Birthday Celebrations In Belfast!

I know, you’re thinking when is this birthday thing ever going to end? It’s not every year you turn 30, so you might as well make the most of it.
My five best friends went together and gave me a brilliant thoughtful present that they knew I’d love, and that I’ve been looking forward to since February.

Last Friday Nicky and I took buses from Dublin and Derry and met up in Belfast for a weekend in Benedicts hotel. It’s one of my favourite hotels ever, with helpful friendly staff and a great welcome for guide dogs. I’m always impressed by the bowl and bed for the dog in the room, and this time the receptionist who showed us to our room said that if the dog liked the bed, the manager said I could keep it because they have lots!
We ate dinner in Made in Belfast in the Cathedral Quarter. I absolutely love this place! Again the staff were amazing, particularly the man working at our table who could not have been more helpful. When I thanked him at the end, he said he was only doing his job! The steak was lovely, and I really wanted dessert but I was too full up to even attempt it.

On Saturday morning after a lovely breakfas,t we got a taxi to the Victoria shopping centre so Nicky could go to the apple store. After he bought a charger and we asked about a couple of products, we found a Costa coffee to pass a bit of time. A staff member brought us to a nice seating area and came back to take our order. This was nicer than standing at a busy counter, trying to keep Sibyl away from food and low tables of nice smelling things. When he brought the coffee and muffins, he would only take £2 from me, saying that he wanted to give us our drinks free, and that I could use my money to buy something for the dog instead! People are so nice.

Along with our hotel, my friends booked us tickets to do the Titanic tour in the Titanic
exhibition centre. It’s not something I’ve really thought much about doing, but after living in Belfast for three years and doing nothing cultural at all, it was about time I did something. When we went inside the huge building, the first person we met was Stevie. It turned out that he would spend most of the next two and a half hours with us, doing much more than his job required him too. We had tickets for the longer tour inside the building, as aposed to the shorter discovery tour which takes place outside and is accompanied by a tour guide. At first we thought this might be a better option since we had no guide, but it turned out that the other one that we did was much better and really informative and interesting. We wore headphones which gave us short audio described pieces at different stages of the exhibition. There were also some videos we could listen to as we walked around. Obviously it was very visual, so there were bits we missed out on, but the audio was a great addition. There was a great variety of things to experience, including a short cablecar type ride that you went on to experience the sounds, the heat and the working conditions of the people who worked in Belfast during the building of the Titanic. There were a few seats along the way, and we watched a short film in the cinema towards the end of the tour. It is very well put together, with lots of things to entertain children if you had them with you. The staff are helpful and really know their jobs well.
The fact that we had nobody with us, and there was no tour guide inside made it a bit more difficult to know exactly what direction to follow on each floor. The staff kept an eye out for us, and Stevie was practically there for most of it. He took lots of time talking, explaining and describing things, as well as sneaking lots of pets of Sibyl along the way. She was very patient throughout the afternoon.

When we finished the tour, Stevie brought us to the carpark to wait on our taxi back to the hotel. The only small downside of the weekend happened when it came, and the driver said he didn’t have to take the dog because even though he worked for a particular company, he was driving his own private car. We asked him if he would call us another taxi then. When he did, and told his colleague that he didn’t want to take “a big animal”, they obviously told him who was boss, because he quickly changed his mind and said he’d take us. We didn’t speak on the way back, and I was careful that Sibyl didn’t put her face or head anywhere near him. He was helpful with his directions when we got out of the car, and we weren’t expecting that.
We met a friend for dinner in a lovely Italian restaurant, had a couple of drinks in the hotel bar and all sat chatting in our room for a while before she went home.

We didn’t stay around Belfast long after breakfast on Sunday. It was frustrating not really knowing my way around much, because the weather was great and I’d have like to have walked more with Sibyl. There is a park with grrass close to the hotel, and it took a bit of practice for Sibyl to find the lights, even though it wasn’t too complicated at all. The location of the lights are different in Northern Ireland. They aren’t very consistent which is annoying. Sibyl wasn’t trained to locate the button like O.J was, but I’m teaching her how to do it because it’s very useful. This weekend reminded me that I need to find reasons to go to Derry regularly and practice this with her. Our town just isn’t busy enough.

So there’s just one other birthday celebration to go. That is the Bruce Springsteen ticket I managed to find and by for myself. Because of course you should always buy yourself a present too, right?! The concert is this weekend, and to say I’m excited is an understatement!!

Glen Hansard, Belfast

Seeing Glen Hansard and the frames seems to be an annual pre-Christmas tradition for me at this stage. It was great to see them in Belfast this year, as its one of my favourite places. I’d never been to the refurbished Ulster Hall before, they’ve really turned it into a great venue!

The support Act, Seti the First weren’t the most exciting band I’ve ever seen, but I did like their cello playing!

When you hear Glen Hansard, and if you didn’t know any better, you’d imagine it to be a solo gig, but in fact there were, I think eleven people on stage, six more than the usual Frames band. This made it sound fantastic, very different to anything I’ve heard before, largely due to the addition of a trumpet in a lot of the songs. Naturally Glen played a lot of songs from his solo album ‘rhythm and repose’, which I’ve enjoyed listening to much more since hearing these songs live.

The band played:

You Will Become

Talking With The Wolves

Philander

Love Don’t Leave Me Waiting – Respect (Aretha Franklin)

Low Rising – Here Comes the Night (Van Morrison)

When Your Mind’s Made Up – with the audience singing along

Bird of Sorrow

Leave

Lay Me Down

Astral Weeks** (Van Morrison) – Smile** (Pearl Jam)

High Hope

Movin On

Santa Maria

Revelate

Where Is My Mind (Pixies)

Song of Good Hope – to the most silent, respectful audience I’ve ever heard in Belfast

Encore:

This Gift

Hey Day (Mic Christopher) – Glen quietly sang the chorus unaccompanied. The audience joined in and I think he intended playing the whole song later, but it never happened!

Don’t Do It (Marvin Gaye/The Band)

Falling Slowly – He broke a string during this, but not even during Astral Weeks! 😀

Fitzcarraldo

Passing Through (Leonard Cohen)

This was the perfect end to a great, almost two and a half hour set. Glen and the band walked around the venue, with the audience singing along. I think it could have turned into a very long night if the venues 11 PM curfew wasn’t so strict.

I love introducing new people to The Frames live shows, so it was great that they managed to impress my boyfriend! We spent the evening with a few friends I hadn’t seen in a while. When we went to the pub for a drink with them, ‘star star’ came on, and a big cheer indecated that we weren’t the only people in the pub who had been to the gig!

Another reason why the night was so enjoyable was how well our guide dogs were looked after. When I contacted the Ulster Hall to enquire about having the dogs watched during the gig because it would be too loud for them, they weren’t too keen at first. Nicky suggested I email them to outline in writing exactly what I wanted and how little work it would be. The staff, Zoe in particular couldn’t have been more helpful and friendly to us and the dogs.

We stayed in Benedicts hotel because I knew they’d be good with the dogs too, and its usually the best value hotel in Belfast. They gave us the wheelchair accessible room, which had lots of space. It also had two dog bowls and beds for the dogs on the floor, so we were very impressed! Every member of staff we met (and there were a lot of them) was so helpful and polite.

Other venues and services could learn a lot from the management of Benedicts hotel and the Ulster Hall. I hope they all have a lovely Christmas, because the staff members we met all did their businesses proud last weekend.