Truffles replace troubles as a topic of conversation
Northern Ireland is known for many things; food is not one of them. This, however, is likely to change as the wave of appreciation of gourmet fare that has washed over other European capitals finally makes its way to Belfast and the rest of Northern Ireland. While the stereotype of mash and bangers still lingers, those seeking culinary expertise elevating dining experiences to an art will not be disappointed. Ireland is known for its fine meats, dairy, and produce, all of which are now combined to create some highly delectable and original dishes. A visit to Belfast's St George's Market any Saturday will reveal the depth of respect accorded food all across Ireland.
Shipbuilding was the longtime major industry in Belfast; the vast docklands see little in the way of steel these days and are now undergoing transition to the multiuse shopping, residential, and business precincts requisite for any modern European city looking to reinvent itself. The shopping and entertainment complex called Odyssey is an indication of what to expect in the future, while the imposing Titanic drydock, an enormous void populated by a few human-sized models to show its scale, assists in appreciating the size of the ship-which, as the saying goes, was just fine when it left Belfast.
It would be difficult to speak of Northern Ireland without mentioning The Troubles. The politely understated euphemism belies the intensity of a conflict that existed for decades and was heavily covered by the world's media, however slanted or inaccurate. Not unexpectedly, today's curious visitors seeking to learn as they travel have made the stunningly moving and colourful political murals of Belfast's Shankill neighbourhood a major tourist attraction. The many murals cover entire sides of buildings and artistically convey a deep sense of commitment, power, and loss. It is best to visit accompanied by a knowledgeable guide who can give the background information necessary to fully appreciate what is seen. Hamilton Lowe of Spectrum Cars and Hugh Rice are two of the most experienced guides in Northern Ireland and can take visitors as individuals or in groups to the major sights in Ulster and the Republic, the newest of which is the Ulster Museum, newly reopened on 22 October after an extensive and expensive three-year renovation.
Hammy's Bentley tours are available only for guests of The Merchant, but other vehicles are available for guests with less extravagant funds staying elsewhere. The Merchant Hotel is Belfast's most exclusive accommodation, with a mere 21 rooms and five suites, though an addition currently under construction will add another 38 rooms to the inventory. The Merchant, housed in the former Bank of Ulster building, is noted for the magnificence of its public rooms, especially the Great Room where meals are served under a soaring dome. And fine meals they are; the dinner menu is notable for its sophisticated pairings of dishes with wines, all served by an astute staff.
Though Belfast is served by two airports of its own for regional flights, the city is less than two hours' drive from Dublin's international airport and the services of Aer Lingus for travellers come from the US or Europe and Etihad Airways for travellers coming from Asia, Australia, and the Gulf. Both Hammy and Hugh can pick up guests and transfer them to their destinations anywhere in Ireland and Northern Ireland.
Wednesday, May 02, 2012
Eating your way across Northern Ireland: Belfast Deluxe
Source = e-Travel Blackboard: R.L.B