Well it is 2 am here in Belfast and 8 pm back home. Had planned on doing this blog at the end of the day yesterday, but we were too tired.
Our day went surprisingly well. We started the day with breakfast with Justin and Sagan and made sure yesterday’s coolant issues with the car were fixed.
We went back to the Sheraton at Wpg Airport and sorted through our luggage to decide what was going on the plane with us and what not (read – if our luggage doesn’t make it, what can we not do without). So our carry on duffel had our hiking boots, change of clothes, maps, rain gear and of course some snacks for our trip. The rest went in our 2 suitcases to be handed to the luggage gods who would determine whether we would see them again. We each had our back packs.
We went to the airport around 11 am, checked in our luggage and got boarding passes for the Wpg/Toronto flight and the Toronto/London flight. We would not get the last boarding pass until we got to London and went to the BMI desk. Baggage was checked all the way through though.
We left Winnipeg on AC flight 270 for Toronto. Left on time, arrived on time with no problems. Going through security though we went through the normal line I go through and had our bags swabbed for explosives. No pat downs. Went to the Air Canada lounge and read and loafed till it was time to board the plane.
When landing in Toronto, we stayed in the same Terminal (Terminal 1) but had to walk over to the International Departures. That was a good warmup for our hiking vacation. It is a long ways around, through corridors, up and down escalators until you finally reach your gate – which was at the other end of the airport of course. We grabbed a light bite and boarded almost an hour ahead of departure. Lots of crying babies and cranky kids in the waiting area – and yes they did board our flight.
Our flight AC856 left on time (6:15 pm) for London Heathrow and was a 7 hour flight. Had a tail wind so they said we would land 20 minutes early. Flight was good with light turbulence in a few spots. We were served a hot supper that was good and they came around often with water etc. We watched movies, read books, had a nap (one of us had a sleep) and watched the sun come up around 4:30 am. Landed on time(6:25 am) in London after doing some real fancy maneuvers as we were in and out of a holding pattern waiting for a window to land. Filled out our customs cards and deplaned into the terminal.
Well the terminal is rather large, and apparently was designed by rats. I have never seen such a maze of hallways, stairs, escalators, more stairs, more hallways as that airport, and then when you get out of all of that, you again have to go through security.
I (Barry) wasn’t so lucky this time as I got my normal pat down at security, while Connie walked by as if she didn’t know me. In fact, she wouldn’t even look at me. The only good thing was that he did such a thorough job that it felt more like a light massage when he was done. No issues with baggage even though our carry on duffel and pack sacks are full of electronic gear. Laptop, GPS, SPOT device, external HD, 3 cameras, all kinds of wires – but all good to go. Or so we thought – we still had our Customs Forms as we had not seen anywhere to hand them in along the maze. Guess we will find out if we missed something and have to go back to the start.
We went around the corner, past numerous signs directing residents, UK residents, US residents and ALL OTHERS into lines for processing through Customs. We answered a few questions, got our passports stamped and proceeded on. At the next step they get you to stand on a yellow tape on the floor, and they take your picture. A tag is then put into your passport and you are directed on. As our next gate was way down the line, we stopped at the BMI desk, got our boarding passes and had him check on our luggage. Everything was in order.
As we had 3.5 hours to pass is this airport we went to the Star Alliance Lounge (a perk of being a frequent flyer) had breakfast, loafed a bit, sent an email that we were in London to everyone to let them know we made it across the ocean safely and had NO issues – if you know what I mean.
Then we wandered around the duty free shops and stores to check some things out and headed towards our gate #8. Any yes there is more security. They take your boarding pass, scan the sticker that was put on your passport, and your picture shows up on the screen. Cool.
We still had a couple of hours so we stopped in at the BMI London Lounge, had a snack, refreshments and a nap. Our flight was delayed by a half hour, so when it was time we went to our gate. The speaker system was down, so they found the quietest person they could to run the desk. They brought her a portable speaker system, but she decided to stand in the middle of the boarding area and whisper when she wanted to tell us something, or when it was time to board. Go figure. Got on the plane and left at 11:55 which was an hour later than planned. Landed without incident at 1:30 in Belfast, waited- and waited – and waited some more (with lots of cranky kids) to see how the luggage gods (or leprechauns) had dealt with our luggage. As luck would have it, we both got our bags, left the airport and caught a cab
to take us to the Holiday Inn on Ormeau Avenue. Nice place, and quiet with a good room. View out of our window is a 4 sided brick space in the middle of the hotel. The lights are interesting in the room. You have to insert your room key in a small box on the wall beside the door, and then you can use the lights. Guess that way, nobody can leave lights on when they leave the room (assuming you take you room key with you that is)
Unpacked some of our stuff, freshened up, changed into city clothes and headed out to see what Belfast had to offer. There are certainly lots of things to see
Well the architecture is fabulous. So many old stone buildings with amazing designs, all fit in with newer structures.
We did some shopping, ate lunch at Brennan’s Bar and learned a few new food terms.
Mushy peas – they are mushed up canned peas that are the consistency of baby food. Come with the fish and chips.
Champ – is mashed potatoes with onion in them with roast gravy over top.
Goujons – are chicken fingers with beer batter.
Food was really good and we had a local beer called HARP that was very tasty – and cold too.
We returned to the hotel around 5 pm as the stores all close at 4;30. Tidied up our luggage, started getting organized for tomorrow, checked train schedules to get us to Ballymena (our first B&B) the next morning. Went to bed at about 7 pm (as this was close to midnight in our heads). For me, that brings us full circle to me waking up to do this blog at 2.
….. and from Connie
Whew! just reading Barry’s blog entry makes me tired all over again! It was a very long time getting here but all went well. The hot meal on the plane was really appreciated. Earphones were a lifesaver (see crying kids above). Did you guess which one of us had a sleep? Yep it was me. At times I had to be a real contortionist to get comfy but I did manage to have a fairly good sleep.
Belfast is a beautiful city. Old buildings, friendly people and lots of green spaces. I’m sure there are places in the city that are not quite as nice. I am pleasantly surprised at how nice the areas are that we walked. By the time we stopped for some food (and beer) I think the jet lag was starting to catch us. We walked around a bit more and then decided it was time to enjoy the hotel. I had big plans of going for tea and dessert at the restaurant downstairs and then having a warm bath and packing again for the next day. Instead I laid on the bed and was so tired my skin felt like it was jumping and so at around seven the lights went out. First night in Ireland…spent sleeping.