Belfast, Northern Ireland
The Titanic and A Good Irish Breakfast
January 4th, 2015
7:00 AM IST
Ethan’s family home, Bangor, Northern Ireland
I was always the first kid awake at sleepovers. I remember lying there in my sleeping bag on the floor just trying to fall back asleep. I’d pretend to be asleep, then when I got bored of that I’d count the ceiling tiles and try to ignore my bladder screaming at me. Not much has really changed. I’m wide awake while the rest of the house is still, and I try to occupy myself quietly. I get my own guest bedroom, a far cry from 8 bed hostel rooms, and I relish in the luxury of this. Finally, the coffee cravings start to kick in and I soft-step my way downstairs to make a cup. I read a bit in the sunny kitchen until Jane appears, and she immediately gets to work on a breakfast that was gleefully foreshadowed the night before: The Ulster Fry. I can already tell this is the kind of meal that’s a labor of love, it’s many ingredients each being prepared in their own way, occupying multiple stove burners as well as the warm oven. The sausage and bacon smells permeate the house soon, their robustness punctuated by the sour tang of roasting tomato. If you need to know anything about me, it’s that I’m a breakfast geek. I can eat eggs, bacon and any accompanying accoutrements for all meals of the day. They are, of course, best enjoyed at the top of a sunny morning with a fresh cup of coffee and good company. The addition of those key ingredients this morning tells me I’m in for a good one.
9:00 AM IST
Ethan soon emerges from sleep and joins us for coffee, and Tim soon appears as well, though he comes from errands outside the house. An early riser, the sign of a successful entrepreneur. The kitchen is at full morning bustle and I love it. Before long, Jane is piling plates high with the beautiful pieces of this iconic dish. Soda bread, potato bread, black pudding, roasted tomato, mushroom, fried eggs, bacon, sausage. My hungry eyes stare at it in astonishment. And then I attack, its hearty abundance filling every corner of my tummy. Everyone is equally enthusiastic, apparently this meal is usually only attempted for Christmas morning, and upon that fact a bit of an honored blush flows over me. These lovely people have not only opened their home to me, but have risen early to prepare such an incredible feast. It’s a spectacular thing that I will always remember. This trade of love is not uncommon in the traveling community either, but to experience it first hand from the travelers side of the table is such a humbling thing. After breakfast, Ethan has agreed to take me into Belfast to see the city and check out the Titanic museum, built right next to the slips that assembled the infamous vessel.
Belfast, Northern Ireland
We arrive in Belfast, a city that was once infamous itself in the traveling community as part of the 4 B’s to never wander to: Beirut, Baghdad, Bosnia and Belfast. This harkens back to a time known as The Troubles, when car bombs and burning-tire barricades were a daily, commonplace occurrence that the civilian population simply learned to live around. The IRA’s method for the independence of Northern Ireland from the UK was bloody and divisive, and Belfast still holds on to the tattoos of this legacy. Ethan drives me through the residential neighborhoods, in which I am confronted with a barrage of propaganda murals which divide, street for street, the Catholic neighborhoods from the Protestant ones. This religious denomination division is the key hallmark of The Troubles, where the IRA identified the Irish Catholics as the true Irish, and the Protestants as the English invaders. This division went both ways of course, and soon this conflict erupted into senseless violence that threatened to rip the city to shreds. Now, the violence has subsided but the murals remain, memorializing “martyrs” of each side of the cause and blazoned with political slogans, all of which harkens back to an eerily Castro-era Cuba vibe. Ethan shakes his head at these displays, and emphasizes that this insanity is dying off with his generation, the post-internet intellectualism raising the youth above the violence of yesterday, though some undercurrents still lurk there.
The Titanic Belfast, Belfast, Northern Ireland
The museum shines at the edge of the harbor with an opera house-like brilliance. It’s modern angles enticing you to see what lies inside. It sits in the same shipyard that forged, welded, and riveted the doomed modern marvel of it’s time. Inside, we are immersed into interactive displays that take us through letters, photographs and even video that shows the launching of it’s sister ship, the RMS Britannic. There’s even a small theme park ride that takes you through the “shipyard” as the Titanic was assembled and, in an aborted timeline, through the launch day. It’s equally impressive and spooky as you read letters from doomed passengers, and see photographs of the lucky souls who escaped the disaster. The scope of the museum is massive and we easily killed two hours just wandering its exhibits.
The Crown Bar, Belfast, Northern Ireland
After the museum, what do two artists have to do? Re-caffeinate. Ethan has the perfect spot in mind. The oldest pub in Belfast, which sits right in the shadow of the infamous Europa hotel.
The interior is just as opulent as the exterior, with mosaic tiling, rich glasswork, and heavy wooden booths that are fully enclosed, providing privacy for The Crown’s more discreet (or illicit) clientele. It’s too early to drink so the bar is quiet, and Ethan and I both grab a coffee and settle into one of the dark booths to re-fuel before we head out for more exploring.
The gunmetal match striking plate and the artful stained glass are an incredible mix of Wild-West meets Victorian stature. Ethan and I chat about life and art, his own work currently being displayed in an exhibition at the Ulster Museum. He’s quite bashful and humble about it, but his printmaking is quite stunning, the work of an artist still coming into his prime. After coffee, Ethan whisks me off to take a better perspective of the city, from up above.
The Dome, Victoria Square Mall, Belfast, Northern Ireland
A stunning city. Old architecture is quickly being paired with brand new urban development. Its history being freshly written as it comes into a new time of growth, it’s youth being better educated and their opportunities expanding. I love these panoramic views, the best way to see a new city? Get higher.
Ulster Museum, Belfast, Northern Ireland
The last stop on our tour is the Ulster Museum where Ethan’s work is being exhibited along with many other local artists. Like any artist he is equally self-deprecating and critical of the work of others. We wander the pieces being exhibited, and his work holds its own, a framed print and a layered sculpture made up of many prints are solid pieces.
Ethan’s family house, Bangor, Northern Ireland.
After wandering the grounds of the museum a bit more, we finally head back to Ethan’s. Now, I’m still working out my skeletal plans, and when I attempt to book a bus and ferry ticket to Scotland for the next day….they’re all sold out. Quite embarrassed, I have to ask my hosts to impose on them for another night. It’s an awkward situation when you’re already being so graciously hosted by the kindness of strangers-turned-friends. But they are lovely as always, and my stay in Ireland is extended just a bit further.
Thanks for reading loves! Next time: Final Coffee in Ireland and the Crossing of The Irish Sea!