Belfast, Ireland

 As luck would have it, we found another great taxi driver, this one named Steve! We negotiated three hours for 200 pounds. He promised to take us to all of the "important" buildings and such, plus a whole lot more. We hopped in the taxi and hit the road at 11:25 am. Savings, 200 pounds, and no throngs of people on a bus. Winner, winner, chicken dinner!

Our first drive-by was the shipyard where the Titanic was built and the Olympic was in drydock, for repairs, after hitting the HMS Hawke submarine, off the coast of the Isle of Wight. This caused many problems for the ship's owners, White Star Line as this meant it would have to be taken out of service while it was repaired, which meant that the maiden voyage of the Titanic would be pushed back from March 20th to April 10th.

This was apparently something that the White Star Line could not afford as they had legal bills to pay, as well as the repairing of the Olympic. So, a plan was devised to switch the two ships.
Or so the story goes....

They figured no one would be the wiser, but as you and I both know, wagging lips, sink ships, and eventually, the "rumors" began to spread, from workers in Belfast, that they believe that the "Titanic" that sunk, was actually the damaged "Olympic." And that the switch was deliberate, in order to collect insurance money on an already damaged ship.

VERY interesting!

Further down the road was a lovely sculpture, "Beacon of Hope." She was a lovely lady standing tall and proud.

As we continued on our journey, we saw the Belfast City Hall, the Grand Opera House which was bombed and restored, The Crown Pub, St. Anne's Cathedral, the old prison and court house, and the Parliament.

After seeing the typical tourist spots, Steve began to tell us of the unrest between the Protestants and the Catholics, and the wall that is still separating the two groups of people that have gates that are still locked, every single day at 6 pm. I had no idea!

On the Protestant side, the wall is full of colorful graffiti, and signatures from around the world, including Bill Clinton and Sharon Stone, and now ours to join all of the others wishing Ireland peace and harmony. It was a moving experience, which left me feeling extremely fortunate to live my life with such great freedom.

We drove through the Protestant and Catholic neighborhoods and stopped at several "memorial gardens" with the names of so many that have lost their lives, fighting for their rights and freedom. Another interesting thing that I noticed was that in nearly all of the front windows, on both sides of the wall, there were silver/chrome type arrangements, floral, and sprays. They were large and strange and I wonder whether or not they had a special meaning.

This was an interesting mural, in one of the neighborhoods, the guns, no matter where you stood, followed you.

The Clonard Monastery was a beautiful Catholic church that was the location of secret conversations held between John Hume and Gerry Adams, and they helped to contribute to the 1994 IRA ceasefire.
It was restored in 2008-2012, but I was told that everything inside is "original." The pipe organ and the small mosaics were some of the best I have ever seen.

I think that Steve took a liking to us because he said that he was going to take us to the top of the hill where we could overlook all of Belfast. He told us that no other tours or cabs would bring people there.

It was an amazing sight and at the base of the hillside where C.S.Lewis drew his inspiration for "Narnia", we were told that the hillside looked like a sleeping giant, safeguarding the city of Belfast.
On the other side of the rocky hills are basalt cliffs and caves that they have dubbed "Napolean's Nose." Many people hike that ridge, but it is not something that I will ever attempt, and was happy to view it from below.

A quick ride back down the hill, and we were at Belfast Castle, one of Ireland's most famous landmarks. The first castle was built by the Normans, in the late 12th century, and a second castle, made of stone and timber, was later constructed by Sir Arthur Chichester, Baron of Belfast, on the same site in 1611. Sadly, this one burned down 100 years later.

In 1862, a third castle was built by the third Marquis of Donegall and was continually passed down through ancestors until it was finally presented to the city of Belfast in 1934. It is now a venue where weddings, dances, and afternoon teas are held.

It has amazing views,  and as we were driving to the castle we saw a real, live calico cat, on the side of the road. There were mosaics of cats, statues, and sculptures of cats. Cats are hidden here and there, which made me wonder why. After doing a little research, I found that there are nine cats hidden in the gardens of the castle, as legend has it that good fortune will come to those visiting the castle, as long as the tradition of the castle cat is kept. I wish I had known this while I was there!

After traipsing around the castle and the lovely garden, it was nearing our time to part from Steve, so he drove us to the oldest pub in Belfast, McHugh's Bar, which is a pub on Queen's Square in Belfast city center. It is the oldest building in Belfast, as well.

We ordered a Guinness, of course, (not a fan) a pie of the day, and chicken wings! Both were delicious.
A bonus was seeing the Albert Memorial Clock, which is Belfast's leaning tower of Pisa!

Afterward, we flagged another taxi and headed back to the ship. It was a perfectly wonderful day, and I learned so much, that I did not know.

I love traveling and learning about other places, how people live, and the history hidden behind their lives.

We enjoyed seeing the ship sail away from Belfast, of course we were on the ship, and saw even more castles dotting the land as we cruised by.

Dinner and bed for me.

Night, y'all!

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