Brides & Wedding Traditions From Around the World

#letthemeatcake

June is  wedding season, so…

Catherdral of Toledo-8227

I’ve been married for 16 years, but the romantic in me still gets excited when I see a bride, and for some reason even more so when I’m traveling! Maybe because someone once told me it’s good luck to see a bride? Or because I still remember how happy I was on my wedding day and I’m reminded of those feelings? Or maybe because I know what’s coming… ha ha!

#stlouiscathedral

Wedding traditions vary from country to country, but apparently the lure of the white dress is universal, as I’ve seen them everywhere from New Orleans, Louisiana to Tokyo, Japan!

#sunsettoledospain

I always try to snap a photo when I see brides, and the following photos are collected from the past few years of travel. Please do keep in mind that these photos are usually taken from a distance, a moving car, or a hotel window, as I wasn’t actually invited to any of these weddings. Along with the photos I’ve included some fun facts and wedding traditions from around the globe. Of course I’m including my own wedding photo… Let’s hope all these lovely couples are still as happily married as I am!

Toledo, Spain

This photo was taken in 2015 at Ayuntamiento Plaza just outside the Catherdral of Toledo, one of the more beautiful cathedrals I’ve ever visited. Toledo is known as the City of Three Cultures, which includes Muslims, Christians and Jews.

#toldeobride

Popular in many parts of the world Spanish brides also throw their boquets with the idea that the one to catch it will be the next to marry.  A Spanish variation on the same theme is to pin an upsidedown corsage on unmarried female guests. If the corsage is lost during the festivities that lucky lady will be the next to marry!

Tokyo, Japan

This photo was taken in 2014 during breakfast in lobby of the Tokyo Penninsula Hotel. It was quite early in the morning, so I was somewhat surprised to hear wedding music and then see a bride appear, but I got this picture just as she was almost out of sight!

#penninsulahoteltokyo

Quick Change

In Japan the bride will often wear multiple outfits during the ceremony and reception, as many as four, sometimes ending with a western style party gown, which signifies her return to everyday life. Guests at a Japanese wedding will give gifts of money to the bride and groom in small paper packets called mizuhiki.

London, England

I took this photo in 2013 during one of our many visits to London. We had just finished the Tower Bridge Experience, which by the way is a fascinating attraction! This seems like a lovely, although crowded, place for wedding photos.

#towerbridgebride

Royal Icing

Many of today’s most popular white wedding traditions can be attributed to Queen Victoria. It was Queen Victoria’s wedding cake, that first used the icing known today as “royal” icing. Hence the name royal… I love that!

Paris, France

This shot was taken in 2016 outside Notre Dame de Paris just after we climbed to the top!

Paris France

After our 2016 visit to La Madeleine, a beautiful church commissioned by Napoleon, I decided to take a quick lap around the building, and came upon this lovely bridal couple!

#lamadeleine

Wedding Cake

A croquembouche is a tower of delicious cream filled pastries held together with delicate strings of caramel. These delicious towers are often served at a French wedding. I read that the idea originates from guests bringing small cakes and other treats to wedding celebrations and piling them high on the table.

Amsterdam, Holland, The Netherlands

Having only just arrived in Amsterdam during our 2016 Europe trip, we were on our way to the hotel when I looked out and saw this bridal party! Our taxi was speeding past and I stuck my camera out the window!

#amsterdambride

Bridal Showers

A popular tradition in the United States, the bridal shower originated in Holland. When a Dutch bride’s family was too poor to provide a dowry, or if the father did not approve of the match her friends would “shower” her with gifts that were often included in the dowry.

#dutchweddingclogs
Traditional Dutch Wedding Clogs

Belfast, Northern Ireland

This photo was taken during our 2016 visit to Belfast, from inside the Titanic Belfast Museum, which is apparently a popular wedding venue. We loved our visit to this museum, and what an amazing backdrop!

Belfast Northern Ireland

A traditional Irish wedding toast:

“Friends and relatives, so fond and dear, ’tis our greatest pleasure to have you here. When many years this day has passed, fondest memories will always last. So we drink a cup of Irish mead and ask God’s blessing in your hour of need.”

The guests respond: “On this special day, our wish to you, the goodness of the old, the best of the new. God bless you both who drink this mead, may it always fill your every need.“

New Orleans, Lousiana

This photo of a Second Line Parade was taken from my hotel window in 2016 at the Omni Royal Hotel on Royal Street in the French Quarter!

#nolabride

Weddings in New Orleans have a special added flare, especially weddings in the French Quarter! The Bride and groom might arrive at their reception via horse drawn carriage, or by leading a second line parade preceded by a jazz band! Now that’s making an entrance!

Second Line Parade

Staying the French Quarter is always interesting, and no matter night or day, you never know what you might see when you look out your window!

#secondlineparadenola

While second line parades stem from African American jazz funerals they have evolved to become part of many celebrations in New Orleans. The second line parade at a wedding signifies the befinning of the new life between the bride and groom. Don’t be surprised if you see one these cheerful wedding parades leading the entire wedding, guests and all, from the church to the reception.

This photo was taken during our 2015 visit from my hotel window at the Hyatt French Quarter in 2015.

#nolawedding

Ribbon Pulling

While I haven’t seen the ribbon pulling tradition in action, I find the idea fascinating. Similar in tradition to the bride tossing her boquet the cake’s frosting has “meaningful” charms hidden within, each one attached to a ribbon. Female guests pull the ribbons to find out their future fate. You might pull out the heart signifying true love, but then again you may get the button, symbolic for old maid…

Costa Mesa, California

This photo was taken just the other day while the boys and I were running errands and enjoying treats from Susie Cakes at the South Coast Plaza Mall. While I don’t think I would chose this location for my wedding photos, I always enjoy seeing a happy wedding party!

#southcoastplazamall

Did you know?

Los Angeles is the most popular city in California to get married? Popular wedding trends in the Golden State include eco-friendly ideas, rustic chic, farm fresh to table fare, and free form flower boquets.

Speaking of flowers… fellow blogger, Katy from Untold Morsels, had her wedding flowers wrapped up and gifted to her guests at the end of the reception! That’s a wedding favor I’d like to have, and eco-friendly too!

Seattle

This is a picture of my wedding photo because apparently I didn’t see the future of digital, and I turned down a cd with my wedding photos on it… hindsight is truly 20/20.

#seattlebride

If I had to do it over again, I’m only talking about the wedding folks, I might like to have a destination wedding! Maybe in one of these amazing places, or maybe I’d do everything exactly the same… Anyway… if you’re wondering, our wedding and reception took place in Downtown Seattle in the atrium of one of Tim’s favorite buildings, what can I say he’s an architect. Some of the traditions we included: Something old, new, borrowed and blue, a first dance, and cutting and eating the cake together.

#seattlebride


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#weddingtraditions

Highlights… & Hindsights Making The Case for Repeat Destinations

I’m currently, ok always, considering my next vacation destination, and with so many amazing places in the world it’s hard to decide. Should we commit those precious vacation days to repeat destinations, digging deeper into what a city has to offer? If we do, what about all those wonderful new places just waiting to be discovered?

#jardindestuileries
Sailing ships! A highlight of our Paris visit!

When traveling, I’m torn between wanting to wing it and not wanting to miss anything, which definitely helps makes the case for repeat visits to certain destinations. For example, our recent trips to Paris, London, and Edinburgh were all repeat visits, we’d already checked off many of the main attractions, which enabled us to explore more freely. One point for repeat visits!

#bigben
Our tour of the Houses of Parliament was a definite highlight!

That said, one of my favorite things about traveling is the discovery of the new. The surprise and delight you feel when discovering something wonderful in a new place simply can’t be beat! These moments are one of the reasons I love to travel, the highlights of our adventures! One point for new destinations!

#arthursseat
We missed out on Arthur’s Seat during our first visit to Edinburgh.

However, being new to a place can at times be a hindrance. No matter how much research I’ve done, there are times when things don’t go quite as planned. Whether it’s accommodations, location, food, or timing, these are what I like to refer to as the hindsights of our adventure. These are things one can only know after time spent and often it’s too late… Another point for repeat destinations.

#brugge
This view from our hotel window in Bruges was a highlight!

Of course not everywhere has a hindsight and some places are just plain full of surprise and delight. I love surprise and delight! Looks like another point for new destinations!

Northern Ireland Antrim Coast
Flying to Glasgow from Belfast we were treated to this fabulous view!

So, it looks like a tie between old and new, which means I’m no closer to working out where in the world, we’ll go next, but in the meantime, here are some of the highlights and hindsights from our summer 2016 adventures in Europe!

Highlights & Hindsights

Dublin, Ireland

Highlight: Guinness Factory Tour

There were many wonderful moments during our visit to Dublin, however it was our visit to the Guinness Storehouse that came out as number one! Which speaks volumes, since I don’t even drink beer. All four of us absolutely loved this experience and if you should find yourself in Dublin I highly recommend you go.

#guinnessstorehouse

Hindsight: Popular attractions require advance planning

Our planned a visit to the  Kilmainham Gaol Museum went awry when we couldn’t print our tickets and unfortunately we missed out. We ended up visiting Malahide Castle instead, which was delightful, but lesson learned.

Cork, Ireland

Highlight:  The Blarney Stone

For more than 200 years people have been kissing the Blarney Stone and after some debate (it is the world’s germiest attraction) Simon and I decided to join the club!

Cork Blarney Castle
The Blarney Stone

Hindsight: Touristy doesn’t always equal bad

If only we’d known how much we were going to enjoy exploring Blarney Castle, we would have given ourselves more time.

Killarney, Ireland

Highlight: Killarney National Park

We spent three nights in Killarney, the gateway to the Ring of Kerry and the perfect little Irish town! Quaint, friendly and picturesque, it was exactly what I had pictured an Irish town to look like!

Killarney Ireland
Ross Castle is located inside Killarney National Park

Hindsights: Whoops, attention to detail is key!

Putting the wrong fuel in our rental car meant a drastic change in our plans. Instead of a visit to the Dingle Peninsula and Skellig Michal we spent a lovely day wandering in  Killarney National Park. If I ever find my way back to the west of Ireland a trip to the Skellig Islands will be my first order of business!

Limerick, Ireland

Highlight: King John’s Castle

We weren’t sure what to expect at King Johns’ Castle, but I do love a good castle and we had to stop for lunch anyway so why not just eat lunch at the castle?

#kingjohnscastle
King John’s Castle

Hindsight: There was none!

This was a bonus stop on our way to Galway, and we were delighted with the way this midday stop turned out!

Galway, Ireland

Highlight: The Cliffs of Moher

The spectacular Cliffs of Moher are a definite must-see if you’re visiting the West Coast of the Emerald Isle.

ireland cliffs of moher
The Cliffs of Moher

Hindsight: Allow time for unexpected adventures

There is a walk along the cliff tops , but we were running out of daylight and weren’t really dressed for a hike, so we satisfied ourselves with a good long look over the edge.

Belfast, Northern Ireland

Highlight: Everything about the entire visit

Our visit to the Antrim Coast in Northern Ireland was by far the best day of our 12 day tour of the Emerald Isle, if not our entire summer abroad!

#dark Hedges

Hindsight: We should have stayed longer.

Having no idea how much we would enjoy our visit we only booked three nights, but easily could have spent twice that many exploring Belfast as well as the amazing natural beauty along the Northern Coast.

Glasgow, Scotland

Highlight: Mural Trail

A very happy accident, we discovered Glasgow’s Mural trail on our way to another destination!

#hiphopmarionettes

Hindsight: Glasgow deserves more time!

Two days just wasn’t enough in this walk friendly city brimming with architecture, art, music, and shopping!

Inverness, Scotland

Highlight: Urquhart Castle on the Shores of Loch Ness

Having missed out on a visit to Loch Ness on our previous trip to the Highlands, we decided to make it a priority. A highlight was exploring the ancient ruins of Urquhart Castle, located on the shores of the lake.

#urquhartcastle

Hindsight: So much more than a monster!

Our visit here was wonderful and exceeded our expectations in every way.

The Highlands of Scotland

Highlight: Eileen Donan Castle

A last minute decision to see Eileen Donan Castle did not disappoint. It’s no wonder that Eilean Donan is the most photographed castle in Scotland, it’s setting in the middle of three lochs is stunning!

#eileandonanbagpiper

Hindsight: The Isle of Skye

There is never enough time in this magical country. We got a small taste of what the Isle of Skye has to offer and I’m definitely going back for more!

Edinburgh, Scotland

Highlight: Everything

Have you ever visited a place that felt so right, so special that it was almost painful to leave? Love at first sight? That’s exactly how I felt about Edinburgh from the very first moment.

#edinburgh

Hindsight: I’ve realized my Edinburgh list will never be completed

Although we didn’t have time to go inside the Writers Museum, we did spend time in the courtyard reading the tiles, which are inscribed with lovely quotes written by some of the city’s most famous writers. All of them about Edinburgh of course!

Hadrian’s Wall

Highlight: A dream come true

I know that for some, what basically amounts to a crumbling brick wall in the middle of nowhere England might not be interesting, but for me, a history loving anglophile, this was an absolute dream come true!

#hadrianswall

Hindsight: Walk the Wall Hike

It’s quite popular to “walk” the Wall and I would have liked to, at least for a little while, but serious rain was threatening and after a few minutes the boys abandoned me for the shelter of the Housestead’s Museum.

York, England

Highlight: York Minster

It made sense that the center piece of York, York Minster, the largest medieval Gothic cathedral in Northern Europe, would be our first stop. We were not disappointed!

#yorkminster

Hindsight: There wasn’t one!

The rain fell hard and steadily during our visit, but thankfully we still managed to enjoyed this lovely city.

Nottingham, England

Highlight: THE Nottingham!

Yes, that Nottingham, home of Robin Hood and his band of Merry Men!

#robinhoodnottingham

Hindsight: Sometimes the weather wins

Sadly, extremely heavy rain put us off from a visit to Sherwood Forest.

London, England

Highlight: Camden Market

My highlight is also a hindsight!  I can’t believe the Camden Market wasn’t already on my radar, It’s right up my alley and reminds me a lot of Venice Beach, California. Fun & quirky!

#camdenlock

Hindsight: Top of the Shard

With my love of photography, I regret that I didn’t take the time to visit the observation deck at the Shard. Greenwich is also high on my list for next time…

Brugge, Belgium

Highlight: Beautiful Medieval Town

I was delighted by the incredible beauty of Brugge, a quaint little medieval town. I immediately fell in love and spent the better part of my three days there taking endless photos.

Bruges Canal

Hindsight: Why didn’t we eat more chocolate?

The question is: With endless chocolate shops around every corner, why didn’t we visit more of them? I’m afraid that’s a question, I’ll never know the answer to.

Ghent, Belgium

Highlight: Graffiti Street

Wanting to see something a bit off the beaten path and big fans of street art, we were excited to learn that Ghent has a dedicated graffiti street called Werregaren straat. We really enjoyed this and loved the idea of a dedicated place where anyone can express themselves freely.

#wergeranstraat

Hindsight: Maybe next time…

Elliot really wished we’d had a can of spray paint or two, so he could contribute.

Amsterdam, Holland The Netherlands

Highlight: Everything about our visit!

A lovely and walkable city with no shortage of interesting sights and streets to wander we made the most of every minute of our visit in Amsterdam.

#nightcanal

Hindsight: We visited Amsterdam and didn’t ride a boat or a bike, what?!

We made the most of every moment while visiting this fabulous city, but still ran out of time before ever stepping onto a boat, or peddling a bike. We did see some windmills though! If I had to do it over again I would stay on a houseboat!

Zaans Schans, Holland

Highlight: Windmills

I felt I couldn’t visit Holland without seeing at least one windmill up close and personal! I know, I know, that’s a very touristy thing to do, but hey, sometimes I’m a tourist!

#zaanseschans

Hindsight: Why didn’t we rent bikes here?

If we ever find our way back to this wonderful place we will be sure to rent bikes. The wide pathways and lovely scenery would make for a perfect bike ride!

Paris, France

Highlight: Sainte Chapelle

As I emerged from the doorway into the main part of the chapel my mouth literally fell open. I was completely surrounded by jaw dropping beauty. How did I not know about this amazing place?

#saintechapelle

Hindsight: Accommodations

While there wasn’t really anything wrong with our hotel, I’ve yet to really hit the nail on the head as far as Paris lodgings go… hopefully next time!

Versailles, France

Highlight: Marie Antoinette’s Gardens

My favorite part of the day was our visit to the Petit Trianon, the home away from home of Marie Antoinette, who apparently wasn’t so enamored with the main Palace and preferred to spend her time elsewhere.

#petittrianon

Hindsight: An evening visit might have been better

We should have considered going later in the afternoon for the musical fountains show and evening fireworks. We might have been able to beat the crowds, and the heat.

London, England

Highlight: Hyde Park

London’s parks are the perfect way to spend a sunny afternoon just like the locals do! They are beautiful, vast and filled with activities for every interest.

#serpentinepavilion2016

Hindsight: Do we really have to go home?

Even after six weeks of travel, I wasn’t ready to go home.

Nothing makes me happier than discovering new places with my family and sharing them with all of you!


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#pinmehilarystyleme

Best. Day. Ever! The Antrim Coast of Northern Ireland!

#carrickarederopebridge

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.

#carrickarederopebridge

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.

#darkhedges
So excited to be in Northern Ireland!

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!

#PaddyCampbellsBelfastFamousBlackCabToursOur 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…

#whiteparkbayNorthern 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.

#dark Hedges

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!

#darkhedges

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.

Northern Ireland Antrim Coast

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

#carrickarede

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!

Northern Ireland Antrim Coast

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.

Northern Ireland Antrim Coast

Simon went first.

It’s my turn next!

Northern Ireland Antrim Coast

Then Tim and Elliot… Watch your step Elliot!

Northern Ireland Antrim Coast

Northern Ireland Antrim Coast
It’s hard to tell, but it was POURING rain!

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.

Northern Ireland Antrim Coast

Or two….

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!

Ballintoy Harbour

#ballintoyharbourOur 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.

#ballintoyharbourgot

#ballintoyharbour

The Giants Causeway

Northern Ireland Antrim CoastThe 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?

Northern Ireland Antrim CoastDeclared 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…

Northern Ireland Antrim CoastAnother 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!

Northern Ireland Antrim CoastPractical 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.

Northern Ireland Antrim Coast

The Wee Cottage

#weecottage

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!

Dunluce Castle

#dunlucecastle

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…

Northern Ireland Antrim Coast

Farewell Emerald Isle

Northern Ireland Antrim Coast

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.

Titanic Belfast!

Northern Ireland BelfastWe’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.

Northern Ireland Belfast

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!

Belfast Northern Ireland

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.

Belfast Northern Ireland

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!

Northern Ireland Belfast

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

Belfast Northern IrelandAlong 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!

Game of Thrones Bonus!

Belfast Northern IrelandA 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.

My hilarystyle rating for The Ten Square Hotel is: hairdryerhairdryerhairdryerhairdryer

I have to mention that we loved our food at  Nu Dehli a fabulous Indian Restaurant walking distance from the Ten Square. The Chicken Korma was fantastic!

 

Northern Ireland! Belfast!

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.

#belfastcityhall

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!

The Troubles?

#roadclosedTo 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

Northern Ireland BelfastAs 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.

Northern Ireland BelfastThe 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.

Northern Ireland BelfastMany 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.

Northern Ireland Belfast

So, Is It Safe?

#PaddyCampbellsBelfastFamousBlackCabToursWhile 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!

Northern Ireland BelfastTom, 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.

Northern Ireland BelfastIt’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!

Northern Ireland Belfast

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.

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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!