Monday 19 August 2019

Doing my best with Belfast

With thanks to Silversea for this cruise
Another day, another grand old city - and another wasted opportunity, though I did my best, truly. It was my first visit to Belfast, and I really would have liked to do it justice, but tiresome health problems intervened and yet another nebuliser session with Silver Wind's doctor down in the bowels of the ship meant that we missed the departure time for the city tour we had booked - and paid for. Ouch.

But we soldiered on into town on the shuttle when we were free, and took a taxi to the Titanic museum, which was the high point of the tour we'd booked. It's a remarkable building, all angular and modern and silvery. Inside, it's very efficiently organised, and you follow a trail through it, covering everything to do with Belfast's marine history and the Titanic  in particular, from design to, well, destruction. There is a slightly silly gondola thing you sit in and are dangled around a shipyard mock-up, past all the stages. Most impressive was the riveting process, which was incredibly hard, hot, noisy and dangerous work, and the only relief from the repetitiveness must have been the terror that the RIVET CATCHERS diced with throughout their long shifts, literally catching the heated rivets (in a bucket) and passing them to the men who hammered them into place.
There are mock-ups of the interior, and lots of interesting facts such as there not being a laundry on the ship for all the tons of linens they used for sheets and tablecloths and so on - though they did have a drier so cloths that got wet didn't go mouldy. There were voice testimonies from survivors, radio messages from the rescue ships, video of the wreck (showing the captain's bath which - in a not-coincidence - the news a few days later reported has now disappeared). Fascinating.
The OH retired back to the Silver Wind then, but I carried on, walking doughtily along the bank of the River Lagan to the 10m tiled Salmon of Knowledge (you're meant to kiss its lips to glean something useful), to the modern Victoria Square shopping centre with its high domed observation deck overlooking the city, past the historic crooked Albert clock tower, various statues, and appealing pubs all with piles of metal beer kegs on the footpaths outside.
Then I gave up a bit too, and took a HoHo bus tour, not doing any hopping on or off, but getting quite a bit of exercise on the top deck swapping from side to side as the sights demanded, and also ducking under cover at the front when it rained. The live commentary was very good, full of appealingly bad jokes and sincere pride about George Best, but suitably serious about "the dark days of our Troubles" which was a big part of the tour, as we went along the Shankill Road, past some confronting street murals, Crumlin Jail, and the chillingly practical (and still used) Peace Wall. If I'd had the time, and the energy, I would have done a proper job of exploring this side of Belfast, full of such familiar names from the nightly TV news when I was living in England through the '80s.
But I didn't, so I trailed back to the ship, to gaze from our veranda at the hulking, yellow, and motionless Samson and Goliath cranes in the Harland and Wolff shipyard opposite - which, not coincidentally, besides the Titanic, also built HMS Belfast. The shipyard has been a huge part of Belfast's history, but just a week or so ago went into administration, falling silent apart from a cluster of protesting (former) workers outside the gates.
Helpful Roy, our butler, proudly presented us with our invitation to dine at La Dame, the intimate and exclusive Relais & Châteaux restaurant that's the only one on the ship you have to pay for ($60 each). We'd been too late to book for it, and there were no available tables any day - but somehow Roy had got us in. We didn't like to tell him we had no appetite whatsoever, so we dutifully trailed along, were seated with a flourish at our table with its fancy china, and proudly presented with the menu. I'd like to describe the culinary delights that I indulged in - but, with no hunger or even functioning tastebuds, the whole performance of preparation, presentation and service was entirely wasted on me. What a shame.

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