Friday 22 August 2008

The Holiday: Day 3

And so to the final day of the holiday. I'll attempt to be briefer than the last time; I realised afterwards it went on a bit. But you always have the option of not reading it, of course. My dad has a useful tip for avoiding reading things (he had a relative to used to lend him endless dull books): read just enough to learn three facts about the piece - one from the start, one from the end, and one from somewhere in the middle. This usually allows you to speak with authority.

I've uploaded all the photos (except the Art Trail ones) to Picasa.

But back to the travels. The day again dawned bright and fair; not the warmest, but sunny. I started by heading over to Queens; while passing through Botanic Gardens I called into the Tropical Ravine, which is pretty much like entering another world. They have banana plants and other exotic things; it's very warm and muggy, and there are fish. It's like being in the jungle, but with fish.

After that I headed to the Naughton Gallery at Queens; it turned out I was an hour early for the opening, but since the door was open I went in anyway. This is (currently), at first glance, a display of the university silver, but it is actually pretty cool, because they've created a 'soundscape' to go with it. You're meant to borrow a PDA from reception (this is what I was an hour too early for), and as you go round, you can use it to sonically enhance your viewing experience. It's not a commentary, it's actual music, based (somehow) on the artwork of the pieces. I think I'll go back and see if I can try this another day, cos it was disappointing to miss it. But I was able to stamp a hallmark on a piece of paper, so it wasn't an entirely unneccesary visit.

On my way out, I chanced to go into the Queens Visitors Centre, where I found an exceptionally useful display of tourist information, including a booklet on how to see Belfast by bus (could've done with that at an earlier stage), a map of the city (ditto) and a guide to things to do in Belfast in 72 hours, which listed things that had never been suggested in the Tourist place in town, and which has opened the possibility that another holiday may take place soon.

So I took my leave of Queens and wandered down Botanic Avenue and onwards to Ormeau Baths Gallery. If you have never been here before, I demand that you do so immediately. They have 3 exhibitions at the moment: a video called 'Last Riot' (or Final Riot maybe), which is bizarrely compelling; an exhibition called 'Slant' in which various artists have done their own versions of famous paintings (my favourite - Henry the Eighth, having slipped on the carpet); and an exhibition of recent British illustrations (book covers, magazine articles, all sorts). Well worth seeing, and I'm sure I'll go back to see more when new exhibitions come in the Autumn. I was very impressed that it was free, as well.

Next, St Malachy's church, which is indeed closed for massive restoration, to the extent that there's so much scaffolding it wasn't even worth a photo. I consoled myself with a snap of May Street Presbyterian instead, called into Linen Hall Library (well worth a visit, although I couldn't find any toilets, which was one of the more pressing concerns at the time) and then visited (spontaneously) St Mary's Chapel (the one down that side street near CastleCourt). It has a funky little grotto thing:

I had a duke inside as well, and it's very nice. It was quite busy, so I didn't like to take photos, but there were some good paintings and it had a nice airy feel that hadn't been anticipated from outside.

By this stage I really needed the loo and some food, so I stopped for lunch and read the booklet I'd picked up earlier. This suggested a visit to Clifton House and St Patrick's Church; the map informed me of their locations, and I thought 'why not?', and left the cafe so quickly that I forgot to use the loo.

So, I nipped through Writers' Square, and off out West again, for about 50 yards, and into Central Library. This is a very impressive place, and I was able to use the computers, which was splendid. Not much in the way of toilets, as far as I could see, which was by now almost beyond a joke, so I left.

When I got to St Patrick's, it was 12.58 and 1pm Mass was in full swing. Needless to say, I was a bit confused by this; the congregation seemed a tad so as well, as they were still drifting in for a good 15 minutes or so. Although, a sign on the door said '1pm Mass will continue throughout the summer', so it is entirely possible that this particular Mass had actually started on 1st July at 1pm and has carried on without a break ever since; this is the only reasonable explanation I could think of. Anyway, this prevented me from having much of a look round, which was a shame, because it looked quite interesting, with lots of artwork and side chapels and things, so I may go back another time.

Instead, I took a dander to Carlisle Circus, where I saw something to do with the Orange Order, a building which may or may not have been Clifton House, and a church that used to be Carlisle Memorial Methodist, but now isn't.

A quick duke in a St Patrick's on the way back and Mass was still in full swing (lending further support to the theory that it is never-ending), and so back to the City Centre and the place where the whole idea started: St Anne's Cathedral.

Realising that I hadn't ever even seen this building was what made me think I needed to know my own city better, and it was well worth investigating. It really is fabulous inside - there are 2 side chapels, one dedicated to the Holy Spirit and one called the 'Chapel of Unity', which is where a lot of prayer for peace took place during the troubles. The stained glass is fantastic, and the 'soft furnishings' are worth seeing as well. Also, taking photos is allowed, which would have been great except that there were two men who seemed to manage to stand continually in front of anything I might want to phtoograph, seemingly without malicious intent. When I went outside, they'd even parked their minibus on the double yellow lines right in front of the stpes, so even it ended up in the photos.

Next I visited the Northern Ireland War Memorial and Home Front exhibition, which is next to the cathedral, and was greeted warmly by a man who seemed surprised to have visitors. He was extremely friendly and helpful and the exhibition is pretty good - not massive, but informative.

I tried to get to Belfast Exposed, the photography exhibition, but it was closed for the day.

By now the need for facilities was bearing down hard upon me, so I took a quick nip into Clements where I found much relief. This was quickly countered by the glass of orange juice I had to drink to justify the visit, but it was nice while it lasted.

By this stage, however, my luck had turned and I arrived at St George's (the oldest church in Belfast) to discover that it had shut at about the time I'd been breathing a sigh of relief. Another time, maybe.

A quick walk around the Custom House, and then to the Waterfront Hall where I found the remaining two art pieces from the Art Trail, including the famous 'Big Red':

Shoal didn't really come out in the photos, since it consists mainly of thin opaque rods, but you can see it in Picasa if you want.

And finally, onto the 6a and home, for a much needed lie down.

I actually really enjoyed seeing things in Belfast, more so than I had expected; there were lots of things that are worth a visit. Obviously, since I mainly did free things, my itinerary involved probably more churches and squares than average; also I left out things I'd done before (like the zoo, the Opera House etc), and things I was scared of (like the Big Wheel). I was particularly impressed by Ormeau Baths Gallery, and will definitely be returning.

Postcards, by the way, have been posted...


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