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A Visit to Belfast Cathedral (St. Anne's)

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When I was in Belfast earlier this summer, I popped in to have a look at Belfast's Cathedral, St. Anne's. The cathedral is in the heart of the famous "Cathedral Quarter" (naturally...), opposite Writer's Square. It is a centre of artists and writers, and that is where it gets its name. The area was bombed extensively in the second World War, so many of the older buildings no longer exist and the cathedral took damage. Near the square was the headquarters of a newspaper that intercepted the American Declaration of Independence in 1776 and published it before England's king had word or sight of it. 

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Exterior of St. Anne's in Belfast with its large Celtic Cross, completed 1981

St. Anne's cathedral started to be built in 1899, so it is a relatively new cathedral. After the first World War, a new part of the cathedral was added in memory of the Ulster men and women who served. In addition, there are many plaques around the interior of the church to commemorate those and also to commemorate the victims of other wars. New architectural additions to the cathedral have been made throughout the 1900s and are as recent as 2007.

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Interior of St. Anne's

The Baptistery, located near the entrance to the cathedral, has a beautiful ceiling decoration and beautiful stained glass windows. 

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Baptistery

The most recent edition to the cathedral was made in 2007 with its modern steel spire; the spire is 40 metres in length. It is known as "The Spire of Hope" and is illuminated at night. Visitors inside the cathedral can look up from the nave and see it. There's a photograph of it from the nave in the photograph below, and you can see part of the metal spire in the first photograph in this entry. 

On the left-hand side as you enter the cathedral is the "Chapel of the Holy Spirit". It is dedicated to St. Patrick. In the photograph below, Saint Patrick is the middle figure, and the boat below is his with the Mourne Mountains in the distance on his way to bring Christianity to the people of Ireland. 

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"Spire of Hope" and "Chapel of Holy Spirit"

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Stained glass windows

The cathedral also has a reputation of charity at Christmas. This started many years ago when the Dean of Belfast started a "sit out" on the stairs of the cathedral in the week leading up to Christmas to collect donations for local charities. He was nicknamed "Black Santa" because of the outfit he wore to keep warm. The tradition is still held every year before Christmas, the those who collect the charity are still called "Black Santa".

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Facade of the cathedral from Writer's Square

I hope you enjoyed photographs of St. Anne's in Belfast.

Pretty Cuppa is one of the new shops that opened up in a new development under the railway bridge in the middle of Brick Lane earlier this summer. As I often passed by it during my lunchtime walks, I decided to nip in one day when I had a particularly late lunch. I was the only one about as the lunch rush had long gone, and I was not feeling particularly hungry so I decided to try a slice of cake and a couple macaroons. This was to be washed down with a bottle of rose lemonade.

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When I asked what the cake flavour was, I was told that it was a Swedish sponge cake. It is similar to Victoria Sponge with a layer of jam, but the sponge is lighter. The cake was topped with a thin layer of green icing and was moist and light. The cake was delicious. But...disappointingly, the love ended there for me.

Although I was impressed with the Swedish cake, I did not like the macaroons at all; they were stale and dry. Yuck! Also, even though I had ordered a drink and said I was going to eat in, somehow they expected me to leave and boxed up my cake slice in a plastic box and the macaroons in a bag. Perhaps it was because I was on my own or perhaps because they knew the macaroons were stale. Anyway, I did eat in the cafe. My photographs of the goodies are below, but I'm sorry that they are not presented too well because they were not served to me on plates.

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Despite the problems with the macaroons and the eating arrangements, I decided to give Pretty Cuppa a second chance a couple of weeks later. This time I ordered a cupcake. (I'm not about to give their macaroons another try because they were so horrible and I'm not confident in them being fresh.) I was told the cupcake was vanilla; in fact, it was lemon. That was a disappointment -- not that I don't like lemon, but I was expecting vanilla and prefer vanilla.

The photographs below were taken in the two visits I made to the cafe.

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I won't be giving Pretty Cuppa another try, unless I see the nice Swedish cake in the window again. However, I do love the vintage cafe style, the bunting, the flowers, and the shelving. The cafe is also on a prime spot on Brick Lane for a lot of people-watching, and there's nothing better than watching unique fashion statements in this area of London. It's just a shame that the service and food did not live up to my expectations. Although this is located well on Brick Lane, there are many other cafes in the area. Perhaps they will survive due to location, tourist trade, or perhaps I have just been extremely unlucky. I do hope that they will improve.

I have always been a fan of the Beatles, particularly their earlier work. In university and High School, I was inspired by the 1960s music, fashion, and freedom. When I came to visit and work in London for my work exchange internship for university, I made the pilgrimage to Abbey Road to see the famous crosswalk and the Abbey Road studios where the Beatles recorded their music and also sang on the rooftop late in their career. This was in the year 2000, and there was not really that much to see; I did not see any other tourists when I visited it then, and I did not see much Beatle-related grafitti.

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Abbey Road crosswalk

Last summer, I made my second pilgrimage to Abbey Road as we had dinner at a hotel not too far away from it. The atmosphere was much different than all those years ago, and the area was particularly busy with tourists. The tourists were getting their photo taken at the famous crosswalk used on the album cover. I also saw a classic Volkswagen Beetle drive by, but I failed to get a photograph. It would have been great if it had been parked up as there was one of these parked up in the original album cover where the Beatles were walking across.

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Tribute wall

Outside the Abbey Road studios, visitors now leave their messages and tributes to the Beatles and others who performed in the studio here. This was new as I do not remember seeing the grafitti in the year 2000 when I visited. I remember seeing some on an Abbey Road road sign, but that was all. I remember seeing a news article once about complaints related to visitors drawing on the signs.

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I read some of the messages and watched many others walk by and read and contribute to the messages. The messages were left by people from all over the world. The wall is also painted over regularly so that others can add their own messages.

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Visitors to the area are also informed that there is a webcam on the famous crosswalk, and they can visit a website to download their photograph taken in the crosswalk. When visiting, simply remember to look at your watch or mobile phone to check the time so that you know when you walked across.

I wonder how Abbey Road will change in the next thirteen years.

After an extremely gruelling nine-hour journey, which should have only been just over a three-hour journey from Basingstoke, we arrived in Liverpool. By the time we arrived, it was time to get some food and drink before heading off to our hotel. We stayed at Albert Dock, and so we were spoiled for choice with food and drink. For those who do not know, Albert Dock used to be a working dock but it now a thriving destination for visitors with museums and a Tate art gallery and plenty of places to get drink and food.

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I last visited Liverpool in 2008, the year that it won Capital of Culture, as I was doing some work for 'The Number One Project' and got to attend their concert that was performed by several of Liverpool's artists that had a 'Number One' song in the charts. Sadly, I do not have those photographs. However, Liverpool and Albert Dock were in the process of being regenerated. Albert Dock had a handful of restaurants and shops, and the museums were opened, but the majority of the dock was still under development. Upon visiting it this time, the place has come a long way and there are several new shops, cafes, and restaurants surrounding the whole dock. 

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We were spoilt for choice really, but we opted for "The Smuggler's Cove" restaurant as the menu looked quite nice. The main entrance to the restaurant is on the outside of the Albert Dock, though, so we were ushered there. We waited near the bar until we finally were able to get a seat. 

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The restaurant is part of the company 'New World Trading Co' and they specialise in themed restaurants. (There's currently one called 'The Botanist' in Leeds, but I have not been to it, and they want to open one in London next year.)

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The restaurant is decorated like the interior of a ship with large wooden tables or tables made out of wooden barrels, iron ceiling lighting, a skull on a mock fireplace mantle, a large 'ship in a bottle' decoration, wallpapered or dark-wood panelled rooms with pictures  and other nautical pirate/ship themeed items throughout the restaurant. The waiting staff were even dressed similar to what sea crew would wear in the 1800s and early 1900s. Our menus also looked like an old letter, complete with mock map imagery and a wax seal. They have obviously spent a lot of time on the graphic design elements.

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Another booklet on our table informed us of the bottled drinks that we could purchase, and each one was illustrated with care with a hand-writing font to describe the drink. A few of these are pictured below. 

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We opted for a couple of cocktails. I got the June Bug, which is one of my favourite cocktails because I love melon liquor. My partner got the 'Morning Wrays' which is a rum-based cocktail that came with a slice of pink grapefruit. 

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I ordered the rotisserie chicken, and it came in a mock wooden barrel end as a plate. It also came with a small bottle of hot sauce. My partner had the steak, and he said it was cooked perfectly and was pink inside.

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Time for desserts! I ordered chocolate mousse. It is one of my all-time favourite desserts. The mousse was very rich and creamy and is worth saving room for. It was one of the best I have tried, falling short of mousse that I once had in Lille, France. My partner had the strawberry and marshmallow kebab, which came on this cool iron skewer. The chocolate sauce, in a pot on the top of the 'device' was poured down the top and coated all of the marshmallows and strawberries on the way down. At the bottom was a small dish of vanilla ice cream.

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At the end of the meal, we received the bill and comments, which were rolled up and looked like an old-style map or document. A nice touch.

After our meal and on the way back to our hotel, we stopped and got some photographs of the Liverpool Wheel. The Wheel was not built the last time I visited Liverpool as that area was still being regenerated, although the arena had just been built. 

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We got some more photographs of the Wheel and then decided to go on it to see some nice views of Liverpool at dusk. The price was a bit hefty though, and I forgot to look at my app for some discounts as I knew that there were discounts. D'oh! It had been a long day.

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There is a commentary in each capsul that describes the history of Liverpool and some of the attractions that can be seen while you go around. I got a decent picture of Albert Dock as the sunset was disappearing beyond the Mersey.

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I also got some additional photographs looking at the main part of Liverpool, and the large tower is the Radio City Tower. I'd been up that once before, but they were with those photographs that I sadly no longer have a copy of. Taking photographs of Liverpool when the Liverpool Wheel was moving was difficult, and they are not so great. I am also not so great with heights, so that also did not help matters. 

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Anyway, I hope you liked my photographs. For more information about "The Smugger's Cove" restaurant and bar, please see: http://thesmugglerscove.uk.com

This weekend marked a birthday celebration, so I was off to the OXO Tower (a Harvey Nichols restaurant and brasserie) to celebrate with "Not Afternoon Tea" and cocktails. I had previously been to the OXO Tower a few years ago in a night that I will not easily forget. A group of colleagues and I had reserved a part of the balcony area, and in order to do so, you have to spend a certain amount of money on drinks. That was a good night. The views are the best in the city of London; St. Paul's and the large skyscrapers in the City are just across the river.

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Not Afternoon Tea - OXO Tower

Fortunately, the weather turned out to be pretty nice after we got caught up in a downpour whilst waiting for our mid-day reservation at the OXO Tower. We had been sitting on a bench in front of Gabriel's Wharf, watching the people and cyclists returning from their cycle race and watching the hide tide on the river splash up against the wall, when we noticed the grey clouds moving in the distance. Pretty soon, we could see the rain obscuring the view of Centre Point and the BT Tower and we could start to hear it, so we ran to the OXO Tower. Of course, we were about twenty minutes early then, so we sat at the bar and shared a cocktail.

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Raspberry Gin Daisy cocktail

We had the 'Raspberry Gin Daisy' cocktail. It is made with London Dry Gin, raspberry and soda. I sometimes find the cocktails here a little too strong for my liking, and I was saving for the 'Not Afternoon Tea'. This was a good start to our experience.

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View from OXO Tower

We were shown to our seats next to the window, as I requested when I reserved. We had a really nice view of St. Paul's cathedral and the City's buildings. As it had been raining, the outside balcony area was closed.

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MOËT ICE champagne

We had a choice of four different "Not Afternoon Tea" plates. "Berry Frozen", "Penny's Herb Garden", "Chocolate Bars" and "Blooming Lovely" were the choices on offer. Each choice comes with a plate of four small desserts and a cocktail. The cocktail for each choice is suited to the desserts. Choosing was a bit difficult as I liked various options from most of the plates, but the "Chocolate Bars" was the least appealing one for me. In the end, it turned out being a toss-up between "Blooming Lovely" which boasts floral desserts and a floral cocktail and "Penny's Herb Garden", which boasts herb flavours. I choose "Penny's Herb Garden".

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Menu - OXO Afternoon tea

On top of the "Not Afternoon Tea" cocktail plates, an additional experience could be added. There were a choice of three, and we choose the "MOËT Ice Exclusive". In addition to our original selection, the extras in this experience is a glass of MOËT Ice, mixed berries with Limoncello, and a bag of treats to take away.

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Champagne and Limoncello berries

The MOËT Ice was served with a glass with ice and summer fruits (strawberry, blueberry, and raspeberry).

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Champagne

The Limoncello with mixed berries came with a slice of shortbread. The Limoncello is chunks of jelly served in a shotglass with the fruits underneath. The fruits included mashed strawberry and raspeberry and whole blueberries. After drinking the champagne, I could not taste the Limoncello, but I could taste the berries. 

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Limoncello jelly shot with berries and shortbread

The "Not Afternoon Tea" plates were then brought over after the Limoncello shots were devoured. The "Chocolate Bars" one is photograhed below. From left to right in the image below:

  • Blonde chocolate and butterscotch parfait
  • White chocolate coconut cherry mousse
  • Milk chocolate peanut nougat
  • Chocolate raisin hazelnut crisps bar

Also included on the plate are roasted nuts and chocolate-covered honeycomb pieces. The cocktail served with this plate is called "Not For Boys", and it contains coconut rum, normal rum, coconut milk and dark chocolate liquer.

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"Chocolate Bars"

I was allowed to try a little bit of the "Chocolate Bar" sweets. The peanut nougat and the coconut cherry mousse were delicious.

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Not Afternoon Tea

"Penny's Herb Garden", the plate that I had ordered, was brought out on a wooden board. The items on the board below, from left to right include:

  • Lemon verbena and sour cherry mousse
  • Thyme panna cotta, apricots
  • Mint cake, blackcurrant ice cream
  • Peach and bay leaf trifle

This was served with the cocktail "An English Summer", which contained wine, elderflower liquer, green tea and hibiscus liquer and bitter lemon.

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"Penny's Herb Garden"

The desserts were nice. My favourite was either the mint cake with the blackberry ice cream or the trifle. The blackberry ice cream was delicious. Each of my desserts had a slight herb taste. The lemon and sour cherry was not as strong for my liking, however, but the others were spot on. These complemented their accompanying cocktails well.

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Cocktails

The "An English Summer" cocktail was served in a copper cup, which I absolutely loved. I really wanted to take this home with me. The "Not For Boys" was served in an old-fashioned milk glass with candied coconut slices on the top. I loved my cocktail and it accompanied the herb taste so well. I was not too keen on the sip I had of the "Not For Boys" cocktail, however, as I am not a big fan of rum. "An English Summer" was not too strong at all, and I could have happily had another.

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"An English Summer"

At the end of our meal, we were presented with our "pink chocolates to take away", which consisted of three different types of truffle tied with pink ribbon.

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Pink truffles

But, that was not all. When I went to the washroom, I mentioned to one of the waitresses that it was my partner's birthday, and I left a message for her to include on the birthday dessert plate. She was really nice; in fact, all of the staff that I interacted with were friendly and helpful. After a short wait and attempted to deflect several badgerings from my partner to ask for the bill, the birthday plate was brought out. My partner was surprised!

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Happy Birthday

Of course, no visit to the OXO Tower is complete without obtaining a few photographs. I managed to get out onto the balcony and take a few photographs.

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St. Paul's

And the Dazzle Ship (Dazzle Ships Commemorate World War 1) is 'parked' below the OXO Tower, so there was a nice view of it from there.

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Dazzle Ship

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St. Paul's

We had a really nice "Not Afternoon Tea" and I would visit again. Have you visited the OXO Tower for "Not Afternoon Tea" before?

A Visit to St. George Market in Belfast

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While visiting Belfast in late May, we visited St. George's Market, a Victorian Market built in the 1890s. St. George's Market beat other popular UK markets to become to best indoor market earlier this year, beating popular markets such as Spitalfields and Borough Market in London. The market is opened on Fridays, Saturdays, and Sundays. (We visited it on a Saturday, which is the food and craft market. There are slightly different themes on the other two days with Sunday focusing more on crafts and Friday focusing more on food and antiques.) 

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St. George's Market

During World War II, St. George's Market was used as an emergency mortuary and over 250 bodies were taken there to be identified. Many could not be identified, so there was a public funeral with Catholic and Protestant services. The market was refurbished with lottery money in the 1990s. Today, Belfast City Council runs the market.

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A fishmonger at St. George's Market in Belfast

As soon as we entered the market (from May Street), we found ourselves in the fish section. I always love looking at the fish section because they are so exotic and different (even if I have to hold my nose because it is not the most pleasant-smelling part of the market). I grew up in the middle of the country, and fish were not a common sight. Crabs, squid, lobsters, and octopus were among the finds. I even saw some (crabs or shrimp/prawns) moving. The cold ice just sedates them. I feel a bit sorry for them.

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Fish, squid, octopus, crabs, oysters

Bread is another common find in markets, and the Irish have their own special types of bread that we do not get in England/Scotland/Wales. Soda bread is common in Ireland. We saw some homemade pot bread and soda bread and also these other loaves. 

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Irish soda bread

I also saw a stall selling several (about fifteen) different types of pizza breads with different toppings. 

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Pizza breads

Baked goods were also popular at St. George's Market, and there were pastries, fudge, cupcakes, chocolate, brownies, cookies, flapjacks, and so much more. There were a couple of stalls only selling cupcakes in many different flavours. However, I opted for these small fairy cakes pictured below from one of the stalls selling a variety of baked goods.

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Fairy cakes

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Flapjacks

One of the most colourful stalls was selling spices. There were three tables filled with colourful containers with different types of bulk spice in them. (Let's hope none ever drop onto the ground because that would be an expensive mess.)

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Spices

Many stalls sold craft items, clothing, photography/artwork, and jewellery. I did not photograph any of these stalls.

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Fish 

There were a handful of stalls selling produce as well. Some also sold beverages or meats. We bought a bottle of spakling lemon squash to mix with water.

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Lemons

The middle area of the market had several stalls selling cooked food, such as burgers and curry. In this area there was also a small band playing traditional music and chairs to sit on and watch them perform.

Also in the middle of the market is the market clock. I was not unable to get a good photograph, but it was made in Clerkenwell (the place to buy clocks in the 1800s) in London. It was originally the Belfast Fish Market's clock (Smithfields), and parts of it were badly worn but restored.

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Vegetables

St. George's Market is not as large as Borough Market or Spitalfields. (Spitalfields does not sell food items except for some baked goods and it specialises more in fashion and crafts and antiques.) The market is comparable to Borough Market except that Borough Market specialises in food items more. However, Borough Market is nearly always too busy to properly browse anymore (even during off-peak times, and it is especially busy with tourists anymore) and we found St. George's Market to be quieter with less tourists.

On my recent visit to Belfast, we spent a day exploring the Titanic Quarter of the city. There are several sights to see here, including the SS Nomadic, the Titanic museum, and the Titanic Dry Dock and Pump House. Additionally, we walked past Titanic Studios, where the television series Game of Thrones is being filmed, and we caught views of the two massive yellow cranes nicknamed Samson and Goliath. We arrived straight from Belfast City airport and dropped our luggage off at the hotel on the far side of the city centre before walking to the Titanic Quarter and exploring this area of Belfast. 

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The Titanic Museum and SS Nomadic in Hamilton Dock

One of our stops was to Titanic Belfast, a museum dedicated to the RMS Titanic. The museum opened in 2012 and is a new addition to Belfast and explains the story of the Titanic and shipbuilding in Belfast. The exterior of the building is meant to mimic a ship, and it is placed between the slipways used by the Titanic and its sister ship the Olympic, and others refer to it as "The Iceburg". The height of the building mimics the Titanic's height.

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Titanic Belfast

The bronze figure (pictured below) in front of the museum is meant to represent the figures that were placed on the front of ships. 

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Titanic Belfast 

Inside the museum is a museum is an interactive ride through a fabricated shipyard that explains how the ships were built. There's also stories about some of the notable people aboard the Titanic when it sank. There's also a viewing gallery where you can see video of the wreckage, and just below this is a representation of how the Titanic currently looks on the bed of the sea, but there were some technical difficulties with this when we visited.

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Viewing gallery (video of the Titanic wreckage)

There are also replica rooms for first, second, and third classes in the museum as well as the White Star Line cutlery and plates that would have been used in the Titanic. There's also a first class menu of the final meal that they had the evening that the Titanic sank. The grand staircase used in the 1997 Titanic film is also in the museum, but sadly general visitors cannot access this; it is only accessible with booked afternoon tea.

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Menu, replica dishes and a first class cabin on the Titanic

Just behind the new Titanic museum is the Olympic Slipway, where the RMS Olympic was built alongside RMS Titanic. This whole area (known as the Titanic Quarter today) used to be busy with ship-building.

At least 4,000 men were involved in building RMS Olympic. Three White Star line ships were built here: Olympic, Titanic and Britannic. Olympic was the first of the three. The Olympic was also a luxurious ship and contained a swimming pool, Turkish spa, a palm garden, and several different first class cabin decor styles.

We also visited RMS Titanic's little sister ship and the only surviving White Star Line ship, SS Nomadic. The SS Nomadic was based in Cherboug, France. It was used to ferry passengers from the harbour to cruise ships (like RMS Titanic) that were too large to come into the harbour. The ship was used to ferry passengers, luggage, and other items to the Titanic when it stopped to collect passengers at Cherbourg before heading off to its fateful voyage to America. (It also stopped in Queenstown, Ireland; Queenstown cannot be found on a modern map as it has changed its named to Cobh.) One of the famous passengers that boarded this ship for the Titanic in Cherbough was Molly Brown.

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SS Nomadic

We had a guided tour of the ship and were told that the different classes never mingled in that day. First class passengers would never see third class, and even the third class area was considered grand for the time. First class used expensive floor tiles, panel decorations, and a grander staircase. 

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First class passenger area

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First class bar

Considering this ship was passed around and a restaurant and a casino at one point, it is amazing that it has survived as much as it has. They also had done a great job of restoring it and souring any bits that were missing from the original suppliers, such as the windows. The rennovation had taken awhile, and there was an exhibit on this, and the ship only opened to the public last May.

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SS Nomadic

The decks were also separated for each class of people; we were told on the tour that different classes just did not mingle in those days. And the passengers would never see the crew working below the decks. We went up onto the deck and saw the wheel and Titanic Belfast museum.

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On board the SS. Nomadic with Titanic Belfast in the background

SS Nomadic is moored in a dry dock, Hamilton Dock. It is near to Titanic Belfast museum. The dry dock's gate (known as a caisson) has been kept and detached and is also located in this dry dock and in front of the SS Nomadic. This was a gate that closed off the dry dock. It is shaped like a ship's hull and is hollow inside so that water can be pumped out of the dock once sealed or drawn back in.

We also went to see Titanic Pump House and Dry Docks, which is located about a fifteen minute walk from Titanic Belfast, and this is where we walked past Titanic Studios where Game of Thrones is partially filmed. The real name of this dock is Thompson Graving Dock, but the Titanic used this dry dock, and the name of the famous ship is used to publicise it. Visitors can imagine the scale of the Titanic by looking at the scale of the dry dock.

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Titanic Pump House and Dry Dock

The Thompson Graving Dock was the largest dock in the world in 1911. The length of the dry dock is over 850 feet, and the Titanic and other large cruise ships used this dry dock when they were being fitted out. The pump house could drain the dock (23 million gallons of water) in about 100 minutes. The first ship to use the dry dock was the Olympic.

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Titanic Pump House

We took a tour of the the Pump House, which is Victorian in architecture, and watched the video shown inside it to understand how the Pump House works. The video also showed scenes of Titanic in the dock.

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Pump House

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Pump House

Thompson Graving Dry Docks would have been very busy, and when we walked around the docks, we could hear 'sounds' of an audio recording coming from the dock to try to get a feeling of what it would be like to be there when the docks were a working place.

Belfast was the fastest-growing British city from 1821 to 1901, and the city's population grew three times larger than it was to over 21,000. Linen manufacturing and ship-building were popular industries. In fact, the River Lagan's course was straightened in the 1840s, and this increased ship-building. 

The iron keel blocks that the ships would rest on while in the dry dock remain to this day and are on display. There was a sign next to them, and one block would weigh as much as three cars.

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Thompson Graving Dock

There is another dock near to Thompson Graving Dock. It is known as Alexandra Graving dock. Inside this dock is another ship, the first World War cruiser HMS Caroline. It is the second oldest commissioned warship in the Royal Navy; the first is HMS Victory. She was the fastest ship ever built; it took 9 months to build. Most of her time at war was spent in the North Sea and Scapa Flow (Orkney islands) where she was in the Battle of Jutland and is the only surviving ship.

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HMS Caroline

Have you visited Belfast and the Titanic Quarter? Let me know what you thought of it, and what was your favourite attraction?

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A Visit to Windsor Castle

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I first visited Windsor Castle in the spring of 1998 with a group of fellow university students and instructors from Ohio University where I was taking courses to get my Bachelor of Science in Visual Communications. Earlier this summer, my parents had come from the states to visit so we decided to make a visit to the castle as they had never been there. I remembered some of the rooms in my last visit all of those years ago, but I don't remember some of other areas and exhibits.

There was a little bit of a wait to get into the castle, and we had rain. We waited patiently under umbrellas as the queue slowly moved. (Yes, tickets can be booked in advance but I did not want to make a booking as I was not sure that we would visit as we also had the boat tour booked: A Boat Trip and Wanderings Around Windsor.)

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Front of castle from the street

When we finally were able to get inside, there were views of the castle towers and gardens in the outer area. It was raining off and on, but it did not spoil our visit.

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Windsor castle flowers

There are good views of the castle tower.

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Tower

Around the tower were beautiful gardens with some nice views. We also visited a couple of other exhbitions, such as Queen Mary's doll house. The items are beautiful, and some of them are custom made and very expensive. The doll's house was built in the 1920s. Photographs are not allowed here, the same as in all of the other interior parts of the castle.

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Gardens at Windsor Castle

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Gardens

We visited the cathedral within the castle walls, and this is where some of the royal family are buried. We could not take any photographs inside this area, though, or inside the castle. However, we saw views and saw the areas closed to the public where the royal family live, such as the the building below.

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Royal family rooms

After the visit to the castle, we walked around the corner to 'The Long Walk' and snapped a few photographs of the front of the castle.

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Windsor Castle from 'The Long Walk'

At the end of the day, we decided to have a drink and a snack. We opted for tea on the high street in "The Crooked House" as it was toward the end of the afternoon. We sat by the window and watched the reactions of many tourists who happened to just chance upon the leaning timber-framed house and then reached in their pockets or handbags their camera or mobile phone out to take a photograph of it. I had a hot chocolate and a Victoria Sponge Cake.

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Hot chocolate

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Victoria sponge cake

We had a fun day out, despite the poor weather, and we managed to see a lot in the castle and in the town. Windsor and Eton (Eton is simply across the river) is a pleasant place to visit. I last visited in mid-December of 2012 when I went to see the Jack and the Beanstalk pantomime and explored the Christmas market and city/town of Windsor in snow (covered here: Wintery Windsor).

I visited Aqua Shard to indulge in afternoon tea and appreciate the views. I had some visitors (my parents), and they wanted to go up the Shard to see the views. I suggested afternoon tea, so this was booked in advance to enjoy before we headed off to the Royal Albert Hall to see Star Trek ("Star Trek" at the Royal Albert Hall - Jenikya's Blog). Last year for my birthday, we made a visit to The View from the Shard (the top viewing platform), and pictures from the top can be seen here: 310m Above London: The View from the Shard

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Aqua Shard

The views are good, but unfortunately they did not honour my request for a seat next to the window, so we were sat in the middle of the room and could not enjoy the views. That was the first failure. The second was poor service. I kept having to signal to the staff to take our initial order, for top ups on our tea, for extra water for the tea, and for the bill. (Note that it also was not very busy at the time as our reservation was toward the end of the afternoon tea sitting and tables were either empty of becoming empty.) 

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We received the sandwiches and got a selection of salmon, chicken, ham, and cucumber. These were served with edible flowers (pansies) and looked pretty. The sandwiches tasted okay. We also had our tea, and I had the Royal Air Force tea. It was alright but not my favourite choice of tea and I wished that I had picked another type.

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Sandwiches

After sandwiches, we got the three-tier stand filled with scones, pastries and other sweets.

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Afternoon tea Aqua Shard

The scones were fruit and plain scones with clotted cream and strawberry jam. The pasty selection included lemon meringue tart and fruit mille-feuille, and out of everything, the lemon meringue was my favoutie. The pastries tasted a little dry, and they were nowhere near the best that I have had during my visits to other afternoon tea venues.   

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Fruit pastries

The main treat featured Shard-shaped opera cake, made with white chocolate and a flakey pastry. Also included were pots of chocolate-coffee with a mousse-like texture. Both of these sweets tasted like coffee, and as I dislike the taste of coffee, I could not finish them. They were disappointing but looked yummy. It's even more disappointing when the food looks nice but doesn't taste nice.

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Mini Shard

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Afternoon tea sweets

After the afternoon tea was finished, we went to the windows to enjoy the views. We did feel a little like we were intruding around others, but we did request a window seat when I made the original booking and we did want to enjoy the views; in fact many of the seats were empty by this time as it was the end of the afternoon tea sitting.

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We also went to the toilets, and these are probably the best views from toilets that I have ever seen. The toilets were located on the south side, so we had views over the southern part of London.

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Toilets at Squa Shard

Unfortunately, although the views and food looks nice, I do not recommend afternoon tea at Aqua Shard. We experienced poor service, less-than-average food, and they also did not honour requests when I made the booking. The afternoon tea is expensive for what it is (when compared to other venues), and I did not feel that it was good value for money when compared with other venues.

For those who want to visit to enjoy views, better value would be to go to the viewing platform on the top floor. (I will note that I would try one of the restaurants in the Shard, but I would avoid the afternoon tea and bar area at Aqua Shard, and judging by reviews on TripAdvisor, others have also noted the same issues with the service and the food so I am not alone in these thoughts.) 

A few weeks ago, I visited Windsor. The weather was not that great, but we managed to take a boat ride on the river Thames and saw some nice views of the castle. Our journey started off with a quick walk and waiting around at the pier where we watched a large group of swans. On our boat tour, we had various places of interest pointed out, such at the Eton school boys' swimming spot, a race track, and expensive houses where celebrities live. There was also a bridge designed by Brunel, who built the famous Clifton suspension bridge in Bristol, but this was covered in scaffolding so I did not get any photographs. We went down as far as the locks and then went back. I saw some nice views of Windsor Castle.

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We had lunch in the royal station and also walked into the fudge shop (opposite the castle walls) where we chatted to the guys making fudge and got to sample some of it. We saw the fudge being stirred in a copper pot and having its temperature checked before it was poured onto the marble worktop to be cooled. The fudge was delicious. They were making salted caramel, and they have a type of salted caramel and dark chocolate fudge called "Andrew", and this was exceptionally tasty. The chilli chocolate fudge was also delicious and spicy. (Most of the times they sell chocolate chilli fudge, it is not spicy, but this is and that's good!)

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