It was on my bucket list even before I left India to visit all four countries in the UK because I don’t know if I would ever get yet another chance to make it here and hence I was no way going back to India without having at least a slice of Ireland. The trip was on the cards for quite some time and finally it happened in a jiffy. In such a pace that I decided to do it on a Tuesday, booked my tickets and set out on the Friday night! Yet again, the weather forecast was not very motivating, cold winds, drop in temperature and showers for the weekend but after having spent almost an year now in the UK, I seemed to be having more faith now in the weather gods than the Met department. Keep Calm & Trip On 😉
There are a plenty of cheap flights from every part of UK to Belfast in Northern Ireland but then my plan was a bit abnormal as it may sound. On that chilly, rainy night at 2200 hrs I took a bus of National Express from Birmingham starting a complete twelve hour overnight journey, the reason, a sunrise ferry ride across the Irish Sea 😉 what better way to get to the home of Titanic than across the sea! I have to write this bit about the National Express. The instructions on ticket said to arrive at the coach station at least 60 minutes in advance, since this was my first international bus journey, I thought there should be some sort of customs or immigrations check. But in reality there was nothing, not only did I wasted one long hour in that cold night doing nothing but also the coach arrived late. I still don’t understand why they needed passengers to be there before an hour! The driver gave a funny look when I said I was travelling to Belfast, it seemed as if I was the first one in sometime to take a start to end travel! 😉 The coach was probably the most uncomfortable mode of travel that I have taken till date. Cramped up, sit-aright seats that were so hard and without much leg room! I took it all on me, because it was my choice, but on an honest note, National Express could give a better travelling experience to its customers at least on long journeys as this. The prospect of my first ferry ride across a sea kept me spirited in the cramped seat. About 0600 hrs, I was at the Stena Terminal at Cairnryan port in the South Western Scotland! 😉
The passengers to Belfast had to alight at the terminal, take a boarding pass (which was included in the bus ticket) for the ferry and go through an immigration watch before boarding the Stena ferry to Belfast port. I was told that there would be another bus waiting at Belfast port to connect the passengers to city centre bus stop. I was all excited! I washed up and changed into something thicker in the washroom at the ferry terminal. It was definitely going to be cold and I was all set with couple of layers of clothing 😛
We boarded the Stenaline ferry at 0730 hrs and it was still dark. The ferry was gorgeous within, it was a ten floor wonder. The lower floors had the vehicles in it. The cars and trucks that were crossing the sea were all docked down there. The upper floors had a duty free shop, a bar & restaurant, a boutique restaurant, luxury suites, cinema theatre, X-box motion games and video games, spa, and internet docks on ipads. I was sort of awestruck at the luxury inside a normal ferry and still can’t think of what would a luxury cruise be like! Huh! Someday J
Well, all the gizmos apart, my target was elsewhere, the map on the aisle listed it as on floor 9 & 10, the sun bath decks J wohoo! I ran upstairs with my backpack and stepped on to the deck with my eye balls popping out! The late sunrises meant it was still sort of dark and cold winds meant I was the only one mad enough to be on the sunbath deck at that time! But I had nothing of that bothering my mind, I was still standing there with my jaw almost on the floor looking at the sea. Phew! did I feel like an explorer for a while!?
The sea, once it casts its spell, holds in its nets forever! I felt like that quote was coming true. Swaying on the Irish waters on that Stenaline ferry, witnessing the waves beneath and the foam that was forming at the bottom of the ship, the pale blue sky and nothing but the sound of buzzing wind and gushing water! I was under a spell! To add charm there was the sunrise with clouds putting up a show, sunrise at the sea. The coach journey was worth of its troubles. Two hours and some swaying later the ferry arrived at Belfast port around 0945 hrs and we were taken to the Belfast Europa bus terminal, ten minutes away on another National Express coach.
It was 1000 hrs when I set my foot in the charming Belfast and I walked straight into one of the visitor centres near coach station. The hop-on-hop-off tour seemed a little out of my budget and the black cab city tours (well suggested on the internet) were too ruled out. I decided to have a look at what the hostel had to say and with that I walked towards the Belfast youth hostel after checking directions with few. I was told much about Belfast being a feel lazy city and it did not take me long to see & feel it myself. Especially it being a cold Saturday, the city looked deserted. With very few vendors and travellers in some corners to be seen. After about 30 minutes, I reached the Belfast youth hostel only to find that it wasn’t the place that I had booked and worse, the hostel that I had booked was in the opposite direction from the bus station, the point where I started! The walk back with my backpack wasn’t that bad, as I passed through some Irish vegetable markets and street vendors. Fresh looking vegetables, especially those muddy carrots and potatoes were certainly a great feel good sight.
Belfast International Youth Hostel is the place that I was going to crash tonight. As I walked into the reception, my eyes lit again seeing the board, Free City Walks starts here and as I prayed, I still stood a chance and wasn’t late. The Belfast International youth hostel organises free walking tour of the city on every Saturday & Sunday at 1600 hrs, I collected the details and promised to not miss this one. I dumped my luggage and got a city map from the very friendly receptionist at the hostel and walked out into Belfast.