Day 1: 22 Aug 2013
🚄 1320 Dublin Connelly to 1535 Belfast Central Rail Station
You can check train timetables on Translink.
After about 2 hours on the train, we arrived at Belfast at around quarter to 4. Our hostel notes suggested that it would be easier to take a cab from the station to the hostel so that’s what we did. There’s plenty of them waiting outside the station and it took us less than 10 minutes to find our hostel. £6 for the ride was a very good price actually seeing as there was no easy way to get there by public transport.
🏠 Belfast City Backpacker
£84 for 2 nights for 3 persons (6 bed mixed room)
We checked in and the receptionist was very helpful and welcoming, just like in Abigail’s, in pointing out various different places to visit in Belfast. He confirmed that it was cheaper and far more convenient to hail cabs to get around places in Belfast as our hostel is a little way out of the city centre. We checked in and although our room was very cramped, it was amusing to see David’s bunk bed has Barbie covers, whilst mine and Alex’s were WWF. David’s and Alex’s shared a bunk bed while I took the top bunk of the other bed opposite theirs.
Nesting completed, we then headed out to the city centre – onwards to the Titanic Museum. Taking the local cab rank’s number from Google, we hailed a cab to the museum. We paid a measly sum of £10 to the Museum. Entry wasn’t free but the guy at the ticket booth gave us all student discounts (despite not being one) and we got our tickets for £10 as well (it’s £15 normally).
A week before we went on our Irish Tour, I visited Liverpool. A friend Chris took me to the Maritime Museum and learnt about the cultural link between the Scouse and Irish. Visiting the Titanic Museum, therefore seemed like a natural place to see next. The Museum was very big. It had the usual glass displays of artefacts recovered from the sunken ship, portraits of the notable people who were involved in building the legendary ship… as well as a giant cinema space showing a submarine video of the wreck AND a ski-like-ride to see how the stern of the ship was made (very cool!).
Our tour was about 2 hours and at about 1900, we yet again took another cab to the Victoria Square to see where we could grab dinner. We found a Chiquitos at the top floor of the mall and waited for our tables over bottles of Desperados. It was Alex’s birthday so while he went to the loo, I asked the waiter if they do any Birthday Specials. She said she’ll come to me. We then finally got our seats, after 20 minutes of waiting and proceeded to order our food. After our meal, the waiter got back to us with a chocolate fudge sponge cake with vanilla ice cream on the house for Alex. We sang him a quite happy birthday and merrily cheered!
All satisfied and merry, we headed back to our hostel and played, for nostalgia’s sake, Crash Team Racing on the ancient PS2 on the lounge. Just like the old days!
A month before our trip, Alex and I decided we wanted to see the Giant’s Causeway – to remind us how we became friends in the first place… over geography field trips back in our undergrad days. This was the only definite thing we wanted to do so I booked one off a tour company called: ToursBelfast. After quickly scoffing breakfast, free from the hostel, we headed to town and waited outside the Opera House for our coach tour. We picked up some sandwiches from Tesco opposite and coffee from Costa nearby and then set off.
We set off at about 0945, stopped briefly at some picturesque points along the way and for lunch at the Bushmill Distillery, eventually reaching Giant’s Causeway at about 1330. There’s a fee to access the visitor centre (it’s free, however, for National Trust members) so we just headed straight down the coast. It was breathtakingly awesome, only marred by the number of tourists out there. Despite the weather being grey, rocks were slippery wet and the occasional tourist photobombing our shots, we had a satisfying and relaxing time on the rocks.
At about half 3, we set off to go to the Rope Bridge at Carrick-a-Rede. It was a bit of trek from the car park and there were some slippery outcrop along the path but again, the view of the Northern Irish coast was stunning! If the sun only had come out, the pictures would have looked like as if they were taken from the Caribbean. The hills and cliffs were covered in swathes of green, beach was chalk white and the waters were so sky blue and clear you make out the fish swimming it! Very impressive for me. We paid £5 to cross the bridge and onto the outcrop of land over to the other side where plenty of seagulls nested on the cliff face. Again, it was very relaxing to just feel the breeze, hear the gulls and watch the waters crashing into the rocks.
The Northern Irish weather grew increasingly dire and as we crossed the bridge back to the car park, it POURED heavily. By the time we got back to the car park, we were drenched! Thankfully, there’s a gift shop nearby and I bought a hoody. I don’t mind the rain but the one thing I really dislike is being wet when travelling. I bought tea all round and then we boarded our coach back to Belfast.
I dozed off at the back of the coach and by the time I woke up, it was already 1930 and we arrived back at Belfast. We quickly headed back to the hostel to freshen up and again went back to the city centre.
We were intrigued by the queue that formed at Cosmo, the restaurant next to Chiquitos. Cosmo was a pan-Asian and western fusion eat all you can buffet place. We had a good experience at the Mongolian BBQ in Dublin and it seemed like a good value for money seeing as we were VERY hungry from our escapades thus far. Thankfully, when had sat down, the food was very palatable. The price per person was £12, a reasonable price for the amount of selection and quality of food to choose from. I had a couple dim sum – char siu bao and sui mai, as well as some duck pancakes and noodles. There’s plenty to choose from and boy, did I try most of them!
Towards the end of the meal, we were politely told that they were closing soon (it was already close to 2300), so we cleared our last plate of desserts, paid the bill and left for the pubs. We walked along streets of no particular direction and somehow ended up in a bar that resembled someone else’s living room, drawn by a couple of people setting up for live acoustic session. We ordered beers and just chilled and listen to a mix of folk/acoustic Irish songs. 2 acts finished their sets when we decided that we could have done with some sleep.
We decided to walk back to our hostel… which perhaps may not have been the best idea as we inadvertently taken a wrong turn and almost ventured too far out from our hostel. We got to the banks of River Lagan when we realised we’d strayed. Thankfully, I had the map, free from the hostel in my pocket and duly redirected our walk along the embankment back to our hostel. There were very little lights along the streets of Belfast so it felt terribly unsafe. We all agreed not to mention where I work so instead, Alex and David kept chiming on the (not)fact I was a baker.
Suffice to say, despite mildly inebriated, we found our way back and kipped.
We checked out of our hostel after a more laissez-faire breakfast and a game of jenga in dining area (Alex lost). Our flight back to London was from Dublin and was not til 1940 so we just took our time to walk back to the city centre to see some local sights. We got on the 1405 train back to Dublin (here’s the timetables). At 1620, we arrived and took a cab waiting outside Connelly Stn, straight to the airport.
There ends our trip to Ireland and Northern Ireland.
Admittedly, we felt that Dublin was very grey and rather unappealing. We moaned at each other on how very uninteresting the place, only saved by small gems in small places. The place looks rather run down and everything was almost 1.5x more expensive than back here in England, because of the pound-euro conversion. Ultimately, however, the trip was worth it because of the company I had. 2007 was the last time Alex and I went on holiday together (with 4 other uni mates) when we impulsively went to New York and Toronto; and it was my first time going on holiday with David. We made the most of what we had to work with, with not the biggest budget in the world. However, it would hard pressed for me to say I’ll be going back to Ireland any time in the future for my holidays. We enjoyed our trail in the countryside so maybe, we’ll go back for a trek holiday but certainly not for the cities.