Tuesday, September 10, 2019


We went to Belfast last week, and it took all fucking day to get there. As I write this, Boris Johnson is in Dublin for a meeting. He left this morning and is returning to London later today to dismiss Parliament, so he doesn’t have the humiliation of a self-inflicted minority government hanging around his neck 24/7, all before dinner time. What the genuine…? We left our flat at 10:45 in the morning and didn’t check into our hotel until 7 PM. And the 60-minute flight home took up seven hours of our day. Nice to be king, isn’t it?

Belfast. Suggested motto: Not as bad as it looks.
At any rate, we went to Belfast, the Red-Headed Stepchild of the United Kingdom, and we had a grand time. Northern Ireland is, like the rest of Ireland, stunningly beautiful, but the North has issues. 

First of all, they’re small, and often forgotten when people think of the United Kingdom, even by people who live in the United Kingdom.

Secondly, their tourist industry—and their economy in general—took a battering while the British Army was there “keeping the peace,” which is a euphemism for really stirring things up.

The Troubles are still troubling.
Thirdly, although peace came with the Good Friday Agreement in 1998, and the opening of the border, the remnant of the UK Government is leading the charge for a No-Deal Brexit, which could close the border and kick-start the Troubles again. Or, that’s the worry, and if the British Army returns to “keep the peace,” any progress in tourism and economic stability they have made in the last 20 years might be trodden under tank treads.

Admittedly, this is a simplistic and pessimistic view, and, frankly, that wasn’t what was on my mind during our visit; I was more concerned about the bathroom.

We were in a hotel that billed itself as 3-starbut which would have struggled to get a 2 in my bookand, in place of an actual bathroom, we had a prefab unit that looked as if it had been made in a gigantic injection mold, set into the corner of the hotel room before they put the ceiling on, and stuck in place with clear bathtub sealant. I have to admit, I was dubious, but it won me over in the end. The shower was roomy and had adequate water pressure, it contained a large area for personal items (unlike the bathroom in our flat) and it was bright enough in there to perform surgery. If I could fit one into our flat, I would.

Our one-piece bathroom unit.
The first item on our itinerary was a visit to the Titanic Museum. The Titanic was built in Belfast, by the Harland & Wolff shipbuilding company. H & W built hundreds, perhaps thousands, of ships, many of which, I assume, survived their maiden voyages. The Titanic, as you know, did not (no, really, they made a movie about it and everything). Belfast keeps this historic oddity low-key. Aside from the Titanic Museum, the Titanic Bus Tour, The Titanic Gift Shop, the Titanic City Tour, the Titanic Quarter, the Titanic Hotel and dozens of other businesses with the name Titanic, they hardly mention it at all. It’s like they want the world to know, “Remember that ship, the big one, sank and killed all those people? We built that!”

One of the many fine exhibits in the Titanic Museum.
It's a replica, of course.
The Museum, however, was first rate, and took you on a journey through the lives of the people who worked as shipbuilders, detailing how they built the ships, and how Titanic came about, and, of course, how it sank. It was well presented and provided many photographs and recordings about the Titanic and the people who built her and sailed on her. The one thing it did not have was a bit of the actual ship.

This is a replica, too.
With the souvenir hunters going down to the wreak every other week, you’d think they would have been able to snag a rivet or a chair leg from one of the state rooms. I went to a Traveling Titanic Exhibition in Phoenix before I moved to the UK and there was a huge section of the hull on display. I was certain it would be on display at the Official Titanic Museum and was looking forward to having my photo taken standing next to it so I could send it to my Titanic-mad Grandson and say, “Hey, Charlie! Here I am standing next to the hull of the REAL Titanic. And you’re not!”

But, alas, it was not to be. We traversed the entire museum, as well as the gift shop, and there was nary an authentic bit of the boat in sight. Curious, I Googled it and discovered that particular piece is in Las Vegas. Figures.

Las Vegas? What's wrong with Belfast?
At least I got to see it; eat your heart out, Charlie!

The next day, we visited the Giant’s Causeway. This is one of those attractions that is so often in documentaries that, when you see it, you feel like you’ve already been there. Still, it was a thrill to be clambering about on it.

Look familiar? Still, it's worth a visit.
From there, our tour bus wended its way hotel-ward via the monotonously beautiful countryside along a coastal road, with periodic stops at quaint little villages. It soon became apparent that the tour company had some sort of agreement with the villages, wherein they agreed to stop there and unleash hordes of tourists so they could drop money in their shops, tea rooms and pubs. The problem was, these were small villages, and when our bus parked next to four others and we were all released, there was nothing to do but walk from one end of the village to the other (which took all of 5 minutes) because the shops, tea rooms and pubs were full to bursting.

Wandering about the town.
The impression I came away from these villages with was, they needed the money. They all looked a bit down-at-heel, but they get top marks for attempted to disguise the fact that many of the buildings were derelict by painting over the boarded-up windows and doors with pictures of windows and doors, so they looked like this:

Instead of this:

I had to look twice at this door to be sure it wasn't an actual door.

On our final day in Belfast, we were left to our own devices, so we went to the spectacular city hall. There was a history exhibition there that was well worth an hour of our time, and then we took the 50-cent tour, that didn’t cost a penny. I have to tell you, if you are ever in Belfast and have an hour or two to kill, you could do worse than take this tour. If, that is, you don’t mind listening to a city employee who is clearly very excited by civic architecture and the city’s political history.

Belfast City Hall.

Worth a visit.
After that, we headed for the airport for our 60-minute flight home, but…well, you know how that worked out. Maybe if I had told them I was the Prime Minister, I might have made it home by dinner time.

And look what we found! This, alone, made the trip worthwhile.