After last evening exploring Belfast and dining at Ox, we returned the next morning to Established Coffee for a quick breakfast:
Then we were picked up by Paddy Campbell’s Famous Black Cab Tours by the legendary Paddy Campbell himself at 8:30am and was guided to an alternative tour of the darker history of Northern Ireland (between the Republicans/Catholics and the Loyalists/Protestants) known by many as “The Troubles.”
There are many “Black Cab Tours” imitators out there, but Paddy Campbell is the real OG.
We first took in the political murals of both the Falls and Shankill roads, learning about the perennial violence that took place on these streets:
We then drove up to and around the Peaceline, a modern day “Berlin Wall” where a series of separation barriers in Northern Ireland still separate predominantly Republican and Nationalist Catholic neighborhoods from predominantly Loyalist and Unionist Protestant neighborhoods:
We then drove by the International Wall that compares the struggle to that of Israel/Palestine, Black Lives Matter, and other similar conflicts worldwide:
And finally we stopped at Bombay Street, where it all started in 1969:
After an informative 90 minute tour, we then drove north for our adventure around greater Northern Ireland.
About a 30 minute drive from Belfast are the picturesque and eerie Dark Hedges, famous for its cameo appearance in Game Of Thrones:
We then drove another 30 minutes to the Ballintoy Harbor and coast, first reaching the famous rope bridge of Carrick-a-Rede. Despite the constant rain and fog, the views were splendid.
“God was in a good mood when he created Northern Ireland. They just forgot to put up a roof.”
You have to pay 9£ at the front by the car park if you want to cross the rope bridge (and only after another 15 minute hike to get there):
After exploring the smaller island across the bridge, you have to get back on line to cross back over:
From Carrick-a-Rede we drove west 10 minutes to the day’s highlight, Giant’s Causeway.
They’re an iconic natural wonder where basalt columns jut upwards out of the sea as is they were literally a stairway for giants.
There’s a 2£ roundtrip bus that can take you back and forth if you don’t want to make the 15 minute hike there.
After 20 minutes at Giant’s Causeway, we drove another 10 minutes west to Dulunce Castle, where despite it falling it apart, still stands imposingly 20 minutes north by the coast.
It too enjoys being part of Games Of Thrones lore as Castle Greyjoy:
Afterwards we enjoyed a splendid and cozy lunch by the castle with some of Paddy’s friends at the Wee Cottage Cafe and Gift Shop right outside the castle entrance.
Then it was an hour’s drive back south to Belfast where we turned in early.
Despite a wonderful week away, I need to say my goodbyes early; gotta catch the 5:30am Goldlink X1 bus from Belfast Europstar Bus Station to Dublin Airport! The goal is to board a 9:20am flight out so I can speak for the UVSASE 2019 Element 2 conference in Atlanta, GA!
Made it to Dublin Airport only to find out my 9:20am flight has been delayed up to 3 hours. Can’t win ’em all.
- At time of posting in Giant's Causeway, it was 15 °C -
Humidity: 98% | Wind Speed: 23km/hr | Cloud Cover: raining buckets
After 2 nights and 2 days in the Isle Of Man, our gang headed out early for our morning flights out.
A twice-a-week ferry does run between Isle Of Man and Belfast, but it runs at midnight and 2:30am in the morning and costs almost as much as a flight.
Given we didn’t want to waste a day, we elected instead to hop on the 45 minute 1:00pm Flybe flight to Manchester, catching the 1 hour 3:30pm flight for Belfast.
Once we reached BHD airport, we took a 10 minute Uber and checked into our lodgings in the city center.
We then hit the ground running, beginning with a quick lunch at Established Coffee and a visit to Saint Anne’s Cathedral. It costs 7£ (4£ for students) to enter!
We then walked over past the Customs House…
…and headed to the waterfront where they began construction of the Titanic at Lagan Boat Co overlooked by the Lagan Lookout Bridge:
We then decided to change plans and walk 20 minutes across the lookout bridge to check out the giant gantry where the Titanic was actually constructed:
Facing the gantry is the massive Titanic Belfast Museum, costing 19.50£ to enter.
An immersive museum experience for any fan of the story of the Titanic, we stayed at the museum for about an hour and a half. It begins with what life was like in Belfast, then an immersive look into the construction of the Titanic, and the aftermath of its eventual sinking.
There’s an optional, slow-moving 6 minute “theme park” ride inside that may or may not be worth the 30 minute wait:
We then took a cab back towards the city center to resume our walking tour at the Albert Memorial Clock:
From there we walked south to the pedestrian malls along Corn Market:
Belfast City Hall, the center of the city, is only a few blocks south:
Don’t miss the array of stained glass pieces dedicated to Game Of Thrones:
Just across the street southwest is the Grand Opera House:
And if you’re into bars, The Crown Saloon is famed for its decor dating as far back as the 1820s:
We then walked east back towards the River Lagan, passing by where St George’s Market is:
Sadly, it’s only open from Fridays to Sundays:
At the end of the street we stopped at the ICC Belfast / Waterfront Hall:
…and turned to pass by Victoria Square to our left:
After a walking tour that lasted not even an hour, we then finished off with 6pm reservations at Ox Belfast.
One of 2 Michelin-Star restaurants in Belfast (the other being Eipic), Ox surprised me at how fine dining can have both an elegant and casual vibe without sacrificing quality. Highly recommended.
This was our 6-course dinner (60£) —
Lough Neagh smoked eel, cucumber, saffrom Gougére, Coolattin cheddar, beer
Pea, lobster, créme fraiche, verbena
White asparagus, lardo, fig leaf, truffle
Scallop, coral butter, lemongrass, courgette
Mourne mountain lamb, spelt, wild garlic, pine nuts
Beetroot, rhubarb, red basil, peppercorn
70% chocolate, pecan, ginger, banana sorbet
Salted caramel, cherry, chocolate, passion fruit
After 3 and a half hours dining and conversing over various deep topics, we then took a leisurely evening stroll back to our apartments.
- At time of posting in Belfast, Northern Ireland, it was 14 °C -
Humidity: 94% | Wind Speed: 15km/hr | Cloud Cover: rainy and wet
What a cool name for a country — “Hey, I live on ‘The Isle Of Man.'”
It first appeared on my layman American radar when it was referenced as a penal colony in the dystopian Children Of Men, but otherwise has also become — at least for me — a symbol of an elusive exotic island off the grid of the civilized map (how wrong I was). It definitely has become one of those places that elicits a “that’s a real place?” when mentioned to the average American.
But I can’t see why it would be after 2 quick and easy flights from NYC.
The Tower Of Refuge
For the uninitiated, the Isle Of Man is considered a sovereign state that also exists as a dependency of the British Crown. This means it is NOT part of the UK itself but relies on them for foreign affairs and military defense. Otherwise the Isle Of Man has its own government, Chief Minister, and a democratically-elected Parliament (The “House of Keys”) that nominates a “Legislative Council.” In relation to the EU, the Isle of Man is an associate member but not a full member.
In other words, visiting the Isle Of Man may count as a new country!
After an 8 hour layover in Manchester, I boarded a 5:35pm Flybe flight, arriving 50 minutes later at 6:25pm. Despite the short flight, I befriended my seat-neighbor Zoe who helpfully shared some pro-tips on exploring the Isle Of Man in 2 days.
Getting out into arrivals in this cute little airport took literally less than a minute.
At the information desk in arrivals, you can ask for a passport stamp for the Isle of Man:
Then I rendezvou’ed with Melissa, Joe, and Grayson (who flew in from London at the same time) outside baggage claims, where we were then picked up in our rental car by Alfred and Sam, both of whom had arrived a few hours earlier.
We then drove 20 minutes over to the capital city of Douglas and checked into our digs at The Town House. As we waited for Donna to arrive later at 9pm, we began a leisurely stroll north up along the corniche.
Following the din of random music, we enjoyed an impromptu dinner via food trucks at Bushy’s TT Village, featuring an outdoor concert on a rooftop overlooking the town center.
After an hour here, we then walked south around Douglas down its pedestrian-only Strand Street, taking in the golden hour.
Once we got to the southern docks, it was already 9:30pm local time, but as you can see it was still bright out:
Adding to the surreal atmosphere here, Donna would also happen to run into Sam and me along Strand Street as we picking up some water and groceries for the next day. We all then headed back to The Town House and gave into the jetlag.
The next morning we got up early for our big day exploring the island, first enjoying a lovely farm to table breakfast at The Alpine.
Then we set off north 15 minutes for Laxey, famous for its “oldest water wheel in the world.” Admission fee is 7£ for adults, 4£ for students.
Pro-tip (thanks Zoe!), if you arrive after 5pm when they close, you can jump the fence and make up for the bad karma later.
93 steps up to the top:
There’s also a lovely Mine Trail behind the Laxey Wheel that takes 15-20 minutes long to walk:
Then we drove southwest to the city of Peel:
It’s home to the 1000 year old Peel Castle, where it was once used by monks to hide from invading Viking hordes. Also 7£ (4£ for students) to enter.
After 30 minutes wandering here we then grabbed some ice cream at the famous Davison’s Ice Cream Parlour and peeked inside St German Cathedral (aka Cathedral Isle Of Man):
From there we drove south to Castle Rushen in the appropriately eponymous Castletown:
Also 7£ (3£ for students) to enter:
Find the pooping man inside:
Then driving through Balladoole Heritage Site, which lies 5 minutes to the west of Castletown, we headed another 10 minutes southwest to Isle of Man’s own “Stonehenge”: the Meayll Stone Circle:
After 5 minutes taking in the views of the south, we began our drive back towards Douglas to catch the annual Isle Of Man Tourist Trophy (IOMTT) practice races from the balcony lounge of The Creg-Ny-Baa. Of all the times to choose to go to the Isle of Man, I would pick the most popular time to visit!
For 10£ per person you can reserve seats in the upstairs lounge at The Creg no more than 48 hours in advance for prime viewing spots of what has been regarded the “most dangerous sporting event in the world.”
Grab your telephoto lens when the race starts; the elite riders go first:
At around 8:05pm, the sidecars come out:
What a time to be alive! After the race ended at 9pm and waiting for the roads to reopen at 9:15pm, we then drove back to Douglas for bed.
Tomorrow we set off early for Northern Ireland!
- At time of posting in Isle Of Man, it was n/a -
Humidity: n/a | Wind Speed: n/a | Cloud Cover: n/a
On my way to Isle Of Man this evening, I enjoyed an unexpected 8 hour layover in lovely Manchester.
Taking the 10pm Thomas Cook Airlines flight from JFK Airport in NYC, I arrived 7 hours later at 9:55am local time at Manchester Airport.
My morning started with first going back and forth between Terminal 3 and 1 to find a left luggage facility to drop off my big bag (the guy at Terminal 3 said “I’m not trained to use the x-ray”…erm yeah).
Once solving that, I headed over to The Station on the 7th floor and took the 20 minute shuttle train into the city.
I got off at Victoria station at around 11am.
From there I began my walking tour north at Chetham’s Library, a public library built in 1653 housing thousands of books & manuscripts. There are set times for entry for otherwise free public tours inside.
Afterwards I walked 5 minutes south to and around the Manchester Cathedral:
It’s free to enter:
After a few minutes, I walked 10 minutes south to an oasis of calm at Trinity Bridge:
Then turning east, I walked 5 minutes towards Saint Ann’s Church:
Down the block south from St. Ann’s Church is John Rylands Library, famous for being the home to the ‘Manchester Fragment’: the earliest known fragment of the New Testament and part of St. John’s gospel that was found near Alexandria. It dates from 2nd century, shortly after the gospel itself was first written.
If you come at around 12pm, they’ll open the upper galleries for an hour for you to take photos.
As UK’s notoriously perennially bipolar weather went from sunny to rainy back to sunny, I happened to come across a religious parade/procession right outside:
Across the street to the east and through a small alleyway lies St Mary’s Church, Manchester’s oldest Catholic church and built in 1794.
I then kept walking along Princess Street and passed by Manchester City Council:
Next to the city council is the Manchester Central Library:
Manchester Chinatown, the new center of Manchester’s changing and evolving youth culture, which is right down a few streets:
And The Village (aka Gay Village) is embedded within this neighborhood along Canal Street:
And from the Alan Turing Memorial in a quiet park across the bridge, I walked along the canal back west.
After a nice 15 minute walk, I reached Castlefield, a relaxed neighborhood of public esplanades, canals, casual waterfront bars and green spaces.
And the best part was that this whole walking tour took about 2-3 hours at a turtle pace.
At around 2pm I decided to get back on the train here towards the airport o catch my onward 5:35pm Flybe flight out to the Isle Of Man.
- At time of posting in Manchester, UK, it was 16 °C -
Humidity: 61% | Wind Speed: 11km/hr | Cloud Cover: manic depressive: sunny, cloudy, sunny, and rainy