When 24 hrs in Northern Ireland become 48 hrs (Hurricane Ophelia)
Why Northern Ireland?
A little while back, perhaps over a year ago I came to a realisation that ‘materialistic’ gifts and things didn’t matter anymore and I no longer found them to be very exciting. For me, it was more about the memories that I have been creating and it were those memories that were over taking my feelings and excitement. This made me realise that I no longer wanted to be showered with gifts, but wanted to experience new adventures and make memories.
I relayed my feelings to my mum and surprisingly she took this on board and for my 28th birthday, she surprised me with a ‘Buzz Flight’ where me and my husband went on a helicopter ride across Newcastle.
So! It was almost time for my husband’s birthday and given how fussy he is and given how strongly I felt about adventures and memories, I decided to surprise him with a new adventure. So my mind started to wander and I began creating a list of ‘things to do’ and ‘places to see’.
Maybe around 5-6 years ago my very good friend Lauren put a photo up on Instagram of a rope bridge which made my eyes and mind go PINGGGG! I remembered wanting to go to that place for years and knew that it was somewhere in the UK so I would try to go at some point!
AHAAAH! and so it was. It was Northern Ireland.
Since my husband does not have a British passport, it means that we pretty much cannot go ANYWHERE without a Visa. And as you may or may not know, the visa process is a pain in the backside and hence I decided not to look elsewhere.
Northern Ireland it was! So yes, anyone who has a Pakistani Passport but resides in the UK under some sort of a visa can go there! wooohoo! (after all it is the United Kingdom of Great Britain and NORTHERN IRELAND!)
This meant, that we were able to sit on a plane, on a small journey and experience a completely different nation/sub-culture!
Now, if you want to save a penny or two, my advice would be to book in advance as you can get REALLY cheap deals. Especially if you live in Manchester, Birmingham or London.
I don’t know about you guys, but I spend my life on SkyScanner. The flights cost me something around £50 return with Easy Jet.
The accommodation cost us £36 per night which is not bad at all considering how much we got for it. We stayed in a gorgeous, spacious annex and would HIGHLY recommend it to anyone wanting to explore.
I just googled cheap car hire and EuroCar came up with an offer of a car hire for £9 per day. I mean you really can’t go wrong with that, can you?!
Itinerary for Day 1:
We arrived in Belfast quite early in the morning and decided to go straight for breakfast. Me being me walked into a very traditional, family orientated Irish cafe and asked for a ‘Full English’. The guy in return gave me really dirty looks (IF LOOKS COULD KILL..) and replied, no but we have a ‘Fry Up’. I casually smiled and decided to walk in anyway! The place was a bit shabby and worn down but cheap. So we decided to stay and have our breakfast that would last us the next few hours!
An Irish Fry up is pretty much like a Full English but with a few tweaks. So, instead of slices of bread, there is soda bread and potato cakes… everything else is, well… the same!
After the ‘Fry Up’, I knew I wanted to see some of the street art that was all over Belfast City Centre. I came across some awesome photos on Instagram from a Pub called the ‘Dark Horse’. It’s located on ‘Hill Street’ and voila here you go. We came across some of the most gorgeous murals and street art!
We then drove over to ‘Crumlin Road Gaol’: a Prison which dates back to 1845 and closed it’s doors as a working prison in 1996. The Prison was closed down as it was deemed to be inadequate and prisoners were living in appalling conditions. Some parts of the Prison have been sold to various businesses, however, some parts of the Prison went through renovations and the gaol re-opened as a visitor attraction and conference centre.
We went on a guided tour of the prison and heard stories about the men, women and children who were held within it’s walls. You also find out a little about the 17 men who were hanged. It certainly will give you chills down the spine!
During our tour, there was a little boy who screeched as they spoke about the hangings and had to leave the room due to him being distressed!!
It was hard to believe that the violence in Northern Ireland continued until the 1980s as there was no evidence to suggest this until of course we came across several other murals. We then decided to head off to the ‘Wall of Peace’. From walking around on the streets of Belfast it was quite loud and clear that murals were there to commemorate, communicate and display aspects of Northern Ireland culture and history. They conveyed stories of solidarity, peace and much more.
We ended our long day by visiting ‘Belfast Castle‘. The castle is located on the slopes of Cavehill Country Park, Belfast, 400 feet above sea level. Its location gives you an unobstructed /panoramic view of the city of Belfast. The castle itself is gorgeous from the outside, however, from the inside it isn’t anything extra-ordinary as it has been refurbished to modern standards.
The castle does have a restaurant, however, I heard mixed reviews about it and did not end up having any food there. The castle is also used for different functions, conferences, weddings, christenings etc. The location for me was a winner. It was surrounded by gorgeous landscape, crisp autumn leaves and you had the opportunity to walk for miles!
Itinerary for Day 2:
We decided to drive across the famous Causeway Coastal Route which is one of Northern Ireland’s greatest adventures! Not only is Northern Ireland jaw-droppingly beautiful, it is also quite small, meaning if you’re short on time there is LOADS you can see on a day trip. Expect steep cliffs, amazing views, and adorable sights. This is my guide on how to explore the Causeway Coastal Route in one day.
Prior to booking this surprise for my better half, I did hear about Game of Thrones being filmed here, but did not take much notice as I myself had not seen the Series. I completely was alien to the GoT Hype.
This SOON changed as me and Ahmed got into watching it religiously and got extremely excited about the prospect of seeing locations where the film was shot. I soon became a big fan of the character Arya Stark and realised that one of the scenes of Arya escaping was indeed shot in NORTHERN IRELAND!
‘The Dark Hedges’ can be found along Bregagh Road in the North of Northern Ireland. The beech trees were planted in the 18th century by the Stuart family in order to impress visitors on the approach to their home, Gracehill House.
TOP TIP: If you do want to visit, make sure you go first thing in the morning to avoid the heaps of tourists and visitors trying to take photos.
After spending ages trying to capture the true beauty of The Dark Hedges, we decided to head to ‘The Carrick-A-Rede Rope Bridge’ that I saw on Lauren’s Instagram many moons ago.
Hurricane Ophelia was well and truly on its way and thus, we were not able to actually go on the bridge to walk across. Nevertheless, we made the most of our time there and took some of THE most beautiful photos. In fact, on some of the photos it looks like a painting and so surreal.
TOP TIP: If you do go here, there is a ticket price for around £9 pp.
We then continued to drive across the coastal route and stopped off at a cosy little cafe called ‘The Nook’. It is located right next to The Giant’s Causeway and does some really delicious food although I do think it is over priced and can be a little crammed. But if you are gasping for some warmth/coolness or a drink, you can’t really go wrong!
We then went to visit The Giant’s Causeway, which is clearly the most popular stop on the route (the road’s been named after it, after all), and I can see why! The building that houses the ticket office, the merchandise centre and the information centre looks like it was designed and created by a genius.
Going through the building and on to the sloping road to the volcanic rock formations that are called the giant’s causeway. It really is a natural beauty with characteristics that I have never seen before and it appears is unique to Northern Ireland and Scotland. The story goes that it was built by Giant’s to bridge the gap between NI and Scotland.
The phenomena has had it’s spot on the Unesco World Heritage list since 1986!!!
TOP TIP: You can visit the Giant’s Causeway for free. But if you wish to use their car park, facilities and get an audio player, you can get tickets online – they are something like £1.50 pp cheaper.
From The Giant’s Causeway, we carried on driving towards The Dunluce Castle. This Castle, well more of a ruin, is located on top of a cliff overlooking the sea. The castle has been perched on the cliff since the thirteenth century and was recently used in the Games of Thrones and was ‘The House of Greyjoy’.
We ended the day in a really quirky little restaurant called ‘Harry’s Shack’. This was recommended by a friend of a friend.
We parked on the beach close by and had a table overlooking the beach. This restaurant is primarily a fish restaurant and offers a very limited menu of stock items supplemented by whatever seasonal or available fish they choose to prepare. We both got fish and chips and wow, what a big portion it was!
Day 3: When 24 hrs in Northern Ireland become 48 hrs (Hurricane Ophelia)!
Now then. We were supposed to fly out on the third day and did not have any other plans, BUT Hurricane Ophelia happened…
According to ‘The Sun’ (LOL):
On Monday, the worst of the storm was felt in Ireland, with powerful winds and waves striking the coast.
Three people were killed in separate storm-related incidents.
At one point, power was lost to more than 360,000 homes and Ireland declared a “national emergency”.
More than 170,000 homes and businesses still without power in the Republic on Tuesday.
Schools, hospitals and public transport closed after a “danger to life” weather warning was put into place by worried authorities.
Airline passengers faced extreme disruption to their journeys.
Okay, so as you can probably tell by the ‘Lol’, I don’t usually read The Sun (let’s not get into politics right now), but this is the first thing that came up when I typed Hurricane Ophelia into google. And to be fair, what is written in this article was most definitely a reflection of what was going on in the area.
The entire Belfast City Centre, cinemas, schools, parliament were all closed due to the fear of Hurricane Ophelia.
Our flights were cancelled and we ended up driving aimlessly.
Easy Jet were AMAZING during this time. Yes the queues were massive and it took us a long time to get to our hotel, but they provided us with accommodation, transport to the accommodation as well as money for food. We were also able to quickly book into a flight for the following day without any hassle. Thank you Easy Jet!
Day 4: Making it up as you go along.
We woke up bright and early in our Hotel: ‘Wellington Hotel’. According to our taxi driver, it is located in one of the most affluent areas in Belfast. We had a lovely ‘Fry up’, toast, cereal for breakfast. We then decided to go for a walk to the museum nearby as recommended by Trip Advisor.
The Ulster Museum is on one of the TOP 5 things to do in Belfast. So as you can imagine its rather popular amongst folks. The entry is FREE!
TO our advantage, the Weeping Window – a cascade consisting of several thousand handmade ceramic poppies seen pouring from a high window to the ground to mark the loss of life in World War One. It had been envisaged up by Paul Cummins, an English ceramic artist. Tom Piper, a theatre designer, joined him to put the piece together.
I usually tend to get really bored in Museums, however, the museum has a 77 meter long hand made tapestry of the Game of Thrones – beware spoilers if you aren’t up to date!! The tapestry was woven and hand-embroidered from material provided by Thomas Ferguson Irish Linen in Banbridge, one of the last surviving mills in Northern Ireland, and contains over 250,000 threads, all of it hand made!
The museum is located within the ‘Botanic Gardens‘. We did not go inside the Botanic Garden as it is not our thing and smelt a little strange when we did step in for a brief moment. But if you are into your gardening and plants, this place is probably wonderful!
We then decided to head over to the iconic Titanic Museum. We are both not very massive fans of the Titanic, but thought now that we have all day, we might as well pay it a visit and see what it has to offer.
We decided to get the train from near the Ulster Museum and headed off towards Titanic Station. It cost us £3 for TWO people for a return ticket. Hashtag Bargain!
The Titanic is located in the heart of Belfast city (well at the docks!). The building itself is a unique building with a really interesting architecture and design that captures your attention as soon as you approach the area. Titanic Belfast has been crowned best tourist attraction in the world. It takes you through the story and journey of the Titanic.
Instead, we decided to walk across the road. We sat in a cafe, sipped coffee and ate TWO slices of Lemon Drizzle cakes which were delicious! We watched people walk by and spoke about how lucky we had been to have had the most incredible time, but most of all how blessed we were to be safe and unharmed.
We made out way back to the hotel, where we were picked up by the taxi (also arrange by Easy Jet) and got to the airport for a much awaited flight back.
NI surpassed all expectations: the people, the nation, the landscape. And as they say, all is well that ends well!