“Never forget what you are, for surely the world will not. Make it your strength. Then it can never be your weakness. Armour yourself in it, and it will never be used to hurt you.”
– Tyrion Lannister (Game of Thrones)
Actually, I only went to Northern Ireland because of watching the Game of Thrones, but by going here I have clearly understood the story behind the war or conflict during The Troubles better. I can now watch “The Devil’s Own” and “In The Name of the Father” again I guess, or sing “Zombie” and understanding its words. Seriously, this trip is very edifying for an outsider like me.
Northern Ireland or Norn Iron for the locals, was originally not part of my UK holiday itinerary because I want to go to Ireland on a separate trip. When I was still in college, Ireland is the country I wanted to go first when I visit Europe, because I was so fascinated with Irish bands/artists before and their Celtic/Gaelic culture. But my first trip in Europe before was a month-long holiday, and I do not want to include Ireland and Spain because these are the 2 countries I want to visit without visiting any other city in Europe. And last summer, it was supposedly just UK and south of France, with Laurie.
However, I decided to go to Belfast when I was in Scotland, I met a fellow traveler at Doune Castle in Sterling, Scotland which is the film location of Winterfell in Game of Thrones, and she said they will go to Belfast the next day to see more of the film locations of GoT! Sooo, spontaneously I decided to cut my Scotland trip and go to Belfast with them even just for 3 days!
Laurie was a bit wary of me going there alone perhaps because for my safety. Even if “The Troubles” (political/civil conflict) had ended in 1998, there were still violence since then. Though I’ve read that violence here are sometimes just exaggerated, I still pushed my plans bravely and took the risk!
National Geographic Traveler and Lonely Planet named Belfast as one of the Best of the World Must-See Places for 2012, so that means it is slowly transforming and redefining itself. And with the recent endorsement of Game of Thrones, sooner or later travellers will start to flock here! Unfortunately, I was too early to visit, because there were only 2 tours for Game of Thrones that time and it was so expensive, now I have read that most of the tour agencies have this tour! Deymn! >.<
For 3-day Game of Thrones Trip, click this link.
For a Day-Trip Game of Thrones, click this link.
Now, GoT fans have a cheaper option, someone shared this to me, they call it, Stones and Thrones Trip.
Although, the good thing I think of going to Belfast “too early” is I still find it cheaper to go for holiday compared to other European countries. One of the reason also why I pushed my plan because it’s not that expensive to go and stay there for few days unlike if I stay longer in Scotland.
We stayed at Vagabonds guesthouse. it is only few steps from Botanic train station, with lots of restaurants and pubs nearby. It’s quite a walk to city hall or city proper too, so it’s in a perfect location, quite near to the happenings and still quite in a quieter area.
We arrived Belfast airport around 7am, so by 9am we were already ready to see the city! We walked towards the city hall and bought the £10 open-top ‘Belfast City Sightseeing’ bus tour.
We didn’t alight to any stop, we just went around first to see the sights in the city centre and suburbs including famous murals painted on the ends of terraced houses during ‘The Troubles’ in the Falls Road area, the Harland and Wolff shipyards where the Titanic was built, Queens University and The Parliament which is located at East side of Belfast, just be mindful though that bus tours only goes to The Parliament between 10am to 3pm.
After one round, we decided to have our brunch around the Belfast City Hall and walk around the Fisherwick Place, Victoria Square, and Albert Clock. Then we rode the City Sightseeing Tour Bus to go to Titanic’s Dock and Pump House.
We chose this one among the other options because this is where the Titanic was docked on the eve of her first and last voyage in 1912. You can still see the remnants and feel how huge it really was by stepping right there where it was docked. The other good option is the Titanic Experience however it’s a lot more expensive, and for me I think it’s too commercialized.
After the Titanic Tour, we rode the City Sightseeing Tour Bus once more to see the whole city one more time, this time hopping in-hopping off, it was really worth it because we didn’t need to take public transportation to go to places we want to see!
The bus guide pointed out that even up until now, the 2 distinct communities in Belfast are still apparent. When we were at the side of the Nationalist/Republicans (who are mostly Catholics) you can see flags of Ireland at the houses, then when we crossed a road going to the side of the Unionist/Loyalists (who are mostly Protestants) the flags were changed to UK’s Union Jacks, and the guide says- Welcome to UK! Hehe
Belfast is the place of cultural meeting-point of Britain and Ireland, whereas during the Troubles, they fight over through their principles and beliefs. Throughout the Troubles, Belfast artists continued to express themselves through poetry, art and music. One evident proof you can still see until now are the political murals along Shankill Road and Falls Road.
The following morning, is the the much-awaited tour why I went to Belfast! The Giant’s Causeway tour and to see also some of the film locations of Game of Thrones!!! Unfortunately, we didn’t meet the number of required participants for an exclusive GoT tour, it is that expensive tour that we cannot afford to just pay for the extra slots.
During our visit, it is not popular yet to see the GoT film locations unless you are aware, then you can ask the ordinary bus guide/driver to pinpoint some of those. Glad I did my research before going, so I know where exactly I can see it, so I was very alert whenever the guide says a place on my list.
And since this is not an exclusive GoT Tour, we don’t stop at each location just to see it more and take some photos, so I don’t really have good shots :( It was also too foggy that morning, so some weren’t that visible.
The Game of Thrones film locations I’ve only seen were:
1. The Wall – Magheramorne Quarry
2. Iron Islands – Ballintoy Harbour
3. Melisandre Birth Scene – Cushendun Cave
4. Dragonstone (Burning of the Idols of Westeros) -Downhill Strand
5. Storms End – Larrybane
I was really sad when our bus driver/guide told us that we cannot go to the Dark Hedges at Ballymoney which was used as the King’s Road in GoT. Even before GoT, I have already seen the photos of the Dark Hedges and I fell in love with it! But our bus was too high it will hit the branches, so we cannot take that route going back to Belfast >sad<
On our way to Giants Causeway, I was really dumbfounded with the countryside of Northern Ireland! The Glens of Antrim comprises nine glens (valleys), that are an area of outstanding natural beauty and are a major tourist attraction in north Antrim. The main towns and villages in the Glens are Ballycastle, Cushendun, Cushendall, Waterfoot, Carnlough and Glenarm.
We also went to cross the Carrick-a-Rede Rope Bridge, a famous rope bridge that links the mainland to the tiny island of Carrickarede which is breathtaking! I could really imagine that I am inside the Game of Thrones world lol!
Northern Ireland’s countryside is one of the BEST picturesque harbour, hills and meadows I’ve seen in Europe! My photos below don’t really do any justice to how beautiful it really is, I ran out of battery for my SLR so I am just using my phone camera here, whilst inside a moving bus.
On our way back to Belfast, we stopped at Bushmills Distillery which claims to be the oldest licensed distillery in the world. I bought some whisky (of course) for Laurie as he loves them. I was happy to dine here because I had some Traditional Irish Stew, it was yummier and cheaper than those I’ve tried at irish pubs outside Ireland hehe (of course!)
On my last night, I was supposed to join some fellow travellers to a pub and have a taste of an authentic Irish music and perhaps a pint of Guiness hehe. But I decided to just stay at our guesthouse when I met some Irish travellers who are from Dublin and other parts of Ireland too, and their story about their country and its history is very entertaining enough for me. Of course, I was very careful on sharing my opinions and views about war and the conflict, I was just a good listener :P
Irish people, I think, are generally very passionate. That explains why they outshine in music and poetry. Like any other race, they are very proud of who and what they are, despite their dark history and their stereotype. This is why I guess the world remembers them. They acknowledge their “stereotyped” traits and use it as their strengths rather than as their weakness, their sense of humour for one makes them easier for us to respect who they are. They make fun of it yet they are confident about themselves.
One thing I’ve learned is we are all created wonderfully complex. Our flaws makes us unique from anyone else. You can never change who you are and what you are, but you can make the most of what you have been given by embracing your identity and use its purpose.