May 18 – go north, life is (at last) peaceful there

It was a big (I guess, the big) tour day today so up and at ‘em before 6 for a quick brekky and to rendezvous with all the other people that would soon collectively make up a bus load of tourists. As luck would have it, the other critical ingredient soon arrived – the bus! On we piled for a big adventure.

Today we were heading north. Very north, up to Northern Ireland, Belfast to be a bit more exact, to visit the Titanic museum. There are no border controls, no passports, just a sign welcoming us as we cross from the republic to Northern Ireland.

Our guide gives us a potted history of Ireland and Northern Ireland along the way, a pivotal moment being Henry VIII’s formation of the Church of England so he could get himself a divorce. It’s as if those adhering to the new religion and those adhering to the old have been at loggerheads ever since. Animosity, hatred, conflicts, wars, so many lives pointlessly lost, all due to religion. As an outsider, it’s just so fucking tragic that it’s all about, well … Nothing.

The Titanic museum was all about one of the world’s more famous failures. Housed in a big impressive building, it was completed about 10 years ago.

It does a wonderful job of setting the context, talking about Belfast and the way it became a superpower in the linen trade and steel and shipbuilding. Harland and Wolff was the most efficient shipbuilder, with an excellent reputation, no wonder it had the ambition to take on the building of the unimaginably large ships like the Olympic and the Titanic. Surprisingly, the museum took a turn when it came to explaining parts of the building process – we turned a corner and were ushered into a sort of amusement park ride, most unexpected. It took us on a five minute trip, twisting and turning to show little vignettes on details of the process, such as the hardships faced by those responsible for setting the many many rivets that held the whole things together. Lucky things were working for “only” 54 hours a week.

The ride came to an end and we learned more about the launch – cleverly positioned so this room looked out over the actual slipway used by Olympic and Titanic as they moved from shipyard to waterway.

Next up we’re some mock-ups of the luxurious, and less luxurious cabins on board, first class still looks fancy, even with one of those new tangled electric lamps. But for third class, I believe there were only two. At brooms for the lot of them so that cannot have been pleasant. One thing I found interesting was that the ship had to have enough linen on board to last from port to port, as there were no facilities on board to wash it. So that’s a lot of sheets and tablecloths and serviettes and the like!

Then the bit we all know about – hey what’s that, oops too late, crunch, ow, splish, splash, blub blub blub, no you can’t share my door. There were bits of this I never knew about – like the nearest ship didn’t know titanic was calling for help because it’s radio person had clocked off for the day so nobody was listening to the radio. Unimaginable these days – indeed, one of the outcomes of this disaster was a requirement for ships to have a radio person available at all times to listen to incoming signals. I also didn’t know that there should have been a pair of binoculars up in Titanic’s crows nest but they were missing – so there was no chance to see any icebergs until they were quite close by. At least out of so much bad came some good, with the changing of rules and regulations to help prevent some of worst of the problems that befell titanic.

The next section was dedicated to its rediscovery – I’d actually forgotten it had laid there in peace and quiet until 1985. I keep taking “that’s so recent” – but that’s just me showing my age, with a reality check that it’s nearly 40 years ago.

The final room was a sort of large, artistic, multi-media representation of titanic’s lifecycle – quite effectively done. The room also had a few items recovered from a few people who didn’t make it. A pocket watch, somewhat eerliy (but understandably) stopped at 1:37, the same moment it (and its owner) hit the icy waters.

To its the credit, there was no “exit through the gift shop”, but rest assured there was one just a few steps away. It was a fascinating way to spend two hours, well worth a visit.

It’s another one of those interesting things that had it been successful, we’d never had heard of Titanic, it would have been just another boat like so many before or since. But since disaster befell people, and more to the point, rich people, it has been recorded in great detail and fussed over for more than a hundred years since. Just like the Vasa ship in Sweden, it’s the failure that gives it a certain immortality. It’s a good note to yourself should you fail at something – just look how important and useful failure can actually be 🙂

Back on the bus we all then piled, for our next destination – Dunluce Castle, or rather the remains thereof. I don’t know much about the castle’s history (yes let’s all just Google it later) but it was a lovely old crumbling thing, ripe for the crawling-over by bus loads of happy-snappers like myself. Here are probably too many photos.

Too soon it was bus time again for a quick trip to our next major stop, the Giant’s Causewqy. And more importantly, lunch! We decided on eating first as the rain which we have pretty much avoided for our whole trip was starting to catch up with us. Of course several other bus loads of people had the same idea, but we managed to get a table in “The Nook”, a nice old pub, and got our hands on a ridiculously good lunch – I swear my smoked salmon sandwich had salmon an inch thick in parts, and Perry’s steak and Guinness pie looked delicious. This was accompanied with garlic chips, which by the time we got through them, were literally swimming in garlic butter at the bottom of their dish. Very good!

We waited a good bit of time for a bus down to the causeway, to the point where our best option was to line back up immediately for the bus going back up to the top. But we were able to tag team and still go for a little wander to get some pictures. It was raining so I wasn’t at all keen to try clambering around, knowing I’d be the first to be going arse-over-tit at a moment’s notice. Interestingly they had a few staff positioned at points on the causeway, there to try and reduce the number of dumb people doing dumb things – discouraging them from the more dangerous bits.

Our bus back to the top got us there in time to get back to our other bus, the one that would ultimately take us back home (with a brief comfort stop on the way, peppered with additional drama that only one loo was available!).

Lasting some 14 hours, it’s a big day for the tour operators and tourists alike, mind you I managed a few good naps, a nice luxury not afforded our driver 🙂 We were returned to Dublin and left the coach, feeling richer (though not financially!) for the experience.

We thought we’d just opt for a quick dinner in the hotel to end the night early. Except I think it’s been at least an hour waiting for the food – guess they’re having a no good very bad kind of day, poor things. But it’s kinda been fun listening to other tables threaten to walk because of all the time it’s taking. This place has only been open a few weeks, I guess kitchen staffing or service still hasn’t settled in yet. Still, it gives me time to write a paragraph about someone else having a shit day, and it’s not us, so that’s a thing? Hmm if I put my mind to it I may yet finish a novel, the way things are going 🙂

And so, our time in Ireland is at an end. Of course most of it was spent in a hotel room feeling poorly, but at least it was a comfortable place to recover. It’s a shame we didn’t get to see as much of Dublin as we might have liked, but for these kind of things you just have to roll with it and be grateful for the things that we did get a chance to see and experience. After all, as we learned today, worse things happen at sea!

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