I have just returned from a trip to Belfast. This was partly for pleasure, for me in discovering a new city and region of the UK and for Mr. FF it was mainly for sport! He was playing hockey, for Wales, in a tournament called ‘The Celtic Cup’.
This was the first time, in nearly two years, that we’d been on a plane or travelled any further than Cornwall. Our flight was early morning and I was surprised by how few passengers there were at Gatwick. Of course, only the North terminal is operating at the moment. It seemed that no sooner had we taken off, than we had arrived, as it is such a short flight.
We landed at Belfast International Airport, as opposed to George Best City Airport which would have been more convenient, the clue being in the name. I will say that I didn’t book the flights!
We caught the Airport Express Bus into the city centre which gave us a good opportunity to study the surroundings. The International Airport is 18 miles north-west of the city centre and the Airport Express Bus offers a 24 hour service. Buses depart every 15 minutes, throughout the day, from Monday to Friday but come less often at off-peak times and weekends.
We took a taxi out from the city centre to our hotel, near Stormont. This was a very convenient location for the hockey which was taking place in the Stormont Estate grounds. Fortunately, it was also very well placed for local transport.
One example of this is the ‘Glider’ which had a stop conveniently close to the hotel. The Glider is an easy way to travel, as it’s easy to use, frequent, accessible and excellent value, running approximately every 7 to 8 minutes throughout most of the day. Before you board a Glider you must always buy your ticket and there is a range of Smartcards available which are good value for money. The services operate with a modern eco-hybrid fleet. This project was part-funded by the European Regional Development Fund. I rest my case…
As soon as we had deposited our cases, we caught a Glider back into the city centre, so that we could catch the ‘Hop-on, Hop-off’ Bus for a sight seeing tour of Belfast. We love travelling on these open top buses. They give you a great introduction to a new city, especially if you are on a short break. We have used them in Glasgow, Barcelona and Dubai, to name but three! These bus tours give us an idea of which places we would like to see in more depth.
There are 19 stops on the Hop-on Hop-off bus tour. We didn’t take any photos on the tour, partly because we were so engrossed in all the sights we were seeing and also because photos we have taken on previous Hop-on Hop-off buses weren’t that great!
All the stops are interesting for different reasons. I was particularly moved by the Belfast Peace Wall and found the Shankill Road (centre of the Unionist, Protestant community) and Falls Road (the Republican, Catholic) areas, thought provoking for many different reasons. If we had had more time in the city, I would have liked to take one of the Black Taxi Cab Tours which give the opportunity to discover these areas in more depth. The walking tours, led by residents from both sides, look fascinating as well.
Wherever we went in Belfast, I was struck by the street art. Each year, Belfast attracts many international artists who add their images to the city’s streets. They can be discovered on a self-guided walking tour. The image below is by Irony and called ‘Spirit of Commerce’. We found it purely by chance on our way back from the bus tour.
The image below was not in the centre of Belfast but alongside the Comber Greenway. This is a traffic free section of the National Cycle Network which I explored another day. I have no idea who produced this image but I rather liked it!
Of course, we couldn’t end our first day without a taste of this.
I love draught Guinness and it couldn’t have tasted any better!
To be continued…