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Carrickfergus Castle

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Carrickfergus Castle in located in Northern Ireland on the western coast. It was out final sight to see for the day after we had spent the majority of our time wandering around Ulster Folk Park and Transport Museum. The castle is located on the edge of water (Belfast Lough) and a small harbour nearby. The castle was built in three stages; the first stage was built in the 1170s. It is one of the best-preserved Norman castles and was also used in World War II.

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In 1210, King John of England conquered the castle and claimed it. Over the years, it was influenced by the English and built upon further to contain a chapel and other battlements. The Scots also conquered the castle. It was even invaded by the French in the mid-1700s, and they looted the castle and town before they were later caught by the Royal Navy.

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The castle was used as a prison in the Napoleonic Wars, and it was later used as an armoury and then an air raid shelter in World War II. After the castle was regarded as a national historic monument, any additions created in modern times were removed and the Great Hall and other areas were transformed into what the castle would like like in medieval times. Recent excavations this spring have turned up several historical finds related to the castle, including a tunnel that went to the Great Hall and other pieces of the old walls. Pieces of pottery and buttons were recovered. 

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Interior of castle

The interior of the keep has been redecorated to show what it would have looked like in medieval times. This is where King John would have stayed. It is the largest room at the top of the keep with a large window for natural light and a large fireplace. There's a large chess board on the floor and other games that can be played here, and there's also mock weapons and armour.

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Room at the top of the keep

There is also a cellar and a well in the keep. The well can actually be used from the ground floor, but you can also glimpse it in the cellar below.

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Cellar and well

We also got to see the latrine that the king would have used and the Great Hall. There was even a mannequin of King John on the toilet. Outside in the ward, we saw cannons and some of the cannons had the English rose emblem. Apparently these cannons with the emblem on them are rare.

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Latrine, Great Hall, and English rose emblem on cannon

There were battlements all around, including this small room/tower that faced out over the water that allowed archers to have a look at three sides and shoot arrows at enemies approaching.

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Archer in tower over sea

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Battlements

One of the areas of the castle holds an oubilette (jail). The jail does not have a door, but there's a window and it is located over the water. Prisoners were thrown in from the trapdoor above, and this is also where their food was thrown in. There was one prisioner who is said to have escaped through the window.

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Oubilette

Some of the battlements can be walked on by visitors today, and there are some decent views over the harbour.

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Views of the harbour in Carrickfergus

London's Postman's Park

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This scenic space of green park, quite a rarity within the square mile of London, was named after postmen from the General Post Office who used to take their lunch here. These days, City workers use it during their lunch breaks and the odd tourist can also be spotted here.

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The park used to be a cemetary, and London had a lack of space to bury its dead. (Bodies would be piled on top of the ground with thin layers of soil placed on top of them, and sometimes the bodies would be cut up to take up less room.) London's lack of grave space became a major problem until graveyards further afield were open. At this time, Postman's Park became a park. Gravestones can still be seen in the park area.

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The park was used as a setting in the 2004 film "Closer", starring Natalie Portman, Julia Roberts, and Jude Law. One of the key elements of the film was taken from this park with one of the characters choosing their identity from one of the names in one of the memorial plaques.

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On one side of the park is a memorial wall. The memorial wall is known as G.F. Watts's Memorial to Heroic Self Sacrifice. The wall was unveiled in 1900 and was conceived and undertaken by Victorian artist George Frederic Watts. The wall contains plaques dedicated to those who lost their lives trying to save one another. According to the plaque about the memorial in the park, Watts believed that these "everyday" heroes were models of great behaviour and character. The plaque ends with the quote:

"The material prosperity of a nation is not an abiding possession; the deeds of its people are" - G.F. Watts

Underneath is an excerpt from the Bible, John 15:13:

"Greater love hath no man than this, that he lay down his life for his friends."

 The wall was proposed as a way to mark the Queen's Golden Jubilee Year as Watts wrote in to a newspaper in 1887.

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Here are just a few.

Sarah Smith: Pantomime Artist. January 24, 1864. Died of terrible injuries when attempting in her inflammable dress to extinguish the flames that enveloped her companion.

Arthur Regelous Carman ("Little Peter") aged 25, who with Alice Maud Denman, aged 27, died trying to save her children from a burning house in Bethnal Green. April 20, 1902.

Arthur Strange, carman of London, and Mark Tomlinson. August 25, 1902. On a desperate venture to save two girls from a quicksand in Lincolnshire were themselves engulfed.

Henry James Bristow, aged 8, at Walhamstow. December 30, 1890 - saved his little sister's life by tearing off her faming clothes but caught fire himself and died of burns and shock.

Joseph William Onslow, lighterman, who was drowned at Wapping on May 5, 1885, trying to save a boy's life.

David Selves, aged 12, off Woolwich supported his drowning playfellow and sank with him clasped in his arms. September 12, 1886.

Ernest Benning, composer aged 22. Upset from a boat one dark night off Pimlico Pier. Grasped an oar with one hand supporting a woman with the other but sank as she was rescued. August 25, 1883.

Thomas Simpson. January 25, 1885. Died of exhaustion after saving many lives from the breaking ice at Highgate Ponds.

Richard Farris, labourer. May 20, 1878. Drowned in attempting to save a poor girl who had thrown herself into the canal at Globe Bridge Peckham.

George Lee, fireman. At a fire in Clerkenwell carried an unconscious girl to the escape falling six times and died of his injuries. July 26, 1876.

William Drake. April 2, 1869. Lost his life in averting a serious accident to a lady in Hyde Park whose horses were unmanageable through the breaking of the carriage pole.

For more information about Postman's Park memorial, visit the website: http://postmanspark.org.uk 

An app (available for iOS and Andriod mobile devices) can also be downloaded where visitors to Postman's Park can view more information about those who will never be forgotten by sacrificing themselves.

Ulster Folk Museum

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I have always been fascinated by how people in North America and Europe used to live in the late 1800s and early 1900s, and I always loved to visit living history places. Unfortunately, there were not really many of these where I grew up, and they never compared to Greenfield Village at Ford in Michigan and a couple of the folk parks I visited in Ireland, including the Ulster Folk Museum. Last November, I went to Greenfield Village, and some of my photographs are included in the post Days Out: Henry Ford's Greenfield Village. At the beginning of June this year, I visited the Ulster Folk Museum after A Weekend in Belfast.

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Irish soda bread cooking on the fire in a traditional Irish home

We visited the Ulster Folk Museum, which is a collection of several historic buildings from various parts of Ireland, after leaving Belfast behind us. The majority of the buildings are in the recreated town, named Ballycultra, but there's also some historic farms and other farm-related buildings on a rural trail. The buildings contain historic furniture and items to match the standard of that type of house or building in the time period. 

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The Old Rectory

The house pictured above (The Old Rectory) was built in 1717, and it is English in design. Most of those who settled in Ulster were of Scottish origin. In the late 1700s, a retired captain who fought for the British in the War of American Independence lived in the house. By the 1800s, it was lived in by a minister Rev. McCullough and the house was extended. The house is furnished for a clergyman of the time 1890-1910. In my opinion, it is one of the more unique and nicer buildings.

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Kitchen in Old Rectory

When we entered the house, there were a couple of women in period dress there to chat to us about the house, and they had soda bread on the fire. We explored the house noting all of the cobwebs and spiders in the wooden beams. Upstairs is a large room with the brickwork forming the chimney.

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The furnishings looked modest enough, and the room held two beds, with chamberpots of course. I imagine that the parents and children shared this room.

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After visiting that house, we explored the remainder of the town area. There were plenty of shops and other businesses to visit. We visited the police station and read about a history of the police in late 1800s and early 1900s. We visited the courthouse and read some material about some real cases and punishments.

Afterwards, we visited the printer's and saw a collection of very old newspapers and saw a printing press in action. The upstairs of the printer's is a Newspaper Reading Room. In the 1800s-1900s, these were common in Ulster towns as a way to get news and information before they were replaced by libraries in the 1950s. There would be a subscription fee, but visitors could read newspapers from other parts of the world. Fascinating. This makes me realise how lucky (or unlucky) we are to live in a world where information is literally at our fingertips.

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Old bus driving down road in Ballycultra

There was also a doctor's office, school, pub, post office, bank, clothing shop and factory, hardware shop, and several churches of different Christain faiths to visit and we went into all of these that were opened.

Off of "the triangle" (the town "square" is in a triangle shape in Ireland) is a tearoom, and we had a quick snack here. I had a cinnamon scone, which was really nice. Next door is the Picture House, a cinema for silent films that was used between 1909 and 1931. Refreshments could be purchased, but it was tea and a bun instead of soda and popcorn that we know today. When we visited, Charlie Chaplin was showing. We watched a little bit of it.

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Tearoom and Picture House

A couple of buildings away from the cafe and Picture House is Meeting Street, a row of houses that also contained trades inside some of them, such as a bicycle repair shop and a shoe shop. These houses were built in the late 1800s.

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Meeting Street

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Shoe repairs shop

After wandering around a few of the other buildings in the town, we made our way to the rural trail. We saw this cute young donkey with its mother in one of the fields on the edge of the town.

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Donkey

Coshkib Hill Farm is one of the farms we visited on the rural trail, and the farm had chickens wandering outside. The family who owned the farm contributed to a lot of folklore, which including music and storytelling, and the house was used a lot as a social gathering place.

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Coshkib Hill Farm

A photograph of the kitchen in the farmhouse is below. There are plenty of seats for visitors.

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Coshkib Hill Farm kitchen

These chickens were pecking the ground outside.

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Coshkib Hill Farm chickens

Next, we went to Ballyvollen Houses, a collection of cottages.

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Ballyvollen Houses kitchen

Ballyvollen Houses are unique houses that have their roofs supported by English-style oak cruck-trusses (see photograph below), and they are thought to have originated in the 1600s. They were built by English settlers to the region of Lough Neagh and would have been used for salmon fishing. There is also a basket-maker's house next to these houses as that was an important trade for that particular area.

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Cruck-trusses

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Bedroom - Ballyvollen Houses

Not far from these cottages is a blacksmith's cottage, Ballinderry House. It is a single-story house. 

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Blacksmith - Ballinderry House

Coalisland Spade Mill, located on the rural trail, was used to make spades for farming. It was not running at the time and was locked.

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Coalisland Spade Mill

One of the small cottages on the rural trail is a blacksmith's forge. Unlike the one in the town, this one had someone working inside it.

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Lisrace Forge interior

Off to the side of the rural trail and in a little meadow is this small stone tower, known as Tulylish Bleach Tower. The tower was shelter for a watchman whose duty it was to guard rows of newly-woven linen that were stretched to bleach in the sun in the bleach field. (Linen's natural colour is brown, but it changes to white if left in the sunlight for a period of time.) Stealing this linen as it was bleaching was a common crime in Ulster.

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Tulylish Bleach Tower

Our final stop was The Cornershop. The Cornershop served the immediate neighbourhood in an area of a town or city. This cornershop has less of the goods that would be standard products that would be useful to buy, but sweets can be bought here.

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The Cornershop

There's a really nice guide on the museum's website that explains the history of each of the buildings: http://www.nmni.com/uftm/Collections/buildings 

St. Bartholomew-the-Great Church in London

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The City of London used to be filled with churches, but many of these had perished in the Great Fire and many more that were rebuilt at this time have long gone - damaged and destroyed by falling bombs during World War II or demolished to build up London's businesses. Visitors to London can see blue plaques on the sides of some buildings informing them that a church used to exist on the site and that it was demolished in a particular year. St. Bartholomew-the-Great is one of the oldest (built in 1123) surviving churches in London and it was lucky to have survived the catastrophes that brought down the other churches. 

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One of the entrance ways to the church miraculously survived fire and bombs. In fact, a zepplin air raid caused damage to St. Batholomew's hospital, which is located right outside this gatehouse. The damage can still be seen on the walls of the hospital. This same air raid damaged the building work that covered up this beautiful Elizabethan timber-framed gatehouse. This small glimpse with more modern buildings around it gives a glimpse into how London would have looked in older times.  

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Through the gatehouse is the main entrance to St. Batholomew-the-Great. If you stand with your back to the archway, the hospital is just to your left and the covered wholesale meat market Smithfield's is directly to the right. This contains a plaque to Scottish freedom-supporter William Wallace, who was killed here after he was captured by the English. (This area, along with Tyburn River - near the current location of Marble Arch - was a place of execution.) Directly in front is a green area in the middle of a roundabout, and this is where several Protestants were killed by being burned to death in fires by Catholic Queen Mary. Such a nice place is London!

This is the area of Smithfield Market (read more about the meat market at Smithfield Market), where cattle and other animals were brought to be butchered. As a result, the area was filthy with cow mess, stench, blood and innards which were not properly drained away. Complaints were often lodged against drunken herdsmen and stampeding cattle, which would sometimes damage property.

We saw an information historical board about wife-selling at Smithfield Market, in the days when divorce was not common and too expensive. Yes, men could sell their wives if they were unhappy, but both husband and wife had to agree to this. Some wives also wanted to be sold. More about the practice of wife-selling in old England can be read here: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Wife_selling_(English_custom)

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After stepping underneath the archway, the church is directly in front. Some gravestones are lined up in the patch of green area around the church. The church was 2-3 pounds per adult to enter. The interior was altered a little bit as the area around the church changed, and at one point, the church was abandoned.

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South aisle

We paid the entrance fee and entered St. Bartholomew-the-Great. We admired the brickwork and the tiles and the old age of the church. The church is also meant to be one of the most haunted, as this area of London is the most haunted. One of the suspected ghosts is meant to be Rahere, the founder of the church who was also jester to King Henry previously. His tomb is inside, and it was moved during work on the church (and a sandal stolen by a builder), and this is what was meant to have woken him up to haunt the area.

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Medieval floor tiles could be seen in one corner in the east ambulatory. Also, in the picture below, note the old brickwork inside the archway. 

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St. Bartholomew-the-Great has been used in the following films: Shakespeare in Love, Robin Hood Prince of Thieves and Four Weddings and a Funeral.

Right outside the church is the street named Cloth Fair, which was named after Batholomew Fair in the land outside and where part of the Smithfield Market is now built. (Note that the market building is a newer and Victorian construction; the market itself was open fields and land.) Bartholomew Fair was held annually by the monks to raise income for St. Bartholomew's, and it was essentially a cloth fair. It was the largest of its kind in Europe and attracted international merchants. The fair would attract street performers (wild animals, musicians, puppets, acrobats, prize-fighters, wire-walkers, freaks) and crime. The fair was held on St. Bartholomew's Day until 1855, and it was shut because of the public disorder. (More about the fair can be read here: http://www.historytoday.com/richard-cavendish/londons-last-bartholomew-fair)

A Weekend in Belfast

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I visited Belfast at the end of May, and surprisingly, the weather was nice for the majority of my time there. Exploring the city was the first part of our nearly two-week long holiday (a road trip vacation) in Ireland. There's quite a lot to do and see here, and I could have spent about one more day here, but this holiday road trip was mainly about spending a little time in each place and seeing as much as possible before heading off to the next place. 

I have separated some of the attractions into various posts as there is so much to see. You have probably already read these, but if not, the list is below:

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Belfast along the river from the Titanic Quarter

The first place we headed for after dropping our bags off at the hotel was the Titanic Quarter. Our hotel was on the opposite side of the city centre, so we walked down the main street and over the bridge, catching glimpses of several attractions along the way, including the tiled blue and white fish located on the banks of the river. This tiled sculpture is actually a salmon, and it is named 'Bigfish', and the artist is John Kindness. On closer inspection, the fish is made of tiled images and newspaper clippings that celebrate Belfast's history.

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'Bigfish' by John Kindness 

'Bigfish' is located near Custom House Square. In the past, Custom House Square was a busy quayside and filled with moored ships; it was also used as a "Speaker's Corner" and attracted large crowds. Today, the square is a meeting-place where events are held sometimes, and it is an attractive place with jumping fountains, beautiful old pubs, a clock tower, and an attractive-looking Custom House (built in 1857 and the building which the square is named after). In fact, the River Farset lies underneath the road and under the jumping fountains. At the river's end of the square is Belfast's oldest drinking fountain, and it was used by people and horses.

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Custom House Square

The clock tower, named the Albert Memorial Clock, is also located in Custom House Square. The clock tower was built in 1865 to commemorate the death of Prince Albert. As you may be able to see in the photograph below, the tower does lean slightly, and it has been corrected so that the lean does not get any worse than it already is!

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Albert Memorial Clock

A small footbridge over the river leads to the Titanic Quarter, the site of Belfast's historic dockyard. The footbridge has many locks of love chained upon it. One of them read a lady's secret in that she planned to propose to her boyfriend in June and he had no idea! I wonder how the proposal went.

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Locks of Love

From the Titanic Quarter and in many places in Belfast, visitors can always spot the two giant yellow cranes. They are a prominent fixture of the city. They are located in the Harland and Wolff shipyard, and they are named 'Samson and Goliath'. Unfortunately, I was not happy with my photographs of the cranes to include them, but I did get several photographs on the river banks. This was a pleasant walk along the river, and there are several tourist information boards dotted around to read up on Belfast's history.

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Titanic Belfast

The Titanic Quarter has been regenerated recently, and there are some new flats and a large entertainment complex known as Odyssey. More plans with offices and housing seem to be in the pipeline, and in my opinion, the area could use restaurants to cater for the tourist trade. A tourist can easily spend a whole day in this area of Belfast, and after our time there, we opted to locate a restaurant in the complex for supper, but the few restaurants that are located there were shut. 

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The Custom House (left) and Belfast

After no luck with restaurants in the Titanic Quarter, we walked back across the footbridge and opted for the closest restaurant that looked reasonable with the help of our mobile phones. The restaurant, McHughs Bar & Restrauant, was a great find. It is located in the Custom Hopuse Suare that we visited earlier and is one of the oldest buildings in Belfast. The food was great (pity about the pint glasses being dirty with the previous drinker's lipstick though!). 

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Chicken and steak on a hot stone

The next morning, we explored the city. Belfast City Hall was one of our first stops. It is a beautiful building. This building started to be built in 1889 on the site of a smaller city hall building. The population of Belfast had quickly increased in the late 1800s, so the new and much grander City Hall took its place.

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Belfast City Hall exterior 

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Belfast City Hall exterior 

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Belfast City Hall exterior 

Unfortunately for us, there was an event or something taking place in the City Hall, so we were turned away. However, the interior pictures we saw online later looked amazing. It is a pity to have missed seeing it for real. However, we continued to look around the gardens around the City Hall.

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Queen Victoria statue in front of City Hall Belfast

A memorial to the Titanic, designed in 1920 by Thomas Brock, is located in the grounds of the City Hall. Near the Titanic Memorial Statue is the Titanic Memorial Plaque, which bears the names of all of those who perished in the tragedy. According to an information board at the memorial, the lives lost included 124 first class passengers, 166 second class passengers, 530 third class passengers, and 692 crew (not including the captain). We read the names of those who did not make it, and this was sad to see whole families had been obliterated. One of these families had several children.

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Titanic memorial by City Hall, Belfast

After this quick stop, we walked to George's Market and the Botanic Gardens and explored them before continuing to the Ulster Museum. The museum has several exhibitions covering history, science, and art. Human history throughout the ages in Ireland was one area, and we saw tools and artefacts that early humans used as well as information on burials and the chambered tombs. This led into Christianity and medieval times. Included were hoards of gols that were discovered. There was also a room dedicated to the Spanish Armada ship treasures that was sunk off the coast of Ireland. In the entrance area is a celtic cross, and other areas were dedicated to natural history and science. We saw meteorites and fossils and gemstones.

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Ulster Museum - gold hoards, celtic cross, pottery, museum exterior

Queen's University Belfast is located in near Ulster Museum, and the area is filled with trendy-looking restaurants and cafes. We walked back to the city centre via Sandy Row to have a look at some of the murals, and we passed the university before heading onto Sandy Row.

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Queen's University Belfast

After visiting the murals on Sandy Row, we continued walking up the street and came across one of Belfast's most famous pubs, The Crown Bar. The Crown Bar is unique because it maintains its 19th century "gin palace" interior. 

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The Crown Bar

Stained glass, intricate wood carvings, decorated ceilings, and individual private drinking booths make up the interior of this pub. Unfortunately, the pub was extremely busy on a mid-afternoon weekday (too many other tourists), and we were unable to find a seat to enjoy the atmosphere of this pub. However, I did manage to capture a few photographs inside it.

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The Crown Bar pub

After the pub, we wandered around Belfast and walked to the Cathedral Quarter. Many of the streets around the Cathedral Quarter have nautical names, relating to the history of Belfast. In the older days, the river ran down the current location of the High Street, and boats would moor upon the banks of the river. The river was moved underground but some of the street names along the way retain nautical past. The Cathedral Quarter is one of the trendy areas in Belfast and is filled with pubs and clubs, and there is a lot of street art around the area. The Duke of York pub, down a narrow street off of Hill Street, gets a lot of business.

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We walked back toward the centre of Belfast after a walk around the Cathedral Quarter. Belfast was once filled with narrow streets, known as "entries", off its major streets (such as the High Street). These were used for trading and connecting major streets. The taverns inside these entries were frequented by sailors who had moored their ships upon the High Street when it was once part of the river. (We had dinner one evening at McCracken's pub in Joy's Entry.)

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History was made in the "entries" as well. Joy's Entry was the site of the first English-speaking newspaper. Wilson's Court was the location of "Northern Star" political newspaper, which was destroyed by the British to stop their publications.

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Joy's Entry

After dinner, we made our way back to our hotel. By this time, the shops were closed. Belfast main shopping centre at Corn Market seems to be the place to go for the youth of Belfast to hang out.

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Corn Market

Have you visited Belfast? What did you think? I felt that we needed about one more day in the city to see the remaining sights that we did not get to see (and to prevent being rushed). We arrived in Belfast at about mid-day due to a delayed flight and had one full day after that. I think Belfast can be rushed in approximately two days, but three days would have been better.

Belfast's Political Murals

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On our walk back from the Ulster Museum to the centre of Belfast, we took a quick diversion to Sandy Row to check out some of the murals. I did want to go on an advertised murals tour, but the black cab company were a bit abrupt/rude when I tried to arrange something on the phone. It was not the same, but we ended up having our own tour of the murals. However, it would have been great to know the background of some of these and to hear some of Belfast's history.

I do know that Belfast had some problems in the past; political groups who wanted to split from (or stay with) the United Kingdom, violence as a result of the political views, and religious differences. I am probably not doing this justice and it probably goes a lot deeper than that. However, the images below are ones I gathered in Sandy Row. Apparently a lot of the working class areas of Belfast have a lot of these murals. Not all of them are 'controversial'. Some of them are simply dedications to famous people, such as George Best (a footballer), the Titanic, or flowers.

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Other murals were dedicated to sports, such as the one below dedicated to Irish Football Association.

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At the corner of Sandy Row and a major road is the below mural.

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There were also murals located in the Cathedral Quarter. I saw a lot of street art around too, but I will be including this in another post. (Though the murals are also street art.) 

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The Duke of York pub had two whole walls and a ceiling covered in mural as well as some of the walls in their pub garden/parking area behind the pub. I am not sure who the people are in the murals, but I think they are based on real/famous people. Also note that this bar was extremely busy as was the alleyway outside it. Had it not been so busy, I think I would have convinced the others with me to pop in for a quick drink. The pub seems to have a lot of fame around it. Apparently the band Snow Patrol ('Chasing Cars') first gigged here.

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On the way to the airport in east Belfast, we happened to discover more murals. Again, they were for a number of causes. 

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The two giant cranes, Samson and Goliath, can be seen in the background. There were also a couple of murals dedicated to the Titanic's fate.

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There is also a "peace wall" somewhere in Belfast, but we did not discover where that was or drive past it. It would have been good to see it, though. Maybe if I ever go back to Belfast again I can find out where it is and also understand a little more about these walls.

London Travel & Food: Boundary Rooftop

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Rooftop cocktail bars / restaurants on a nice sunny day are worth finding in London. I visited the Boundary Rooftop bar in Shoreditch with my colleagues a couple of times early in the summer. The downstairs is the Albion cafe and shop on the corner of Redchurch Street, right behind the station. The views over Shoreditch in the sun are inviting, even if it was a little too warm in the conservatory-area (covered glass). We had cocktails and lunch. This was one of the first warmest days of the year.

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Boundary Rooftop bar

I had a peach bellini. The cocktails are not the best I have had in London, and they are a little strong. The previous visit, I shared a pitcher of cocktails with a colleague, and we felt the same way about the cocktails - a bit disappointed.

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Peach bellini

Steak, fish, lobster, and chicken are some of the mains. The food was pretty decent, but the prices for it are a bit steep. I think that you pay for the views, and it is a fairly prestigious place. When you enter, you are greeted a bit like you would be to check in to a hotel. I felt a little bit under-dressed in my jeans and t-shirt, and my colleagues felt they were as well, but there's no formal dress code as they did let us in and other patrons were very much the same.

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Chicken

I had the chicken, and it was tender enough and the vegetables were nice. I could have had a little more food, though, as it was not quite enough. Most of my colleagues had steak on our first visit, and they said that it was alright but the cost was steep. Service was also slower than we'd like, but it was fairly busy as the weather was nice and it was toward the beginning of summer. Many were out wanted to enjoy the weather, and one can certainly enjoy the weather in this rooftop restaurant/bar.

Days Out: A Visit to the 'Cutty Sark'

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Can you imagine England without its national beverage - tea? Tea first became popular after King Charles II's wife brought it with her from her home country of Spain in the mid 1600s. In 1669, the East India Company broguht its first shipment of tea from China, and in 1706, the first tea room in London opened. By the 1830s, teas are then shipped from India for the first time. The tea trade is actually what brought about an important part of history of the ship 'Cutty Sark', which was known as a 'tea clipper'. 

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'Cutty Sark' below deck

In late 1869, the 'Cutty Sark' was launched. The ship was named after the cutty sark, the Scottish name for a short night dress that women used to wear. It was also said to be inspired by a poem written by Tom O'Shanter about a witch named Nannie who was wearing a cutty sark. The figurehead on the ship is supposed to represent the witch.

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The ship made eight voyages to China. The quickest time to Shanghai in China was 89 days. The ship would usually stay about a month in China, so the ship would be on its voyage for about ten months. 

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Tea was shipped in exotic and colourful boxes with Chinese writing on them. Replica tea boxes were located on the ship so it appeared that they were stacked in the ship and visitors could walk over them. How the tea was packed onto the ship was also illustrated.

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As the ship is very old, a lot of restorative work has been done to her, including building on her steel frame. To inform people about which parts of the ship are new materials (and which are original), the original ship's metalwork has been painted white. In the photograph below, the evidence of the wear and tear of the ship is obvious.

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Below deck are interactive exhibits and artefacts from the ship, including a star of India and the ship's bell. The exhibit also describes other items that were shipped on the boat, in addition to tea. These included other goods and items from the far east, sheep, and furniture. 

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One of the interactive exhibits was to 'pilot' your own 'Cutty Sark' electronically using a mock ship's wheel and a map that detailed the currents of the ocean, and the objective was to get the ship back to its London destination in the quickest time that the 'Cutty Sark' achieved in reality (and without being ship-wrecked)!

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The 'Cutty Sark' did not have too long of a career as steam-powered boats started to be in use to collect tea shortly after the ship was built. The Suez Canal was opened, and this cut the number of days it took to reach the east from Europe. The 'Cutty Sark' then turned to other trade, such as sheep and other goods and luxuries that were shown in the exhibition below the deck.

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The top decks could also be explored, and these included living quarters, the captain's room, and other areas for the crew and captain. Cards next to the equipment on the deck told what the item was.

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There are also some nice views from the top of the deck, and we were fortunate to have a beautiful sunny day. Canary Wharf could be seen from the deck. It is amazing that this ship is here, after its fate led it to different countries and places in the world as a working and tourism ship for some time, before eventually coming back to London to be displayed as a museum.

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The shape of the hull is what made the ship so quick. It was plated with copper. In fact, the ship resting on the ground and gravity was beginning to warp the shape of the hull, so a lot of time and money was spent on suspending the ship in mid-air so that it does not rest directly onto the ground. This is why there's a large steel structure with buttresses around the ship so that visitors can walk underneath it. On this level is the ship's longest wooden plank. It is part of the original ship and is shown in its fragile condition. Burn marks can also be seen on this piece of wood from the fire that happened a few years ago. (After a large restoration project, the ship was finally reopened to the public in 2012.) 

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The scale and length of the 'Cutty Sark' is evident below. There is a restaurant here, and there's also a few more exhibitions, including how the alcoholic drink 'Cutty Sark' got its name; it was, of course, inspired by press about the famous ship. One of the most interesting exhibits on this level is the figurehead collection, known as the Long John Silvers Collection. This is the largest collection of ship figureheads in the world and was given to 'Cutty Sark' by Captain Long John Silvers (Sydney Cumbers). This collection and the 'Cutty Sark' is dedicated to the Merchant Navy. 

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Figurehead collection

A plaque is located in the area to identify each figurehead; some of them are modeled after famous people. One was Abraham Lincoln. Figureheads were regarded as important, and the crew would always keep them clean and look after them as they believed that the ship's soul was embodied in its figurehead. Not all of the figureheads are human.

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After our exploration of the 'Cutty Sark' ship, we went across the street to the Gipsy Moth pub, which we could see from the top deck of the ship. The restaurant/pub was busy, and all of the seats outside in the garden were taken, but we were lucky to grab a table and enjoyed our lunch. I had the chicken pie, and everything tasted nice.

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Have you visited 'Cutty Sark'? What did you think? Leave me a comment.

London's Greenwich Foot Tunnel

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The Greenwich Foot Tunnel is located near the restored Cutty Sark ship in Greenwich Village, east London. The tunnel was completed in 1902 and it allowed people who lived on the south side of the river Thames to reach the north (by crossing in the tunnel under the river) where they worked in the docks. The entrance to the tunnels are large domes and can be seen on both sides of the river.

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South side entrance

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Green dome foot tunnel entrance with Canary Wharf behind

The tunnel is open 24 hours a day, and those that pass through can use the stairs or a lift. The lift is in the centre and can take several people and bikes. I took the stairs down, and it actually was not as deep as I was expecting it to be. I've climed up and down far more steps at times at various London underground stations. A sign near the entrance said that the foot tunnel is 33 feet deep at low tide and 53 feet deep at high tide.

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Entrance and the stairs

Once at the bottom, the journey could be completed up through to the other side. The tunnel looked a little too worn and unwelcoming for my liking, though it has recently been under refurbishment. This tunnel was the only tunnel built under the Thames for the sole purpose of pedestrians. Even though the tunnel looks a little unwelcoming, there are CCTV cameras in operation. Still, I'm not sure that I'd like to be there at night.

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The foot tunnels also have a list of rules for pedestrians, such as skateboarders and cyclists have to dismount, and busking and flash photography is not allowed. More information about the foot tunnel can be found here: http://www.royalgreenwich.gov.uk/info/200102/walking/693/foot_tunnels

Belfast's Botanic Gardens

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After a visit to St. George's Market, we walked to Belfast Botanic Gardens, located near Queen's University and Ulster Museum. The gardens consist of a Palm House, rose garden, Tropical Ravine House, and grounds. The park was popular with tourists, students, and office workers on their lunch breaks. This was one of the highlights in my trip to Belfast, and the weather was perfect for exploring the gardens.

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The Palm House foundation stone was laid in 1839. The structure, designed by Charles Lanyon, is one of the earliest examples of curved iron with glass. The ironmaster was Richard Turner, and he constructed this before the Great Palm House at Kew Gardens (London) in the 1840s. Today these gardens is the most visited gardens and visitors can get private tours. The displays change with the season. 

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After walking from the City Hall, we sat down for a few minutes in front of the beautiful Palm House. The weather was lovely. Once we had rested, we wandered around the Palm House, and I took several pictures of the plants.

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The cooler part of the Palm House contains flowers, and the hotter central area contains tropical plants and larger trees. I saw an orange growing on one of the branches in the tropical area. The cool area was filled with house plants (pictured below). 

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I tried to capture the height of the Palm House.

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There was also an ugly plant toward the back and central area of the Palm House. It had a name like Henry or Harry, but I cannot remember which. I am not sure what type of plant it was, but it looked ugly, and I thought I had a photograph of the sign but I could not find it. A photograph of Henry or Harry (or whatever his name is) is below.

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Outside the Palm House, we walked around the gardens that were filled with rhododendrons in all sorts of different colours. I love these flowers as they are always so colourful.

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There were bees attracted to some of the flowers.

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After a quick wander, we came upon the rose gardens. Unfortunately, only a few roses were out in bloom in the rose garden in the Belfast Botanic Gardens. I can imagine that it looks equally beautiful as Regent's Park rose garden when they are all out in full bloom. We were a week or two too early.

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We walked down from the rose garden and came across another hidden area that was completely unexpected. Different areas of the grounds were secluded with trees and a small spring.

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We followed signs to the Tropical Ravine House. The Tropical Ravine House is another conservatory in Belfast's Botanic Gardens. Instead of mingling with the plants, visitors walk up above them and look down onto the smaller plants or directly at the larger branches of the trees. The trees were dense here and very tall, so I did not get many good photographs, but there is one below of the interior of the Tropical Ravine House.

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After all the walking around, I had one of the fairy cakes that I bought in St. George's Market.

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Have you been to the Botanic Gardens in Belfast before?

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