2015 was a great year for Dutch Girl in London and I’m honoured to have been invited on several trips. In spring I was in Umeå in north Sweden. In case you missed my post about this trip, you can read about my Scandi adventures here. In today’s post an account of my trip to Belfast last autumn. I had never been to Ireland before and didn’t know what to expect. With the help of our fantastic hosts I found out that Belfast is a wonderful city that has so much to offer, from a fascinating and diverse history, good restaurants and even a vibrant street art scene. What else does a (Dutch) girl want?
Belfast International Arts Festival + ArtisAnn
The invitation came from the lovely Ann McVeigh and Ken Bartley. Under the name of ArtisAnn they exhibit their own artworks, but also run events. You can see their current exhibition Unseen and Untouched with photographs and Super 8 films at Framework Gallery till 30 January 2016, info here. ArtisAnn are working on a number of arts plans and exhibitions, with an exciting announcement coming in April so make sure to watch their website and social media for news.
For this year’s prestigious Belfast International Arts Festival they curated a very special evening consisting of a panel discussion with the theme ‘Refusing to walk the line’. Panel members were celebrated electronic musicians Scanner (yes, Mr Dutch Girl) and Joel Cadbury (previously from sOuth and UNKLE), who played a fabulous, rocky and intense show together afterwards, and yours truly, yikes! I think I can count the number of times I have talked to an audience on one hand (or one finger even), but I had the support of friends on stage and it helped that there were only nice people in the audience.
Game of Thrones
After the successful panel discussion we sat down for dinner in one of the many great restaurants in Belfast’s trendy Cathedral Quarter. (More about restaurants below.) Ann and Ken’s friends Sarah MacKeever and Han Fisher joined us for dinner and they had shared great many stories with us. Sarah isn’t only an aerial performer and dancer with her own company Puredance, she’s also an actor who has appeared in popular TV series such as Game of Thrones! Oh, and did you know by the way that GoT is largely shot in and around Belfast?!?
Sarah’s partner Han is a freelance rope access professional. What this entails? Ken explained it to me as following: ‘rigging for events, wind turbines, tall buildings – you name it, he has probably climbed it’.
Back to the Future
It’s not every day I break bread with Game of Thrones actors, but this dinner wasn’t my only brush with ‘Hollywood’ in Belfast. Right after dinner we passed a DeLorean replica (made out of photo prints). I thought initially it was a celebration of the Back to the Future Day (which was 21 October 2015, the day Marty McFly and Doc travel to in Back to the Future II) that had been celebrated worldwide a few days prior to my Belfast trip. That was one reason, but the other more significant reason was that the famous DeLorean cars used to be manufactured in a factory in the suburbs of Belfast! How incredible is that?
While flicking through the Belfast Open Studios brochure over breakfast one day, I spotted a street art talk by Eoin McGinn (artist name Emic) starting only 10 minutes later. Hubby and I rushed down to The Loft where several artists have their studio and headed to Eoin’s studio on the top floor. Luckily we were still on time for the talk, which actually turned out to be a hands-on workshop. I was looking forward to be a passive listener, taking notes and photos to use for a future blog post. After a minutes of deliberation, I decided to go for it, rolled up my sleeves and followed Eoin’s straightforward instructions. Step 1 was drawing a straight line with a spray can. This sounds much easier than it actually was. You can see in the photo below I was very proud of my lines. After playing around with lines, letters and basic shapes, the other participants and I filled in the Sonic the Hedgehog figure Eoin had drawn on the shutter. Our very first piece of street artwork was born!
Now I know how difficult it is to create a mural, I have even more respect for street artists and won’t judge the ‘bad’ works anymore!
Just a few minutes into our spray painting, two police officers showed up to see what we were up to. When we asked them how they managed to detect us so quickly, they said there was a camera pointing right at us. Luckily the officers were very friendly (as most of the people we met in Belfast) and let us carry on. They were tempted to join in, but obviously couldn’t.
Later that day we visited Eoin and a whole bunch of other street artists at a paint jam at T13, a very cool industrial artist space. Before our trip I searched for street art in Belfast on Google, but the only thing I found were the famous political murals. Eoin is one of the many local artists who thought it was time for modern murals in the city and therefore set up an annual street art festival in Belfast a few years ago. More on the traditional political murals and modern street art in a separate post!
The birthplace of RMS Titanic
Right next to T13 (and near the film location for Game of Thrones) you can visit Titanic Belfast, a museum about the famous ship that tragically sank on its maiden voyage. Of course I knew of the ship’s history, but it seemed to have forgotten it was built in Belfast! The museum was closed when I got there, but we walked around the slipway where RMS Titanic was built and was first let into water. The outlines of the ship are marked on the floor and the size is rather overwhelming as you can imagine. Ann, our trusty guide and host, told us a funny anecdote about how at a certain point everybody’s grandfather living in Belfast had been involved in the building process of the Titanic.
A day in prison
Another important Belfast attraction is Crumlin Road Goal, a prison where men, women and children – including political prisoners, suffragettes and starving people who committed crimes during the Great Irish Famine so they could have prison food – were held from 1845 till 1996. You can visit the jail by joining one of the daily guided tours (every hour). There are also paranormal tours a few times a year. Paranormal activities are linked to the 17 hanged prisoners during the prison’s 150-year history.
It is worth joining a tour as it’s not too long and combines fascinating historical facts with more curious (dare I even say ‘funny’?) facts. Take for instance the term ‘hangover’, a term most of us are unfortunately quite familiar with. This word dates back to the times of public hangings, when even entire families would attend executions and men and women would indulge in excessive amounts of alcohol. That nauseous feeling in the morning after the hanging bacchanal was eventually called a ‘hang-over’.
St Georges’s Market is the only surviving covered market from the 19th century in Belfast. It’s a dangerous place to go to when feeling peckish as you’ll be tempted to sample delicacies from the many inviting food stalls. There are also crafts stalls and live music.
I managed to resist the temptations the market had to offer as I had just had a delicious lunch of sweet potato wedges with a falafel salad and freshly pressed juice at Slim’s Healthy Kitchen.
More great food tips
The Mac (10 Exchange Street West, Belfast, BT1 2NJ)
This modern arts venue houses galleries, theatres, rehearsal spaces and a great cafe where you can sit down for breakfast, lunch or dinner. I recommend having a cake there, they are delicious!
Amici (133 Lisburn Road, Belfast, BT9 7AG)
If you are in the mood for exquisite pasta, pizza or other Italian meals, then you should definitely go to Amici Italian restaurant. I also tested their tiramisu and I can tell you that it is gooooood! Not expensive either, very good value for money.
Established Coffee (54 Hill Street, Belfast, BT1 2LB)
We were spoilt for choice near our hotel which was located in the regenerated Cathedral Quarter. Established Coffee is a modern cafe that obviously specialises in coffee, but it’s also a lovely place for brunch or just to pick up a naughty sweet treat.
Salt Bistro (St. Anne’s Square, Belfast, BT1 2LR)
This beautiful restaurant is also located in the Cathedral Quarter. The food is superb, but meals are small and rather costly. A good choice if you want a nice, relaxed dinner of several courses.
There are many more restaurants in the Cathedral Quarter, ranging from more expensive and sophisticated cuisine to simpler yet healthy ‘fast food’ alternatives. For drinks go to one of the many pubs in Commercial Court, a very popular street in the Cathedral Quarter.
More of Belfast in photos
I truly enjoyed my weekend in Belfast. Everybody I met was super friendly and the city was buzzing with optimism and creativity. Whether you’re after culture, history, fine food, a vibrant pub scene: Belfast has it all!
Thanks Ann and Ken for showing me around. Hope to come back again one day!
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