An early morning flight from a almost deserted Liverpool Airport, I do like Liverpool airport it Is a small friendly airport and out of season is very quiet, the flight, easily the shortest I have ever taken at around 35 minutes (if fact the bus ride from Belfast international airport took a fraction longer).
Once into the city centre we dumped the rucksacks at the hotel, the conveniently placed Easy Hotel directly opposite the impressive Belfast town hall.
The nice thing about Belfast is that it is a compact city, the walk down to the Titanic centre takes you through the modern shopping centre, historic buildings, eclectic sculptures and legions of Irish bars. Talking of sculptures take a moment to admire the salmon of knowledge, or big fish as the non nonsense locals refer to it. The salmon of knowledge in irishmythology is identified with Fintan mac Bochra , the wise who transformed himself into a salmon. Here it is a fabulous printed blue ceramic sculpture by the artist John Kindness. It was commissioned to celebrate the regeneration of the river lagan , the tiles on the outside celebrate everything from a soldier’s tale to a ulster Fry ( more about them later!) each tile telling a story of the city. Inside the fish apparently is a time capsule containing information, images and poetry from the city.
Easily missed but quite close to the big fish is the rather charming Sammy the seal sculpture, showing s group of Sammys. Sammy the seal was a local celebrity frequently appearing in the lagon river.
Taking ourselves away from the seals we crossed the lagan weir across the lagan river. The weir was built at a cost of 14 million pounds it creates a constant level on the tidal river and has been accredited with bringing millions in investment along the banks of the lagon up river.
We are now in the Titanic quarter, a regeneration project that was formerly part of the sprawling Harland and Wolff Shipyard. Skip past the modern leisure centre and cinema complex you come across another quirky sculpture, The kit is a model of the titanic, literally taking the form of an oversized airfix model, designed by Tony Stallard and ironically built by Harland and Wolff.
Moving on and we come to one of the unexpected gems of the trip. The Dock café is unique and unusual, it has no prices and no till, you simply take what you want and pop some cash in the honesty box at the end. Filled with comfy sofas and chairs it is totally eclectic and hotch potch, no chair or piece of crockery is the same yet it works to create a warm and cosy atmosphere. You can even bring your own food in.
Located underneath a modern apartment block it houses art gallery and a prayer garden. Staffed by volunteers it is a gem in the community and despite being a church project is never preachy or in your face, that said I had a great chat to one of the chaplins who are there to talk to you if you wish but more of that on a blog dedicated to the café.
Just beyond the café we find the SS nomadic, the tending ship for the Titanic, your titanic experience ticket also covers you to visit the nomadic so more of that later.
Just behind the nomadic is what appears to be a rusty hull is in fact the caisson gate, believed to be the oldest vessel built by Harland and Wolff still around, it is a timber and steel hollow vessel which was filled with water and sunk to block the docks up, when the ship wanted to leave they simply pumped water into the gate, it floated up and the dock was flooded.
That brings us on nicely to the titanic experience, the experience is housed in a fantastic building designed by Texas architect Eric Kuhne it resembles the hull of the great cruise ships with a covering of aluminium tiles presenting a stylised sea mosaic.
Inside the building is a great interactive experience, they really have gone to town on this exhibit telling not only the Titanic story but also the story of Belfast, Harland and Wolff. Dark rides, holograms, full size reconstructions and innovative hands on exhibits give you a truly unique and interesting experience and well worth the £20 entrance fee. Another great feature of the experience is it looks over the two slipways.
Included in our ticket is the Nomadic, the boat really does give you a taste of what life on board the Titanic was like, the opulence and understated luxury again the use of holograms is innovative and entertaining the only problem we had was running out of time.
A quick stop off at our Hotel to freshen up and it was off to experience Belfast by night, we chose bootleggers a bar and restaurant in the cathedral quarter, the truth was we were very much spoiled for choice, there are so many great pubs and eateries all with great trip advisor ratings.
Now if you are a musician in Belfast it’s like all your Sundays have come at last, nearly every bar has live music and bootleggers was no exception, the wait for the restaurant was forty minutes so we opted for some bar snacks along with the obligatory pint of Guinness.
We had poutine chips, a pulled pork roll and the absolute star of the show, without exception the best hot wings I have ever tasted in my life, it was worth going back to Belfast just to eat them again.
A great day and one that showcased the best of Belfast, for a city I remember as a kid as one that was divided it was amazing to see the warmth and the unity of a confident, cosmopolitan city.