Thursday, July 2
We took the 10 a.m.train from Troon to Belfast about 25 miles away. After finding our hotel, the visitor’s center and realizing that this is the weekend of the Tall Ships visit to Belfast, we rode to the harbor and spent
the afternoon checking them out. This is one of the biggest weekends of the year in Belfast. The Tall Ship’s visit celebration includes an international food festival, other food booths, an amusement park with games and rides, booths selling trinkets, and demonstrations of the skills related to ship travel in the 19th century.
We paid a brief visit to the huge, new complex that focuses on the design and construction of the Titanic in the early years of the 20th century with the expectation that we will return tomorrow to see the entire complex. Belfast is a small city of about 800,000 residents. It is very easy to get around by bike with bike lanes and lanes reserved for buses, taxis and bikes and wide avenues and sidewalks. It also has a number of walking streets where vehicles are not permitted and in which , bike riders are required to dismount. It is a city with much history of conflict which to this day, is not resolved.
Friday, July 3
On the way to the Titanic Quarter where the Titanic Museum and exhibits are, we made a short side trip to the Belfast City Hall. We reserved space for 3 p.m. tour of the building.
Close by was the St. George’s Market which is a big covered market where you can get anything from fresh fish to candy, to antiques, to coins, to paintings and prints, to meats of all varieties, to cheeses and cooked foods of all types. We did a very quick once around
then went to the Titanic Museum which is a huge complex. The museum is in a new building that has 5 stories and is 1/4 as tall as the Titanic.
There is also an outdoor area that was the dry dock where Titanic was built and from which it was launched. Another area is the footprint of the Titanic with the funnels also outlined, the buildings and rooms where the Titanic was designed, and the tender Nomadic which served the Titanic in Cherbourg, France. The harbor there was not deep enough for the Titanic to dock, so this ship ferried passangers out to her at sea. For about 100 years post Titanic, the Normadic did many other things including being a mine sweeper in the First World War and transporting troops in the Second World Wars.
After spending about 4 hours at the museum, we rode back to City Hall for our guided tour. It is a beautiful building with marble and wood paneling everywhere. It took 4 years to build and is gorgeous. Our guide was dressed in period clothing from the early 19th century and helped make the building come alive for us.
The tour ended with a visit to the Titanic Memorial which is no the grounds of the City Hall. It is the only place in the world where names of all of the people who perished are listed.
From there we did some book shop hopping to find maps for our journey after Belfast. We stumbled across the Sustrans office (the organization that is establishing bike and hiking routes around the UK), but it was closed.
Saturday, July 4 Belfast
It was raining when we got up and it rained harder before we left the hotel. This was no surprise as the weather forecast was Rain 100% chance. Since we would be leaving Belfast later in the day, we had an ambitious schedule for ourselves. First on our list was a second and longer visit to St. George’s Market.
On the way we were a block from Sustrans and decided to see if they were open. They were not, but one of their people had come in on to catch up on some work. He was nice enough to invite us in and give us some suggestions on routes and areas to see in Northern Ireland and the Republic of Ireland as well and give us some maps.
Our journey to St. George’s Market was interrupted a second time when we happened upon a pub owner who was hanging a string of American Flags on the awning outside his pub for a 4th of July party tonight. We asked him if he could spare a flag as Ed had forgotten his at home and needed one. He told us to wait a minute and disappeared inside the pub. Upon his return he gave us an American flag that is about 4 feet wide and 3 feet high. We attached it to the back of Ed’s day pack and there is stayed all day until we reached our hotel.
In St. George’s Market we again made a once around. It is a very colorful place with so many sights and sounds and smells unique to this kind of market. We found some dried fruit for later.
From there we visited the Barge Museum which outlined the history of Belfast from the early 1600’s until the First World War. It has video interviews of workers who built ships and made linen and lit street lights and performed many jobs that were needed at the turn of the century. It also housed some artifacts that came from the ship building company that built the Titanic and which was just getting rid of this priceless memorabilia.
From there we visited the 100 year old Prince Albert Clock Tower which is leaning. The foundation is built on reclaimed land and thick boards which have weakened and deteriorated from flooding. The lean has been arrested using modern techniques.
Next on the agenda was St. Ann’s Cathedral which was built in 1906. We declined to pay the 5 pound entrance fee but were permitted to take photos from the entry way. It has some beautiful mosaics and stained glass windows.
It also had a poster board with pictures and names of the people who were killed this week in Tunisia. The religion of those people was not mentioned and for certain most were not Catholic. The exhibit in this setting was very moving in its simplicity.
Then lunch and a quick trip to the Linen Library which is in fact a library with a large collection of items, mostly books and other written memorabilia about the “Troubles.” The entry walls are decorated with political posters representing both sides of the struggle that the Unionists and the Separatists both refer to as the “troubles.”
The issues surrounding the “Troubles” are not yet resolved and the reconciliation has not yet been accomplished as will be evident next week when both sides stage their annual marches and demonstrations and where violence is always a possibility. One of the librarians at the Linen Library told us that she does not leave home on the days of the demonstrations.
We picked up our panniers from the hotel and rode through the Botanical gardens to the Ulster Museum. The museum has an excellent exhibit detailing the “Troubles” from 1900 almost to the present which finally put the entire sequence into perspective for us. The issues are not complicated. The solution is.
From the museum, which adjoins Queens University,
we rode about 5 miles south from Belfast to our hotel. The hotel was having a barbecue in celebration of American Independence but lacked an American flag for the occasion. The Coloradans came to the rescue with the flag that we were given this morning.