Archive for June 2017

Half Day in Belfast   Leave a comment

Both DH and I were very interested in the history of Belfast, so while many of our fellow cruisers dashed to the Giants Causeway, booked Game of Thrones and Titanic tours, we opted for a private Belfast tour. Having had success through Tours By Locals in the past, I booked through them again. Once confirmed, our guide, Bobby Walsh, answered my questions promptly. 

Bobby also dealt with adversity smoothly. He found that he had a flat tire the morning of our tour.  So he sent another driver to collect us while he got the tire fixed. We were driven to Bobby’s location and the rest of the tour went off without a hitch. 

The tour began with the famous Belfast murals and an exploration of the “Troubles”.  Bobby poured out a lot of information that we didn’t know about this period of time. It was a sobering couple of hours that left us wanting to learn more. Currently, there is peace in Northern Ireland, but with a 30 foot wall locked each night to keep the factions from getting stupid with each other, the peace seems tenuous to this outsider. I wish them well!

Once we broke away from the politics  (not entirely possible in Belfast, I think!), Bobby took us to a high vantage point, along a formerly restricted road, overlooking the city. Unfortunately, the gloomy morning marred the view. He then drove us to St. George’s Market, which is an enormous enclosed market, selling bits of everything during the weekend. I didn’t find my usual fridge magnet there, but did buy some nice Irish cheese (I am officially cut off from cheese purchases)!

I had mentioned my magnet obsession to Bobby. We started to leave from his parking spot near the market when he suddenly did a u-turn. Back in front of the Hilton he parked, while explaining that he was sure he had seen magnets at the concierge desk…and that they’d be cheaper than anywhere else. Sure enough, the Hilton offered up fridge magnets for £2 or 3 for £5.  (They would prove to be the cheapest we would find the entire trip!)

Glancing at the time, Bobby noted that it was 11:45, so he decided our next stop should be the Crown Saloon as it was just opening.  It is an exquisite Victorian pub, with ornate decoration and plenty of “snugs” (private booths). He gave us plenty of time to have a pint, and seemed disappointed that we declined (unsure of availability of future toilet stops!). 

We then checked out Queen’s University followed by a short drive out of the city to Belfast Castle. We chose not to go inside, instead spending our time wandering the grounds where several cat statues lounged. Finally we would drive past the Titanic Experience  (Bobby emphasized that this was not a museum!) and check out the area where Titanic was built. 

Really a great tour and a great way to learn a lot about the city and the country of Northern Ireland. 

Dallying in Dublin   Leave a comment

The weather continued its cooperation; our day in Dublin would be in the 70’s and sunny! Being that we were parked in a very industrial area: 

we made our way into the city center via the port shuttle ($15pp…it would have been nice to be more central). Careful to note the drop-off point, we set off toward Trinity College. 

It is a beautiful campus and houses the historical Book of Kells. However, at €13 each for a peek at the book, we passed! 

Off to Dublin Castle next. A smallish castle with lovely grounds. 

Then we continued our hike and made our way to St. Patrick’s Cathedral. There wasn’t an opportunity to peek inside without coughing up €, so we settled for the exterior shot from the adjacent park. 

14,000 steps later, it was time for the first pub stop. I had come across a list of the top ten pubs in Dublin and book marked a couple of them. The first pub was the Norseman. Nice little pub with a singer entertaining the small crowd with classic pub music mixed with Irish ballads. 

Shortly after we arrived, the pub got really busy. It was as if a tour group got dropped off outside. So we made our way down to the next pub; the Palace. Although it too was located in the busy Temple Bar area, it appeared to be at a quieter end. We easily found seats at this classic Victorian pub and happily had our pint of Guinness. 

It was a good 15-20 minute walk back to the shuttle from there. 

Good-bye to Dublin!

Kirkwall, Orkney Islands    Leave a comment

After a much needed sea day, we arrived in Kirkwall. Our ship was not docked at the expected dock (steps from the town center) so the locals provided a complimentary “bendy bus” shuttle. 

Unfortunately, we did not go into town, but hung out on our ship until our tour in the afternoon. Ship tours are generally not as good as private tours (large coach busses with too many people) but this one wasn’t too expensive, especially as we would get a $50 cruise credit once the tour was completed. 

Our tour was of the southern part of Orkney. There would be several panoramic view points that we would stop at along with the town of St. Margaret’s Hope and the Italian Chapel. 

My one complaint about the tour was that we spent an entire hour in St. Margaret’s Hope, which was far too long. There is a free blacksmith museum, a craft shop, a convenience store and a hotel with a small restaurant/pub.  As I had already acquired my fridge magnet at the craft shop set up at the pier, I had no shopping to do and would have been happy to leave the town after 20 minutes!

However the scenic spots were plentiful and very worthwhile. We went along Scapa Flow, where the Germans scuttled their fleet after WWI.  

It is the same body of water in which the battleship HMS Royal Oak was sunk during WWII. A German commander took advantage of the deep channel and a extraordinarily high tide to run his U-boat up the Flow to torpedo the battleship. 

More scenic spots ensued on our drive to the Italian Chapel. 

Italian soldiers captured during campaigns in North Africa were sent to Kirkwall as prisoners of war. During their interment they would build the Churchill Barriers which would prevent future attacks on Scapa Flow. They would also build their Chapel out of two Quonset huts and scavenged materials. The interior is hand-painted and a testament to peace overcoming war. 

Overall a nice tour and overview of the history of the Orkney Islands!

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