Today we are in Belfast, Northern Ireland, and part of the British Empire. As such, the Queen has a residence here. We are taking a brief city tour and then going to , the Queen’s home when she is visiting Northern Ireland. While a royal palace, it was built as a Georgian home right in the community of which it is apart. Across the street are the village shops, behind it lovely parklands. Although it has now been three years, the Queen has held annual garden parties here to which you can apply to be a part.
We began our tour by driving through the docklands where are boat is docked. We can see the Titanic Museum from our berth. While close, to get there you have to actually need to got out the docklands and around again. Difficult when you need to call a cab to get you back to the ship or figure out the public transport. Wish the ship’s shuttle would make a stop there. Boris has visited and said it is fantastic. Next door is the brick building, the original headquarters for the shipbuilders, Harland and Wolff who still build in this shipyard.
Yes, another Titanic stop on our cruise, our last. This is the shipyard where the Titanic was built. The medal supports outside the museum represent its actually size and the shape of the museum itself represents a ship from the unique vantage point we have from our own vessel. They now call this area of the Docklands, the Titanic Quarter.
Our next stop was to see the Parliament Buildings, commonly called Stormont due to the location on the Stormont Estate east of Belfast. Clearly they were trying to make a statement with not only the building but the approach as well. Built in 1921 and dedicated by the Prince of Wales (on behalf of George V) in November 1932, today it is the site of the legislative body of Northern Ireland (established by the Belfast Agreement or “Good Friday Agreement” of 1998). During WWII, the building was purposely discolored with manure to make it less visible and it survived the war. There are free tours offered twice daily each weekday.
Our next stop was for our interior and gardens tour of Hillsborough Castle, the Queen’s residence in Northern Ireland. Building on the Georgian style home was begun in the 1770s by Wills Hill, 2nd Earl of Hillsborough and later 1st Marquess of Downshire. It was later sold to the British Government, renamed the Government House, and was the home of the Governor of Northern Ireland. As a young girl, the Queen and her sister Margaret would visit her aunt and uncle at the Government House.
Unfortunately no interior photographs were permitted. This palace was far more homey than Elizabeth’s other residence. I enjoyed looking at all the family photographs taken on site that were on display and much enjoyed by the tourists-Natasha included. My favorite was of a laughing Prince Andrew with his daughters. Portions of the home were being painted in a color scheme chosen by Charles, the Prince of Wales. Our guide wasn’t too sure about his choices. In the entrance hall, a nice painting job had made the wooden walls look as if there were on the same stone as the exterior.
After being guided through the interior, we were given maps and free time to enjoy the gardens or the village. With only 20 minutes, we couldn’t get far so we took a look around the gardens and down to the river behind the palace. It was lovely. On the back patio where the Queen’s garden party is held, it looked like staged natural growth with flowers coming up between the stones.
My favorite perspective was looking down the path lined with tall trees at the folly, Lady Alice’s Temple, a wedding gift from the 5th Marquess of Downshire to his sister Lady Alice Hill on her marriage to the Earl of Bective in 1867. I would have enjoyed having a little more time here to survey the grounds and maybe even visit the village and nearby fort that was within walking distance.
Our tour took us next into the heart of the city, passing some fabulous campus buildings, the opera house, finally dropping us off at the tourist information center across the street from the city hall. We heard from a variety of sources about the city hall tour that we decided to take it. We figured if the outside was that impressive…We walked in to get our free tickets and a couple was taking their wedding photographs on the stairs. There entire entourage was gathered on the ground floor just under the impressive rotunda.
We climbed the beautiful main staircase and visited the robing room and assembly chambers as well as three beautiful meeting rooms that are available for public rental, each larger than the next. In one of the rooms was an inconspicuous piece of furniture that fit right in with the ornate decor of the room. Our guide pointed it out because it was to have been Captain Smith’s bureau on the Titanic but was not completed on time and was thus saved. It is not a fixture in this meeting room.
The tour also highlighted some of the famous paintings and stained glass in the City Hall. One of the windows he pointed out depicted a female volunteer and featured in the various panes the numerous charities she supported. He pointed it out because it was unusual at the time for woman to be thus honored, but I decided since I do a lot of volunteer work I need to see how I can get myself one of those stained glass windows. Right?
As we left the building, we passed by several memorials to the Titanic and its crew and passengers. We appreciated the architecture in Belfast, Rocky and I both taking lots of pictures. We walked a couple of streets over to go the Crown Bar a/k/a Crown Liquor Saloon, the most famous pub in Belfast. It was elevated to Victorian grandeur in 1885 and is now owned by the National Trust; the trust has done extensive renovation on the property. On the ground floor were 10 booths (or snugs) for the bar patrons. The bar itself and ceiling were equally fascinating. Full downstairs, we decided to try our luck upstairs and have a beer and fish and chips, but they were not serving food up there yet. We decided to head back to the shuttle by the city hall and hoped to catch a picture of the leaning clock our guide had pointed out earlier.
We stopped at Victoria Square (a shopping mall), a block from the clock so I could grab the shot, the driver warning us about the last shuttle. We were not there to shop. I took several pictures and then we got on the next shuttle to the ship, having enjoyed our day in Belfast. Sometimes these thrown together days with no specific agenda can be fun.