by Richard Tweedie
I always assume that most people have heard of Belfast, home of the Titanic, centre of “the Troubles” and birthplace of Lord Kevin. I grew up in Belfast during the Troubles when much of it was bombed out, boarded up, and blocked off. Thirty years later I have returned to I find myself a stranger in a revitalized, rebuilt, vibrate cosmopolitan city. With new shopping arcades and a completely redeveloped riverfront with concert halls and arenas and even a new University Campus. And for me the biggest change is the number of hotels, The Europa, which had the infamy of being Europe’s most bombed hotel is still there but now there is a wide range of alternative from the usual chains to plush elegant places to be seen such as the Merchant and the Grand Central. And for those who like history you can always go for a drink in the Europa or in the Crown Bar across the road which is owned by the National Trust, a nice change from stuffy old castles.
Belfast is surprisingly small, hemmed into the Lagan Valley by Cave Hill to the North, to the East by Lough’s and to the South the rich farmland of Co. Down. It is easy to walk around, with good and low-cost bus and train links run by Tranlink compared to the mainland UK. For those who want to go further afield, the Giants Causeway is about 60 miles North while Strangford Lough, the Mournes and St Patrick’s Grave in aptly named Downpatrick is 20 miles to the Southeast, even Dublin is only 100 miles away and can be done as a day trip on the Enterprise – a train, not James Kirk’s Starship!
The conference is being held in the MAC Theatre which is more of an arts venue with multiple spaces of all shapes and sizes, from quiet corners for chats to 6 story atriums to inspire. It is located beside St Annes Cathedral and sandwiched between the new University of Ulster campus and the Cathedral Quarter. Not only is it a great venue but it is in a great location, as the Cathedral Quarter has been redeveloped with bars and restaurants in narrow streets and alleys to suit any taste.
The Titanic exhibition is worth a visit across the river from the Cathedral Quarter and while you are out you may want to walk to Queens University with the attached Botanic Gardens, passing by the Magnificent City Hall, which is funded by the linen industry. This made the city a power house before ship building and aircraft manufacturer.
Belfast is a surprising city, round every corner is a different aspect and something new even to somebody born there. It is well worth a visit, with plenty to do and see, so you can make the most of your trip when you come to visit for the conference!