Monday, June 25, 2018

Ireland - Day 5 - Belfast, Giant's Causeway, Londonderry/Derry


Our breakfast in Belfast was at the RBG Bar & Grill, which is attached to the Park Inn. It's a really cool space, and easily the nicest looking place we had breakfast as part of our tour. There were great breakfast options, including fried potato bread, a Northern Irish staple for the Full Irish breakfast.





There were also bottles of milk for adding to coffee or tea, and freshly squeezed juices. It was a much nicer breakfast set up than what we had at Mespil the previous morning. There was also tons of seating, as it was an actual restaurant as opposed to a hotel lounge.




Before leaving Belfast this morning we headed to the Titanic Belfast Experience, an interactive museum of sorts built directly upon the site where the Titanic was built. I'll come right out and say that this was one of the highlights for me of the entire trip. I enjoyed it so much more than I could have possibly anticipated. We spent 2 hours here, but no word of lie I could have spent double that time and not gotten bored.


The first floor of the experience focused generally on both shipbuilding and linen-making, the two major trades in Belfast at the turn of the century. This portion of the exhibit was kind of crowded and a bit more difficult to navigate (because there were so many areas to see, and lots of people in the way to see everything).








Payroll for ship designers/builders






From the first floor you actually go up to the fourth floor and then work your way back down. That's how it's designed. From here onward, the focus is primarily on the Titanic, and in smaller part on its sister ships the Olympic and Britannic. The majority of exhibits had to do with building the ship, and there was even a ride you could go on that dealt with this process.














Then you go on to learn about the launch, and the first (and only) sailing.











You continue to learn more about the ship itself, including examples of the different staterooms for first class, second class, and third class passengers, as well as facts about everything from the amount of linen on board to examples of the china that was used to serve passengers. TOTALLY FASCINATING.














The saddest section, of course, deals with the sinking of the ship. Displays show all of the communication to and from the Titanic throughout the night of the fateful event. There's also a video which simulates the actual sinking of the ship.







There is an interactive area where you can look up all the passengers of the ship and see where they boarded, where they were from, and whether they survived or not. We managed to find a total of 6 Armenian (4 were Turkish citizens, and 2 were Armenian citizens). Four of them died, and 2 survived.



We later check out a video exploring the wreckage of the Titanic, one of the last stops in the exhibition.



Although we learned a bit about the passengers of the ship, and heard audio from survivors, the experience is much more about the building of the ship, as the shipbuilding trade was such a major part of Belfast. Really and truly, photos can't do it justice. I took a lot of photos, but just standing here where the Titanic was built and launched was eerie but also impressive. Anyone who is interested in this part of history should definitely come visit the Titanic Belfast Experience.

Titanic Studios, where they film Game of Thrones!

Samson and Goliath, the bright yellow H&W gantry cranes

We left Belfast, and headed up the Antrim Coast Road. The scenery was awash in splendor as we paused at a lookout near the Carrick-a-Rede rope bridge. With distant views of Scotland, azure waters, and grazing sheep, the death-defying rope bridge was not the only breathtaking sight.






The Giant's Causeway was perhaps the spot I was most excited about on our trip. I had seen lots of pictures of it, and heard it was truly out of this world from those who had visited. It has the name "Giant's Causeway" because of a tale about an Irish giant, Fionn McCool who built a walkway to Scotland.







In actuality, the Giant's Causeway is made up of approximately 40,000 interlocking basalt columns which are the result of ancient volcanic activity over tens of millions of years.



It's pretty incredible. It was quite windy on the day we visited, and once again I would have loved double the time here, so we could walk the path near the shoreline, but also try out the path up in the cliffs for a completely different view. This would have been manageable with a longer visit, but we still had a really amazing time visiting this natural wonder.


As we continued our drive on the Antrim Coast Road, we saw the remains of Dunluce Castle, which is famous for having its kitchen fall into the sea on a stormy night in 1639. It's also the location of the House of Greyjoy in Game of Thrones.



Our final destination for the day would be our home away from home for the next two nights, Londonderry or Derry depending on whether you're Protestant or Catholic (here we go again!). It is also simply referred to as The Walled City, as it is the only completely walled city in Ireland.


Our hotel was the Everglades, which was just outside of the city. Some members of our group walked to the city center from our hotel, so it's definitely doable, but it's not as close as our hotel in Belfast for example. Although the Everglades didn't appear to be too exciting from the outside, it was one of my preferred hotels from our trip. Our room had a nice large window with a view of the road. It had a subdued but classy décor and color scheme, along with a large bathroom with rubber duckies! Yes, rubber duckies!! There was also a giant rubber ducky over the entrance to the hotel, so I'm guessing that's their thing. The theme of the room should be “fluffy.” The comforters are super thick and soft, the ideal comforter for winter (less so for warm days like we had), and the bathroom towels were also exceptionally fluffy.







The Library Bar has a cool ambiance, and there's also a piano outside the Grill, but no one was playing during our stay.



I had originally planned on doing dinner on our own this evening, but changed our mind and decided to do the Optional Experience because in addition to dinner it would also include a walking tour of the Peace Bridge. Fortunately for me, we were able to visit my planned dinner restaurant the following day for lunch, so stay tuned for that.


Eilish was our local specialist this evening. We met up next to Guildhall (the city hall) and strolled across the Peace Bridge together. Eilish shared some of the history of the bridge and its design. It's meant to mimic the famous Hands Across the Divide statue in Derry of two young men with hands almost touching, a sign that there is peace between the two sides, yet still a bit of distance to overcome.



Hands Across the Divide


After crossing the bridge we learned more about the barracks on the other side of the river, which were used during World War II, as Derry was a very important port during that time. Gentrification on this side of the river will hopefully help continue to bring the two sides together. Eilish told us that at one point her father looked upon the city from the other side of the river for the first time ever, and said that growing up he never thought he would see the city from that angle. Change is coming.





The tour portion of our Optional Experience wrapped up as we headed back across the River Foyle by bus to a riverfront restaurant called Timber Quay. Here we would enjoy a three-course meal with drinks included. Our menu options were plenty! Some of our group members were kind enough to let me photograph their dinners, so I will include those images as well, even though I didn't taste those dishes, so I can't provide any personal feedback about those options.


We'll begin with dad's choice of starter, the potato-leek soup, which was well-seasoned. I ate something spicy before tasting the soup, so either the soup had a little kick as well, or my taste buds were confused :) Either way, it was good soup!


Mom and I selected the salt & chilli chicken wings with vegetable strips (the something spicy before tasting the soup). This was a really unique way of serving wings, tossed with julienned vegetables, but I liked the freshness and textural contrast of the veggies with the wings. The wings themselves were small in size but big in flavor, crispy with a spicy and sweet sauce.


For entrees all three of us selected the pan-fried sea bass with crushed baby potatoes and fennel cream. The sea bass was of the European variety (i.e. branzino, loup de mer) as opposed to the Chilean variety which is larger and meatier.


The potatoes in particular were exquisite, and so flavorful. The last time I had potatoes this flavorful (in and of themselves, not simply from seasoning) was at Ureni restaurant in Kharabakh in 2012. The sauce was delicate, and just enough to accent the fish and potatoes.


Every entree came with a choice of side, and I picked the Caesar salad. It was great, and had bacon lardons in addition to the classic ingredients.


One of my neighboring diners loved her pulled pork pie, with puff pastry and green peppers. She couldn't stop raving about how delicious it was.


People also really enjoyed the peppered rump steak with pepper cream and tobacco onions. This was a very popular choice among the guests, who said the sauce was very peppery. One of the nearby guests nearly licked his plate clean. It looked very good!


I also got a photo of the lamb tagine. I don't recall speaking with whomever ordered it to get feedback, but it looks great!


Overall the food was well-prepared and well-seasoned. This was perhaps the best meal out of all the Optional Experiences on this trip. It also included two beverages. My selections were a pint of Smithwick's followed by a glass of Sauvignon Blanc. The staff was friendly, and considering the size of our group service was pretty quick, yet inaccurate. The servers forgot people's drinks or desserts in a couple cases.

For dessert I selected the apple puff. It was kind of unexpected and odd because the apples in the filling were raw, crunchy apples tossed in crème Anglaise. It wasn't bad, just had a more tart flavor than cooked apples would be. I would have preferred this with a cooked, sweeter, softer apple filling. For me it was fine, but nothing to lose my mind over.


Folks really seemed to enjoy the warm chocolate brownie and the tiramisu as well.



We wrapped up our first evening in Derry with a delicious meal in great company. Tomorrow we will continue to explore this city in addition to the Inishowen Peninsula.


Ireland - June 2018


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