Travel Instigator Dawn Rettinger writes about food, travel and British TV.
This past November I was fortunate enough to be part of a group of travel professionals touring Northern Ireland during a CIE Tours group travel training. CIE Tours has been in the business of touring Ireland, Scotland, England and Wales for over 80 years. They are my "go to" resource for any UK and Irish escapade.
We started our week in Ireland's north by flying into Dublin and boarding our motorcoach for a few hours drive north to Belfast. Because many flights from the states are overnight, we arrived early morning. You can fly directly into Belfast as well, depending on the rest of your itinerary.
We stopped along the way at Man o' War for a traditional (and hearty) Irish breakfast in a pub with a rich history.As the week went on we'd be judging our meals by the quality of the brown breads, white and black "puddings" and always perfect pots of tea.
The drive from Dublin to Belfast is about 2 hours, up the M1. It's smooth going, and when you are on a motorcoach you get to relax and enjoy the rolling countryside as your coachman and tour guide tell you about all facets of Irish History and Culture. As part of their highway budget, funds are set aside to commission art work, so there are many unique sculptures road side.
Our first stop in Belfast city was one of the most infamous and beautiful hotels in Europe. The Europa has the dubious distinction of being the most bombed hotel in Europe. Yes, the violent past of The Troubles casts a long shadow in this politically torn city, but there has been a much fought for peace since the late 90's with both sides heartsick at the civilian lives lost in bombings and other violence. You'll find much of the city to be welcoming and working hard to build tourism, however there are still many signs that the Troubles are not forgotten.
The shining jewel in Belfast Tourism has been the opening of Titanic Belfast this past year in what is known as "The Titanic Quarter." The experience is amazing! It is multi-media to the Nth degree! From the moment you walk in you become immersed in the story of the ill-fated ship. Voices and back stories from those that dreamt her, as well as the workers, crew, passengers and rescuers. News reels, headlines, and interactive sets, you are surrounded by everything to do with the Titanic, from concept to reality, from sailing to sinking to salvaging, sights, sounds, and textures. The people involved are brought to life in a number or ways. Words cannot begin to tell the overwhelming feelings you get during the visit. As a travel professional, I was enthralled with interactive floor plans you could step into, and the set ups of various rooms, along with being able to feel the textiles use in the decor. Titanic Belfast has an immersive quality that really must be experienced first hand. No matter if you go for the history, the architecture, the romance or the morbid curiosity, you will not be disappointed!
The Titanic Quarter has also become quite the magnet for film studios. As home for HBO's Game of Thrones, based on author George R.R. Martin's series A Song of Ice and Fire, Titanic Studios is attracting visitors to Belfast as "set-jetting" and location vacations are beginning to take off! My favorite supplier for British TV, Movie and Literary tours, BritMovieTours.com has just started booking a Game of Thrones tour leaving from Belfast. Although the studios are in the same complex as Titanic Belfast, the film locations are scattered throughout the hauntingly beautiful Northern Ireland country side. This 7 hour tour includes filming sites as well as a visit to the UNESCO -listed Giant's Causeway.
...and Belfast is just the beginning!