The alarm went off at 4am and by 4:45 we were wending our way in the dark to catch our National Express coach to Stansted airport. It was incredibly convenient. About 7 minutes walk from Lucy’s flat, and then the coach rolled up bang on time, the driver loaded our bags, we got on, had a bit of a nap and 40 minutes later we were dropped at the doors of Stansted. £14 each. I would definitely do that again, but hopefully at a more civilised time. Been a while since we’ve flown from Stansted and it seemed to have improved very much. Security was pretty slick and we were soon airside which resembled the usual shopping mall. We had some breakfast. Boarded about 740 for the 815 flight and I was asleep before takeoff. The flight was around an hour and I managed to sleep most of the way. It wasn’t crowded. I had a whole row to myself but Ryanair seats are narrow and hard plastic so you couldn’t stretch out. However, the extra space was very nice.
We picked up a hire car at the airport and took the M2 into town. Weather was patchy grey but warmer than yesterday and dry. Not to be complained about in early January. We parked up at the hotel and walked about 15 minutes to get to St George’s Market.
This is a lovely indoor market, full of stalls and with many food outlets. There was some live music going on – rather good duo doing folk rock. We had a good wander around. Such friendly people. 2 nice gentlemen hearing our accents, wanted to give us good walking routes around Portrush but felt we should have gone south in Northern Ireland to see the best scenery… We all bought some brilliant thick scarves from one stall. There were lovely things. Of course we had to try some food. I had a couple of local sausages which were fantastic. Lucy had a massive bacon, egg, black pudding and sausage tower between two slices of soda bread. Daisy had chicken and potato in a melted cheese and garlic sauce with crumbled bacon on top – amazing but very rich.
After all that we had to walk a bit so we explored into the city centre around Victoria Square where the city hall is. Belfast reminds me a lot of Leeds (other than there isn’t any sea in Leeds). The city halls are almost exactly the same and so are many of the other older buildings. And then there is the same mix of the regeneration of very recent years driven by university development and the replacement of heavy industry with “gentrified” apartments.
About 130 we Ubered to the Titanic Quarter down on the docks, a very much regenerated area where the amazing Titanic Exhibition and Museum are located. This is an amazing, interactive experience of a museum. Well worth a visit to Belfast just for its own sake. I couldn’t recommend it more highly. The building itself is a modern rendition of the bow of the Titanic between two block towers. Built on the site of the old Harland & Wolf shipyard, there is also a Titanic hotel housed within the old drawing and planning offices next door. It costs £18.50 per adult to visit and it is well worth that money. The first area recreates Belfast in its boomtown years of the late 1880s and explores why shipyards were so successful here. It is a complete multimedia experience, you feel the heat of the furnaces, the noise of the incessant clanking of hammers, and the danger of working on the giant gantries. You move through the construction of the Titanic, the launch and then of course the fateful journey, collision and sinking. There are recreations of various classes of cabin, a virtual tour of the different areas of the ship….. An IMAX film exploring the wreck and the debris field around it. We thoroughly enjoyed our few hours there and I would definitely go again.
Back to the hotel for a short rest. We were tired after our early start.
Tonight we went out for dinner to a really great restaurant called Deane’s Meat Locker. Just fabulous meat and atmosphere. We shared a massive platter of prime rib sourced from a very special local butcher who ages his beef in a Himalayan salt cave for over 40 days…. been wanting to try it for ages. The only place to buy it in England is Fortnum and Mason.
Anyway, we had a really lovely dinner washed down with their lovely red syrah. A very convivial atmosphere. After dinner we went to a lively pub/bar called the Thirsty Goat and met some friends of Lucy’s from St Andrews. A nice end to the day. We’ve walked a lot today. Really enjoyed Belfast. A great atmosphere. A regenerating city. Good place to live and work.