sian had not eaten since lunch and were very hungry. The very lovely tweeded-up young man at the from desk suggested we order from Deliveroo and wait for it at the bar. Problem Solved. The Harland Bar has a great cocktail menu and after sampling a few too many, I noticed it was now 2:00 and we had no pizza.
Mr. Front Desk kindly called Deliveroo to query the pizza for me. They explained that the pizza had been delivered and returned. I hadn't included my room number with the order, and the Premier Inn had no record of my reservation. I was too tired to cry and the kids too tired to eat. I will not let failures get the better of me, so I instructed them to bring the pizza that I had paid for to the Titanic Hotel.
"Can you tell me how to get to that hotel?" The delivery man asked
"It is opposite the Titanic Museum."
"Yea, the Premier Inn. They tell me you are not there."
"No." Patience think. "Not the Premier Inn, the Titanic Hotel. It's across from the giant building that looks like an iceberg." Try not to run into it on your arrival.
Deliveroo called. He was waiting in the lobby of the hotel. I returned to the lobby but find only my tweedy porter. I called him back to ask where he might be now.
"I am in the lobby of the Premier Inn." Remaining calm, I gave him further instructions on how to get to the actual Titanic Museum, where I was actually staying.
I decided to wait him out in the lobby. I asked the kindly receptionist for a hospitality kit and he gave me three very fancy boxes and a sewing kit. Was this a subtle suggestion that I should sew my own clothes?
Finally the pizza man and I have a meaningful connection. He hands over the pizza and scolds me for not including my room number on the order. Instead of arguing the mootness of his point, I over-tip him out of spite. I never know, if when I over-tip out of spite, people understand that they are being spited.
We lingered longer at the Victoria Square Mall. It is confusing why, in a country that never goes above 20C degrees, they would choose to build an outdoor mall. It was also confusing why anyone would patronage such a place while buckets of rain fell from the heavens.
We sought refuge in a restaurant called COSMO. Here they served food buffet-style from 150 different countries, 148 of them Asian. And the place was heaving!
No sign of Emily and we had missed our time slot at the museum. We went over and I lied that we late due to our delayed flight. Could we please still enter? The customer service rep kindly let us in and gave me a rain check for Emily.
The Titanic Museum Belfast is a beautiful building that represents both the ship and the iceberg. The four corners of the building are the exact height as the bow of the original ocean liner. It's facade is clad with thousands of aluminium plates of unique shapes and sizes. This give the building it's glimmering effect and it lights up beautifully at night.
The exhibition is unique in that it focuses on the construction of the ship and it's impact on the community of Belfast. Over 3000 men worked for two years to build the ship. The museum features a very gentle rollercoaster that transports you back in time. Vocal recordings of original builders and some survivors relay the history of the community, ship and disaster.
Back to the bar. I confessed to the girls that the Segway tour I had planned cancelled due to rain. They looked at me like I had been crazy to attempt such a folly and swiftly returned focus to their cocktails. Emily finally arrived.
No Luggage. No response from airline.
We set off to the Cathedral Quarter. I dressed in my new (inappropriate for my age) cut off T-shirt from Urban Outfitters, ever-growing boyfriend jeans and my velvet sandals. Emily bragged that, as she had carried on her carry on, she had clothes to wear.
The Cathedral Quarter is a collection of cobbled streets full of bars and restaurants. Women dressed to the hilt, with breasts on display everywhere. It seemed as though we had wandered into the world's largest hen party. My kids told me I looked homeless. We had a crap meal and then found a crap pub and enjoyed gin and tonics while watching drunk men fall over.
Back at the Harland Bar. I had never had so many cocktails and I by this time was developing a sugar intolerance.
This long weekend was the longest weekend on record.
Emily and I made use of her rain check at the museum. She enjoyed it very much and was not distracted by the juxtaposition of a human disaster and the large tattoo convention hosted by the museum. I was.
I took Sian to George Best for her flight back to London. While there, I thought to rent a car and check on my luggage. I spotted the lost luggage area, which consisted of an unsupervised large pile of bags in a roped off area. Our bags were not there. Of course. There were a few surfboards that I considered stealing, but didn't have the motivation in the end.
Turned away from three rental car companies, I finally secured a Skoda Citigo from Hertz. This car was so basic it didn't even have 'oh shit' handles. In fact, I wasn't even aware of the term 'oh shit' handles until I didn't have any. The intention of an 'oh shit', or grab handle is to help get out of the car. Yet, most car passengers use the handle while exclaiming "Oh Shit!" when in dangerous driving.
We were soon headed 60 miles north of Belfast to County Antrim and the Giant's Causeway. The Causeway, a UNESCO World Heritage Sight, was a path built across the North Channel by Finn McCool.
McCool an Irish giant, accepted a challenge to fight Scottish giant Bennedonner. When Bennedonner arrived in Co. Antrim, McCool panicked at the sight of the size of him. McCool lost his cool. So uncool was McCool that he dressed as a baby and had his wife present him to Bennedonner as there child. Why is the child is this big, McCool must be unbeatable! Benedonner ran all the way back o Scotland and left the wrecked rocks of the Giant's Causeway in his wake. This is all fact.
Or...the 40,000 interlocking basalt columns are a result of an ancient volcanic fissure.
Northern Ireland is the location for many famous scenes from Game of Thrones. There are many tours you can book, but I had no interest in a 9+ bus ride. With our Skoda, we managed a few highlights from the Game of Thrones Tour:
The Dark Hedge: This is a road formed by interlocking overhead tree branches. It was here that Arya dressed as a boy to escape King's Landing.
The Carrick-a-Rede Rope Bridge: Here, Brianna of Tarth battled Loras Tyrell.
The Cave of Cushenden: Melisandre gave full-frontal birth in this cave to a shadow baby that went on to kill Renley.
Finally, departure day! Still no luggage, but also no rain. My jeans could now fit two of me at one time.
Emily and I carried-on our Game of Thrones mini-tour while Dilly overslept.
Titanic Studios are in the Titanic Quarter, behind the Titanic Museum Belfast and the Titanic Hotel. I was beginning to think that Belfast had a one-track mind. They film the set pieces for Game of Thrones at the Titanic Studios. We attempted to get close, but only managed to see a giant anchor, a burnt castle and a sign for 'no trespassing, no drones'. I so wanted a drone right then.
Dilly, forcibly removed from her room, joined us on a attempt to learn Irish History that did not involved a shipwreck or a fantasy television show.
Crumlin Road Gaol opened in 1846. The prison, designed by Sir Charles Lanyon, is a Panoptic prison with four wings and a central circle. It's design was quite a revolution at the time. Thinking was that inmates would behave knowing they were being observed at all times.
The prison would be home to political prisoners from both sides of 'The Troubles'. Eamon de Valera, Martin McGuinness, Gerry Adams, Michael Stone and Bobby Sands all did time at the Crumlin Road Gaol. Ulster suffragettes Dorothy Evans and Madge Muir were also there. There were 17 hangings at the prison, and you can view a disturbing reenactment while on a tour.
The prison is now decommissioned and is a tourist attraction. It has two cafes, a gift shop, a creepy tunnel that used to connect the prison to the court house across the street, and two ghosts. Oh, you can get married there as well.
George Best International Airport.
Back in London
Jim in Belfast called to tell me that my luggage has arrived at the Titanic Hotel.
My luggage was finally returned to me after being on holiday longer than I.