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Happy Canadian Thanksgiving!  After our extended travel, there are many things we are thankful for but this Thanksgiving, we’re thinking about our recent visit to Northern Ireland.

belfast subway grafitti belfast building5 belfast building3

We are thankful that tourism in Belfast is growing and that the Giant’s Causeway draws visitors to the north.  We are thankful for couchsurfing, an entity that has connected so many fellow travellers and we’re thankful to our couchsurfing host in Derry, Rockclimber.

Today we headed to the Titanic museum as I call it.  They call it the “Largest Titanic Visitor Experience in the World”.  Onlyboy said, “What does that mean, anyways?”  I don’t know, Onlyboy, I really don’t know.

Titanic museum/“experience"

Titanic museum/“experience”

But how best to prepare for such an experience?  Surely fear and doubt are the way to go so we begin with a bit of ear piercing.  In our family, we have a rule that you have to wait until you are 13 to get your ears pierced.  Well, Firstborn (17) has never expressed any desire for ear piercing.  Likewise, Onlyboy (14).  With Paris, we broke down and let her pierce her ears at the age of 10.  With Paris, today, it was 9.  Clearly, you don’t come to this blog for parenting advice.

An innocent ear

An innocent ear

An evil piercer (aka lovely Clare’s employee)

A butcher (aka lovely Claire’s employee)

A stunned and happy girl

A stunned and happy girl

But so what?  Sometimes you have to be flexible and what DOLT (mea culpa) came up with the 13 year old thing in the first place and Venice really wants pierced ears and what better souvenir of 8 months on the road?  Claire’s to the rescue.  It is amazing that you can travel all over the world and if you set foot in a mall, there will be a Claire’s.

Offspring mutilated, we head off for education.  On the way, we find one of our favourite places of our trip.  The insane Dock Café – a honour box café.  Say what?  Listen – it is one of the hippest, most laid-back, artistic, sophisticated spaces I’ve been in.  And it is run by a conglomeration of Christian churches working together to offer a community space in the dockside.  Who could hope for anything better for Northern Ireland (or indeed for the world)?

belfast dock cafe

You are welcome to come hang out, take photos, bring your own food and drink or enjoy the food on offer.  Upon leaving, you simply drop your donation into the honour box.  Seriously.

belfast dock cafe2

belfast honour box worker

Our volunteer server apologizes for the slim pickings! Ridiculous! And everything was delicious.

We arrived at 2:30 pm and the volunteer actually apologized for the poor selection even though there were at least 8 choices of baked goods.  My favourite part (okay I loved everything but ONE of my favourite parts) was the fact that the place was full of university students chillaxing.  The vibe was awesome.

The café is full of art (and students)

The café is full of art (and students)

A few steps later, we’re at the “Titanic Experience”.  What to say?  First off, they shouldn’t try so hard.  Second, they need to lower the price.  A family pass for two adults, two children cost over £38/$70!!!!  We took the bullet but I have to admit I was prepared to hate it.  The price is crazy, you have to book in advance for a timed ticket and it seemed very gimicky.  After a few hours experiencing the “Experience”, I really wasn’t sure what I thought.  The museum is excellent, no doubt about it.  It does, however, seem slightly confused: part serious interpretation, part high tech wizardry.  At its worst, the gagetry feels superfluous, at its best, it’s genious.

Statue with “Experience” in background

Statue with “Experience” in background

We find out that it cost £77 million to build the museum, which, in today’s dollars is slightly higher than what it cost to build the actual Titanic.  Hmm.  When I look back on our experience today, I might possibly concede that it was worth it.  A big part of that is the outdoor space around the “Experience” which can be visited for free.  The whole site is special because the Titanic was actually built here and you can walk around the shipyards and see all kinds of things.  Like the tender (only surviving White Star ship) that was moored in Cherbourg, France and which ferried passengers onto the Titanic, when it stopped there on its maiden voyage.

White Star tender

White Star tender

To me, the most striking thing about the museum is that it is so good and so huge.  There is no way to visit and absorb it all in one visit.  IMHO, the administration should offer an incentive to visitors to come over repeat visits.  And they should lower the price while they’re at it.  We left 2 kids behind just because it wasn’t at all affordable to bring them along.  The staff at Claire’s had never visited because it was too expensive.

Outline of where Titanic was built, Belfast

Outline of where Titanic was built, Belfast

I leave you with a little food for thought…  After 8 months of travel, Fahbio has declared Northern Ireland to be one of his favourite places.  Possibly his favourite place.  More than Macedonia!  More than Belgrade!  I also loved Northern Ireland but was speechless at this news.  How on earth (see what I did there?) could he choose just one?  I asked him why he felt that way and he said that there was just so much to see and do here.  I suspect it also has to do with how unpretentious and funny the Irish are.  I also think it has to do with the fact that it is all English here so Fahbio can access information directly without having to use SWMBO-Translate.