November 29, 2014 – After sticking around the southern part of the island for the last 2 days, we decided that it was time to go to Northern Ireland and Belfast. Because it’s a 3 hour ride, we had to get up early to make the train and take advantage of as much daylight as possible.
After hopping the DART to the Dublin Connolly station, we grabbed some breakfast to go from the the various vendors at the station. At first I didn’t like the 4 seat-per-table configuration of the train car, but we ended up having a nice conversation with a couple that was heading up to Belfast for the day. If you grab a window seat, make sure to take advantage of the coastal views along the way.
Once in Belfast, we made our way to City Hall via the Waterfront and Victoria Square Shopping Center. One event that we heard about from the nice couple on the train was the Christmas Market at city hall. I can honestly say that we weren’t prepared for just how popular that event was… and we definitely weren’t prepared to find tasty German bratwursts at various spots at the festival. Armed with this new information, we quickly walked through the festival, grabbed a bratwurst snack, and started the long walk to the Ulster Museum.
OK, so the walk really wasn’t that long at 1.2 miles, but it was good that we grabbed a snack beforehand. The museum had a nice mix of exhibits covering everything from dinosaurs to modern art. (But alas, no exhibits of dinosaurs CREATING modern art. Can’t have it all I guess.) The most informative exhibit, in my opinion, was the exhibit on The Troubles. As an outsider visiting Northern Ireland, the exhibit gives a good overview of the issues that folks faced during that period of time. If you need something to break up the seriousness of that exhibit, then we recommend the gem/mineral exhibit on the upper floors of the museum. Finally, we grabbed some tea and desserts at the cafe before leaving the museum and heading back towards City Hall.
Since we hadn’t had lunch yet, we stopped at Lavery’s for a pint, food, and some Premier League action. While it took us half the pint to figure out who was actually playing in the match, we still enjoyed watching the game. We also enjoyed our meal, which consisted of fish and chips for Louisa and an Asian-inspired sea bass noodle dish for me. Yes, I opted for non-traditional pub fare, but was not disappointed.
Since we didn’t have too much daylight left, we stayed around City Hall and the Waterfront for the rest of the afternoon. The highlights of the afternoon were the Linen Hall Library (quiet please!), the Victoria Square Shopping Center dome (great view of the city), and the Big Fish (wait, what?). We also tried walking to the Titanic Museum, or at least what we thought was the museum. We found out the hard way that the building was actually The Odyssey. We weren’t entirely sure until we walked into the building to find a movie theatre and a 90’s style arcade instead of exhibits of the historic ship. After walking out the back of The Odyssey, we saw the real museum about a half mile down the harbor. Moral of the story: If you are standing at the Big Fish thinking that the museum is that big building across the harbor… it’s not.
Since there wasn’t much afternoon left, we did not make it to the museum. Instead we spent the rest of our time hanging out at the Christmas Market while we enjoyed tasty German bratwursts and mulled wine. No, there is nothing wrong with eating bratwursts multiple times per day while in Northern Ireland. Especially when it is really hard to find bratwursts like this back in the US.
The most interesting part of the day came on the train ride back to Dublin that evening. While the train crew from the morning was organized, the exact opposite was true for this train. Train carriages were not labeled, and reservations were not posted on the seats as they normally would be. Normally this would not be a problem, but the train was completely (over?)booked, and there were no seats available by the time we figured exactly where the G car was. While we eventually got our reserved seats, it was not a positive experience. Next time, we will be more prepared for a free-for-all to get seats if the reservation system is down.
Thankfully, the rest of the night was calm and consisted of a walk along the canal to get back to our hotel. On our next, and final, full day we will be exploring Kilkenny and more of Dublin.