Thursday 25 April 2013

Ireland: Day Three - Belfast

Today we spent a full day in Belfast. Our first stop was city hall, where we were given a private tour. It was an incredible sight to see - a very beautiful building with Italian and Greek marble, statues, stained windows and furnishings/decor that are over 100 years old. There was no sign of the rioting/issues that had occurred only a few months ago in December when a bill was passed regarding the Union Jack. It was a wonderful, pretty sight and area. Our tour explained the history of the building, and took us into the council chamber where we all got to sit in The Lord Mayors chair. Very different from most tours where everything is roped off with "don't touch" signs. We got to go into the robing room, where a fellow tour member modelled the robes they wear - robes worth $4000.00. Crazy! We saw the main reception area, dining/banquet room and a few little exhibits they had on.

Afterward we went on a city tour where we saw the peace wall, peace murals and the downtown core of Belfast. We also went into the outskirts a bit and saw the other parliament buildings at Stormont. We didn't go in but we drove up to it and I was impressed by the sheer size/amount and opulence of it. We had only an hour to spend in the city, so dad and I had a quick bowl of soup at a pub and looked around for 45 minutes. I bought a book that the bus driver recommend "The Paperboy" by Tony Maculay which is a real-life account of the troubles in Belfast from the perspective of a young boy who was working as a paperboy at the time. I am a few chapters in and finding it interesting. Another woman on the bus would like to buy it off me when I am done, as she wasn't able to find it. Since it seems to be a quick read I should finish it soon and be able to do that.

The afternoon was spent immersed in Titanic. We started off at the pump house where we saw one of the dry docks the Titanic was in while it was being built. We learned about the process and the labour/effort that went into it and went down about 70 stairs to get to the bottom of the dry dock. What an experience. You don't fully understand the size until you are down there looking up/walking through the area. The tour guide was amazing, so energetic and knowledgeable. We also got to see some great photos of the Titanic in relation to the dry dock which helped out everything in perspective. When we made our way back up the stairs it just started to rain and we were able to get indoors just in time.

Then we went onto the the Titanic Experience which was really enjoyable. It's only a year or so old, and really goes into detail about the Titanic - it's concept, build, work, voyage, sinking, history etc. We saw floor plans of it, and replications of what the staterooms and decor would have looked like. There was a cable car ride that took you through the process of being in the shipyard, and accounts of survivors. It included transcripts of the SOS calls, information on the passengers/crew and a video of the most recent exploration that was done underwater. I knew a lot about Titanic going in, but learned a lot of amazing information and facts. It was a really a great afternoon. Plus we got to see Titanic Studios where movies and TV are filmed - and I think it is actually one of the Game of Throne sets. We didn't go in or see anyone famous, but it was cool seeing the location/exterior.

After returning to the hotel we had dinner and tonight we sat with two couples from Stouffville and learned a lot about their lives and various travels. Everyone on the tour is really nice with very interesting backgrounds and stories. One man came over to me and mentioned that he and his wife had a lot of craft stuff that they didn't want to go to waste and offered it to me if I was interested. (I think seeing me do crafts at the museum yesterday had something to do with it!) They told me to contact them when we are home and come see what I could use or possibly use in a classroom. Everyone is just genuinely friendly and easy to get along with/talk to. I hope that as time goes on the dynamic remains the same. Two weeks is a lot of time to spend as a group, but there are a few new people joining us on Tuesday so maybe that will keep it interesting.

At the end of dinner a group of people decided to head back into the downtown area and visit a pub we had passed - the Crown. The tour guide said it was an awesome, authentic and really old Irish pub. It had looked interesting so I decided to join them. (Dad opted to pass on this one as it had been a long day). There was 5 of us all together - myself and two couples - and we jumped in a cab and headed over. When we walked in it was like we were transported back in time. The bar is all wood, with these large private wooden booths that seat about 6-8 and have doors. There was a band setting up, and no food in sight - only drinks (most of which were Guinness.) It was packed and no seats were to be found, so we headed next door to a pub called Robinson's. it was nice, but nowhere near as beautiful as its neighbour. Robinson's is divided into mini-bars - modern, disco, traditional so we took a seat at the far back in the traditional one, but something was lacking. We sat for a few minutes then decided to go back to the Crown and wait for a table.

It was still packed on our return, but one of the large booths were occupied by just two men. So one of the men in our group walked over and asked if they minded sharing with us - which they didn't. In all my guidebooks it says the Irish are easygoing people, and it's very true. They were fine with 5 complete strangers just plopping down and joining their night out. Their names were Joe and Arthur and they had grown up in Belfast and had been friends since they were children. Both moved away, but found themselves back there. We had a great time talking with them, and listening to some fun Irish music that was being preformed by a band. We also shared some laughs - some of which were at my expense - as I mistakenly referred to Belfast as Dublin. Naturally that could have turned into an issue, but they were good sports about it and kept jokingly referring to me as the one from America. It really was a wonderful way to spend our last night in Belfast, and a great opportunity to talk with some locals. Plus they insisted I try Guinness as my cider was a joke to them. I was very shocked, as it is a completely different taste from that at home and something I didn't hate. I am not much of a beer drinker to begin with, but I'll definitely now be willing to try some Guinness at the museum in Dublin.

We didn't stay out too long and were back in the hotel by 11:00. We have an early morning tomorrow and a lot of traveling ahead of us.

Photo One: Dad and I yesterday in Carlingsford
Photo Two: Me today on the bus - all prepared for the rain with my hat!
Photo Three: Dad in The Lord Mayors Chair
Photo Four: Our fellow tour member modelling the robes
Photo Five: One of the stained glass windows
Photo Six: Belfast City Hall
Photo Seven and Eight: Peace Murals
Photo Nine: Parliament/Stormont
Photo Ten: Dad on the Belfast Street
Photo Eleven: Lights at Stormont that were donated from Canada - see the moose?
Photo Twelve: At the bottom of the the dry dock
Photo Thirteen: A first class stateroom on Titanic
Photo Fourteen: Costumes from the film
Photo Fifteen: Our tour bus
Photo Sixteen: Me at the Crown
Photo Seventeen: The outside of the crown
Photo Eighteen: Inside the Crown

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