We arrived about 7pm and after a 15 minute walk we found our hostel. Aussies galore. I think there were more staff than guests and only maybe two of the staff weren't Aussies....plus there were a few more Aussies staying there as well
! Two brothers who were the most cringeful rAdelaide bogans you can imagine. They were nice enough guys but argh....kind of made you a little sick that they are representing the country...hahahha. Anyway according to the hostel manager there are only two things to do in Belfast “the black cab tours and the giants causeway” and other than that there is nothing else to see....well the giants causeway isn't even in Belfast so it doesn't give the city too much to offer according to him! We went for a little walk in our neighbourhood, got some dinner which was very average and chilled back at the hostel for the evening.
Next morning we were a little slow to get going but eventually we were up and about for breakfast. After chatting to some fellow backpackers we headed into town for a wander. We ended up at the weekend markets where they had amazing samples and tasty foods for lunch. We knew the general direction of the Titanic pump house and dock but had no idea what was out there so we just started walking.....about an hour later we eventually found the original Titanic shipyard. Northern Ireland is such a fascinating place, they really haven't worked themselves out at all...I know that is a very na´ve thing to say but seriously...there is a HUGE market for tourism with the Titanic stuff but they have only started in the last two years doing anything about it. They are currently building a museum which will be amazing when finished but they should have done something about it years ago
. So the history is this, Titanic was built in the shipyards in Belfast. Titanic wasn't meant to be a particularly special ship. Its sister ship, Olympic, which sailed the year earlier was regarded as the biggest ship in the world. They did everything to make Olympic look amazing and it was only when they made a few changes that Titanic ended up being slightly bigger on tonnage. Olympic sailed for many years with no problems but when they had to fix something small they brought her in and did that which delayed the completion of Titanic. Titanic sailed down to Southampton to collect its passengers for that fateful voyage far too late...so none of the crew knew where anything was or how to handle the ship. The captain of Titanic was apparently quite arrogant and was wanting to 'beat' his previous time to the US when he had captained Olympic which is why the Titanic was the only ship sailing through the night as it was deemed so dangerous. As the tourist t-shirts say “Titanic – built by Irishmen, sank by Englishmen” and it seems to be true! There was nothing wrong with the boat when it left Ireland bound for England. The dock it self is quite phenomenal....its massive! You start to get an idea of just how big the ship was when you see the dock and then see pictures of the Titanic in that dock. We did a small tour with a lovely lady who taught us some of these interesting facts. She also showed us the pumphouse and some of the tools that were used. Hopefully when the museum is built, there will be more information but it is very poorly advertised as a tourist attraction yet we found it really interesting
We spent the rest of the afternoon wandering around shops and ended up back at the hostel for dinner. Another relatively chilled evening, chatting around the pool table and in the tv room.
Next morning we went on the infamous black cab tour. Belfast has so much history and there is still so much going on...its a very fascinating place. Pretty much there is a divide in the city of Protestants (British) and Catholics (Irish)...that back in the day was originally a religious divide but now is more political and based on who they feel should govern Northern Ireland.
We started on the protestant side and visited an area of housing where every spare wall is covered with a mural spouting protestant views. There are memorials for people who died 'fighting for the cause' another of a gunman who no matter where you are standing, is pointing the rifle at you. It is quite bizarre. The streets are lined with union jacks and curbs painted red, white and blue to show their british allegiance. We then drove to their 'berlin wall'. There is a wall that would be 10 metres high which serves as the dividing line between the two communities. There are breaks in the wall that allow traffic to pass through in daylight hours but they are closed on weekends and at night. Unlike the berlin wall, it is not closing people in but just not allowing people to see whats on the other side
. The houses that are on either side of the wall still require perspex instead of glass for windows and cages surrounding their backyards to protect the inhabitants from bottles and whatever else may be thrown over the fence. There are several of these massive walls around belfast and apparently if you joined them all together they would span over 14 miles long. Crazy stuff. We then drove to the catholic side where we saw the caged in back yards and perspex windows and more murals that honoured the catholics and compared their plight to other rioting groups such as the pakistanis and israelis etc. What we didn't know when we planned to be here was that the 12th of July is also known as Orangemen's day and is an annual Protestant celebration to comemmorate the victory of Protestant king William of Orange over Catholic King James II at the Battle of the Boyne in 1690. We did the tour on the 10th of July so the communities were just gearing up for the next few days. Massive bonfires were being built that were at least 3 stories high and generally involve the protestants placing an Irish flag on top and burning it along with car tires and wood. Pretty intense.
We spent the afternoon wandering the markets once more and checked out the city hall and surrounding shopping district.
We also headed to the pub 'The Crown' which is one of the oldest pubs in Ireland and has amazing intricate design features which definitely warranted a drink to take them all in
. We enjoyed a cider and marvelled at the stain glass features and wood carvings.
That night we joined with some other hostellers and went to the pub...Filthy McNasty's! What a name!!! I was disappointed though that it was quite classy and nice....I was expecting a dive bar. We had a nice time but headed home around 1am to prepare for our road trip of Northern Ireland the next day!
July 8 Update
Phin: “Cheers Donegal!...
Here's to Belfast!!!"
July 10 Update
Lisa: Belfast...what a fascinating place! Who knew that there are still walls separating the protestants/english and catholics/irish that are over 15m high and if combined would run 14 miles long...and I thought the berlin wall was massive!"
We bussed from Donegal to Belfast with a short stop in Enniskillen. As we arrived to change buses, we had thought we were going to have to wait 75minutes but then we only had to wait 15...hooray! Except that Phin had spotted a castle so we weren't to catch the connecting bus after all! We stored our packs at the tourist office and went to see the castle....it was closing...but we sweet talked the receptionist who let us explore for 15 minutes for free....perfect! There was a lovely turret and an old canon....plus a museum that we only glanced at. We walked around the edge of the castle and up to the main strip....not too exciting. Phin was happy he found a freshly made madeira cake...so with that for afternoon tea we headed back to the bus stop to continue on to Belfast.