Belfast, United Kingdom
Steve, the first member of staff I met at the hostel last night, had drawn out and talked through a walking route for Belfast which included all the recommended sights, so today I followed it. Lagan backpackers is close to the Botanic gardens, which house the Ulster museum, so I started there.
Somehow I managed to hit the history section from the rear, so started a bit confused, reading about ww2 then the potato famine, but once I spotted the order had a great wander through time. Much better, sometimes, to start from the end and work quickly to the beginning before covering the whole thing the right way. The section on the Troubles is the highlight-apart from the dinosaur skeleton, perhaps-and very moving, particularly the oral testimonies. I’m not sure where next-solidarity in Poland, troubles in Ireland; perhaps apartheid in SA and reconciliation in Rwanda?
Steve’s Trail took me next to City Hall, with a free tour at 2. Well attended if unexciting, the tour does at least get you behind the scenes, and into the council and function rooms. City hall itself needs little gilding, mind, being a spectacular building. As the guide helpfully explained, there were two types of marble, Italian marble, from Italy, and Greek marble, from Greece. Clarity ensured, but perhaps it has to be due to the unique way in which city hall is funded. From the beauty of City Hall to the new architecture of the Victoria Street shopping centre, which has a great view over the city. Said view is reached by a climb up several stories; if you eschew the lift the stairs are quite doable, though my vertigo could have done without the view out of the side of the stairwell. How the brain manages to tell me I can fall when fully enclosed I don’t know, but it is very good at it.
A wander round by the waterfront took me to the leaning clock, set up to commemorate Queen Victoria and Albert’s visit. The clock leans because it was built on wooden foundations in a reclaimed bog. Just beyond the clock is the Big Fish. The picture says it all; it is a very good, big, fish. Salmon, you know. The River Lagan is being repopulated with fish, though I think the sculpture predates the 200 fish which now move upriver – with the aid of a fish ladder – to spawn.
Browsing the welcome to Belfast section in city hall, I noticed the queens film theatre is near the hostel, and showing ‘Beware Mr Baker’ this weekend, so in the evening I went to learn about the drumming lunatic. He was interviewed on Radio six and sounded genial and entertaining, but has actually spent his career irritating pretty much everyone he has ever worked with, even punching bandmates. Inspired by African music he went to *****ia to explore, ending up playing with their greatest musician, racing in a rally and thereby discovering a lifelong love of Polo. Seriously, rarely has the phrase Rock and Roll seemed so fitting, except he’d argue he’s a Jazz drummer. Recommended, and an eye opener. Even better, Surreyites, he’s bringing a band to Kingston on 5th June, an excuse to go and support him and the Rose theatre.