Sunday
Nov232014

Things I love about Belfast

The view from the Horseshoe Bend

Driving round the Horseshow bend seeing the whole of the city spread out beneath me, I see the Cave Hill, Divis and Black Mountains, the waterworks, Belfast Lough, with Samson and Goliath the Harland and Woolf shipyard cranes standing tall and proud. I see the spires of St Annes and St Peters, the points of Titanic Belfast, the Waterfront Hall, the yellow cladding on the City Hospital and the old Linen Mills stand proud. Cars and people move backwards and forwards, boats float along the Lough and the sounds and song of the city rise up to the hills. The streets of my city rise and fall, all under an overarching sky. In the distance I see the Mourne Mountains, the Copeland Island, Scotland and a glimpse of Scrabo Tower as it looks out over Strangford Lough. This view is especially magical at night when the city’s lights twinkle. I love that Belfast is surrounded by hills, and edged by a sea lough, and beautiful rivers, with long winding walks. Walking up the Cave Hill which looks like a giants head, and is said to be the place where Jonathan Swift got his inspiration for his book Gullivers Travels, to the top of Napoleon’s Nose is a bracing wonderful walk, with a view that makes me very happy.

The Ulster Museum

The Ulster Museum is one of my favourite places to while away the hours. One of my favourite exhibits are Sir John Lavery’s paintings entice me. His telling of the story through an exquisite use of light, colour and space is sublime. I find his work endlessly inspiring. Apart from the dinosaurs, which mesmerize me on a constant basis, the other exhibition I am fascinated by is centrepiece of the Egyptian Room is the mummy of Princess Takabuti, who was unwrapped in Belfast in 1835, was the first mummy ever to be displayed outside Egypt. The Museum shop is a wonderful place to buy presents for children, art cards, jewellery, books and unusual knickknacks.

Eating in Belfast

Belfast has some brilliant restaurants my favourites are:


James St South – fine or private dining, or the bar and grill, which incidentally does the best burger in Belfast, James St South, always impresses, and the thought behind their food for vegetarians is astonishing and delicious.


Zen – The food, service and experience in this Asian restaurant is flawless. Their cocktail evenings and show stopping ladies nights are fabulous and fun. Eddie Fung the owner alongside his managers Alex and Ashleigh, created the food and cocktails for my brother Brian and sister in law Sarah’s wedding banquet. It was a 12 course Vietnamese Wedding feast, the food was sublime and the service the best we have ever experienced.


The Fitzwilliam Hotel – The Fitzwilliam Hotel, in Belfast is my one of my favourite places in the city, a boutique hotel with a modern edgy design, excellent food and bar booths for private conversation. One of the many things about the Fitzwilliam that make me smile is their attention to detail, for the guest everything seems effortless allowing them to sit back relax and just enjoy the experience.


Belfast Cookery school – Cookery lessons with fantastic food, great music, excellent teachers and superb banter is one of my favourite places to go on a night out in Belfast. Run by Stephen Jeffers and his team here you will not only learn how to cook, but discover your own palate and tastebuds. Classes are packed with takeway knowledge, top tips and fun.


Berts Jazz Bar – Tinkling piano, soaring sax and clarinet solos and sensual singing and movement are all just part of a regular evening at Berts. The space is dark and moody – sensual even in the mix of wood, velvet, leather and painted frieze – creating an intimate and rather romantic atmosphere. The food classic, the cocktails superb.


Pizza Jazz – 24 inch pizzas, sing alongs, late nights, good food with no pretensions, good staff and garlicky dough balls Pizza Jazz is a gem of a restaurant. It serves pizza, pleasant wines, and simple desserts and it does it very, very well.

A sense of place in a short space

Queen’s University, this honey sandstone and redbrick building designed by Charles Lanyon based on the Magdalen College in Oxford. Founded by Queen Victoria in 1845, one of three Queen’s colleges, it is a magnificent building. Stormont Parliament Buildings has a bright white neoclassical facade and a drive a mile long, Belfast City Hall is a splendid neoclassical building, built in 1906 to symbolise the pride and might of a city which boasted the world’s largest shipyard, ropeworks and linen mills. These buildings take my breath away every time I see them, and remind me of the sense of history my city has. Belfast has some beautiful buildings, and the compact nature of the city makes walking around a real pleasure. One of the most important things to do when taking a dander around the city is to ‘Look Up’ because once you do that you see a whole new side to the city, and its rather magnificent Victorian architecture. The Linen Hall Library founded in 1788, is the last subscribing library in Ireland and the oldest library in Belfast. I have spent many days squirreled away in its stacks researching programmes for the BBC.

 

Belfast’s creativity

The city is abuzz with curiosity and creativity; it is a vibrant place to be. Public art, new positive murals, exhibitions, festivals, music and food. Belfast is a place where literary, music, art walking, political, history and food tours abound. The Musicians Van Morrison, James Galway, Gary Lightbody, and Duke Special are all sons of Belfast. Poets and writers like CS Lewis, Marie Jones, Seamus Heaney, Michael Longley, Louis MacNiece, Paul Muldoon, Sinead Morrissey and Tom Paulin, have all been inspired by the city, and their creativity lingers, inspiring today’s generation of Belfast writers.

What do you love about your city?

This post first appeared as a guest post on The Belfast Times, as part of the Discover Belfast series.

That's it for now ...

Nics

Salt & Sparkle = Life Remarkable

Friday
Sep052014

Titanic Belfast

On Queen’s Island in the Belfast docks a rather intriguing building catches your eye.  It’s one of the most remarkable buildings I have seen.   My eyes drawn to it time and time again.  The silver anodised three-dimensional aluminium shards, several thousand of which cover the building’s facade, reflect light in the most interesting of ways, giving the building a slightly different look depending on the time of day.  The effect is really quite unique and holds your attention as you look at it.

It’s an angular building; its four spiky corners are designed by Eric Kuhne Associates to resemble the ship The Titanic’s Prows.  The building comprises of four Prows each standing at 38 metres high, the same height as Titanic’s Hull.  Standing at the bottom looking up I have a sense of the immense scale and sheer size of that legendary ship.

We had the chance to meet Eric when the building opened, because Belfast Community Gospel Choir in which I sing were part of the opening ceremony.  As Eric heard us sing, 'Something inside so strong' he stood with tears rolling down his eyes and said, 'We have brought music and life back to the shipyards.'

The building is Titanic Belfast and it opened in April 2012.  It is an interactive visitor experience, with galleries giving the history from a social, economic and political perspective of Boomtown Belfast which was one of the world’s major industrial cities in the 18 & early 1900s.  It includes the history of the cities great shipyards Harland and Wolff, which were at their peak the largest shipyard in the world.

Over nine galleries the exhibition uses media projection, photographic, artefacts, video, interactive features, guides and words to tell the story of Belfast at the time of the Titanic.  

The immediate interior uses galvanised steel juxtaposed with glass and wood to dramatic effect.  It feels modern and fresh, but all at once timeless.  There is a sense of history and scale that is impressive and draws out the feeling of what it actually was like to work with huge pieces of steel in the shipyards.

Life sized silhouettes of people are superimposed onto the walls of the gallery, giving the visitor a sense of walking the streets of Belfast along with shipyard and mills workers.  It is a rather immersive experience which has been cleverly thought out.  Eyewitness accounts of the men who designed the ship or owned the shipyards are displayed on cards on the wall along with views of people who saw the ship launch from Belfast in April 1912, or those who worked on the ship itself.

The gantry is a very powerful part of the gallery experience, which truly sent shivers up my spine, as we stood at the bottom and looked up at the metal scaffle rods men would have worked on without safety nets.  The height is incredible and somewhat disconcerting, it firmly places in the mind the actual scale of the ocean liners.  Standing at the top and looking down I had little shocks run up my legs from the huge height.  

There is an indoor aerial ride, which again cleverly uses a range of media to tell the story.  This was particularly impressive to us as it takes the visitor through different aspects of the shipyards as if given a birdseye view on the action.  Sounds and echoes give a sense of the noise and cramped space shipyards workers would have had to endure. 

There is a video of two men rivets, hammering in rivets in a tiny box, one hammers then the other, in a rhythm. The noise and compression of their workspace is eery to see, these men were  paid by the number of rivets they placed each day.

The physical recreation exhibits of first, second and third class cabins, and a lifeboat give a real sense of the scale onboard the ship, and the difference in furnishings depending on class, as well as the truly remarkable sense of how tiny those lifeboats actually were for a ship of that size.  Interestingly there are no actual artefacts from the ship itself, but this does not mire the experience of Titanic Belfast in anyway. 

The tour is either self or audio guided, however there are plenty of staff around, who are all very knowledgeable and if they don’t know an answer to a question they find it out for you.  We asked one at the beginning of the ride through the shipyard and had an answer by the end.  An mpressive attention to detail and desire to make the visitor experience a good one.

The galleries use light effectively to portray the story of the city and Belfast, some of the galleries are in darkness lit only in specific areas, which makes the experience very moving, as you reflect not only on the history of the city, but the lives of the people who built Titanic and ultimately those who died on her.  As well as a history of oceanic exploration and the discovery of the Titanic Wreck, there is a glass floor to walk on with projections of the ship’s wreck below.  And yes, the Celine Dion song does play at one point, and it’s beautiful.

This bold, innovative and striking museum makes for a fascinating insightful experience, one we highly recommend.

Titanic Belfast is an essential stop on any visit to Belfast, whether you are a tourist or a local.

And after touring the building I highly recommend you stop for afternoon tea, which we'll be telling you all about very soon.

 

That's it for now ...

 

Nics

 

Salt & Sparkle = Life Remarkable

Titanic Belfast
1 Olympic Way,
Queen's Road,
Titanic Quarter,
Belfast,
Northern Ireland
BT3 9EP
Tel: +44 28 9076 6399
ticketing@titanicbelfast.com