Our initial impression of the people of Belfast was not as good as other places we have been in Ireland. But we never make up our minds about the "niceness" of a city after talking to only one person. I would give short quick answers too if I worked at a major bus station directing buses, and tourists kept asking me stupid vague questions on how to get to their hostel. Our real taste of the hospitality of Belfast came at a cafe called Nerdtopia. Yes, I agree it sounds a little questionable, but it is a real gem of a place. It is a cafe where you can play a huge variety of board games, while getting your caffeine fix. Granted, some of the games were a bit nerdy, but hey, it only added to the charm. They also have books for you to read if you please. One of them being, "How to Survive Zombies". I never knew it was such an art! The barista was so friendly and Jess and I very much enjoyed chatting with him and the other regulars. The lattes were great too. The owner of the cafe came in and got a coffee and overheard our conversation and that we were from Canada. After he had left, the barista came over to us and told us the owner had just been in and said because we are visiting, we can have a free tray square. I chose the chocolate caramel one for Jess and I to share. So good! And such a nice gesture!
The next day Jess and I headed across town to see the Belfast Castle. I don't see us getting bored of castles any time soon. Every one is unique. Built on unique terrain, with different styles and stories. This one was built on the side of Cave Hill which is a huge hill that you can see almost anywhere in Belfast, and looks like a man's face
. It's crazy how much it looks like a face! One of the peaks that sticks up is called Napoleon's Nose for obvious reasons. A lot of weddings are held at the Belfast Castle now. The latest additions to the castle include nine cats hidden throughout the garden for kids (and adults) to be amused during some of the more drawn out weddings. Then, in typical Jess and Ryan style, we decided to go for a walk up the hill to see the view. The walk turned into a small 7km hike. Very cool hike. At the top of Cave Hill, is a medieval stone structure called McArt's Fort. If you look at the hill from far away, it is the start of the man's hair, just above his forehead. Since it was a pretty clear day, we could see all the way to Scotland! It was very faint, but we could see it. Also, we had a great view of the harbour. The same harbour that a certain ship called the Titanic, sailed out of. In April it was the 100 year anniversary of Titanic's voyage. We didn't know this until we asked someone why there was so much Titanic stuff everywhere. The rest of the hike gave us a great view of Belfast. We could see one dark rain cloud just drenching a certain part of the city. Glad we weren't there!
Belfast is known for another reason, a certain writer called C.S. Lewis grew up here. Crazy! We read that outside a small library in the east side of Belfast where C.S. Lewis started writing stories as a kid, is a wardrobe with Professor Digory Kirke from the books starting starting to open it. Of course we had to go see it. On the back of the wardrobe, is a small lion head...Aslan! Speaking, of libraries, we also went into Belfast's oldest one called The Linen Library. It used to be a linen factory, and was changed to a library
. Some pretty old books there. City Hall was quite the sight too. It was built back in the beginning of the 20th century when Belfast was at it's industrial might, and the city was prospering. We took advantage of the free daily public tours. Absolutely stunning inside. The main staircase climbs up under the tall white dome that can be seen from outside. Most of the railings and stairs are made of marble. The floors being Italian marble and the pillars Greek marble with Irish oak all throughout. The council chamber was pretty spectacular too. We all sat in the council members' seats as we listened to our guide explain the how the council meetings are carried out. I even got to sit in the Lord Mayor's chair! Ah, Lord Mayor Loewen, I could get used to that.
We have now come to the end of our Ireland visit. The next morning we hopped back on the bus to the ferry dock, driving through the famous Harland and Wolff shipping yard. Back we go on the ferry, this time sailing to Scotland. Our ship sailing out of the same harbour as the Titanic did 100 years ago. I didn't see any icebergs...I think.
Belfast was the place to be at the beginning of the 20th century because it played a major role in the industrial revolution. We found it to be a very interesting city (for reasons later discussed), but most of the houses look identical. Red brick was very popular back in the day apparently. But for the next two nights, it was the place to be because there were two nights in a row of concerts. Playing the first night was the Foo Fighters, and the second night, Florence and the Machine (among other bands). We found our hostel (one of the red brick houses), and realized it was at capacity because of these concerts. We didn't even know the concerts were going on, and we would have had a hard time findng accomodations if we booked later. We didn't even try to get tickets to the concerts, because one guy said he had to buy his back in May. That's ok, because we would have missed out on a bunch of stuff during the day if we were wrecked from a late night concert, so it was for the best.