This weekend I made a trip up to Belfast, Northern Ireland to meet up with a friend who lives there. I grabbed an early morning flight Saturday, and after a short delay at the airport was in Belfast by 11:30 a.m. It was an OK day - a bit overcast and cool, but not bad really, considering some of the weather I’ve had of late.
By the time I had landed, cleared through the airport and got into town, it was pushing 1:00, and I was starving. We started off with lunch at the Crown Liquor Saloon (how great a name is that), likely Belfast’s most famous pub – across the road from the Europa Hotel, and the only pub owned by the National Trust. The place is fantastic! Every inch of the place – both inside and out is decorated in some fashion – beautiful stained glass windows, ceramic tiling, intricately carved pillars and small statues on the top of the booths; even somewhat original gas lanterns, complete with mantles. The booths (“snuggs”) in the pubs are completely self-contained and enclosed – a full door, each numbered and there is even a personal call button that alerts the server of your needs. One of the more interesting features are the metal plates screwed onto the walls for striking matches. The food was good, the Guinness was cold, and the atmosphere was awesome. A great start to the weekend.
After lunch, we took a walking tour of Belfast. It was a pretty good tour, but the highlight was our guide Billy. You couldn’t have picked a more stereotypical Irishman, to lead the tour – not a bad thing at all! He was a short, grey-haired native, wearing a bright green blazer, and was full of little stories about the city and its history. He was pretty amusing, and did a great job. From what I saw, it seems that Belfast was very heavily influenced and developed by the Victorians – most of the main features are named after Queen Victoria or her husband Albert. The tour was good.
At the end of the tour we went up to this observation platform, in this very cool dome at the top of a new shopping mall. It provides an outstanding view in 360 degrees around Belfast. After that, we had to make a quick stop to pick up an accessory for an event we were going to that evening (more on that later), then we headed off for dinner.
After dinner, we went to one of the most entertaining shows I have seen in a long time… I think I must have strained muscles in my stomach from laughing so much, for so long. The show was called “Pidgeon & Plum’s Old Time Profanity Show”, and was a take on a 20s Vaudeville production. It was complete with jugglers, musical acts, “performance art”, comedy sketches, burlesque, singers and a bunch of other things that are just too hard to qualify. They had done a great job of decking out the venue to resemble a 20’s-style theatre, and the performers were excellent. They did a great job of getting the audience involved, and you could tell the performers were having a great time as well – to the extent that there were a few miscues, from the performers breaking down laughing, in places where they weren’t to have meant to. Maybe a fault by professional standards, but I think it added to the evening. The MC for the evening was also very entertaining –almost forgot about him. All-in-all they did an excellent job, and it was an awesome evening.
The next day, we headed out on a bit of a road trip to tour the coast north of Belfast. The Coastal Route winds along the coast (as you might expect…) through the very green Irish countryside. It provides views of some incredible scenery; the best being the rugged coastline, and the views out over the sea to the outlying islands, and eventually the Scottish coast. Not far out of town we past an amazing castle, perched up on the edge of the coast. We didn’t stop, but it looked like it would be worth going back to, and having a look around.
As the drive progressed, we’d wind up and down over decent-sized hills; through picturesque sea-side villages, as the road wound its way along the coast. We made a number of stops along the way (for me to take some pictures) to enjoy the view, and to check out some of the local highlights.
One of the first stops was an abandoned lighthouse, high on a cliff. It was abandoned in the 1920s, and was in pretty bad shape. But it did afford excellent views out over the sea. Further up the coast, we made a stop at Larrybane, for the Carrick-a-Rede rope bridge. This was a pretty cool stop - Carrick-a-rede Island has been a local salmon fishing spot for generations, and for more than 300 years there was a rope bridge that local fishermen used to cross. The current bridge, being a tourist attraction, is a little more substantial – steel cables in conjunction with the ropes – but still it’s a pretty fun trip across. The cliff faces surrounding the island was covered with nesting sea birds; the noise was something else. The other really cool thing was how blue the water looked, and how clear it was. It made me want to go for a dive!
We hung out here for a couple of hours, before completing out journey to the northern tip, and a stop at the Giant’s Causeway. The Giant’s Causeway is Northern Ireland’s top tourist attraction, and only World Heritage Site. A dramatic coastal landscape steeped in local mythology, the Causeway was well worth the stop. The volcanic rock formations are pretty spectacular, and you can easily understand the draw. For a bit more on the local legend, you can check here:
A collection of images from the Giant's Causeway
The drive home was down the motorway was a little bit less interesting – it was getting late – but it was a fun day all around.