Whilst visiting Belfast a must do is viewing the various murals around the Falls Road and the Shankhill Road and the Titanic Exhibition. Of course there are many more points of interest but if a visitor is limited for time ensure these are on the list. This was my second visit to Belfast but the first visit for my travelling companions. My sister, Darelle, was especially interested in this city as her late husband grew up in Belfast.
Today was another full day of sightseeing and, in the middle of this we were also meeting 2 of Darelle’s in laws! Uncle Billy and Auntie Rita for the first time. I should think this would have been difficult for her but everything went well.
We spent the morning at the Titanic Exhibition at the dock yards. Everyone knows so much about the sinking of the ship, stories of survivors and sad stories of those lost but its still a great exhibition. I found it to be extremely well put together and surprisingly interesting given I’ve read so much about the Titanic over the years.
After the exhibition we still had time to visit the city centre and a couple of shops. Did you seriously think I’d spend a day without shopping??? I spied a Carrolls gift shop, crossed the road immediately and stepped in the front door. When we finally left the store we’d spent £268 between us (hope my niece doesn’t read this, have a feeling Danielle thinks I’m a bad influence on her mother encouraging her to spend).
Billy and Rita took us to lunch then we had a short stroll through the magnificent building and grounds of the University to the Museum where we had coffee. After coffee we went back to our hotel, they bade us farewell and left for the railway station and their return trip to Bangor. Darelle says they told her they could tell she was the quiet one in the family! How rude……although they couldn’t possibly have been referring to me….I’m like a church mouse!!!! Husband says I’m more like a church mouse wearing army boots. Hmm, should one put up with that sort of rudeness from ones husband?
We had booked a Black Taxi Tour…..chose this over the hop on hop off bus because the BT would stop and let us get out to take pics at our leisure, it’s also a little more personal. The Black Taxi driver that came to pick us up was a smoker, not just the faint smell of cigarette smoke under the after shave type smoker but a fully fledged chain smoker. This meant lots of photo opportunities for us but an uncomfortable tour in a smelly taxi. Rust was also prevalent in the doors and the side panels of the cab. All that aside the tour was well worth it and the driver took us to areas the hop on hop off bus couldn’t. We visited the Falls Road area first and viewed the murals and a couple of monuments to those killed in the conflict through the 1960s and 70s. The gates at the Falls Road are still locked at 6pm each evening, an automatic locking system is in place. We then moved on to the Protestant area. The police station was like a massive fortress or jail itself….it had been attacked so many times it had to be secured as much as possible. I have placed a pic below.
The driver imparted lots of interesting facts and showed us many places of interest including taking us to a plaque on a street near the Shankhill Road where a bomb was set off one Saturday, in the middle of the day, outside a take away fish shop. As is usual with these types of acts innocent people, including children, were killed. Our guide was one of the people that helped clear the rubble with their bear hands. It was in the 70’s, before the mobile phone, his wife and children were in the high street around the same time and he couldn’t find them for over an hour after the blast. I couldn’t imagine the anguish he went through.
Darelle was quite nervousness about heading into the Shankhill Rd area and wouldn’t get out of the taxi to take any photos. We started to discuss the current troubles between the protagonists during the Orangemen’s march with the driver and when he suggested taking us to the protest area my sister became adamant we shouldn’t go there. Her brother in law had told her to stay right away from these areas as they weren’t safe. However, we were in a black cab, our driver was a Protestant, we were tourists and I had no doubt that we would be quite safe, have to live our lives without fear as best we can. I said to the driver ” yes, why not”. Ty and Maryanne agreed that we should take a look as well.
As we drove up to the intersection the police vehicles were stationed on each side of the street on the Protestant side, in the centre of the intersection stood a man in his late 60s holding a British flag and wearing a large orange sash around his neck. As we turned the corner where the protesters were camped the taxi stopped and the driver asked if we’d like to get out and talk to the protesters. We thought about it for a few minutes and, as much as I would have liked to, I didn’t want to add to my sisters discomfort and anxiety so I declined. As we sat in the taxi he explained about the pub behind us being in the catholic area and directly across from where we sat an elderly woman was chatting animatedly to several others at her front gate. It appears the patrons would come out of the pub, cross the road to her house and smash her front window regularly forcing her to install bullet proof glass. What a way to live!
We picked up that the driver was possibly Protestant because once we left the Falls Rd area and travelled towards the Shankhill people would wave to him. We also sent more time in the Protestant area. Fine by us, we weren’t bothered either way and he was fairly impartial. He has been driving black taxis for many years and told us that at the height of ‘the troubles’ he wasn’t able to drive his cab into the Falls Road area. He also mentioned Belfast taxi drivers are the only taxi drivers that do not have their names or addresses displayed on their taxi licences….for obvious reasons.
After the tour finished we asked the driver to drop us off at the Crown Hotel in the city centre. The Crown is the oldest hotel in Belfast, it was also the most crowded on this Friday evening!!! No chance of a drink or a meal here but what a magnificent old building, inside and out. The bar and the ceilings were amazing. The lounge area consisted of chairs, tables and a number of snugs that had ornate timber and glass around them and a door….if you want to have your own private party I suppose. We took some photos and stepped back outside to look for somewhere else to go for a drink. It was raining now so we needed to find somewhere less crowded. We looked across the road to the Europa Hotel and decided that would do us. The Europa Hotel has been bombed more than 10 times over the years but we figured that was less of a concern we just wanted to have a quiet drink.
Ty has taken to Guiness, so he ordered a pint, I had a wine, Maryanne had a JD and Darelle decided on a shandy. The barman coped with the first 3 drinks but the shandy was a problem. Darelle came back with a lemonade and a lager….they couldn’t add a dash of lager to the glass of lemonade!! The barman told her he could only sell her both drinks and she would need to mix it herself. A bit odd that a barman doesn’t know how to add a dash of anything to a drink……but then the head barman was a grumpy old thing so he probably couldn’t be bothered!!!!!
We decided to go back to the same place we had lunch for dinner as it was a very good meal and Maryanne hadn’t eaten there. That proved to be a mistake. We were given the menus and chose our meals, we then decided to ave dessert…lemon tart took our fancy. “We’ll have 3 lemon tarts please” the waiter looked a us and then said “I’m sorry, you can’t have that dessert, we’re not serving off that menu”. Huh?? This is the menu we were given. “Ok, we don’t want anything else thanks”. “So you don’t want dessert?” “No, we only wanted the lemon tart”. He went away to tell the kitchen and see if he could get it for us. He returned ” No, sorry, you can’t have it”. Why would you present diners with a menu they can’t order from? Dare I say that’s typically irish!!!! With that we paid the bill and left.
Our last night in Belfast and we couldn’t get dessert. Probably a good thing as we’re eating way too much is trip anyway…..bring on High Tea (afternoon tea) at the Shellbourne Hotel Dublin.