Updated: Feb 27, 2020
The easy hotel certainly served its purpose so we were up early and with Ruck sacks deposited at the bag drop it was off for the first quest of the day, to get a Ulster fry , now each of the four home nations have a variant on the fried breakfast , from the full English to the welsh and Scottish equivalents and finally to the beast that is the Ulster fry
The Ulster fry as well as the mainstays of the fry up , bacon, sausage egg beans and tomato also has the unique inclusions of soda bread and potato bread and in the case of the fry I got from the Harlem cafe a pancake.
The Harlem cafe was only a block away from our hotel, the Art Deco and shabby chic exterior gives you a glimpse of the fantastic treasures within, step in and you enter into a whimsical fairy tale world, a bohemian wonderland mixing serendipity with traditional and modern art.
The fry itself was splendid , the star of it being the before now unmentioned black pudding which was as tasty as any I have had, only criticism was the beans were warm and I like mine piping hot but the food was good quality and good quality food does the talking for itself.
Freya has the red velvet pancakes with bacon and maple syrup, a favourite of hers and the empty plate bore witness to her appreciation of the dish.
I commented to the lady on the tills what a great place this was, she agreed adding that whenever staff have a day off this is the place they come for breakfast, perhaps that’s the greatest recommendation of them all.
Next we had decided to get on the hop on hop off bus tour, there are two rival companies offering this tour both confrontationally leaving from the same place, let’s just say competition was fierce and we felt very wanted, maybe a bit too much wanted, by both of them.
We opted for the one that we picked up the leaflet to in the hotel, despite the obvious disappointment of the other suitor and accusations that the bus we choose wouldn’t get up the hill we stuck by our guns.
The tour takes you along the streets that were synonymous with the ‘troubles’ falls road, crumlin road across the peace wall, the big gates separating the catholic and Protestant community. It also showed you the many murals on the side of the houses, now not ever mural is political, there are some dedicated to the famous sons and daughters of Belfast from van morrison to Alex Hurricane Higgins , there are murals dedicated to the titanic ( still surprises me that the Ulster people are so proud of a ship that sunk) most murals however are political in nature.
There are historical ones, featuring the likes of hunger striker Bobby Sands but many are up to date and feature balaclava’d men holding assault rifles. What struck me is some of the ridiculous juxtaposition of some of the murals, one featuring armed militia on the side of a subway fast food joint , another on the side of classykuts hair saloon.
If the Dock cafe highlighted a new hope and unity for Belfast this reminded me that the troubles are still alive in some areas.
Indeed the news that was making headlines in Belfast while we were there was of the removal in Boris Johnson’s cabinet of the Northern Ireland secretary Julian Smith. mr Smith seemed to be the first Minister in three decades to be popular on both sides of the divide and his departure was not taken well in Belfast.
We left the murals behind and made the climb up to Belfast castle, on another day it would be nice to stop of here but on a wet and blustery Feb day, it wasn’t going to be. We stayed on and made our way towards the Stormont estate.
It was certainly very windy at Stormont but also very quiet, eerily quiet in fact, we took some photos around the impressive outside, now I always thought Stormont was a ancestral home that had somehow been bequeathed to the parliament but no , it’s less than 100 years old and built specially for the parliament with two chambers copying the set up at Westminster (although the upper chamber is not in use today.
After a false start where we managed to get lost around the Labyrinth of ( very much out of bounds ) corridors of newly reconvened devolved power, trying to find the cafe ( must to the bemusement of the head of security “ which way have you came from,” in a very authoritarian voice was greeted by embarrassed smiles and “ we were looking for the cafe” luckily he saw the funny side and we managed not to derail the parliament and find the rather nice (and cheap) cafe and gift shop.
We decided to hang around for the tour and we’ll worth it it was too with a very Informative and entertaining tour and history of the building and the people process. More about that in a separate blog
We made our way from Stormont on the hop on and off bus only to get half way down the M3 motorway into Belfast city centre before it stuttered to a halt, 15 mins later and the still chippy guide announcing that they would soon have another bus to us so we could continue our tour, somehow the bus started again and very slowly made its way off the motorway into the city centre, perhaps it’s a bit like the peace process itself, it stutters but it will get there.
A quick dinner at Annie’s diner by city hall and it was time to pick up or bags and get our bus to the airport. Picking up our bags fro. The hotel I spoke to the porter, a friendly chap, he told me he had lived in London twice once when he was in university about 8 years ago and he loved it, the Olympic Games were in full swing, in fact he loved it so much he moved back about a year ago, he only lasted 6 months, I asked him why, he told me brexit had created something toxic in the city, I remarked to him about Belfast and it’s own problems, about the murals I had seen today, he said that the truth was every city has a few scumbags, it’s just in his they tend to be political.
I hope he is right, and indeed the feeling I had in the dock cafe was the most prevalent one. That peace and unity would win out.