The Loch Ness Monster, otherwise known as Nessie, is famous worldwide, but the Loch Ness is more than just a myth. In fact, at 23 miles long and almost 800 feet deep it is the second largest lake in Scotland, and contains more fresh water than all the lakes in England and Wales combined!
Having missed out on a visit to Loch Ness on our previous trip to the Highlands, this time we decided to make it a priority. I was excited to discover that beyond the search for an elusive monster we would also have the opportunity to explore the ancient ruins of Urquhart Castle, located on the shores of the lake. So, even if searching for the ever elusive Nessie isn’t on your list of things to do a visit to Loch Ness should be!
Though it can’t hurt to keep your eyes open. Just in case…
If it is the search for Nessie that brings you to Loch Ness you might like to visit Nessieland or The Loch Ness Exhibition, which are both located nearby in the little town of Drumnadrochit. We poked around the gift shops of both, but ultimately decided these exhibitions weren’t for us. However, the idea of a boat ride was appealing, and since it wasn’t raining…
There are many boat companies to choose from, but we hadn’t done our homework, so went with the easy one at the Loch Ness Exhibition, after all our car was already parked there!
Thankfully, these weren’t the boats we were going on, or I may have changed my mind!
Here’s our boat!
The hour long ride turned out perfectly. While some of the tour was spent “looking” for Nessie using the boat’s deep scan radar equipment, most of it was spent enjoying the beauty of our surroundings while learning about the history of both the area and legend. With room for only 12 passengers the boat wasn’t large, but it was comfortable and we had many photo opportunities.
Toward the end of the ride the boys were given the opportunity to drive the boat!
Exploring the ruins of Urquhart Castle
Though Urquhart Castle was reduced to ruins in 1692, its advantageous position overlooking and surrounded by the Loch Ness on three sides, and it’s incredible storied history dating back to before the times of Robert the Bruce, make it a popular and very worthwhile tourist destination. I highly suggest stopping in the visitors center to watch the short film on the castle’s history before you begin exploring.
After that, take your time wandering about the ruins and enjoying the view. Who knows, maybe you’ll see something out there on the lake…
Fiddlers Restaurant located in the little town of Drumnadrochit is definitely worth a stop! The food and service were excellent!
Do keep in mind that the boats won’t operate if the conditions on the Loch aren’t optimal, so if there is any doubt consider calling ahead.
We spent three perfect days in the Highlands of Scotland this summer, and its capital, Inverness made the perfect home base. Though much of our visit to the area was spent day tripping, we really enjoyed the time we did spend in town.
The path along the River Ness, aptly named, the Ness Walk was really lovely and lucky for us the sun made an appearance during our visit.
The many footbridges provided not only a convenient way to cross the river, but lovely views as well.
Although it’s not open to the public, Inverness Castle, makes a very pretty picture perched on the hill above town.
During our river walk we discovered the Waterfront restaurant where we enjoyed one of the best meals of our entire trip. Not only was my salmon excellent, but on this rare occasion everyone enjoyed their OWN meal!
Hitting the two week mark of our six week adventure it was time for a laundry stop! The New City Laundromat, turned out to be just right for our needs! Disaster was narrowly averted when I left an entire load of my clothing in the washer, which then got mixed up in another family’s laundry… thankfully I figured it out and recovered everything. Whew!
Our accommodations at The Kingsmills Hotel, about 5 minutes from downtown Inverness, were very comfortable. The rooms were spacious and all of the bathroom amenities were very nice. This was the one place on our trip with a pool and the boys and I enjoyed it very much! The water was warm, there were pool toys available for the boys and over all it was a really lovely time. A very family friendly place with excellent service, I would absolutely stay here again.
I’ve got a serious case of wanderlust, and I’m pretty sure it’s not going anywhere, so I’d better get going… But where? While it’s not always possible to travel far, if one is so inclined, it is possible to find fun and even a bit of adventure closer to home and it’s a whole lot cheaper too! Lets go!
Lucky for us, our recent move to Southern California makes playing tourist in our own town easy. With so many amazing things to see and do the hardest part was deciding where to go first…
The Huntington Botanical Gardens
Our most recent discovery, The Huntington Botanical Gardens, has something for everyone! Museums, a library and acres of beautiful and unique gardens, including a fabulous children’s garden! Entrance tickets are all inclusive, but because the Huntington has so much to offer it would be tough to see everything in one visit, so membership seemed like our best option.
We spent most of our time wandering and playing in the gardens…
…But also enjoyed the exhibitions on medicine, electricity, and the night sky.
The exhibit showcasing some the Huntington’s collection of original books, documents and letters was a favorite of mine. Especially interesting to me were Jack London’s draft of White fang, Henry VIII’s document concerning Luther and a collection of Shakespeare’s works!
The Japanese Garden
As soon as you enter the Huntington’s Japanese Gardens it’s easy to understand how this magical spot has attracted more than 20 million visitors since it opened in 1928. The garden is 9 acres and includes examples of all the traditional Japanese style gardens.
The Chinese Garden
One of the newest gardens at The Huntington, The Chinese Garden, a collaboration between Californian and Chinese gardeners, is also one of the largest Chinese gardens outside of China. If you’re hungry after all the exploring, this garden features a restaurant overlooking the water!
The Desert Garden
Having recently taken more of an interest in my home garden the Desert Garden was of particular interest to me. Its over 100 years old and with over 2000 species it’s the largest collection of succulents in the world! I loved the vibrant colors of the cactus flowers and we saw a number of creatures scurry about during our visit! Be sure to stay on the path in this garden!
The Children’s Garden
I must confess that we visited the Huntington Children’s Garden once before, 12 years ago when Simon was a toddler. If you have young children this garden is the place for you! It’s a magical spot with plenty to explore and touch and do. Water play, magnetic sand, tunnels, a playhouse and volcano, and so much more! When visiting this garden a change of clothing might not be a bad idea!
A short trip to Scotland three years ago left me wanting to see more, so I was pretty excited about getting back for another visit. Glasgow, the first of three stops in this amazing country, did not disappoint! Two days just wasn’t enough in this walk friendly city brimming with architecture, art, music, and shopping! Lesson learned… However, two-ish days were all we had, so we wasted no time making the most of them!
Our first afternoon, spent wandering aimlessly in the main part of town, gave us a sense of what to expect… We really enjoyed the architecture and window-shopping on Buchanan Street.
Glasgow School of Art
Tim was really exited to visit the Glasgow School of Art, which was founded in 1845 and is internationally recognized as one of Europe’s leading visual art schools. A fan of architect Charles Rennie Mackintosh he was most interested in seeing the school’s famous Mackintosh Building. However, a fire, set accidentally, during the 2015 end of term exhibition caused extensive damage and the building is currently closed for renovations.
The school does offer various walking tours and our guide, a current student, did a great job! We not only learned about the history of the school, the Mackintosh Building, and other Mackintosh works around town, but we viewed a collection of Mackintosh furniture as well. The Mackintosh building may be closed, but we did get an opportunity to visit the new Steven Holl building where we were able to view current student exhibitions of both fashion and jewelry.
Of course we had to visit the gift shop, which was filled with many lovely items all created by past and current students of the school. Elliot really enjoyed the children’s activities provided by the museum.
Having learned about Glasgow’s tea rooms during our tour of the Glasgow School of Art we decided to visit the Willow Tea Room located on Sachiehall Street. We enjoyed our traditional afternoon tea, cocoa, and for Simon, haggis surrounded by early 20th century decor.
Once our bellies were full with tea and cakes we wandered toward George Square, named after King George III, it is home to an impressive amount of statues as well as the city council’s headquarters. This is a lovely spot to stop and rest, or feed the many birds.
Glasgow’s Mural Trail!
A happy accident, we discovered Glasgow’s Mural trail on the way to our next destination! The trail, a series of paintings in just about every style imaginable, was created to reduce the negative impact of an economic downturn and to help bring new life and visitors to the city center. You’ll find these amazing works of art on the side and front of buildings both occupied and vacant. These are just a few of the many amazing pieces of street art on display! If you’re interested in the Mural Trail there is a handy map available and if you’re not up for walking bicycle rentals are always a fun option!
Hoping to capture a few great photos of Glasgow, we visited the Necropolis, a Victorian era cemetery located on a hill just east of the Glasgow Cathedral. Not only did we enjoy sweeping views of the city, but the Cathedral as well. We were fascinated by all the monuments, memorials and graves.
These are just a few of the 3100 monuments in the Necropolis, but there are as many as 50,000 individuals buried there!
We spent so much time wandering in the Necropolis the Cathedral closed before we could get in, but I really wanted to see it, so we decided on a morning visit on our way out of town. I’m so glad we made time! The details in the stonework and stained glass windows are stunning and if you have time I highly recommend it. Built in the 1200s it is the only medieval cathedral in Scotland to have survived the Protestant Reformation virtually unscathed.
We’ve Only Just Scratched The Surface…
Beyond the above sights, we wandered in Merchant City, enjoyed a number of memorable meals and even found time for a bit of relaxation in our hotel bar. I know that we barely scratched the surface of this lovely city and I hope to find my way back someday…
Blythswood Square Hotel
Our hotel, the Blythswood Square, was just a short walk from Buchanan Street and the Glasgow School of Art. The building had at one time been an automobile club, so was decorated with many car inspired accents. The perfect place for my automobile loving husband! The common areas were lovely and the service friendly.
The rooms, though not spacious were nice, with the exception of the bathroom, which was quite large and had an unusual opening into the sleeping area.
Like so many European hotel rooms the plug for the hair dryer was nowhere near the bathroom mirror and instead was located just next to the bed with an awkwardly placed mirror. I will say that the dryer was quality and the products, Neal’s Yard were nice!
Doughnuts are the new cupcakes, which in turn were the new bagel or were they the new frozen yogurt? It’s hard to keep track, because very much like fashion, food fads come and go.
Beignets from Cafe du Monde in NOLA have always been my personal favorites, the king of donuts! In fact, other than trips to New Orleans, I go years without eating any type of donut because IMHO, there is no other donut. That is, there WAS no other…
These days with gourmet donut shops popping up on just about every corner it’s getting harder to resist. I’m not usually one to jump on the bandwagon, but, Hey… I’m jumping on! Of course the kids and Tim will need to assist! Care to join us? Keep reading…
This list will be our version of a best of, and as we currently reside in SoCal, many of our donuts will be located here, however as this fad seems to have taken the world by storm, I’ve included a few places worth mentioning from two of my other favorite cities. The more the merrier!
We discovered District 2 years ago and when I’m not in NOLA, I drool over their daily donut creations on Instagram. They’re not beignets, but these guys sure know how to make a donut! Not to mention their sliders and brew (coffee) are pretty great too!
We stumbled across this yummy place one afternoon on a recent visit to London, we found ourselves back the very next day. The cinnamon rolls were my favorite! Alas there are no photos, as we ate them up too quickly for pictures!
hilarystyle’s Top Donut Shops
Okay, so there are only 5* donut shops on this list, I fully intended to make this a top 10, but between ice cream distractions and repeat tastings, I’ve decided my waistline just can’t take a top 10 list, so without further ado, starting with #5, here are hilarystyle’s top 5 donuts in the greater Los Angeles area.
5. Stan’s Donuts – Westwood, Los Angles
Stan’s donuts were decent, but not spectacular and a bit on the dry side. We sampled maple glazed and the shop specialty a peanut butter filled donut with chocolate glaze and chocolate chips. In fairness we went to Stan’s around 9pm on a weeknight, but parking was so tough, I’m not sure its worth going back for a second try.
4. DKs Donuts – Santa Monica
I must admit my first impression of Dks wasn’t the best. It wasn’t super clean, but it was super popular. That says something… doesn’t it? There were many donut choices ranging from strange and unusual (Ube, anyone?) to the classics. We sampled a strawberry crueler, red velvet oreo, peanut butter chocolate, a cronut and a cinnamon twist. The donuts were fresh and we all agreed the peanut butter and chocolate was the best!
Offering unique flavors like Habanero PB&J, trendy flavors like maple bacon, and the more traditional like lemon poppyseed you’ll find something for everyone at Blue Star. Elliot loves the Meyer lemon & key lime curd, but the crisp edges of the lemon poppyseed make it my personal favorite. Maybe it reminds me of the crisp edges on beignets?
We love this place and until very recently it was hands down our number one! The doughnuts are beautifully made, always fresh and I’ve yet to taste one I didn’t enjoy. Simon loves them so much he knows the shop hours by heart! We’ve had multiple flavors including: lemon meringue pie, vanilla twist, huckleberry, maple bacon, and more, but Simon and I both agree that the vanilla twist is our favorite!
Swooping in at the last second to claim the number one spot is Cafe Dulce in Downtown Los Angeles’ Little Tokyo. Though technically not a donut shop, donuts dominated their pastry case and after tasting one I can see why! We shared the strawberry cream though I would have loved to try the Fruity Pebbles donut or the Chocolate Creamy donut…The dough was the lightest, fluffiest dough we’ve had yet and the flavor was delicious. I am thankful this place isn’t near my house, but I’m sure we will find our way back!
Artisanal, traditional, old school, specialty, trendy and unique…
Our recent visit to Northern Ireland was by far the best day of our 12 day tour of the Emerald Isle, if not our entire summer abroad! It’s a funny thing too, considering “we” almost skipped this part of the trip, because while Northern Ireland was at the top of my list it wasn’t even on Tim’s.
However, My heart was set on seeing the many natural wonders located on Northern Ireland’s Antrim Coast! After all we would already be on the Island so It’s not like it was exactly out of our way.
Before we get too much further in this post I should disclose that I am a huge Game of Thrones fan* and although that wasn’t the initial driving factor when deciding to visit Northern Ireland (Seriously, it wasn’t!) I will admit that seeing some of the show’s film locations did seem appealing. My wish list of sights was quite long and I wasn’t sure we would be able to see everything on our own in one day, so a guided tour seemed like our best option. After quite a bit of research and vetoing many tour companies** I chose Paddy Campbell’s Belfast Famous Black Cab Tours, and we couldn’t have been more pleased!
Our guide, Tom, met up with us at our hotel and after a brief discussion about the day’s itinerary we set off in Tom’s “black” taxicab. The tour covered everything from Belfast and it’s Troubles, to The Antrim Coast and was an all day affair. I wrote about Belfast in an earlier post: Northern Ireland! Belfast! A bonus for me were the multiple Game of Thrones locations!
Many Photos Ahead…
Northern Ireland’s coastline is some of the most beautiful scenery I’ve ever had the good fortune to see! Each and every place we visited was a photographers dream come true, so even though it poured rain the entire day and the lighting definitely wasn’t on my side, I still managed to take MANY photos. I’ve done my best to narrow them down, but as you’ll see below I had a tough time with that… as I often do.
The Dark Hedges
Our first stop, The Dark Hedges, was also my favorite stop of the day! Planted in 1775 the 150 beech trees that make up the Dark Hedges were initially planted to help add interest to the approach of Gracehill House. Talk about a fancy driveway!
Not only is this natural wonder an incredibly beautiful and spooky spot, it’s also the film location for The King’s Road in Game of Thrones making it a very popular tourist destination. Even sharing the experience with all my fellow tourists couldn’t dull the moment. I couldn’t believe I was actually standing there.
Practical information: The Dark Hedges are one of the most photographed and visited attractions in Northern Ireland, but they are also alongside a road which is still very much in use. Buses, cars and pedestrians are everywhere, so caution is in order whether you’re walking or driving a vehicle. Some of the trees are as old as 350 years and hopefully with care and respect they’ll live a long time. I definitely hope to get back there someday…
Carrick-A-Rede Rope Bridge
It’s hard to put into words just how much I enjoyed our visit to this lovely spot, even in the pouring rain. Just a short walk from the car park to the Carrick-a-Rede Rope Bridge you’ll be treated to amazing coastal views along the way and on a clear day views of Scotland!
The walk to the bridge
The water was so green!
If only it weren’t POURING rain
Crossing the bridge isn’t as scary as it might sound and the breathtaking views you’ll see from this unique vantage point (including down) will make it worth your while! If you do decide to give it a try you’ll be following in 400 years of footsteps before you.
Simon went first.
It’s my turn next!
Then Tim and Elliot… Watch your step Elliot!
Do look down
There were caverns down below
When you’ve had your fill of beautiful views or you’re completely soaked, which ever one comes first, head back across the bridge and follow the trail back to your car. Make sure to look back over your shoulder for one last look.
Practical Information: The walk to the bridge is fine for all ages, however keep in mind there are no protective fences on the island. You’ll want to keep a tight hold on any little ones you may be traveling with. The rope bridge isn’t very wide and it does move as you walk on it, so look where you’re going. Elliot’s first footstep was on the netting! Good thing Tim was holding his hand tight!
The walk isn’t strenuous
Waiting to cross
There are no fences on the island
Our stop at Ballintoy Harbour, was a bonus for me, otherwise known as the Iron Islands, and according to our guide, the Red Woman’s Cave. Unfortunately the rain was coming down especially hard during this part of the day, so the boys stayed in the taxicab while I jumped out to snap a few photos.
The Giants Causeway
The one that started it all! As soon as I read about The Giant’s Causeway, I knew we’d be traveling to Northern Ireland! It’s no wonder this place is on just about everyone’s list of places to see on the Emerald Isle. It’s an amazing natural wonder! Or is it?
Declared a UNESCO World Heritage site in 1986 The Giant’s Causeway was created when the giant Finn McCool was challenged to a fight by Benandonner a Scottish giant. Finn built the causeway so the two giants could meet in the middle for their fight, but Finn played a trick on Benandonner making him think Finn was much larger than he was, Benandonner fled back across the sea destroying the causeway as he went. Or so the story goes…
Another plausible theory is that the Causeway, a very large area of interlocking basalt columns, was created as a result of an ancient volcanic eruption. Whatever story you believe this is a place worth visiting!
Practical Information: Although there is a fee to enter the visitor center, you don’t have to pay to visit the Giant’s Causeway. Buses located just beyond the visitors center will take you up and down the hill for about 1￡. Take care when walking on the columns as they can be extremely slippery.
The Visitor Center
The Wee Cottage
Toward the end of our day we realized we’d been so busy marveling at the scenery around us we’d never eaten lunch. Tom suggested the Wee Cottage an adorable little Family run restaurant. The setting, food and service were perfect (I recommend the bacon cabbage soup!), it was just what we’d been looking for. As usual the boys ordered cocoa with their meals. This heavenly concoction of chocolate, white chocolate, marshmallows and mint was one of the best we’ve ever had! An absolute 10! The fresh baked scones with loads of cream weren’t too shabby either!
Our final stop of the day, Dunluce Castle, was conveniently located just steps from the Wee Cottage. Even with scaffolding covering a large portion of the castle you could see why this place has been the inspiration for multiple books, poems, record albums and movies! Amazingly It’s been around since 1500, but perched on the edge of a sheer cliff, it looks like it might slip into the sea at any moment…
Farewell Emerald Isle
After 12 incredible days my dream visit to Ireland and Northern Ireland was coming to a close. It was everything I’d imagined it to be and more!
Next stop: Glasgow, Scotland!
*Northern Ireland is one of the main filming locations for the HBO series Game of Thrones.
**We learned our lesson about joining large bus tours during our visit to The Ring of Kerry.
We’ve all heard of Titanic, the unsinkable ship that sadly sank on her maiden voyage. Her tragic story and the stories of her ill fated passengers have held our fascination for over 100 years, but did you know that Titanic was built in Belfast, home to the famous shipbuilders Harland and Wolff? Titanic Belfast, a museum dedicated to all things Titanic, is appropriately located in the very spot Titanic was built and launched. The moment I knew we would be in Belfast I knew this place would be on my list and we weren’t disappointed! If you find yourself in the vicinity or anywhere near it I highly recommend a stop!
The boys and I decided to walk to the museum from our hotel, which took about 30 minutes. Along the way we stopped to take photos by the river, saw a parade and walked by The Albert Memorial Clock.
Titanic Belfast is quite a large museum, so allow at least two hours for your visit, though we spent about four! If you’re traveling with younger children ask for the scavenger hunt when purchasing your entrance tickets. My little Elliot really enjoyed looking out for the clues and at the end he received a prize!
The museum exhibits are laid out along an easy to follow path which moves along from floor to floor. You’ll start by learning about Belfast’s linen and ship building industries and as you move forward you’ll learn about how the ship was built and launched, the loading of the passengers, the voyage itself and of course the sinking. There are also exhibits touching upon the aftermath, her discovery on the ocean floor and her history in film, books and television.
The many interactive exhibits, first hand accounts, and films are all really well done and kept us occupied for hours. The White Star Line dishes and other interesting artifacts on display throughout the museum really helped to bring the past to life. I took only a few photos during our visit and instead spent most of my time just enjoying the museum. We did see a wedding taking place which was fun. Interesting choice of venue!
Apparently you can get married at the museum!
Although it looked inviting the ground floor cafe wasn’t great, though the service was friendly enough. Of course no visit to a museum would be complete without a visit to the gift shop where we bought some holiday ornaments and a magnet.
The Nomadic – The Last White Star Vessel
Along with our admission to the museum our tickets also granted us access to the SS Nomadic, the Titanic’s tender and the last White Star Line vessel in existence. The Nomadic has a long history of her own, but her initial purpose as a tender was to ferry Titanic’s passengers back and forth from port. The Nomadic’s interior was intentionally styled to match Titanic. This would give the passengers a taste of what was to come on the larger vessel and ensure a seamless experience. I particularly enjoyed getting a feel for what it must really have been like aboard Titanic!
We spent a good amount of time exploring the ship and the many interactive displays on board. The boys enjoyed walking around on deck and of course posed for my many photos!
SS Nomadic a mini Titanic
Game of Thrones Bonus!
A huge Game of Thrones fan I was excited to see that Titanic Studios, where some of GoT is filmed is located just behind the museum! Maybe next time I’ll work out how to get in there for a look around…
Accommodations & Such…
We stayed at The Ten Square hotel located in Donegal Square directly across the street from Belfast’s City Hall. The rooms, service and overall experience were great! We enjoyed the hotel breakfast each morning and the staff were incredibly friendly. I would definitely stay here again.
However, I will mention that although the shower and bathroom were lovely the shampoo and conditioner were all in one which isn’t a favorite of mine. The hairdryer was powerful, but the power button had to be held down continuously, which can become tiresome after a while. The only plug was in the main room, which is never a positive for me.
Belfast, a city long plagued by Troubles, might not be high on your list of travel destinations, but maybe it should be? Not because it’s particularly beautiful though it does have a lot to offer, but simply because you can, and that in itself is a big deal. Having chosen Belfast for it’s relatively close proximity to the Giant’s Causeway, a UNESCO World Heritage site, we had no idea just how much we would enjoy the visit.
In fact our visit to Belfast and the Antrim coast of Northern Ireland were probably the two most impactful days of our six-week journey through Ireland, the United Kingdom and Europe! This speaks volumes as our itinerary was filled with some of the world’s most famous and beautiful places, but travel isn’t just about tasting the food, enjoying the beauty and learning the history. It’s also about experiencing the culture through interactions with the people, seeing how they live their everyday lives and learning to be open to different points of view. Our visit to Northern Ireland was all of the above and more!
To better understand Belfast it’s important to understand at least a little bit about The Troubles. Fueled by earlier events in history The Troubles took place in the mid to later part of the 20th century. Though there are many factors, one key issue was whether or not Northern Ireland, which had become separated from the Republic of Ireland, would continue to be a part of the United Kingdom, or would/should it once again become part of the Republic. I don’t mean to oversimplify, but in a nutshell, many Protestants consider themselves British and have no wish to leave the UK, while many Catholics consider themselves Irish and wish to once again become part of what is now the Republic of Ireland.
I’m no expert on what is a very complicated situation in Northern Ireland, and rather than spend a lot of time paraphrasing what I learned online and during our tour, what I really hope to share with you are our personal experiences in the city and with the people we met there.
On the Edge of Peace
As a child I remember hearing about the troubles in Northern Ireland and Belfast. The nightly news painting a picture of a city plagued by terrorism, unsafe and divided. This was a place I was sure I would never visit. It never even crossed my mind. Yet here we were! Just the very idea that things have progressed enough for our visit to safely take place was so meaningful! The people we met and spent time with were some of the kindest and most pleasant of our entire trip.
The Troubles officially ended in 1998, but during our visit it became immediately clear to us that the peace, which exists today, is a tenuous one at best. Belfast is still very much a city divided, and when I say divided I mean quite literally. Walls or “peace lines” as they are known, some as high as 25 feet, separate the Catholic and Protestant neighborhoods. A number of these walls were built AFTER the 1998 peace agreement.
Many of the peace walls have gates which are at times staffed by police. They are open for passage during the day, but are closed at nights and in some locations on the weekends as well.
So, Is It Safe?
While I am a big proponent of stepping off the beaten path I’ve also learned that at times hiring a guide is best and this is definitely the case in a city like Belfast. After doing a bit of research I discovered the very highly rated Paddy Campbell’s Belfast Famous Black Cab Tours! I just can’t say enough about them! From the first email communication to the drop off at our hotel at the end of the day and every moment in between it was a perfect experience! No wonder they’re number one on Trip Advisor!
Our guide, Tom, picked us up at our hotel promptly at 9am. We piled in his “black” taxicab and set off for a full day* tour! He came prepared with snacks (chocolates and crisps) and bottled water for the four of us!
Tom, born and raised in Belfast, was a wealth of information. He drove us through the city explaining the history of Belfast, the Troubles, and the peace walls. We drove through both catholic and protestant neighborhoods easily identified by the different flags flying high outside their homes. Catholics, fly Irish flags, while the Protestants fly British flags…We got out at the wall and signed our names and wrote messages of peace.
Tom did a great job explaining The Troubles. He encouraged us to ask questions and explained everything in a friendly, fair and impartial manner. He waited until after the tour was over to tell us the more personal details about himself so as not to create a bias.
One can only imagine what it must have been like growing up in the midst of so much turmoil, no matter what side you stood for, especially because to us the city still seems fraught with so much tension. As tourists we never felt endangered exactly, it’s just that our feelings about Belfast changed dramatically after the tour.
It’s hard not to form opinions when you see homes with cages covering them for protection from the debris thrown over the top of the walls. Political murals depicting loss of life or celebrating each side’s “heroes” are prominently displayed on the side of apartments and many other buildings throughout Belfast. In fact there are over 2800 of these murals and multiple bonfires as large as city blocks are erected all over the city every July 12th and burned within spitting distance of residential homes. There are numerous parades through the streets, which demonstrate the clear division between the two sides. These things are all happening TODAY! Now!
Hearing about the Troubles from a first hand account really drove home how little we knew about the situation. Everything we knew came from American news sources and hearing the story from a different point of view really drove home the idea that no matter how open minded we believe ourselves to be, we rarely get the entire story making it difficult to have a truly informed opinion.
Troubled, fascinating, and surprising, this is Belfast.
Of course there is so much more to Belfast than it’s Troubles. Though the city seemed to have an industrial feel about it, there were many architecturally beautiful buildings, the people were some of the friendliest we encountered and we enjoyed a number of good restaurants during our stay. Belfast was a pleasant surprise and it’s troubled and fascinating history had an unexpected and profound effect on all of us.
*For the purpose of this post I am focusing only on the city portion of our tour, but stay tuned for a future post about our visit to the incredible Antrim Coast!
When I think of travel many things come to mind, adventures, seeing new sights, trying new foods, and dedicated family time. I love all of those things so much, however there are a few things about travel that I don’t love… Though worth bitching about mentioning, there is nothing that would stop me from embarking on my next journey, let’s not carried away!
Arriving in Dublin!
Having recently had the opportunity to stay in 12 different hotels over the course of 6 weeks I had a lot of time to think about the things I love and don’t love in hotel rooms. Before I tell you specifics I’ll admit upfront that I’m a bit of a hotel snob. However, I do try to be objective. Really!
A few of my not so favorite things:
Why are there never enough towels!? Enough said…
Data – in this age of instant satisfaction spotty data just won’t cut it…