Part 9 - Belfast, Northern Ireland
Part 9 - Belfast, Northern Ireland
We reached Belfast with a little delay the next morning.
Right opposite our cabin we saw the Thompson Graving Dock, also known as the Titanic Dock. At the time, it was the largest drydock ever built and specifically designed for the Olympic ships (Olympic, Titanic and Britannnic). This is where the ships were completed and furnished after their launch in the neighboring Harland & Wolff shipyard.
At the time, the dock, like the vessels, had blown all dimensions. Today, it wouldn’t even hold our Eclipse.
A replica of a part of the Titanic’s hull in front of the dock commemorates the probably most famous vessel of the Olympic class, which got its final touches here over a century ago.
Much in the city of Belfast is reminiscent of the ill fated Titanic and her sisters. Behind us rose the modern construction of “Titanic Belfast”, and the entire area around it is known as the Titanic Quarter. “Titanic Belfast” is a Titanic museum carrying its visitors back in time by means of latest technology.
„Titanic Belfast“ is located on the original site of the former building docks. The open space in front of the building, the Titanic Slipways, was the place of origin of the then gigantic vessels and the launching ramps. The light columns erected today represent the stanchions of the former crane system. “Titanic Belfast” surely offers an interesting experience.
But we were headed for other destinations that day. As previously agreed by Email, I called Enterprise Car Rental as soon as we had docked, as they had offered a pickup from port. To my delight, the friendly voice at the other end informed me, that his colleague was already waiting for us with our car at the exit of the ship. What a service!
Indeed … when we left the ship shortly afterwards, no 10 m (11 yards) behind the gangway, we met the lady at her little mobile desk with the company logo. The formalities were quickly done, and we could soon get in the car which was parked directly next to the ship.
Our first destination was Giant’s Causeway north of Belfast, which we reached in about an hour and a half.
We left our car at the parking lot in front of the visitor center and bought 4 tickets at GBP 9.00 each. Unfortunately, we only found out afterwards that the Giant’s Causeway itself would have been free of charge and the ticket was only required for parking and the exchbitions and explanatory boards inside the visitor center. So we wouldn’t have needed 4 tickets just for the parking. But never mind, we’ll know nexty time...
From the top of the hill we followed a path leading down to the coast. For little money, less mobile visitors were offered the opportunity of taking a small bus. But we liked to feel the coastal wind in our faces and enjoyed the view as we walked down.
The actual attraction of Giant’s Causeway consists of about 40,000 evenly shaped basalt columns some 60 million years of age. Many of these columns have a hexagonal cross-section, but you’ll also find columns with four, five, seven or eight sides.
The name has its origin in Irish legend. The Irish giant Finn is said to have been insulted by a Scottish giant so badly that he wanted to defeat him in a duel. Enraged, he ripped huge rocks from the cliffs of the coast and rammed them into the sea in order to build his way to Scotland.
No matter whether it was shaped by a giant or by cooled lava, the landscape in front of us was unique. We particularly enjoyed the bright splashes of color from the flowers that had settled between the otherwise gray, lichen-covered stone pillars.
After we managed to break away from these fascinating rock formations, we followed a trail along the coast.
From far away we could already make out some columns on the steep cliff which appeared like organ pipes all lined up. This is why this spot is also known as “The Organ”.
Unfortunately, it had started to rain in the meantime. So we decided to take a path branching off which took us back up the cliff. As this path, equipped with stairs today, was apparently once used by shepherds, it is called “Shepherd Steps”.
On top of the cliff, the strong wind blew in our faces and whipped the rain ahead, which gave the scenery an extra touch of drama.
Even in this rainy weather, the many gorse bushes along the way were shining bright yellow and formed a beautiful contrast to the deep green of the surrounding pastures.
Due to the increasing rain we decided against continuing towards the suspension bridge near Carrick-a-Rede, which we had losely considered another possible destination. Instead, we turned around and went to Bushmills, where we wanted to warm up in the Bushmills Distillery.
The Bushmills Distillery is the oldest distillery in Ireland. The golden grain juice has been distilled here since 1608. For our passengers, this visit was a tribute to their early travel days, as they had already come here 30 years ago.
In the little cafeteria we had Shepherd’s Pie and other typical Irish dishes and warmed up from inside. For dessert we had chocolate muffins – with an injection of Bushmills Whiskey.
We didn’t take a guided tour through the production halls of the distillery, which would have included a whiskey tasting. Unfortunately, you couldn’t order whiskey at the bar. What they offered instead was a “mini tasting” of up to 3 whiskeys in tiny sample glasses, which we gladly accepted.
The way back to the parking lot lead through the shop, where you could buy clothes, sweets and other souvenirs and, of course, the locally produced whiskey. There was a wide range and they even offered bottles with personalized labels.
Most of our passengers used the return to Belfast for a late nap. Considering the rain, they didn’t miss anything either.
Once in Belfast, we headed for the city center in order to use the the time to Eclipse’s late sail away for a pub visit. With the weather we had, none of us felt like strolling through town. So I drove around the block until we found a pub and parking not far away.
It was a lucky shot! At this time of day, people from the surrounding offices met at “The Garrick” for their beer after work. The place was packed, the atmosphere convivial, and we were the only tourists.
The Guinness was soon ordered, and then even the creature comforts were catered for. Hot chicken wings and saussages were passed around on large platters. It didn’t take long until we got talking to some of the regulars. Even Hildegard, who sat slightly apart on her walker had found a new friend. A young man started talking to her using the translation app on his phone. It was a lot of fun!
I used the time to take a few pictures of the surroundings, as the Victoria Square mall, Arthur Square with its sculpture „Spirit of Belfast“ and the beautiful old building of the city hall were all close to the pub.
As we returned to our car, we all agreed that in a certain way, this pub visit had been a befitting and nice ending of our cruise. Especially Wolfgang, who had been a bit sceptical with regards to a cruise, was enthusiastic. He hadn’t thought that such an experience was possible on a cruise.
On our way back to the port we were grateful for the satnav app, where I had programmed our point of departure in the morning. Other passengers told us later that even their taxi drivers had got lost in the search for the access to the right dock.
When we reached the parking lot, an Enterprise employee was waiting for us no 5 m (5 yards) besides the gangway. He made a tour around the car, asked whether we were satisfied and wished us a good onward journey. Satisfied we were: this service was hard to beat!
Shortly afterwards, „L’Austral“, the Ponant luxury cruise yacht, sounded her horns as she made her goodbyes to the Eclipse, who naturally replied in usual tradition.
As always with the deep sounds of the horns, shivers went down our spines. But this time also because this should be the last time on this cruise.
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