Let’s play word association….
Now that’s just silly, do grow up.
Let me put it another way. If I were to say the word Belfast to you, what kind of responses would spring to mind?
[Space left intentionally blank for you to think of all things Belfastian.]
Well, it may be time to rethink your stereotype as having spent the last weekend in the city I have some words for you that may not feature in your (system 1) lexicon. How about “helpful”, “playful”, “friendly”, “funky” and – shockingly – “sunny”?
Having secured a corking deal and babysitting services for offspring, we arrive late on Friday night. Immediately, the locals are falling over themselves to be of help. At our oh-so-late dinner table the staff had every right to be tetchy but no: great service, recommendations and general top-notch cheeriness. We retire to the bar to be helped more with posh drinks served with a smile to comically over proportioned sofas.
A little too early the Saturday morning we are blinking in the September sun as we walk the mile or so to the TITANIC – that’s CAPS LOCK ON – Museum. Clearly, there’s been much ado around the centenary of the loss of the ship. However, the TITANIC Quarter in Belfast is more than the Museum. It’s also Harland & Wolff-land: ship builders to the world! Alas, no more. Then? 35,000 workers. Now? Just two hundred. The area is undergoing considerable redevelopment and the centrepiece is the dramatic TITANIC museum.
In a word? “Brilliant.”
Celebrating the conception, gestation and birth of the mighty vessel, the people who built her, fitted her out and – poignantly – perished with her a mere 11 days after leaving her birthplace. What a building, what a tribute, what a ship, what a story, what a loss. (Later, with an irresistible local chuckle another local quips: “She woz ul-rite whun she lerft heeere.”)
[Side note: Dear tourist attraction planners, go to the TITANIC Belfast to have a pot of (truly excellent loose leaf) tea. Maybe a (delicious) savoury croissant. Because the cafe was outstanding. Please use this as a template/standard for all other cafes.]
Presently, we are back in the city centre which is heaving with folks who clearly still feel the need to dress smartly for a Saturday at the shops. We like. We find ourselves enjoying a bottle of Rose with excellent food: The Terrace @ Robinson & Cleaver.
Great service again as we look out over the City Hall where a splendid disability pride event is in full swing: much having a damn good time is in evidence. Inevitably, the afternoon requires a pub visit and after a false start – ahem – we find sanctuary in Muriel’s bar. It goes downhill from there. Back to the hotel for a another meal – with wine – and then off to The Spaniard where we enjoy a Dark’n’Stormy with the director of cinematography off of televisions Game of Thrones.
Which we’ve never seen. Ever.
The Spaniard is a diminutive yet bizarre yet knockout cocktail joint in the Cathedral Quarter. Even their website is suitably splendid. This is where the Dark’n’Stormies are chased with Extraordinaries are chased with Caprininias are chased with, er…. Memory Loss. The latter is no cleverly named cocktail, it’s a symptom of all the other drinks we threw down our necks as the laughter rolled. Then it’s back to the hotel for a nighcap.
Because we needed another drink.Our final morning is very bright and we take to the open top tour bus for an excellent commentary enhanced jaunt around the city. This freeze-dries the womenfolk which greatly amuses us males.
Only now do we get any flavour of the Troubles. The Falls Road. The Shankhill Road. The PEACE WALL. All have to be seen to be believed, but the latter is both grotesquely cartoonish and heartbreakingly real. As if all this good cheer was not enough, we have a full tour of the Crumlin Road Gaol which starts off (too) slow but ends up moving and, er, troubling.
Although I can’t claim our visit gave any real feel for the Troubles – that started month after my birth a fraction over 45 years ago – I can say that I caught there merest whiff of them as we passed through West Belfast. What a strong flavour…
Leaving so soon? As we were whisked into the air by SleazyJet and back to reality I mused that Belfast seemed genuinely happy to be visited and grateful for our presence. People in customer facing roles seemed to enjoy facing customers and there was a tangible sense of willingness in the air. I can’t wait to go back: The Giant’s Causeway…. Bushmills Distillery…. more drinks….
Luckily we had a PROPER organiser and photogrpaher on hand to whom The Beers are most humbly grateful.
You can see her photos here.