Wednesday, January 30, 2013

Belfast & Giant's Causeway

With the trip rearranged for a week later due to the UK being unable to cope with a little bit of snow, we eventually made it to Belfast this weekend gone.  A plan was hatched a few months ago over drinks with workmates that we should go on a weekend break before Bhupesh's visa expired & he had to go back to India.  It may be the middle of winter, but I'm hardly going to let such a trifling matter get in the way of a trip somewhere new.

With all of last year's trips under my belt, somehow it fell to me to organise everything - perhaps I was the only one motivated enough to do anything on the planning side.  It was great to have friends along for a trip for a change, but organising it all and making sure everyone is enjoying themselves (I'm pretty sure most don't share my love of history) while still trying to make sure I get to do the things I want to was something I was not used to.  When the accommodation rebooking fell apart on the morning of our departure, I was not enjoying being sole organiser; but plenty of emails, phone calls and not small expense sorted that out eventually.  In the end, I'm sure no one had a bad weekend, I got to see most of what I wanted and managed to get sufficient time to myself (three's a crowd & all that).

Apart from the last minute hiccup, airbnb worked out well again - where else can you rent a three bedroom house for forty quid a night?  The neighbourhood in South Belfast was pretty grim, but as always I found plenty of interest - and taxis were cheap & prompt.
All that was left standing of the terrace across from the front door - I suspect because this house (the blue bit) had some sort of memorial to a fallen soldier.

It didn't get much better across the next street - demolition and breeze-block windowed houses.  Classy.

An old library on the walk to catch the day-trip coach.
The recommended activity for the day was a trip up the coast to see the Giant's Causeway, so that what I managed to convince all was a good idea.  The day dawned bright & cool, but the clouds soon rolled in.  Our driver/guide for day was recovering from illness & seemed determined to drag us all down with him as he had the air-con continually chilling us for the first few hours - I've never seen so many people on a modern coach still wearing winter coats, beanies & gloves (it was quite a contrast to the infamous roach-coach).

We wound our way up the coast road with an informative commentary that never seemed to stop - I'm unsure just how many times I heard the phrase "there's another little piece of useless information for you", it's a pity I've forgotten most of it, as it was truly useless.  Not to worry - the scenery was pretty and there still a dusting of snow around.  Our first proper stop was at the rope bridge of Carrick-a-Rede, which was a bit of a walk from the parking lot.  Graciela by now had developed a sore throat & was not keen on an exposed walk, so I headed off by myself into the bracing wind along the top of the cliffs.  There's been a bridge over to the little island for over three hundred years, mostly for fisherman to get across to collect large salmon catches - but that has dwindled now & it is mostly tourists trip-trapping over the plummet to the sea below.

All I could think of was the Bridge of Death and the Gorge of Eternal Peril (Oh, whacko) and making sure I got the five questions, three questions, correct.  Convincing myself that my favourite colour is indeed still green and reassured by the bridge-keeper from the National Trust not looking a bit like the Old Man from Scene 24, I made it across safely.  There wasn't too much to see on the island itself, but the view along the cliffs was nice & I could easily look over to the Mull of Kintyre (where I was with Mum & Dad but four and a half years ago).  The weather closed in again & started liquid-sunshining (raining) on me as I walked briskly back - it was a really pleasant hour out of the coach along beautiful coast.

Just down the road was the UNESCO World Heritage site of Giant's Causeway, which I was keen to see as on the trip with Mum & Dad mentioned above we went to Staffa (not far away, but over off the coast of Scotland) and saw similar basalt columns.  It managed to stop raining for the walk down to the sea & we had a good hour or so mucking around on the large, wet, slippery regular paving stones - the tessellation results from the cooling of the basalt after a volcanic eruption.

Did I mention it was a little windy?

Some of the steps suddenly dropped off a few metres - probably good not to get blown over there.

Other people to take photos of me - hoorah!

The wind may have got up a bit more.
It was a quiet & quicker drive back to Belfast - it's always surprisingly tiring work sitting on & getting in & out of a coach all day.  We stocked up on breakfast supplies (potato bread is a thing of Irish genius - I bought extra to bring some back home) before warming up & heading out for a night on the town.  Belfast was extremely busy for a mid-winter Saturday, it took us quite some time to find a table to eat at in the Cathedral Quarter.  After which I was reminded how tedious I usually find nightclubs - on the upside, the pint of Guinness was better than the one from the night before.  Oh yeah, by now Graciela had all but completely lost her voice so while that was amusing on a superficial level it did somewhat kill the joviality of the night.

Sunday morning was a bit lazier, but I managed to get everyone out the door before noon - so I counted that as a win for not wasting too much of the day!  We pottered around City Hall (no Union flag flying, odd that) as nothing much opens in Northern Ireland before one o'clock on a Sunday.  The others were intent on shopping, I was more interested in eating - so I went & found a nice lunch by myself before we all headed out to the recent (last year) TitanicBelfast museum.

It's a striking building.

And there's a feature wall of steel slab, which of course made me happy.
The museum is very well done & worth the entry fee.  There's a good split between how Titanic was built (shipbuilding is a large part of Belfast's very proud industrial heritage), what the ship itself was like and, of course (the bit that was in the back of one's mind throughout the rest of the exhibit), the disastrous sinking and loss of life.  There was also plenty about Southampton, another proud maritime city, so I really must go and check out some of the local museums when I've got spare time at home.

Not sure how I've managed to write so much about a relatively quiet weekend (I definitely did a lot less walking & saw less than if I'd been by myself), but it was a good one & I'm glad it all worked out in the end.

1 comment:

  1. A very enjoyable read: interesting with sufficient humour.