Wednesday, October 14, 2015

Hopping on and off in Belfast

I don't usually do "Hop on, hop off" bus tours even though I advise others to do so.  However this fit into what I wanted to do my last day in Belfast.  Sadly it was a dull very rainy day but ah well...  The pass was for 48 hours but with just 24 hours remaining in Belfast before flying back to London I had to rush around and missed quite a bit. 

So let's carry on with my time in Belfast...when I wasn't on a black taxi tour or having the luck of the Irish with fabulous weather on the Antrim coast.

I stayed in an airbnb home in Cliftonville which was full to bursting but our host Mary was lovely.  I've said it before and I will say it again... I love staying with locals.

First stop...the Titanic exhibition... which was marvellous. Okay confession time...I went to see this after the Black Taxi tour but it was part of the Hop on/Hop off experience so I've included it in this post.   I've always been fascinated by the Titanic and this huge complex covers the "idea" of the Titanic right to where the bodies were buried and everything in between.  You even rode a cart through the air to show you how the monstrosity of a ship was built.  Amazing!   I spent quite a few hours here...In case you are wondering why Belfast?  It is a little known fact to some people but the Titanic was built here in the nearby ship yards. Fun fact:  on a personal note a member of my English family was involved in the creation of this fantastic exhibition.  But I'd still rave about it anyway!  The building is very eye catching. 




A cream and strawberry scone with tea in the cafe - a few seconds later crumbs everywhere and cream and powered sugar all over my face.  But oh it was so good....


Next up was

We then drove by the Northern Ireland Assembly Building although I didn't get off as at this point it was raining and to be honest it did look a bit grim.


I did get off at St George's Market however...it's a lovely market that sells handcrafts, a bit of tourist tat and great produce as well as having many food vendors.  I did buy some hand crafted chocolate..as a gift... and I had a delicious burger for lunch.





The present Market dates from the late 1800's and it's open Friday to Sunday.  Well worth a visit for this market fiend.



 This is Queens University; I walked through the entrance and out the back to the Botanical Gardens.



The Palm House, built in 1840.




I had to keep dodging rain showers during my visit; I am sure it is a vision on a sunny day.

I had to laugh at the following..


Back on the bus again and this time I got off at the Shanklin Road (Protestant area); the guide on the bus said "take care" now.  It was interesting to get a close up view rather than a drive by as I had done on the Black Taxi tour.  While on the Black taxi tour somehow it was okay to get out and look at the murals on the Falls road but not on the Shanklin Road? 


Disturbing....






I guess it's not hard to tell where their allegiance lies.  The Red poppy cross above marks the site of a bomb blast.

Back on the bus and a hop off in the pouring rain at the Crumlin Road Gaol (jail).  This prison was built between 1843 and 1845 and was closed in 1996.   Within its walls it has housed everyone from hardened criminals to poor working class people who simply had to steal in order to survive.  Obviously the most famous "guests" were from The Troubles such as Bobby Sands, Ian Paisley and Michael Stone.  I took a tour of the facility which was interesting but of course very disturbing as well.  I will spare you pictures of the room where prisoners were executed.





Above is the tunnel from the jail to the (now closed) courthouse opposite - an underground tunnel for the prisoner's safety.  Or could it have been to shield them from the inclement weather?  (NOT) We also went outside to see the unmarked graves of prisoners who were executed here - in the pouring rain.  Rather a grim place but I am glad I visited.

Due to thinking I had missed the last hop on/hop off bus (it sailed by me a few minutes later) I walked back into town in the rain..sigh... of course the sun soon came out and I got a last look at the beautiful Belfast City Hall and the Titanic memorial...

The beautiful City Hall stands proud as a centre point of the downtown area - conveniently right across from Belfast's wonderful Tourist information centre. (which has some lovely touristy things to buy) I found the tourist centre very helpful - I can't say that about all tourist information centres I have visited.  This one was great.
This memorial in the grounds of City Hall lists everyone who died in the Titanic disaster......


Last but not least a quick look at the Europa hotel - the most bombed hotel in Europe as Journalists stayed here during The Troubles and bombing this hotel was bound to get more press coverage.  Their motto?  "We never close".


And a glass of wine and meal at the famous Crown Bar...



I wish I could have taken one inside the bar as it was beautiful but it was very crowded and did not feel comfortable taking photos.

So we come to the end of a busy day in Belfast.  I am so happy I got to visit this city - it is some place I never thought I would get to see.  Would I go back?  Probably  not.  One visit was enough for me as I got to see everything I wanted to see.  I think a trip to Belfast is worth it just to take the Black Taxi tour, visit the Titanic exhibit and take a day tour up to the Giants Causeway.   

Sunday, October 11, 2015

Pouting around Prague - the last 24 hours

Well I talked about the first 24 hours and the middle 24 hours so now it's time for the last 24 hours in Prague....after four months of travel I reached a sort of "burn out"  I knew this would happen but it's just unfortunate I was with a friend who was excited about seeing a city she hadn't been to in a long time.  I think I was definitely a damper on her time there.  At this stage of the journey I just wanted to relax or go back to London.  My brain had reached a saturation point on discovering new things.  There was no JOY in exploring Prague for me.  I love exploring new places and am always so excited to see what's around the corner - not so for this part of the trip. 

After making coffee in our room and having yogurt and fruit (our hotel room had a small fridge - so very handy) we walked to the nearby metro station and took our first (and last) ride on Prague's metro. I found the metro dated but it worked ("London's is so much better"  I whined to myself knowing full well London had much more money to support such a system)  Our destination:  Prague Castle.

Prague Castle dates from the 9th century and is currently home to the President of the Czech Republic.  It is a huge complex and when you buy your admission ticket there are different packages.  We got a package that let us visit the caste itself, the Golden Lane, St Vitus Cathedral and St George Basilica.

Our first glimpse of St Vitus cathedral was after a short walk through a passageway and into a courtyard where it's suddenly in your face.  You would have to be a real jaded traveler not to have a "wow" escape your lips...yes even pouty Laurie was impressed..it was beautiful.  Claudia had thought our tickets didn't allow admission to the cathedral but they did so we visited later...however here are some photos of inside AND out.




I love all the scary gargoyles on the sides of churches




I have to point out that we entered the castle through one of the back entrances which was less than impressive; we left out of the main entrance which was much more grand.  We realized the Changing of the Guard was happening although due to crowds we could not get anywhere near it.  We did see a few soldiers marching but nothing too impressive..



We then headed over to St Georges Basilica which was founded in the early 9th century.


I loved the colourful facade of the Basilica.

Next up was the Golden Lane which was my favourite part of the castle complex...





These are where the trades people lived.  Some are now operated as shops while others have been restored to what they may have looked like back in the day.

We then wandered back to the beautiful gardens we had seen upon our entry.  They were lovely and provided a respite from the tourist crowds.




 View of the Castle complex from the gardens


We then walked back through the complex which is when we visited the interior of St Vitus cathedral (once we discovered we could visit there was a huge line to get in; after our garden visit the tour group had left) and we then found ourselves at the main entrance of the Castle.


 "Dress ups" trying to get tourists' money!!


Protesting something!


We then had lunch.  Our lunches tended to be heavy and then we snacked in the hotel room in the evening...


Ta da!  The best meal I had in Prague...Beef and Czech dumplings with cream and cranberries...it was absolutely wonderful.  I did have some great food in Prague I must admit.

From there we wandered around the area first stopping to look at the Loreto which is one of Bohemia's most important centres of Christian pilgrimage.  It dates back to 1620 when the Hapsburgs built replicas of the Santa Casa of Loreto in Italy all over their land.



I had read in my small Berlitz guide on Prague (I highly recommend these guides - small enough to fit in a pocket but jam packed with all sorts of information..heck I am referring to it right now) about the area near the castle called Nový Svět (meaning "New World) which was the poorest part of the Castle district and therefore left undeveloped.  Claudia and I spent a happy half hour walking around admiring the buildings and taking photographs.








We then walked back closer to the castle complex area and sat and enjoyed the view...


We stayed admiring this view for quite a while...you can see why....


Soon it was time to head back...I was pleased to be able to take a tram.  However problems arose...Claudia was able to get her ticket but the machine broke down right afterwards  and I couldn't purchase one.  Tram rides are done on an honour system where you punch your ticket when you get on...which can be the back of the tram..   Claudia wanted me to get off at the next stop and purchase a ticket but I thought why should I; not my problem that their machines don't work.   I must admit it was a bit of a thrill...hey when you're 60 plus and boringly law abiding you take your thrills at "sticking it to the man" when you can get them. 

The tram ride was fun and once back on the other side of the river we walked over to Wenceslas Square again. 




We then headed back towards the Old Town...we had to stop at this pastry shop...I can vouch for the pastries being made on the left....very tasty. 


And then there was a market...however mostly bric brac and nothing I wanted except one or two postcards...


We had to visit this market - although it was more a bric brac market and we came away empty handed except for a couple of postcards...



This might have been interesting to visit...



Heading back to the hotel we walked through the Old Town Square.  This is the Old Town Hall - unique because it is made from several different houses as you can see from this angle.

Below is the famous Astronomical Clock in Old Town Square from 1490. It is quite the production when it goes off every hour with Death consulting his watch and pulling a bell, Christ and the Apostles appear and the crowing of a cock ends the proceeding.  Getting a good view without being jostled (and keeping an eye on your belongings) is difficult with the hoardes of tourists that gather to watch the spectacle.  This was mid April...I can't even fathom what summer must be like. 






The Church of Our Lady before Tyn


Back to our hotel as it had been a long day.  The next day we went to Kutna Hora and from there back to Germany.

I'd definitely revisit Prague sometime in the future....not for a few years though...and not when I am tired! I dream of walking those streets again with my camera meandering down the narrow streets with no particular agenda...it really is a photographer's delight.