Ireland – Day 5 – Belfast, Giant’s Causeway, Londonderry/Derry

June 25, 2018 (Last Updated: July 1, 2020)
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A group of people on a rocky shore

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.

a buffet of breakfast foods
breakfast pastries on platters
a bread area of a buffet
a plate of breakfast foods from a buffet

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.

bottles of milk and a coffee maker
jugs of juice on a breakfast buffet
A group of people in a restaurant

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.

exterior of the Titanic museum in Belfast

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).

signs hanging from the ceiling
a display of straw and cloth fibers
various types of cloth fibers
a sign that says Time Clock
an old clock
A close up of a sign for White Star Line
a variety of old signs for White Star Line
a handwritten piece of paper
Payroll for ship designers/builders
a blueprint for the Titanic
another section of the blueprint for the Titanic
another portion of the Titanic\'s blueprint
the final part of the Titanic\'s blueprint
a sign that says Preparing Belfast for Olympic Class Ships

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.

a display of The Shipyard in the Titanic museum
a photo inside the Titanic museum
A sign that says The First Step
images inside the Titanic Belfast Experience
an old photo of building ships in Belfast
a sign that says Framing
photos of framing the Titanic ship
a sign that says Plating and Riveting
an image of someone adding rivets while building the Titanic
A sign that says Bulkheads and Decking
a sign that says Fitting the Rudder
a photograph inside a museum
old photos inside a museum

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

A display in the Titanic museum
A close up of a sign about the Titanic
A sign overlooking boat docks
a sign with information about the Titanic
a model of a ship terminal
A group of people standing in a room with large windows
a photo of the Titanic\'s boiler rooms
an old photo of the Titanic\'s engines
a photo of the Titanic\'s propellers
an old photo of building the Titanic

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.

A close up of a sign
a replica of a first class cabin on the Titanic
another view of a first class cabin on the Titanic
A close up of sign about second class cabins
A close up of a sign with a violin on it
a replica of a second class cabin on the Titanic
A close up of sign about third class cabins on the Titanic
a replica of a third class cabin on the Titanic
a set of china plates from the Titanic
a museum display about music on the Titanic
a museum display about linens on the Titanic
a sign that says 1st Class Luncheon Menu
a lunch menu from the Titanic

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.

Ice Warning sign
All Stations Urgent sign
Help, Big Sister sign
Ships to the Rescue sign
Urgent Full Steam sign
The Last Messages sign

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.

a screenshot of some names of Titanic passengers
another screenshot of names of Titanic passengers

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

Titanic wreckage
another view of Titanic wreckage

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.

exterior of Titanic Studios
Titanic Studios, where they film Game of Thrones!
large yellow cranes on the docks where the Titanic was built
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.

a rope bridge crossing between rocky islands
closeup of a rope bridge between rocky islands
A close up of a hillside next to a body of water
A herd of sheep grazing on a lush green field
A close up of a hillside next to a body of water

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.

a rocky shoreline
A group of people on a rocky beach
a woman posing on a rocky beach
A close up of geometrically shaped rocks
A group of people standing on a rocky surface beneath a mountain
a woman posing on the Giant\'s Causeway in Northern Ireland

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.

A group of people walking up a hill with a rocky wall
A rocky shoreline with cliffs in the distance

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.

a map of Game of Thrones locations in Northern Ireland

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.

castle ruins on a hilltop overlooking the sea
castle ruins on a grassy hill overlooking the sea

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.

exterior of the Everglades Hotel

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.

a hotel room with 3 beds
a hotel bathroom
a hotel bathroom
rubber duckies in a hotel bathroom
view outside a hotel room window
a giant rubber duck with a camera around its neck

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

a hotel lounge bar with many bookshelves
a hotel lounge with a piano

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.

the Peace Bridge in Derry, Northern Ireland

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.

view from the Peace Bridge in Derry
view of Guildhall from the Peace Bridge in Derry
a statue of 2 people reaching out to each other
Hands Across the Divide
A sign for The Peace Bridge

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.

A statue of a man
a building with stone monuments in front
closeup of Guildhall across the river through the uprights of the Peace Bridge
view of the Peace Bridge and Derry beyond

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.

a restaurant menu

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!

a bowl of soup with brown bread

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.

a bowl of fried chicken wings

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.

fillets of fish served over roasted potatoes

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.

a plate of fish served with salad in a bowl on the side

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.

A bowl of Caesar salad

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.

A bowl of stew with puff pastry on top

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!

a piece of cooked meat topped with fried onions

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!

a plate of braised meat on the bone

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.

A plate of dessert

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

a chocolate dessert on a plate
dessert in a glass cup on a plate

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.

a row of docked boats in the water

Ireland – June 2018

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