I hardly slept that night as Storm Dudley whistled through the vents, pounded on the windows and launched various objects at my building. It was not the welcome to Belfast I had been hoping for.
The next day things were brighter, I was surprized to discover that Belfast is surrounded by mountains, I was unable to spot them the previous day as the rain was so heavy visibility was almost nothing. Although the wind was still very strong and there was a lot more rain in the forecast, I got out early to make the most of the day.
My first stop was the museum at the City Hall. It offered free admission and I think it is one of those places that mainly cater for school groups. As there were no schools booked in, the café was closed and I got the feeling they weren’t really expecting any visitors, my presence seemed to surprise them. Still, it gave me a feeling for the city and made for a pleasant hour.
The true reason for my stop at the museum was I had time to kill before the next arrival of the hop on hop off bus. I am the guy who follows the route on a map as the bus goes round meaning I miss a lot of what the guide is saying. Although, this particular guide insisted on doing a singalong and told (very dated) Monica Lewinski jokes so I was quite happy to zone him out. I went the whole way round, perhaps missing the point of the hop on hop off element, as the rain was back and it seemed easier to stay inside.
My (drier) afternoon involved a visit to the Titanic Museum. This was one of the main reasons I went to Belfast. The 12 years I spent on cruise ships has given me a morbid fascination with maritime disasters and the opportunity to visit many exhibitions about them. I realise I have been to Titanic exhibitions in Southampton, Liverpool, London, Cork and Nova Scotia. The ones in Missouri, Las Vegas & Tennessee still evade me.
So, what makes the Belfast one different? It is more expensive (£21.50 per adult) but it is enormous and does include a monorail ride which none of the others can compete with. My worry about monorails is not that they will break and I will plunge to my death, rather that I will drop something over the side. So I hold my bag close, take everything out my pockets and even curl my toes inside my shoes to stop them falling off. As I write this, I realise this is a ridiculous overreaction and I am mixing up an indoor monorail at a museum with some kind of upside-down vomit producing rollercoaster.
The walk back to my hotel was an ‘adventure’. The wind was so strong, walking was a struggle. I felt like I was starring in an 80s rock video, dodging lost umbrellas and bin lids as they hurtle towards me. I took shelter in an unfinished entertainment complex while builders eyed me with suspicion.
By day two, another storm had been announced. Storm Eunice. It was due to arrive just in time for my eight hour ferry journey back over the sea. I asked at reception about the possibility of staying another night but was told the hotel was full. Oh well, I thought, how bad could it be?
As the day went on, I kept an eye on the forecast while carrying on with my planned activities. I went to a former prison (which was so cold, I put my gloves and hat on half way round) and to the Ulster Museum (who lost my booking making me queue up for ages). In short the day wasn’t great. By the time I got back to the hotel, Eunice was forecast to be the strongest storm in 30 years. I checked with Reception, now there was space but it would be £289 for another night. For context I paid less than £150 for three nights.
Having worked in hotels, I am willing to pass on a secret. It is a huge pain to make reservations at the reception desk. It takes ages and the process is very complicated. I know many receptionists who always say the hotel is full as they don’t want to get bogged down in making bookings. Knowing this, I looked on an online booking service and reserved the same room for £79.
This meant moving rooms. I had to leave by 10am and couldn’t get back until 3pm. The fly in the ointment was Storm Eunice. The worst storm for 30 years. There was no way I could do anything in that weather, so I spent five hours in the café of the local multiplex cinema. There was nothing I wanted to watch (which was lucky as the cinema lost power) so I wasted time eating toasted sandwiches (which couldn’t be toasted due to the power failure).
3pm on the dot I was back. I needed to pack up my stuff ready for the early morning ferry. Then an email came, the ferry was in the wrong place and wouldn’t be running. Oh good.
Then I heard about a third storm, Franklin. The bad news kept coming…
To be continued…