Tired beyond belief with ears still ringing from my flight, “Billy, Don’t Be A Hero” in my head and no WiFi, I was almost pathetically grateful to the powers that be that my dorm room was underbooked, giving me the whole room to myself. It was a relief to be alone at last and even more of a relief to feel that way after a period of being uncharacteristically lonely (a post about that is on its way).
The “get me to my dorm before I kill someone” pose.
The last time I was in Belfast, I spent a grand total of 24 hours there with the most horrible cold, practically delirious and eating supernoodles with two German tourists and an Australian guy with one hand twice the size of the other due to a spectacular spider bite. This time, fully healthy and with double the time to spare, I took myself on a self-choreographed “faster than the speed of light” Northern Ireland dash!
I’m sure I’ve mentioned that I love Berlin because it’s full of art and bulletholes. Well, Belfast has a similar creative vibe- murals everywhere (you can do several different street art tours), tiny independent coffee shops and cafes, and strange sculptures where you least expect them. (Though sadly I missed seeing the C.S. Lewis tribute statue.) I find places that have had a turbulent history often seem more artistically inspiring. I guess no matter what you’re going through, you can still create something beautiful and powerful which needn’t cost more than a few cans of paint- which makes me wonder what we’ll see coming from America in the next few years.
I didn’t have much time to spend in the city itself as I’d already booked a coach tour to see some of the coastal places I’ve always wanted to visit but I managed to cross paths with one of my best friends who had been in Belfast for work- we went to “Made In Belfast” for a quick dinner here, which was amazing and full of goats cheese. <3 Seriously, go to this place if you have tastebuds.
Belfast is a hard place to get around compared to places like Dublin and Cork. It’s more spread out- there are several ‘centres’ and though there are buses, it takes quite some time to walk around- which I chose to do and then regretted as the heavens opened! Still, though people used to sun and sand may get a depressing mental image, I was enjoying myself. If I have to stay in a city, I feel more at home when I’m surrounded by graffiti, barbed wire and stories than painfully fashionable people and trendy bars.
That’s more like it... 😉
There’s a lot to do here especially if you’re interested in the Titanic and long distance boat trips (to the New World etc) as Belfast was where a lot of boat launching action happened, and of course, Irish whisky, beer and food are famous. For me, I wanted a bit of quiet time before the next day’s inevitable rushing around. (Coach trips don’t give you anywhere near long enough, in my opinion!)
My top three places to chill out in Belfast are:
1) The Botanical Garden
Sunny, then getting drenched! Eyeshadow by Make-up Revolution
2) Maggie Mays
I snuggled up in a window seat to people watch while my coat and hair dried. The staff were lovely, I ate cheesy soda bread and drank “special hot chocolate with cream and marshmallows”, and the charming name was just a bonus! 😀
As I was apparently not caffeinated enough, my next rain-avoidance-dash took me here, where I ate a giant honeycomb cheesecake and drank yet more coffee. No regrets! It felt a bit more rushed in here- I’d probably come with my laptop and busywork next time instead of my book, but the coffee and cheesecake was yummy. 🙂
I sadly missed hearing about Vandal Belfast– I only learned of its existance after I got home but next time I visit, this place will be top of the list of things to check out. Geek culture AND pizza? I’m there. They’re doing a Buffy day right this minute!
On my way back to my hostel I passed a group of black-clad boot-wearing body-modded people at that precise time of night that people get supplies before a gig or night out. I debated asking them what was on but by the time I had queued and left, they had disappeared. I hear Belfast has a fairly good ‘alt’ music scene. Anyone want to tell me more? 😉
Fortunately for me I didn’t go dashing out to pull an all-nighter and flop onto the coach the next morning at 7am. (Been there, done that, would only do it again if I had a companion to prod me awake at regular intervals!)
Our first stop was the famous “Dark Hedges” which featured in Game of Thrones. I shuffled and dragged my feet until I had a clear view behind me- determination in the face of rain and tourists! It was worth it- the left picture is one of my favourite photos of me. The trees seemed bigger in GoT but that could have been because Tyrion was next to them. (all hail Tyrion!)
Ladies and gentlemen, the drowned rat has landed… 😛
Our next stop was Carrick-a-Rede rope bridge. I have no problem with heights or swingy bridges so couldn’t wait to skip across but after all of the stories about panicky people having to be flown/boated back to the mainland, I thought it would be FAR worse than it actually was. It’s only a few steps and is pretty sturdy. (I was picturing a fraying Lara Croft style thing that looked as though it could drop at any moment).
I’m a huge fan of David Attenborough and nature documentaries so when I realised that the little island at the end of the bridge (Carrickarede) had been featured in a bit about nesting seabirds, I squeaked, startled the tourists in front of me, and took off with my camera. LOOK AT THE GUILLEMOTS! <3
I didn’t get nearly enough time on here- even though it’s a tiny little island, there was so much to take in and stunning views everywhere I looked. I was overjoyed to see so few fences and ‘caution’ posters- if you’re silly enough to lean over a cliff then you’re a bit of an idiot, aren’t you!?
It seems I matched my eyeshadow to the scenery, haha! I think it’s Urban Decay.
I ended up running for the coach, dropping a yoghurt on my lap (not the greatest of looks) and while mopping up, explaining to a family of perplexed and sceptical American tourists that yes, we really do spray paint our sheep in the UK so we know what sex they are and what flock they belong to. I’m still not sure they believed me…
I have often read that people have found the Giants Causeway disappointing! I disagree. The view rocks and there were more columns that I had expected. Based on other accounts, I imagined one small and interesting section of the coast that had been artistically photographed to look panoramic and enormous- like a really good estate agent’s photos. Nope- the basalt columns stretched for a longer distance than I could walk in the time allowed and though the area was a little crowded and touristy, that isn’t the coastline’s fault!
The legend behind the name is about a giant called Finn MacCool, whose mortal enemy was a Scottish giant called Benandonner. The short version is: Finn decided to built a pathway from his home on the coast of Northern Ireland across to Scotland so the two giants could have a fight. As he saw Benandonner begin to make the journey, he realised the Scottish giant was much bigger than he had thought and ran away like a chicken. 😛
When Benandonner turned up at his house, Finn hid in the bath under a pile of laundry and his wife Oonagh answered the door. She invited Benandonner in and explained that Finn was out, but perhaps he’d like to meet his baby son? She brought him to the bath where Finn sat pretending to be a baby and Benandonner, wondering just how big and scary the father must be if this was the baby, made his excuses and left, tearing up the causeway behind him so he couldn’t be followed. 😉
To me, this looks like Finn looking over the top of the wall to check Benandonner isn’t coming back. 😛
Our last stop was a very quick three minute “selfie stop” with Dunluce Castle, which is falling off a cliff. It’s also known as Castle Greyjoy from Game of Thrones and is thought to be the inspiration for Castle Cair Paravel from C.S. Lewis’s Chronicles of Narnia. My camera decided not to play so here is a much better photo from ramweb.org
The tour company was The Paddywagon, with distinctive bright green buses. I’d definitely recommend them as a tour company and just wish that I had known they were driving back to Dublin as I’d have thumbed a lift instead of getting the train the next day! 😉
Ireland is host to several filming locations for Game of Thrones and you can now do specialised tours! If you want to read a first-hand review of one, please check out this blogpost by fellow blogger Faraway Lucy.
Just to end on a Game of Thrones note (and if you don’t follow my instagram, you won’t have seen…..) I got to hang out with some wolves the other day! These are Tala and Summer, from Watermill Wolves. Is there anything you’d like to know about them? I’m considering posting a monthly interview with some of my fascinating friends and the guys at Watermill Wolves would definitely make the list!
I made the coat myself and you can see it properly in a future post.