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Our 2012 trip began with a visit to Belfast, Northern Ireland. Nella and I had always been interested in visiting Ireland, but hadn't gotten around to it. We'd seen pictures and movies, and the place looked beautiful. But we were a little worried by the Emerald Isle's stereotypical reputation as a home to people who like to drink and fight all the time (activities not normally on our travelling itineraries), and we'd heard that the weather was usually less than ideal (the reason everything is so green). However, we found the beauty and history of Ireland to be a powerful draw, and when planning our 2012 vacation, it seemed that it was time to visit. And when it turned out that our son Philip would be able to travel with us, and that he was very interested in visiting Ireland, the destination became obvious. Unfortunately, our daughter Connie was busy and would not be able to accompany us, but we were happy to have Philip as a travelling companion.

Ireland and Great Britain
Ireland and Great Britain
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Ireland and the Irish Sea
Ireland and the Irish Sea
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Belfast is the capital city of Northern Ireland, a part of the United Kingdom covering the northeast one-sixth of the island of Ireland. Most of the UK (England/Wales/Scotland) is on another island to the east. Most of Ireland is the independent Republic of Ireland. Northern Ireland uses the same currency as the rest of the United Kingdom (British Pounds) and has about the same number of Protestants and Catholics, while the Republic of Ireland uses Euros and is mainly Catholic (more than 80%). The entire island was part of the UK until the 1920's. In 1921 Northern Ireland was split off from the rest of the island by Parliament to reflect the fact that its interests were considered to be more aligned with the rest of the UK (due to a population largely descended from British colonists) than with the rest of Ireland. A year later the rest of the island was cut loose as the Irish Free State, which eventually became the Republic of Ireland.

Central Belfast

Central Belfast
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Belfast is located at a spot where two rivers, the Lagan and the Farset, meet and flow into an inlet called Belfast Lough. Nobody really notices the Farset anymore, as it was gradually covered over during the 18th Century, and has flowed through an underground Belfast tunnel since 1804. The Lagan remains a noticeable river, though. The site of Belfast has been home to human habitation since the Bronze Age, as determined by the presence of 5000-year-old constructions. The town was not of particular significance (except to its inhabitants) until the 17th Century, when it experienced substantial growth. But the city came into its own during the Industrial Revolution, when it made a name for itself in linen production, heavy engineering and (especially) shipbuilding. The Harland and Wolff shipyards, located in Belfast, became one of the largest shipyards in the world for a time. All of the industry briefly made Belfast the largest city in Ireland, but Dublin has since reclaimed this title. The industrial activity also made Belfast a prime target for German bombers during World War II, resulting in much destruction and loss of life.

Further destruction was suffered during the period known as "The Troubles" (the Irish and British have a talent for understatement), when mostly Catholic nationalists/republicans were in armed conflict with the mostly Protestant unionists/loyalists over the issue of whether Northern Ireland should be merged with the Republic of Ireland. During this period, which extended roughly from 1969 to 1998, more than 3500 people were killed and tens of thousands were wounded or injured. Violence occurred throughout Northern Ireland, with some spilling into Britain and the Republic of Ireland, but ground zero was Belfast. In addition to the religious differences, there is a lot of history behind the tension leading to the Troubles. The British have occupied Ireland to greater and lesser degrees since the Normans invaded in 1168, and numerous conflicts have occurred throughout the centuries. The British treatment of the Irish has at times been heavy-handed (this would be another understatement), particularly during the time of Oliver Cromwell, and even in the 20th Century, Northern Irish Catholics suffered discrimination at the hands of the ruling Protestants. In the 21st Century, while the Troubles are generally considered to have ended, a certain amount of tension still exists, and incidents of violence still occur occasionally.

A perfect place for a vacation! We actually enjoyed our time in and around Belfast, as you will see, but first we had to get there. Nella searched the Internet for flights, but the most reasonable fares could only be found to Dublin, from where we would have to take a train up to Belfast. She found the best fare and schedule to be on US Airways, which required a stopover in Charlotte, North Carolina, the US Airways hub. The terminal in Charlotte turned out to be pretty nice, and we took the opportunity to sample some of the barbecue being sold there (something we weren't likely to find in Ireland).


Inside Charlotte Terminal Building

Inside Charlotte Terminal Building
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Brookwood Farms Carolina Pit BBQ
Brookwood Farms Carolina Pit BBQ
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Bob and Nella and Bojangle's
Bob and Nella and Bojangle's
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We ended up spending more time in Charlotte than planned. There was a problem with the first plane they brought us, so we had to wait for them to bring us another one. Then there was a brief but nasty thunderstorm. After we boarded the replacement plane, a problem was found with one of the toilets, so we waited for a repairman to arrive and fix the situation. When he and his assistant arrived, he was wearing what looked like a haz-mat suit (but was really just rain gear) with an LED light strapped to his forehead. After some no doubt delicate adjustments, the toilet was pronounced fit for duty, and our afternoon flight (which had become an evening flight) was allowed to take off for Ireland.

Many US Airways Planes
Many US Airways Planes
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Toilet Repairmen
Toilet Repairmen
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On arriving In Dublin the following morning, we picked up our luggage and boarded Airlink bus 747 to Dublinís Connolly train station, where we had to wait a bit for a Belfast train (there are eight per day).

Irish Countryside

Irish Countryside
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River Liffey, Dublin
River Liffey, Dublin
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Dublin Train Station
Dublin Train Station
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The train took us up to Belfast in about two hours, passing through picturesque towns and crossing some very green countryside on the way.

Countryside from Train

Countryside from Train
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At the Belfast train station we boarded a Centrelink bus (free with the train ticket) which took us to a central square with many bus stops, from which our hotel (the Park Inn by Radisson) was within walking distance.

Park Inn Hotel

Park Inn Hotel
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After some rest we went out to explore the area and find some dinner and stumbled across the Victoria Square shopping mall, which had a variety of eateries. We settled on a chicken place called Nando's.

Philip and Bob and Victoria Square Shopping Mall

Philip and Bob and Victoria Square Shopping Mall
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After dinner we returned to the hotel to try to sleep. As usual, we didn't plan on wasting much time recovering from jet lag. Our first planned stop for the next day was the Ulster Museum.

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