Tag Archives: Belfast

Travel Review of the Year – 2015

Warsaw Old Town and Royal castle

We went to Warsaw in February, it was cold, very cold.  I liked it a lot but not as much I have to say as the other Polish cities that we have visited of Krakow and Wroclaw.  Warsaw was good but it doesn’t have the historical swagger or confidence of Krakow or the quirky charm of the more manageable Wroclaw because Warsaw is a modern European capital with the raw edge and the buzz of a major city.  Whilst I might consider returning to Krakow and Wroclaw, once in Warsaw I think is probably enough.

Valletta Postcard

I have been to Malta before.  I first went there in 1996 and liked it so much that I returned the following year.  Both times I stayed at the Mellieha Bay hotel in the north of the island.  These were family holidays with two teenage children, beaches, swimming pools, banana boat death rides and Popeye Village.

I liked it so much that I have always wanted to go back.  I have repeatedly told Kim that Malta is special and that I am certain she would like it as much as I did.  Late last year the opportunity arose and I was able to find a combination of cheap flights and a hotel deal at Mellieha Bay for just £200 for four nights and five full days! I have heard it said that you either love Malta or you hate it, there are no half measures, there is no sitting on the fence and luckily at the end of the visit Kim was inclined to agree with me.

Ireland Dingle

In 2014 we visited Southern Ireland, Eire, The Republic and had such a wonderful time that we planned an immediate return to the Island for the following year.  Not to the South though on this occasion however but to that part of Ireland that still remains part of the United Kingdom – Northern Ireland or Ulster.

Not so long ago most people would no more of thought about visiting Northern Ireland than North Korea, it wouldn’t have crossed their minds to go to Ulster any more than go to Uganda and Belfast would be in a travellers wish list that included Beirut and Baghdad.  Now things are changing and Northern Ireland is reinventing itself as a tourist destination.

We enjoyed it there, the City of Belfast, the Titanic Exhibition, a drive along the scenic Antrim Coast, the Giant’s Causeway and a final night in Londonderry – a place to return to if ever there was one.

Edinburgh Scotland

After a Summer spent in England we travelled in August to neighbouring Scotland.    I am sure that I have been to the castle before, I visited Edinburgh in 1972 and 1984 but I couldn’t remember it at all.  This is another benefit of getting older, you forget things so even if you do them again they are like a whole new experience. This is another benefit of getting older, you forget things so even if you do them again they are like a whole new experience.

I liked Edinburgh, it was a wee bit expensive but when I have forgotten the details of this visit I am certain to go back again one day.

Lake Bala Wales

Earlier in the year I had made plans to go on holiday with my daughter and grandchildren and my son and we had chosen a holiday cottage near Boulogne in Northern France.  I like it there.  As the Summer approached there were more and more delays crossing the channel as a consequence of striking French ferry workers and large numbers of migrants attempting to cross from France to the UK.  I love my grandchildren very much but the prospect of being stuck in a traffic jam for up to twenty-four hours with them was just to awful to contemplate so when the critical moment came to make the final payment I cancelled and transferred the holiday to a cottage in mid Wales.

I enjoyed Lake Bala and Wales, it was a simple holiday, the sort that I remember from my own childhood and from taking my own children away when they were young.  I am convinced that youngsters don’t need water parks and amusement arcades when there is a wide open beach and the sea, the countryside, a stream to fish in a thrilling steam engine ride.

Kim enjoyed it so much that she has decided that we are going to live there!

Dinan Brittany France

But we were not to be denied a visit to Northern France because in August I spotted some reasonably priced return air fares at only £49 each to the Brittany resort of Dinard.  We snapped them up almost without thinking and then invited our friends Sue and Christine to join us and they immediately agreed.

I liked Brittany, I liked it a lot mostly because I have always resisted having a bucket list because I couldn’t get one big enough but I am thankful to fellow bloggers Victor (Victor Travel Blog) and Wilbur(Wilbur’s Travels) for reminding me that if I did have one then Mont St Michel would be somewhere near the top.

Kim enjoyed it so much that she immediately abandoned her Wales plans and has decided that we are going to live there!

Castelsardo

Cheap flight tickets are top of a long list of good reasons to travel and when we spotted some reasonably priced return flights to Sardinia with Easyjet it didn’t take long to make a decision to visit the second biggest island in the Mediterranean Sea (just slightly smaller than Sicily) with our occasional travelling companions Mike and Margaret.

Our flight was to the city of Olbia in the North-East of the island so we planned an itinerary that would take us along the length of the north coast and then to the city of Alghero on the west coast and finally a return journey to Olbia across the northern countryside.

This was our final journey of 2015 and now we begin to make our plans for 2016.

Happy Travels Everyone!

Did you have a good year or have any big plans for 2016?

Postcard Maps of 2015

malta-mapWroclaw Poland PostcardNorthern Ireland Map PostcardScottish Bordersnorth walesBrittany Map PostcardSardinia Postcard Map

Weekly Photo Challenge: Grid

Victoria Square Shopping Centre Belfast

“Belfast is a city which, while not forgetting its past, is living comfortably with its present and looking forward to its future.” – James Nesbitt

We started our walking tour at the restored Victorian St George’s indoor Market and as soon as we went through the doors I knew that I had been there before.  In 2002 I attended an Environmental Health conference in Belfast and one evening there was live entertainment and a lot of drinking in this place.

Read the full story…

Belfast Beacon Of Hope

Birmingham and Belfast – Déjà Vu

Queen Victoria Birmingham UK

In my previous post I showed you a picture of a statue of Queen Victoria in the UK city of Birmingham.  I couldn’t help thinking that she looked very familiar and then it occurred to me that I had seen her only a few weeks previously in Belfast…

Queen Victoria Belfast City Hall

Curious, I checked it out and sure enough the statues were both by the same man, English sculptor Sir Thomas Brock.  Looks like he got paid twice for the same piece of work!

As it happens it seems that Thomas made a career out of Queen Victoria Statues and there is another on in Worcester (England)…

In Hove (Sussex) England…

And in Bangalore in India…

Ireland, North or South?

Ireland 03

There was a short flight delay at Belfast International so that gave me another forty minutes or so to make my comparison between north and south Ireland.

We started our journey in Belfast so I made my first judgement between here and Dublin.  I liked Dublin, it was fun, it was more Bohemian, it was shabby chic compared to the Victorian starched collared style of Belfast which reminded me of the great cities of Northern England.

Dublin has Temple Bar, Belfast has the Cathedral Quarter, Dublin wins hands down on that score but Belfast has the River Lagan, the Titanic Experience (which is way more interesting than the Book of Kells) and the history of the troubles.  I only spent a day in Dublin so I might be being unfair here but my vote goes to Belfast.

Titanic Museum Belfast

North 1 – South 0

Next my thoughts turned to coastal road drives.  Fresh in my memory was the glorious journey along the Antrim Coast, never before have I driven along a road so close to the seashore and with so many wonderful places to stop and admire the natural environment but then I was instantly reminded of the Ring of Dingle with its high level looping journey around the headland where Charles Lindbergh first reached Europe on his solo trans Atlantic flight and where Fungi the Dolphin entertains people on a daily basis.

Ireland Dingle

North 1 – South 1

Ireland is so photogenic that it is no surprise that it has been used extensively in film locations over the years.  In the North they have the Game of Thrones but I admit to having never watched that but in the South they have Father Ted and I have watched every episode time and time again.

Ireland Father Ted Tour Craggy Island Parochial House

North 1 – South 2

I turn again now to the natural environment and the glories of nature.  In the South there is the Cliffs of Moher and in the north there is the Giant’s Causeway.  I like them both but you cannot get anywhere near the cliffs of Moher because of barricades and fencing but on the Causeway you can climb all over the rock formations and really appreciate what it is all about.

I was disappointed by the Cliffs of Moher but I liked the Causeway so much that I went twice.  Also, the Causeway was free but there was an entrance fee to the Cliffs.

Northern Ireland Giant's Causeway

North 2 – South 2

I was thinking about what to compare next as a decider when Kim asked me what I was doing.  I explained that I was drawing up a comparison between north and south. She raised an inquisitive eyebrow and asked me why and she was right.  What was the point of a comparison.  I am not making any political, religious or sectarian judgements here but Ireland should be seen as just that without any geographical divisions and on that basis I declare the contest a draw!

I need to go back…

Dingle Ireland Murphys Pub

Northern Ireland, A Walk on The (Wild) Bogside.

Londonderry Wall Mural

It was a beautiful morning, the sky was blue and the sun was shining.  The view from our room was over the Catholic Bogside area which looked peaceful enough today but has had a recent bloody and violent contribution to the Troubles.  Indeed some historians identify Londonderry/Derry/Stroke City as being the very crucible of the civil war.

In the 1960s Catholic Derry considered itself to be suffering religious and political persecution and the city became the flashpoint of disputes about institutional discrimination. Despite having a nationalist majority the city was permanently controlled by unionists due to the partisan drawing of electoral boundaries. In addition the city had very high unemployment levels and very poor housing. Overcrowding in nationalist areas was widely blamed on the political agenda of the unionist government, who wanted to confine Catholics to a small number of electoral wards to effectively restrict their influence.

In August 1969 following the annual Protestant Apprentice Boys Parade Nationalists clashed with police in an incident remembered now as ‘The Battle of the Bogside’ which directly led to widespread civil disorder in Northern Ireland and the intervention of the British Army.

Worse was to come on Sunday January 30th 1972 when during a Catholic civil rights march thirteen unarmed civilians were shot dead by British paratroopers, another thirteen were wounded and one further man later died of his wounds. This event came to be known as ‘Bloody Sunday’.

This incident remains an open wound between the two factions and the British Army but the current official verdict was delivered by the Saville Commission which was published in June 2010.

The report concluded, “The firing by soldiers on Bloody Sunday caused the deaths of 13 people and injury to a similar number, none of whom was posing a threat of causing death or serious injury.” Saville stated that British paratroopers “lost control” fatally shooting fleeing civilians.  The report states, contrary to the previously established belief that no stones and no petrol bombs were thrown by civilians before British soldiers shot at them and that the civilians were not posing any threat.  Not the British Army’s finest hour!

Londonderry Bloody Sunday Wall Mural

Just outside the city walls and only a short walk from our hotel was the very place where the Bloody Sunday confrontation took place so walked down the hill from the fortress walls and saw three famous monuments, ‘You Are Entering Free Derry’, a message painted on the gable end of a row of terraced houses, long since demolished, the Bloody Sunday memorial itself and a third monument remembering the Maze prison notorious now for internment without trial, hunger strikes and the death place of the most famous hunger striker of all, Bobby Sands.

As in Belfast there are guided tours of the Bogside but we choose to do this by ourselves and although it felt quite safe on the busy main road I do admit to  becoming uneasy whenever we strayed into the side streets where signs invited the British to ‘Get Out Now’ and others encouraged local people to join the IRA.

We weren’t put off by this however because we wanted to see the murals, works of urban art really and quite different from those in West Belfast.  These were less political statements but a visual telling of the story of the Bogside troubles.  The political statements were there too but these were smaller information boards which told a sectarian and one sided story.

I am glad that I walked down to see this but after thirty minutes or so I was happy to leave and walk back now to the old city.

There was still an hour to spare before our check out time and ninety minute drive to the airport so while Kim returned to the hotel I took advantage of these final moments by walking the walls for a second time and having visited the Catholic Bogside took a detour into the Protestant Fountains estate where I found the murals and the political slogans a great deal more sectarian and aggressive and I didn’t stay long.

Londonderry/Derry Wall Mural

Our drive back to Belfast International Airport was slow going but uneventful and eventually we arrive back at the Sixt car rental office.  Now, if you remember my first day post about this trip to Northern Ireland you might recall that I had paid for fully comprehensive insurance and was confident that I had got everything covered.

Not quite!

A member of staff examined the car and satisfied himself that there were no bumps or scrapes, no chips in the windscreen and that the tyres weren’t flat and punctured, nothing  that is that he could charge me for, and we turned to walk away but were staggered when he called us back and said that there was some sand in the carpets and that there could be a £60 cleaning charge.  Now, I am not disputing that we had walked on a beach and transferred some sand from our shoes to the car but the quantity was minute and you really needed a microscope to find it.

“£60” I protested and almost choked and he defended this bit of daylight robbery with an explanation that this sort of sand was especially difficult to deal with.  I noticed that there was funny smell and I remided him that I am Sixt Platinum custumer and he backed down and said not to worry because  the quantity was on the margins of acceptability and he would not charge us this time.

Just as well because if he had I would have asked for the keys back and taken it to a vacuum machine in the next door garage and sucked it up myself for £2 no matter how difficult it might have been (not).  In case he changed his mind I actually thanked him for not mugging me but I quickly returned to the car and wiped the steering wheel just in case there was a charge for removing fingerprints!  These thieves will try anything to generate additional revenue.

So we made our way to the airport and the departure lounge and in the time we had to wait I started to think about the few days away and began to compare it with the previous year visit to Southern Ireland…

Northern Ireland, Top Tips for Visiting the Giant’s Causeway on a Budget

Giant's Causeway Northern Ireland

“The National Trust is a wonderful organisation… but why does it have to be so very annoying?  It would be a kindness if they gave you a map when you paid for parking and admission but this is not the National Trust way.  They like to charge for every individual thing.  The day cannot be too far off when you pay for toilet paper by the sheet.” – Bill Bryson

It hasn’t always been free to visit.  In the 1800s, the Causeway was fenced off by landowners who saw its potential as a tourist attraction and so an easy way to make money but after a long drawn out case the High Court ruled that the public had an ‘ancient right of way’ to visit the Causeway and view the stones.

Now the National Trust wants to turn back the clock.  They haven’t exactly built a fence but they crudely misled visitors into paying the extortionate parking and visitor centre admission charge.

Here are my tips for avoiding the Giant National Trust Rip-Off:1 Use the alternative car park just 100 yards away which costs only £5.

1 Use the alternative car park just 100 yards away which costs only £5.

2  Walk there.  This might seem rather obvious but as a word of warning it is about a mile walk and there are no footpaths.

3 Use the  Giant’s Causeway and Bushmills light railway.  It is a lot cheaper and you get a train ride there and back.  It only operates in the Summer however.

4  Drive to the Giant’s Causeway and park in the railway car park.  It is only £6.

5 Stay overnight at the Causeway Hotel and park for free.  If not staying overnight park up and have a cup of coffee and become a customer and get entitlement to free parking.

6  Use the National Trust Car Park but only buy one ticket to the visitor centre, a good solution if there is a family of visitors or if there are 4 adults.

7  Use the National Trust car park and just ignore the visitor centre completely.  National Trust say they may clamp cars when visitors haven’t paid but this is most unlikely.  Don’t worry about the clamped car close to the entrance, this belongs to a member of staff and is only there to try and frighten people.

8 Walk from the car park to the Causeway because if you take the bus then this costs another £1 each way.

9 Go visit early morning before the car park police turn up for work.

10 Remember the advice of Samuel Johnson who declared that the Giant’s Causeway is “Worth seeing but not worth going to see”

The National Trust says:

“The admission fee includes: access to the Visitor Centre facilities (cafe, retail, exhibition and toilets including a Changing Places facility), use of a hand-held audio guide to explore the landscape outdoors with over one-hour of content, a guided walking tour led by a National Trust guide lasting more than 45 minutes, and visitor information leaflets and parking.”

Click on any picture in the gallery to enter the slideshow…

Also worth a view:

Views from a disgruntled visitor

https://www.nationaltrust.org.uk/giants-causeway

Northern Ireland, The Antrim Coast – Just Pictures

Antrim Coast Northern Ireland

Northern Ireland, The Antrim Coast

Northern Ireland Blue Flag

Because it is a long journey, our driver on the Political Tour, Lawrence, had suggested that we should go straight to Larne before starting the Antrim Coast road drive.  We took his advice even though this meant missing out Carrickfergus and the castle and the harbour where William of Orange landed in 1690 before going on to victory at the Battle of the Boyne, the location of the last witchcraft trial in Ireland in 1711,  and where the RMS Titanic anchored up for the last time before setting off on its fateful journey in 1912.

So we drove directly to Larne and then rather rudely used the by-pass and circumnavigated the town without stopping but this didn’t trouble us because we were heading for the coast.  Along this stretch of north east Ireland runs the A2 road which is said to be the longest stretch of principal highway in the UK which clings so closely to the sea and indeed to create this road the hills were blown up and demolished to provide the foundations.

Ireland A2 Road Trip

The road here clings like Velcro to the base of the cliffs and swings around the headlands and bays in extravagant sweeps and roller-coaster twists and turns.  To our left were the glens of County Antrim decorated with dainty wild flowers and rolling gently down to the coastline and to our right was the Irish Sea and just twenty miles or so away the coast of nearby Scotland.

Along the route the road is flanked by gnarled hawthorn trees standing stoically alone by the roadside, it is, I later learn, because the locals are reluctant to cut them down for fear of disturbing the little people!

The going was slow because we stopped several times to admire the beaches and the uninterrupted views and by mid morning we had only covered a few miles north when we stopped for coffee at the walled garden of Glenarm.  It was a charming place but there was no time to stop longer than a cappucchino and soon we were back on the road.

County Antrim is one of the staunchest Protestant and Loyalist parts of Northern Ireland and we were left in no doubt about that as we drove through villages where the kerb stones and the lampposts were painted red, white and blue and a Union flag flew above the front door of almost every house.  Until that is we came to Cushendun, a harbour village abandoned by the A2 road and which is a catholic enclave emblazoned with green, white and orange.

We were in the far north east now and these stretches of the road regularly appear in top ten lists of drives in the UK.  It only ever really makes it to number two in a list of coastal drives in Ireland however, coming in behind the Dingle peninsular and having driven that only last year I have to say that I am inclined to agree with that judgement.  In my opinion It is better than the Ring of Kerry by some considerable way.   It isn’t exactly the Amalfi drive, nothing can hope to compare with the Amalfi drive but it is well worth making the effort to get behind the wheel of a car and experience this wonderful part of the British Isles.

Can anyone suggest a UK top ten drive?

Three quarters of the four hundred miles of Northern Ireland coast are protected areas and as we made the next section of the journey to Ballycastle it was easy to understand why.  The sun was shining today but it was still quite cool and I suppose that the unpredictable climate is a bonus here because if Northern Ireland had the climate of the Spanish Costas then it wouldn’t be long before they were covered in sun loungers and the shoreline would be overrun with pedalos and water sports.

By mid afternoon we reached the seaside town of Ballycastle and as the parking was free we pulled in and went to explore the beach and the harbour.  The seashore stretched some considerable way and we took a stroll along the dunes and back at the car we transferred some grains of sand from our shoes to the car floor and although we didn’t know it now this was likely to become a problem later…

Resisting the temptation of a pub stop and a Guinness we carried on now to our next destination, the Carrick-a-Rede rope bridge.

Carrick a Rede Rope Bridge Northern Ireland

The travel guides make this sound like a death defying challenge to cross a swaying rope bridge with only irregular wooden steps and rotting rope handles to separate you from certain death on the jagged rocks below followed by a swirling watery grave as the unpredictable currents carry your shattered and broken body out into the sea.

The truth is that this is not nearly so exciting as is made out and there is no Indiana Jones sort of danger whatsoever and visitors cross over the twenty metre bridge as though on a pedestrian crossing on any town centre High Street and make their way to the rather disappointing final destination on the walk.  It is as safe as being on a cycle path in the Netherlands, as safe as a bubble-wrapped Amazon parcel delivery!

Samuel Johnson is reported to have said the the Giant’s Causeway was worth seeing but not worth going to see and whilst I would take issue with him over that I think his assessment could easily be applied to Carrick-a-Rede!

If the bridge is a disappointment (especially having paid £6 each for the privilege) the coastal walks are not and the thirty minute walk there and back from the inevitable National Trust centre and souvenir shop provided splendid views along the rocky coast in both directions and today with the sun shining we could almost make out people waving to us from Scotland.

This part of the coastal drive was almost over now so back at the car we drove the final few miles towards the Giant’s Causeway and our hotel for the night, The Smuggler’s Inn.

Click on an image to scroll through the gallery…

 

Northern Ireland, Belfast Street Images

Belfast  Beacon Of HopeBelfast Cathedral Quarter