On Belfast

I describe Belfast, Northern Ireland as beautiful, interesting, and gut-wrenching – and we were only there for a part of one day. On one end is the natural beauty, architecture, vibrancy, and history – and the other end The Troubles – the Northern Ireland Conflict (1968-1998).

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Belfast’s history is long and complicated. With its Bronze Age beginnings on the hills above, Belfast formed as a small settlement along the River Farset near where the river joins the River Lagan very close to its mouth at the Irish Sea.

A castle stood along the river during the Middle Ages. After a fire (1708), the owners rebuilt on a slope above the city where it still stands today.

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Today, Castle Street serves as a reminder of the original while the River Farset is enclosed below High Street.

Belfast’s population boomed during the mid-to-late 1800s as industry flourished: leading the way were processing tobacco from the New World, shipbuilding, rope making, and producing linen. Those industries are gone today, but toasts of its past remain – including the Titanic Museum located on the shipyard that built the Titanic.

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We took the Belfast Free Walking Tour – a 3-hour walk with a guide who encourage at the end. (We’ve done these in a few other European cities). Our guide was a local, and old enough to know The Troubles. He holds hope in today’s young generation because they are the first generation in 150 years that have not been involved in conflict.

Issues around The Troubles still simmer.  Physical scars still exist. Over 90% of children still attend segregated schools. Inhabitants are still divided by physical walls. The Peace Wall- which is anything but peaceful looking – still has gates that open and close daily. Politically-motivated murals decorate the wall. Memorials dot the neighborhood serving as a constant reminder of the past and the divisions.

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Since the Good Friday Agreement (1998), Belfast has undergone a social, economic, and cultural transformation.

Belfast is known for its many murals that tell its story – many (possibly most) are politically based. For mural enthusiasts, Belfast is a wonderland.

The Cathedral Quarter contains a courtyard (Commercial Court) that is a wall-to-wall-to-wall collage of images. Simply awesome! Although I hope to feature this area in its own post, here’s an interactive video allowing viewers to click-and-drag the image for a 360 degree view. The beginning includes some instructions, but not how to rotate the image.

FYI: Games of Thrones fans know Belfast as an important location for the show .. and yes, special tours exist.

Thanks to the Free Walking Tour and one of the hop-on hop-off bus lines, we saw and learned a lot in our short time in Belfast – a fascinating but gut-wrenching place. From the range of emotions of Titanic and The Troubles to the pride of its own as flutist James Galway, philosopher/author CS Lewis, and musician Van Morrison.

Here’s a promo video from one of the tour lines that will take you throughout the city.

I end with this song and video by Simple Minds (from Scotland) – Belfast Child – as it haunts me in a way Belfast did.

Next stop: The Scottish Highlands

For other posts about our time in the British Isles, click here.

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On a Box Now Checked

Embed from Getty Images

Some people call it a bucket list – others prefer to say wish list, dream destination, or whatever. On 23 August 2015 I posted about a place that was on both mine and my wife’s list. After monitoring the website at various points before our journey, on Wednesday, the 9th of August 2017, we checked the box.

About a month earlier at the golf club where I work, I met an English couple who were new members. I told him about our upcoming trip, including our plans for this location – to which he replied, Why? Once I mentioned the reason, his inquisitive frowning face changed to a smile.

We planned the day in advance. We knew when the ship docked in Liverpool, the location and distance to the train station, the train schedule, return times, and the essential information about our destination. We were on a mission for our time of dancing on one of the most famous ballroom floors in the world – the Blackpool Tower Ballroom in Blackpool, England.

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Blackpool is on England’s west coast, about a 90-minute train ride to the north from Liverpool. It’s a seaside resort that is very popular with commoners. Madame Tussauds, water parks, a carnival atmosphere, and more aren’t on my favorite things list, but the famed ballroom was our attraction.

Given the floor, the historic significance, and the ornate surrounding – absolutely Bucket List for us. Our ticket included a 90-minute tea with sandwiches, fruit, and tarts.

Image from Blackpool Tower website

Architectural elegance and charm from a time that has past define the Tower Ballroom (which dates back to 1894).

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Surrounding the large floor were the organists on a stage at one end; tables to sit at the opposite end; and settings for tea along one side.

Dancing to an organist (instead of recorded music) was a new experience. Two organists shared the duties, so music was continuous. One organ, the mighty Wurlitzer, makes a grand entrance being lifted to the stage from below … then lowers out of sight when the player’s shift concludes.

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We already knew to expect a different style of ballroom dance at Blackpool (American vs. International). Amazingly, for at least the first three dances we simply sat at our table thinking, We can’t do that! We never get a chance to dance because everyone on the floor is doing the same thing … the same steps/pattern.

I approached a couple near our table about what we were observing. They explained that the English and many Europeans dance sequences, which are set patterns that every does. The clue would be to listen to the organist because he would announce the name of the sequence and dance, so we should listen for the terms traditional or ballroom that will signal an non-sequence dance.

Sequences are fun to watch, but not if you are there to dance and you don’t know the sequence! We were surprised by the number of sequences … and dancers sat down if they didn’t know the sequence.

This is the Engagement Waltz.

We finally made it on the floor … and the first thing that we noticed was the amount spring in the floor – especially in the center. Our tea-table was almost in the center, and the movement made photography difficult – and of course I started wondering about potential motion sickness. Yes – the movement was that noticeable!

We stayed for almost 4 hours, and we were glad to check the box on our Bucket List. With the ship departing at 8 pm, we were fortunate to have a few hours in Liverpool (the previous post).

Here’s a short (90-second) promotional video showing the Blackpool Tower Ballroom. Enjoy … and you notice sequence dancing.

Next stop: Belfast, Northern Ireland

For other posts about our time in the British Isles, click here.

My past post about Blackpool’s Tower Ballroom

On the Liverpool

Founded in 1207 along the River Mersey, Liuerpool (meaning thick/muddy creek) grew from a fishing village to an important location for the English military, an important seaport in the 1600s regarding trading with the new world, followed by an important industrial center.

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Today’s Liverpool is a vibrant center of culture and urban rebirth that also embraces its heritage. After all, look who we saw along the waterfront. Sorry to say that we missed their local tour that includes real places as Penny Lane, Strawberry Fields, their childhood homes, and more.

Today’s downtown is a modernized center popularized by Liverpool history with music, the arts, and nightlife. The Beatles, Gerry and the Pacemakers, The Searchers, A Flock of Seagulls, and others are rooted in Liverpool’s fabric and heritage.The area around Temple Court, Mathew Street, and Ramford Square is highlighted with music venues, historic landmarks, and other stores boosting its heritage.

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City Center is multiple-block, pedestrian shopping area with a wide variety of stores a short distance away – and not far from the waterfront and the cruise terminal. Today’s waterfront bustles with food, entertainment, shopping, hotels, amusement, and museums.

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… and yes – including a ferry to cross the Mersey.

For other posts about our time in the British Isles, click here.

Next post is a surprise. Hmmmm … Wonder what/where?

On a Big Apple Dawn

After an evening of dinner, a show, and some dancing, we returned to our cabin for the final night …
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… only to rise early for the special treat from the deck to the east …
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… but the show we came to see was to the west …
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… as we approached the Verrazano-Narrows Bridge …
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… which the ship cleared with a little to spare …
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… to eventually dock on the New Jersey of the river with a wonderful view of Lady Liberty and the Manhattan skyline featuring One World Trade Center, the Empire State Building, and the morning clouds getting ready to make a break.
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From the dock, our return home started as we went directly to the airport, so we couldn’t connect with NYC area bloggers as Lame, Guapo, Kay, and Weebs. But if you are late joining this trip, click here to get you to the start, plus each post will end with the next stop.

On an Explorer

Christopher Columbus, Ferdinand Magellan, and Vasco da Gama are a few of the early European explorers. but this post is not about any of them because the day after arriving in Quebec City, we joined another explorer – Royal Caribbean’s (RCCL) Explorer of the Seas.

This 1025 ft (312.4 m) explorer is part of RCCL Voyager Class capable of carrying 3,114 passengers and almost 1,200 crew. Our trip was about 96% capacity.

When in port, we spend much time seeing sites and walking. Our evenings following a pattern of dinner, theater entertainment, then dancing – but the dance floors on this ship were a negative. Enjoy some pics of the ship.

Explorer of the Seas

Explorer of the Seas

Beautiful main dining room named after famous explorer

Beautiful main dining room named after famous explorers

1,350 capacity theater

1,350-seat capacity theater

900 seat ice rink

900-seat ice rink

ProminadeAbove

4-story Main Street Promenade for shopping, eating, drinking, and gathering

Some rooms overlook Main Street

Some rooms overlook Main Street

A not-for-me climbing wall

A not-for-me climbing wall

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The top deck (from ship-technology.com)

The top deck (from ship-technology.com)

Find out where this trip went.

For additional information about Explorer of the Seas

On Cruising the Southern Caribbean

Nothing serious today … just a few images of our recent cruise. After all, they have been requested.

From a Fort at San Juan Point (El Morro) Looking Back

I could avoided taking this picture of a store near the port

Our Ship: Royal Caribbean’s Serenade of the Seas

St. Thomas from the Ship

From St. Kitts Looking at the Island of Nevis

St Kitts: Where the Atlantic Meets the Gulf

Iguana in Aruba (Cactus everywhere in Aruba)

Willemstad, Curacao from the Ship

Willemstad’s Floating Bridge that Swings to Let Boats/Ships Pass

On those Special Vacation Moments

What was your one favorite moment? What was the one moment that captured the trip? When a friend returns from a vacation, those are the questions I like to know.

Tflorencehere’s no question, our 2007 cruise of Italy and Croatia was our best vacation ever. Not long ago we were talking vacations with friends and my wife got a little choked up when describing what happened to her in Florence.

While walking from the train station down Via dei Banchi toward the Duomo, the street was bending, and then … POW! Towering over the 4-story buildings and looming ahead, the Duomo suddenly and majestically appeared. She was stunned, and to stop to catch her breath, and then take this picture.

veniceFor me, there was nothing better than being on deck at 7 am with Venice straight ahead. The approaching sight wonderful and full of anticipation, but then topped by the 900 ft. ship going right down the main canal, passing St. Marks Square, then swinging around to dock along a sidewalk – a 5-minute walk from the square.

So remember those quesitons the next time a friend or colleague returns from a vacation. Please share any of your single, special vacation moments that captured the trip.