I have never been to Ireland, North or South. When I heard great things about the Titanic Experience in Belfast, I just knew I had to go and check it out.
I love my bus pass. So for £45, I bought a return Citilink trip from Glasgow to Belfast. Once you are outside Glasgow, it is a pretty drive down to the ferry at Cairnryan. For folks nervous about traveling alone or making connections, you just get on the bus and then follow the crowd and lo and behold you magically end up at the Europa Bus Station right in the middle of Belfast. A quick word about the ferry. It was fabulous! Clean, modern and quite quiet. We had sandwiches with us, but the food on board looked tempting and quite reasonably priced. It is fabulous that you are able to get up and get your 10,000 steps in and all in all it beats airport travel hands down for being stress free.
We had a 7 minute walk to our Ibis Hotel which was centrally located. The hotel was basic, but modern, colorful and clean. The only negative part of the whole trip was that there was a Chinese tour group staying at the hotel and they seemed to want to eat breakfast at the same time as we did. The staff did their level best to keep up with the group, but when you help yourself to 6 bananas at a time it is challenging! Is there a new banana diet I don’t know about?
Tuesday was our first travel day and we arrived in time to take a Hop on Hop of bus tour. Now I have been on good tours and I have been on some bad ones. This one was great due to the fact that we had a live person as a guide. He was informative and did not skip over the troubles nor try to ignore the still “bad” areas of Belfast. The highlight of the trip for me was Stormont. What an amazing building overlooking a well-maintained park. Northern Ireland has not had a government for the past two years. That gave rise to the best quote of the trip. “You can still go in for coffee or lunch. You might as well, there is nothing else going on”. The tour lasts about 90 minutes.
Next morning we took a taxi (£6) down to the Titanic Building. What a mind blowing piece of architecture! The building portrays the bow of the ship and is located right on the slipway. We had timed-entry tickets, but we had no problem getting in early. It all starts with a history of the poverty and famine in Belfast, the introduction of the linen and shipbuilding industries, the building of the Titanic and her sister ships, the launch, the disaster and the subsequent inquiries in the UK and the US. I was so impressed by the layout (there are lots of stairs, but elevators also). You have no choice but to follow the chronological timeline. The use of technology is fascinating. I particularly liked the wall sized old photos with moving period actors superimposed to appear as if they were walking across the screen. It made it so alive. I also should mention the electric cars that take you on a journey through the entire ship innards. There is also an amazing surround sound screen which makes you feel that you are right in the middle of the first class dining room. My fear that characters were going to look like Leo and Kate were totally unfounded! It was truly a magnificent experience.
Two more shout outs!
We took a walking tour around Central Belfast in the afternoon. Our guide Steve from EXPERIENCE BELFAST was truly amazing. His love and knowledge for the City where he grew up was so obvious! He was so interesting that for the price of a cup of green tea we had the pleasure of listening to him for another hour and we learned so much more about the Irish troubles and how things are changing for the better.
Thanks also to Steve’s recommendation we ate at a place called JUMON (Aisian Fusion with a twist). The best tasting vegetarian food I have ever put in my mouth. All the staff were young friendly and knowledgeable!
I think I would like to go back in about 5 years just to see how much Belfast has moved on! There are definite signs that the young folks are global citizens and have no interest in the past troubles.