Thursday, July 24, 2014

Visitors & Belfast

We were visited by some silly English knig-its!

The last week has been gloriously and very pleasently busy.  We had the pleasure of playing host to a visiting wargamer pal and his lovely wife. I dragged them both dragged around Dublin for a quick tour before returning home to Mrs. Kinch's cooking. Dinner and a game followed.  There was also the intriguing possibility of more games by G+ or other video conferencing, so a success all round. 

Maryville House Tearooms and B&B
(Mrs. Kinch for scale)

After playing host we waddled off to Belfast for a few days away and had a really lovely time. We were a bit confused as the city seemed utterly deserted on Monday, but we had forgotten that "The Twelfth" had been on the 12th and everyone seemed hungover and slightly bewildered.  Though in a rebranding exercise that it possibly the greatest thing since usury became interest, the festival is now Belfast Orangefest.  A bit odd to be sure, but a distinct improvement. So, we went to Belfast on Monday and basically it was shut.  But we were happy to sit and read our books and generally relax - that to be honest was the plan anyway. 

We stayed in the Maryville House Tearooms and B&B, which I recommend unreservedly.  The food was excellent, the room wonderful and the staff uniformly lovely. To be honest, this was one constant of our trip to Belfast, with the exception of two ladies who were very trying (and were from Cork), the people in Belfast were friendly, helpful and couldn't have been nicer. 

Dinner on Monday was French as befitted the occasion and it was really splendid. La Bastille on the Lisburn Road was top notch and we drank the health of the Swiss Guards and confusion to the Republicans in fine style. 

Albert Memorial Clock

For anyone who likes Victorian and Edwardian architecture Belfast is a feast.  My little Iphone camera simply wasn't up to capturing it in all its glory, but for what its worth - here is the Albert Memorial Clock. City Hall was a treat as well and well worth looking at. To be honest, you can't go very far in Belfast without seeing some really splendid architecture.  The late Victorian stuff is a lot fancier than the often quite austere Georgian lines of my own home town.  I don't pretend to know much about it, but it is certainly something to drink in. 

Nelly cooling off. 

Mrs. Kinch was very keen to go to Belfast Zoo.  Now I was a little anxious about this, as Dubliners we have become used to going to Dublin Zoo and Dublin Zoo is world class. With the exception of Longleat Animal Park, it is probably the best place to go see animals that I've ever been.  This does mean that on occasion, we have gone to zoos that didn't met that standard (Berlin Zoo springs to mind) particularly with regard to animal care. Happily Belfast Zoo was top notch and I would recommend it. 

 Two things we noticed while attending.  Firstly, bring good shoes.  The zoo is build on a hillside and there are quite a few steep slopes. Parents might want to consider bringing the sling and leaving the buggy at home. Secondly, most of the animals were asleep - Mrs. Kinch maintains that this was because of the hot weather, I know better.  They were clearly recovering from the after effects of Orangefest.  It's the only explanation that makes sense. 

Ivan the lemur recovering from Orangefest 
"Aspirin...Anne...for the love of God."

William and Ian the lemurs also recovering. 

Cecil the Piglet had been marching with a drum for quite 
some time and was plum tuckered. 
(bowler hat out of shot) 

Yvgenny the Meerkat on post

The Meerkats were quite lively - though I suspect that it because they are Orthodox and therefore did not attend the party. 

Though while we were there, we did run into a get together for the The Miniatures Page Message Boards.

It was just as I remembered them.

Mrs. Kinch looking slightly miffed outside the Crown.

The Crown Liqour Saloon is a famous pub in Belfast that was refurbished in the 1880s.  The job was done as a nixer by Italian workmen who were working on churches in the area at the time.  It sumptuously appointed and the interior is wonderful. 

Photo from

My Iphone camera wasn't really up to capturing the interior due to poor lighting, but as you can see from this shot of the interior - it is really something.  Unfortunately, the sumptuous interior is pretty much where it ends. If you are going to Belfast and would be interested in seeing a particularly fine example of a late Victorian pub, the Crown should not be missed. However, the service was very poor, the drinks expensive and the selection not much better than one would get in the average boozer in Dublin. A bit of a one drink wonder. Go see it - but I wouldn't spend the night there. 

Mrs Kinch outside The Aether & Echo, looking distinctly cheerier

In terms of pubs, The Aether & Echo, was our find of the trip. Best described as a "steampunk pub" it comes across as a bit poncy - it's website actually has a manifesto outlining the ethos of the pub - but don't be dissuaded, it is wonderful. A well appointed Victorian interior with plenty of snugs welcomes you as you enter.  The bar staff were extremely friendly and I must say well turned out. Slightly more expensive that the average bar - but the quality of the service was superb and the drinks menu was very impressive. We visited there every day for three days and I didn't manage to try the same gin twice. Top notch.  I only regret that we didn't eat there sooner as the food was superb.  Two thumbs up - we will be returning. 

The Titanic building

No trip to Belfast would be complete without a trip to the Titanic experience.  This was Mrs. Kinch's idea and I'm very glad she talked me into it. The exhibition is very well laid out and covers a great deal of ground. The history of Belfast as a port, Harland and Wolf as shipbuilders, the construction of the ship and the tragedy itself. I found the last bit quite hard to watch - but it was impressive. Mrs. Kinch certainly enjoyed it and I would recommend it to anyone visiting Belfast. It's a little bit of a trek from the train station, so you might be better off getting the bus.

Though to be fair, probably one of the highlights of seeing the Titanic experience was listening to a couple discussing it while we left. One of them said,  "I'm disappointed. I don't know what I expected. I thought there would be a boat."

Words failed me. 

Speaking of transportation, if you are visiting Belfast, I would urge you to consider the visitor pass. It's £14 for a three day pass and allows you unlimited travel on buses and trains within the city.  It also carries with it a number of discounts, so remember to look at the list written on the back and present it when you are buying your ticket. By making use of the discounts at the Titanic and the Zoo, we made back almost half the cost of the two passes that we bought - so it is worth bearing in mind. 

Required reading so far as Kinch is concerned

Once we were done at the Titanic, we returned to the Aether & Echo for some excellent food and to explore more of their excellent drinks menu.  I particularly recommend the No. 47 Monkey gin (both dry and sloe), the Paloma,  the New York Sour and the Alhambra Club Cocktail. 

The loot

Now, no trip to foreign parts would complete without dropping in on a second hand bookshop.  The Internet means that new books in English are pretty much available anywhere, but second hand bookshops still have their charm. We paid a call to the rather excellent Keats & Chapman and emerged with heavier bags and lighter wallets. 

My share of the loot was a proof copy of a Byron Farwell that I had not encountered before, a book on Zulu Kings (always good for a laugh and generally makes the Wars of the Roses look like a school picnic), Memoirs of a British Agent by Lockhart (which I'd heard of, but never read), The Massacre of Glencoe by John Buchan (bought purely for his name, I've no idea what this was) and a relative rarity, a enlisted Sepoys account of life in the Indian army. 

On the whole, an excellent trip and we will be returning.  Recommended. 


  1. The Crown looks very much like the Philharmonic in Liverpool - and from the sound of it the Phil has better beer. Do try it if you ever cross the water.

    Apart from anything else they have a snug with stain glass of Lord Roberts and Baden-Powell.

    1. Not really a beer drinker, but proper boozers are a thing to be treasured. I shall look it up if I ever find myself in the neighbourhood.

  2. Dear Conrad,
    Sounds like the whole group had an excellent time of it in Belfast, the place of origin of a great grandmother. The reason I'm writing is to recommend a number of zoos on the eastern side of North America if you ever are so bold as to make a vacation of it. If you are visiting Canada, you must go to Toronto. The zoo there is first rate and visitor friendly. If coming to the States and flying into New York, you definitely have to visit the Bronx Zoo. Definitely avoid the much inferior Central Park Zoo. However, places to visit that would not be zoos, include the Metropolitan Museum of Art, the Museum of Natural History and, of course, the Statue of Liberty and Ellis Island. If warm weather is your forte, you must (How do I underline this?) visit the Metro-Dade Zoo in Miami it is fabulous! And to underscore the meaning of visitor friendly, on any hot day you can stand under a cooling mist of water to lower the body temperature. And, if headed west, you have to visit the San Diego Zoo - first rate all!
    I'm glad you had a good time and your collection of used books is very nice.
    All the very best,
    The celtic Curmudgeon
    "Grumpy is good."

    1. A cavalcade of travel ideas! Mrs Kinch is very fond of New York - I've never been. Though I've heard that San Diego is very fine.

  3. Looks and sounds like a fantastic time was had by all. Glad you enjoyed yourselves.

    Best Regards,


  4. A very entertaining post - I've never been to Belfast and now I want to go!

    1. There are also a number of regimental museums that remain to be explored.

  5. "From Sepoy to Subedar" looks particularly interesting to me . . . please report on it after you've read it.

    -- Jeff

  6. Let me know when you are heading to Fermanagh Mr Kinch.

  7. Really enjoy seeing your travel log. Great stuff!

    1. We'll see if we can't do another before the year is out.

  8. Sounds like you had a lovely time. Well done on the booty.


  9. If she was looking for a boat, the SS Nomadic might have been more her style. A friend is a tourguide on it.

    The architecture really is wonderful isn't it? Like a miniature London, but with much better air. Makes me wish we hadn't replaced half of ours with those concrete and glass boxes.

    Were you not impressed with Berlin zoo? I found it to be decent, but we had a rushed trip and it was in October so less than warm.

    1. Couldn't agree more on the architecture. I didn't care for Berlin zoo - the closures were very small and there were very few keepers to be seen.

  10. An excellent travelogue and with the right focus as well (ie. drink and soldiers..) I've always been drawn to the straight lines of Georgian, so Dublin is a pleasure... Victorian is all a bit.... gothic... I guess.. :o) Much enjoyed the manifesto of the Aether... it reads like it has been fed through a Google translator a few times... "Our objective is simple and experience led, absent of pretense through patron interaction we utilise perfected culinary techniques and preparations and invite you to envelope in a thought provoking forum of choice food, libations and song"... purleaseeee, as the young people say!

    1. It is a bit pony to be sure - but the reality makes up for it. Or you could say, sound in practice rather than theory.