Sunday, August 23, 2015

"God Himself Could Not Sink This Ship!" Return to Belfast: Day No. 2,

Hello everyone! So, in Part I of this post you followed me along to St. George's Market, took a tour of Belfast City Hall, and accompanied me on a famous Black Cab Taxi Tour of the murals and sights of the city. 

As exciting as all that was, I was super excited for Day 2 of my trip. I had several things planned out for the day, and they all revolved around the tragic ship, RMS Titanic: Taking a Titanic Discovery Tour, viewing the Robots exhibition at Titanic Belfast, and going aboard the SS Nomadic. 

For those of you who don't know, I'm a huge Titanic fan. I even spent a whole summer reading about nothing but the doomed ocean liner. I learned a lot, not only about the ship, but about the time and the ideas circulating at that time, the gaps between the wealthy and the poor and the class divides, many of which would fall after World War I. 

I spent the night in the International Youth Hostel in Belfast, and I have to say that I would highly recommend it to anyone staying in the city. It was clean and quiet and the staff was incredibly friendly and always up for the craic. And I can't say enough about the Causeway Cafe, located on the ground floor of IYH. They serve up a ton of options for breakfast and lunch. I wish I had gotten the Belgian waffles because they looked spectacular. However my breakfast was still good too, as I was served up toast and croissants, a bowl of cereal (Oh! How I've missed Cheerios!) plus tea and orange juice. 

So, after charging my phone and finishing breakfast, I took a cab to Belfast's historic Titanic Quarter, named of course after the ship who received its life's breath from the sweat, blood and tears of the city's workmen.

As soon as I set eyes on that spectacular museum rising distinctively out of the landscape and the giant yellow Harland and Wolff cranes, I knew I was indeed home. The museum's architecture (to me) combines the prowess of the ship itself (it is actually the same height as Titanic) and the menace of the iceberg that proved to be its undoing. 

First up on my itinerary was a Titanic Discovery Tour, a must in my book. I'd advise booking your tickets online, that way you're guaranteed a spot. This tour points out some of the more significant aspects of the Titanic Museum--little tributes you may not have noticed on a normal visit--and gives you access to some of the more restricted parts of the grounds.

The reason that I wanted to take the Discovery tour was because of one particular stop on the tour: The drawing offices of Harland and Wolff (the company that designed Titanic). It was here where young men, including Thomas Andrews, worked away on the White Star Line's latest pride and joys. Long tables covered in draft paper and rulers and pencils would have lined the vast interior. Natural sunlight would have poured in overhead from the large sun roof. 

Then and now. H & W Drawing offices c. 1911 and Today
Today, the drawing offices are empty, devoid of the life that they would have had only a hundred years earlier. Today, they are shabbily kept, with chipped paint and some boarded up windows. However, there is still a bit of magic left in these buildings. You can still feel the energy that would have circulated throughout the building. The hopes of so many, contained on a sheet of paper that would be transformed into iron just a few metres away. 

I was lucky to take the tour when I did, as my tour guide pointed out that this was one of the last tours that would have access to the drawing offices. The green light had recently been given to turn them into a hotel, just another addition to the rejuvenation of not only the Titanic Quarter, but also Belfast itself.

Next, after my tour concluded, I went back into the museum to view the special "Robots" exhibit. Titanic Belfast plays host to several exhibits and conventions throughout the year (in fact, there was a tattoo convention going on on the fifth floor the day I visited). The advertisement for the exhibit boasted that C-3PO and R2-D2 would be there, so of course I had to go!

There were many other robots there I didn't know (I'm not a huge sci-fi person), but I was not disappointed with R2-D2 and C-3PO. There they stood, C-3PO with that semi-panicked look on this face and R2 ever calm. They were definitely the biggest attraction there and I had to wait a good long time before getting to take my selfies!

And finally, it was time to go aboard the SS Nomadic, the last surviving White Star ship and the ship that brought (among others) John Jacob Astor and the unsinkable Molly Brown aboard the Titanic at Cherbourg. The tour is cheap (a mere 6 pounds/10 euro gets you all access to the ship, including a guided tour). 

When you board Nomadic, you're entering the same way J.J. Astor and Molly Brown would have--into the opulent first class area, complete with intricate wood work carvings, plush red cushioned chairs and a full bar. Additionally, I was told to tour the toilets before the tour and I'm glad I did, as they were magnificent. Fully restored with the elegant bowls and fittings from Crapper (so when you hear someone say "It's going down the Crapper" that really was a real name for a toilet, not just some slang!).

It was aboard Nomadic where passengers would have sat for the roughly 40 minute journey from land to liner. You can sit on the benches or gaze out the portholes or lean against the bar as (the tour guide said) J.J. Astor would have done "and ordered himself a Tom Collins."

However, Nomadic was not just for first class passengers. It was intended for first and second class use. However, on that fateful voyage in 1912, it also delivered third class passengers aboard Titanic.  Classes were markedly divided, with gates and railings used to keep the classes separate. 

Nomadic certainly echoes it's bigger sister ship, Titanic, and several times I felt as if I was aboard the doomed ocean liner itself, or alternatively, in the iconic film. While down in the crews quarters I could imagine the ship filling with water and Rose running with her axe in an effort to save Jack. 

You can also stroll aboard as well, touring the various decks. You can even have your own "King of the World!" moment on the bow of the ship, if you please. While on deck you can just imagine how exciting it would have been to be ferried across the way on this little ship to a larger ocean liner that would take you across the ocean (hopefully).

Additionally, Nomadic has a rather storied history itself, having been kept in use after the sinking of Titanic. It played an integral part in the World Wars, ferrying soldiers. At one point it was even sold and used as a casino! But now, restored to its White Star Line glory, it's ready for many more years at home in Titanic Belfast.

After that, I met my new friend Michelle for lunch (Pizza Hut), and then it was (sadly) time to head home. I had such an amazing time in Belfast. I learned so much about the city, and about Titanic, and I got to meet one of the best ladies in the entire world.

It is trips like that you really realize that everything really does happen for a reason and sometimes, not being totally in control is a good thing. I can't wait to go back to Belfast and explore more and visit Michelle, I feel like Taylor Swift with all these amazing and wonderful women in my if only I could find a Calvin Harris! Haha!

Until next time! Remember that you can keep up with my day-to-day adventures on Instagram at calleyabroad and on Twitter @calleysofalley !


Thursday, August 20, 2015

"Many the Hour of Sweet Happiness" Return to Belfast: Day No. 1

Signing my name to the Peace Wall
When I'd left Belfast the first time in 2012, I vowed that I couldn't live my whole life without returning However, I didn't foresee the path my life would take that would lead me back to Belfast so soon.

As I sat waiting on the train at Connolly in Dublin, I was excited to be going back to the city I'd fallen in love with 3 years earlier. However, I was anxious as well. I've been through a lot in my life since my last visit. I was worried that I had changed so much that I'd no longer feel the same love and kinship with the city.

As soon as I stepped off the train though, all my fears disappeared. Belfast is still  my city. I still felt at home while walking its streets and still felt alive by the bracing sea air. I spent only two days in Belfast and more happened in those two days than about a month in Dublin. Since that's the case, I could never condense it all into one post. so here is my fires installment of my two part series. I hope you enjoy and this inspires you to visit!

Day 1

I'd probably planned my trip to Belfast more thoroughly than any other I'd taken. There were so many places and things I wanted to see and do that I didn't get to do the first time--chief among them visiting St. George's Market and Belfast City Hall. 

St. George's Market (only a few minutes walk from Belfast Central Station) is a giant indoor market. You can get almost anything you want there--from handmade and unique jewelry to arts and crafts to bright silvery scaly fish and terracotta crabs. 

I can only imagine what my cousins would have thought of the spectacle. I had to laugh as I thought what their reaction would be walking past a crate of slippery, slimy eels. 

As I walked in, I happened upon a jewelry stand, fitted out with all sorts of rings, bracelets and earrings. Almost immediately I happened upon a bracelet, a simple black patent leather braided cord with a simple charm--an anchor. How fitting is that? 

After St. George's, I walked to Belfast City Hall, the place I most vividly remembered from my first visit to Belfast. City Hall rises majestically from the middle of Donegal Square. Topped with a copper dome, Belfast City Hall could itself be a palace or a cathedral. 

You can take a FREE tour of City Hall at designated times throughout the day (even on a Saturday). The building is full of history, it was the host to parties for kings and queens (King George V and Queen Mary among them), and played a pivotal part in fight for home rule in Ireland. 

Inside, it's a brilliant display of stained glass windows and plush carpets. You can even sit in the Lord Mayor's chair (I did). There's even something very special in the largest room in City Hall--a sideboard that was supposed to be installed on board the Titanic in Captain Smith's quarters, but it's delivery was delayed and it was spared. This gives you an idea of the kind of glamour that was lost in the tragic sinking of the ship. 

Now filled with the history of the city I wanted to take a famous taxi cab tour of West Belfast, the areas that are cordoned off according to your religious lines. Catholics on one side, with Irish flags waving sparingly, and the Protestants, with the Union Jacks plastered upon anything that would stand.

However, before I set off for one of these tours, I needed some sustenance. So I decided to get lunch (fish and chips, of course) at one of Belfast's oldest establishments, the Crown Liquor Saloon. 

The Crown dates back to 1826, and is spectacular inside and out. Fitted out with individual "snugs" for a private dining and drinking experience, and spectacular architecture.  Since the downstairs bar area was rather crowded, I went upstairs to the dining saloon to have my tea first and then my fish and chips. I had a romantic table in the corner, where I could watch the traffic in front of the Europa hotel, which was one of the the most bombed buildings during The Troubles. 

After filling up, it was time for one of the famous taxi tours of the city. I has taken one before in 2012, however, that was before I read Caroline Oceana Ryan's "Adventures In Belfast" (you can read my review of it here). Now that I had such an intimate portrait of the city in my head, I wanted to see it again with new eyes.  The Falls Road and Shankill Road are the main thoroughfares in the city, controlled by the Republicans and the Loyalists, respectively. Each one is decorated with colorful murals, dedicated to the various martyrs and causes close to the heart of each side. 

The murals really are spectacular, colorful and touching, yet menacing at the same time. Seeing gunmen painted on the sides of walls with smiles on their faces--that part was the most shocking. Having your cab driver (mine was spectacular) point out places where, just 30 years ago, people were gunned down in the streets, was eerie. It was an uneasy yet necessary part of knowing Belfast. 

You can even sign the Peace Wall, one of the walls separating the Republican/Catholic and Loyalist/Protestant sides. Bill Clinton did it in 1995, and I did it, too!

My tour cost around thirty pounds, and it was worth every cent. I definitely recommend taking a tour when you're in Belfast, it gives you a much better idea and appreciation for the city. 

So, after my cab ride, I was too close to my hostel to head back to the city centre, so I wandered into a Starbucks (not my most international experience) to have coffee and charge my phone. While there I met the most wonderful girl, Michelle. We instantly hit it off because she wants to move to America, and I of course want to live in Belfast! It was one of those experiences where you feel you've met someone at the exact right time in both your lives. We must have sat in that Starbucks for 3 hours talking about everything, and now we're like best friends! She's even coming to visit me in Dublin in a few weeks!

That brings me to an end of Day 1 of my visit to Belfast! Stay tuned for Part 2!!!

Don't forget to check me out on Facebook at www.; on Twitter @calleysofalley ; on Instagram under calleyabroad ; and on Kiss From the World!

Then and Now: Me in front of Belfast City Hall in 2012 and 2015