Trip Start Jan 01, 2012
Trip End Aug 15, 2014

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Flag of United Kingdom  , N Ireland,
Friday, February 1, 2013

And so at 4am on a cold rainy day I found myself standing alone in Victoria bus depot waiting for my transfer to the airport wandering why on earth I didn't just fork out the sixty quid for a cab. Ah hindsight, what a wonderful thing, and while I now know that a late night out before combined with a 3am wake up the next day is not a smart idea somehow I didn’t seem to grasp the concept back then.

Two busses, two nana naps, and one flight later I found myself in not so sunny Belfast with a two day stretch ahead of me. At that point I was choosing to ignore the fact I would probably be conked out fast asleep by 5pm due to my severe state of sleep deprivation.

I boarded the local bus to get my hotel and while this in itself was not particularly riveting I can remember clearly being so amazed by the cost. Three pounds got me a roundtrip airport to city centre ticket-I can’t even get a one way ticket for 2 stops for that cost in London. And if I could, I can guarantee you that I would not have up at 3am to take a 4 hour, two bus journey just to get to an airport in the same city I live in.

My first impressions of Belfast were that it seemed a bit rough….maybe lived in is a better description. It is not the sort of place that is all prettified for tourists and that’s not necessarily a bad thing. I passed a few dodgy alleys on my way to the hotel with men yelling at each other. At the time it seemed frightening but within a few hours I soon learned that this was the normal means of communication between locals. What sounded like an argument to me really was just a 'Hi neighbour how’s it going’.

Being a Friday, I thought my first stop would be the newly opened Titanic exhibition to avoid the two hour long queues I had been told to expect on a Saturday. I called a taxi to pick me up, and in the age old taxi tradition the driver wanted to talk to me. Also not a bad thing but his Northern Irish accent was so thick it took me ten minutes to realise he was actually speaking English to me. Apparently my smile and nod tactic wasn’t working as he had actually been trying to ask me questions.

Once we broke the communication barrier it turned out he was really entertaining and knowledgeable, he asked me why I wanted to go to the Titanic exhibition and then promptly told me not to. He warned me it was an interactive exhibition and not so much a museum so I wouldn’t get too see any of the artefacts or hear the stories of the locals.

He then decided that I needed to learn about the real deal and took me on my very own guided tour of Belfast. And before you ask no he was not trying to hit on me or get my money he was just so proud of his city and wanted to show it off. He was so passionate about the history of the city and the truth behind it all and I learnt far more from my few hours with him than I did the whole weekend.

He took me to see Cavehill, a hill in the shape of a man’s head laying down looking skywards which was the inspiration for Jonathan Swifts Gulliver’s Travels, told me tales of relatives that worked on the Titanic, showed me filming sites for Game of Thrones, and taught me all about the ‘Troubles’, Samson and Goliath and the struggles of living in Belfast. And despite the time he gave up working to show me around he didn’t charge me a penny extra.

I was so thankful for the kindness he showed me and the stories he told that left me both in stitches and at times in awe. I only wish I could remember his name in order to write to his company and thank him.

I have to admit that after all I learnt from Mr Taxi Man the Titanic exhibition was a bit of a let-down. It was very modern and the technology was amazing but it was nothing in comparison to the stories of the people I’d learnt about before.

I spent the afternoon walking around the town taking in a few of the sights before having an Ulster Fry for dinner and retiring for the night. The only way I can describe an Ulster Fry is that it’s an English breakfast on steroids; double the portions combined with both soda bread and potato cakes. I only managed to get about a quarter of the way through before admitting defeat.

The next day unfortunately didn’t bring a sleep in but instead another early start as I had prebooked a day tour out to the Giants Causeway. I had been standing outside for an hour waiting for my transfer to show up when I decided to call the providers. They had forgotten to pick me up and I had a sum total of 5 minutes to get to the next pick up point or they would leave without me. I didn’t even get an apology out of them.

As you can imagine I was fuming, and stressed and luckily I made it with 30 seconds to spare. Half an hour on the road and my anger subsided. We stopped for a photo opportunity at Carrickfergus Castle before beginning a long winding drive along the Antrim Coast. Normally I sleep on bus journeys but the views along the coast were too beautiful to miss.

We visited the famous Carrick-a-Rede rope bridge which was perched on a cliff side. I would be lying if I said I wasn’t crapping myself at the prospect of crossing a rickety old bridge. It seems the older I get the more fearful I am, and crossing the bridge was absolutely terrifying. It may sound odd but simply reaching the other side felt like a real triumph.

From the rope bridge it was off to the Old Busmills Distillery for lunch and a tour, you could smell the whiskey in the air before even entering the building and although not the biggest whiskey connoisseur it did smell delicious.

Having refuelled my tummy it was time to go to the Causeway, by this time dark clouds loomed overhead and the threat of rain was imminent. The Causeway itself was incredible, a mount of hexagonal shaped stones all fitting together like a giant jigsaw puzzle. People clamoured over the rocks and made it impossible for me to get the people free picture that I was hoping for. Again with hindsight I can say that wearing knee high boots was not the smartest footwear for navigating slippery large rocks.

With the Causeway visit complete all that was left for the day was a four hour journey back to Belfast followed by room service for dinner and a boiling hot shower to defrost and shake the cold from my bones.

The following morning I had yet another early start, I took an open top bus tour around the city before heading out of town to go see the famous peace murals. It was pouring down with rain and as I sat on the top floor watching the world go by it absolutely bucketed down but downstairs with rain clouding the windows it seemed pointless to sit if I couldn’t see outside. My plan was to take the bus to the murals and walk around for a while, but as soon as we neared them I made the split decision not to get off.

The murals themselves were very impressive but the fact they were in an estate and the very few people that were around were wearing hoods carrying alcohol in paper bags meant I didn’t feel comfortable wandering around on my own.

By the time I got back to the city centre it was still early so I wandered around the mall to kill time and visited and antique/craft market before making my way back to the airport.

After one bus, one plane, one train and one tube I finally made it back home to Golders Green where I could hear my pillow calling my name.

I saw enough of Belfast to experience it properly and while it was nice I feel saw enough of it to not feel the need to go back. I enjoyed my long weekend there but what made the biggest impression on me was not the cities sights but the passion of its people.

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