Tag Archives: UK

No Really – Go To Northern Ireland

I am a Norn Iron (Northern Ireland for those who like to pronounce all their syllables) local – and over the years, my sneaky fondness for it has developed into full-on love, compounded even more by the fact that I don’t live there anymore. I was fortunate enough to be able to return recently and was delighted to see that the North, and Belfast in particular, was continuing along its path of charming gentrification. I was less fortunate to be exposed to Titanic Fever – columns and columns of newspaper space were saturated with Titanic trivia, century-old reports documenting the sinking, bemused tourists being asked to give their verdict on the brand new Titanic Experience building – ‘great for the city, sure it is!’. I still had to go and visit it, though – that night, rainbow-coloured lights, like refracted prism beams, were projected onto the building’s imposing aluminum walls. They were dazzling.

 The Titanic Belfast – glorious at nighttime

That wasn’t all that was new for me in Belfast. I like to eat my way around cities so while I was determined to visit old favourites, I sought out new haunts. The Barge, a former canal barge, is moored at the back of the Waterfront Hall and has been lovingly restored into a museum and a café. The food was excellent, and the sunlit, almost Scandanivian setting encouraged even the most hungover of us to start to think about beer again.

The Barge

I never need to be asked twice if I want some cake, so a friend took me to Cakes By James, a tiny cake shop that is literally hidden in a building that it shares with art shops, jewellers and galleries (you have to ring a doorbell to get in, and it’s up three flights of stairs). James Watson, a local who curated his talents at bakeries around the world before returning to Belfast, is a magic cake alchemist; when my friend recommended I try the stout and ginger cake, I looked warily at him. When I took a tiny bite, ringed by cream cheese frosting, I was forced to eat my words. Then more cake.

 Cakes By James

If you’re interested in both food AND history, St. George’s Market  is the obvious weekend destination. Built in the late 19th Century, it is frequently cited as one of the best markets in the UK and Ireland and I would not be inclined to disagree. On Saturdays in particular, there is a broad array of stalls – you can buy a pair of Lego earrings while trying to balance a coffee in one hand, and a Finn MacCool-sized breakfast bap in the other. Continue reading

Wandering in Glasgow

Years ago I was traveling through the UK with my friend Matt. We were both teaching in France at the time and in the fall decided to take advantage of the generous Toussaints holiday to explore life on the other side of the channel.  We started off in London and took an overnight bus to Edinburgh; after a few days exploring the highlands, we arrived in Glasgow on a crowded blue and yellow bus on October 30th. We had booked an early morning flight to Dublin on November 1st, so that gave us only a day and a half in the city.

Glasgow Green

I never really thought I would make it all the way to Glasgow, but we embarked on this trip with no real plans, expectations, research or reservations—so I guess I shouldn’t have been so surprised that we would be spending Halloween in Glasgow. The weather had been rather gray since we arrived and it had begun to drizzle as we descended from the bus and onto the damp Glasgow street. We had found a hostel (generically called the Euro Hostel) about two blocks from the train station, on the corner of Jamaica and Clyde Streets.  Compared to the hostel where we stayed in Edinburgh (which still ranks as my worst hostelling experience ever—rampant theft, filth and fleas), the Euro Hostel was a breath of fresh air with a clean, modern design and maple wood bunk beds. After settling in, we started walking. With no map in hand and no real idea about the layout of the city, we wandered. I had caught a nasty cold in Edinburgh (probably from that nasty hostel) so I quickly found a drug store and bought cold medicine and cough drops.  We were still trying to accustom ourselves to British business hours. Popping a cherry-flavored drop in my mouth and relishing the immediate effect, we continued walking, this time away from the busy shopping district. Continue reading

Stonehenge Musings

In honor of the upcoming London Olympics, we’ll be incorporating more posts about the UK into this blog. First up: personal experiences at Stonehenge.

Photo courtesy of Joanna Ortiz

Laura D. says: I visited Stonehenge in the late afternoon on an especially windy day. The type of wind where your face immediately becomes chapped and you have to squint your eyes in order to avoid being blinded. However I did get close to Stonehenge and the weather didn’t disturb my sight that much, so the wind might not have been a big deal…except that I wanted to take a cute picture of me in front of the monument. The type of picture where I could show my family and say, “Look at this adorable picture of me at Stonehenge.” I did not get that photo. The wind destroyed my hair and no matter how many times I redid my ponytail, strands became loose and whipped my hair back and forth. I took about 40 pictures that day. I look normal in one photo. In the rest of the pictures my hair was in front of my face and I looked like the the creepy girl from the The Ring. Overall I’d call that a success. As for Stonehenge itself, well it was exactly what I imagined: impressive, large and old. It was surreal to be standing near a monument that was built thousands of years ago. And it was especially surreal to see that there was nothing around it, just a highway and a flock of sheep. The sheep came close to the fence and watched our group as we walked around the huge attraction. I took a picture of myself in front of the sheep. That was the one picture that I looked cute in. Continue reading