Abroad for a Fortnight In the U.K.

It’s great to be home again, Thursday 20 April 2017; there was a lot that happened between wheels up on our departure flight and wheels down upon our arrival. There were aches and pains; there were friends to reunite with and after two weeks, greetings and goodbyes to be said.
In the summer of 2016 the plans for our 2017 reunion were being discussed. This would be our third Titanic reunion after meeting the first time in the middle of the North Atlantic in April 2012 (see banner in my photo below).

The focal point that created this meeting began in 1909 in Belfast. Harland and Wolff decided they needed to build a ship that could compete with the Cunard Line ship builders. Traffic across the North Atlantic was busy, and profitable, with commerce between London and New York, specifically the Southampton docks, where people and goods shipped out travelling along this route. It was a proverbial “expressway” of traffic. Many ships passed eastbound liners going westbound, and westward going eastward. There was money to be made. Competition was keen.
Thus, it was imagined that Titanic could capture some of this business, so the largest ever moving object on earth was conceived. At the Thompson Dry Dock in Belfast, the colossus began (see my photo below).

The legendary liner Titanic was “unsinkable” and luxurious at an enormous size of 882.5′ in length. Her less famous sister ship, the Olympic, was a twin with only minor details to the trained eye to tell them apart. Much like identical twin children, where only the parents can tell one from the other. The Olympic (more later about this ship) survived her twin by many decades, since the largest liner ever launched, at that time, sank on her maiden voyage in 1912. Then the legend began. Books have been written, stories have been passed down by survivors, and recently movies have attempted to create this voyage. Some movies are better than others, but the real details are impossible to capture. Our small group of “Titanoraks” carries this event along with their connections and their interests—we meet every few years. We also get to meet those who have very personal stories of their relatives who went down with the Titanic. Ceremonies are held annually on 15 April (the date of the sinking).
William McQuillan, a stoker on the Titanic, his photo seen here tenderly held by my sweet wife Sheila Byron, as his granddaughter paused by his name on the memorial wall. This photo and the memorial service will have more details when we get to next week’s adventures in Ireland.
Our meeting in Alnwick (pronounced Ah-nick), England on Friday, 7 April 2017 was the start of our reunion for the 2012 North Atlantic meet up. We were tired since we had left Atlanta at 11:00 pm the evening before (Thursday 6 April 2017) and it was now 5:30 pm Friday 7 April 2017. The real adventure begins on Day Two.
We were talking and hugging, shaking hands and reuniting at The White Swan hotel. So many things to catch up on and time would accelerate, or seem to, for the next two weeks. People were arriving from Australia, Germany, Denmark, the Netherlands, Canada, across America, Scotland, Ireland and Northern Ireland. Thirty eight different stories and news bits to catch up on. Some of those who arrived earlier in the day visited an antique book store. They were the group who lived in the U.K. Our travel from the “the colonies” as I refer to America, didn’t allow us to spend the middle of the day in Alnwick.
We are now back down from our room and checked in for several days. It is time to meet up to lay out our evening, and an outline of the next several day’s outings. Our co-leaders are both doctors (Phd’s) and highly organized retirees. (We raised a few glasses and toast you now for all of your hard work!)

We have already received several detailed emails, but I’m sure our guides want to make sure everyone’s on the same page. You will see what I mean once we get into day two of our journey—when our first excursion is under way! Looking back now, two weeks later, I don’t know how we kept up. He’s like a former drill instructer—we were told, “Muster in the meeting room by the dining room at 5:30 sharp!!” What have we booked, an exercise routine or a fun time sight seeing? We shall see.
Dinner is at 7:30 pm, and with my tux on and my lovely wife dressed-to-the-nines, we hit the hotel bar first for some aperitifs—whisky and beer. Sitting down will be a welcomed event tomorrow, and this evening is a grand time. We have no clue how much walking is in store, but there is a well planned and tightly scheduled agenda. Tomorrow will be a castle and gardens tour.
Day Two of Our Adventure. A tour (walk about) of Alnwick, after a French themed breakfast at 8:30am Saturday 8 April 2017. I’m no longer hungry but far from full. My, but we really wanted to sleep in; we got very little sleep on the 8 hour flight over the “pond”, plus we lost five hours travelling eastbound. C’est la vie!
I put on my old reliable walking shoes and I met with my smoking pals out front of our hotel. I even met a few other “vapers” out front—we are glad we quit the cigs! One of my smoking pals vaped AND rolled his own. Impressive.

Afrer a brief time our guide and his wife came out front with iPad in hand and mustered us out and our adventure began. Viewing the photo above, we went to the left from the hotel. A group of 38 of us, with the senior members trailing at the end of the “parade”…
There were townspeople around walking dogs and shopping. It was a lovely Saturday morning, a bit brisk but the walking did keep us warm.
Our first stop was an open-air market. Very busy. I noticed one vendor was selling a large varity of nice boots, and, not being too adroit at converting £ to $, I decided to pass up making any purchases. Both my suitcase and Sheila’s were loaded to British Airways weight limit. No room for an extra sock! We decided before we left home not to bring back “trinkets”.
The fresh air was nice, the olde shoppes and narrow streets being left-hand drive were a constant source of amusement and interest. I can’t imagine what the locals must have thought of this troupe going about their quiet village so early in the morning.
Our first planned stop was several blocks away, but we still managed to have several people on either side of the narrow streets, looking in store windows and taking photos—only one “real” camera used the rest were smart phones.

Did I mention there were lots of planters along the streets with beautiful flowers? Quite a lovely town, or village—not sure which.
Turning the last corner, several blocks later, we arrived at an amazing castle! Everything in the area is old, but this place is ancient. Alwnick Castle. Home to Harry Potter films and the Downton Abbey television series. Wow!

My wife and I are delighted to offer you a very warm welcome to Alnwick Castle, which has been my family’s home for over 700 years. It is an important part of British heritage; its walls are steeped in history and filled with tales of warfare, romance and chivalry. We very much hope that you enjoy your visit to our special home.– Ralph Percy, 12th Duke of Northumberland Alnwick Castle
No photos allowed inside, but the link above will give you plenty of details and photos.
The luncheon served in the castle café was a pleasant time to sit down briefly. Then outside to the courtyard and a vaping break combined with chatting up an elderly local chap and meeting a very interesting tour guide. During all of this there was a lovely wedding party with their family collecting up to go into the outside courtyard area of the castle grounds. Beautiful!
Our castle guide, Leslie Enos, met Frederick Fleet in 1961, a mere 4 years before this Titanic survivor would die. He was so amazed and lucky for this unique experience. He was so excited to tell us about his Titanic experience; he had never met one group of dozens of Titanoraks! Knowing that he personally met a surviving member of that ship who was in the crows nest on lookout 14 April 1912 was stunning!!

To cap off this day, we spent an hour just sitting in café chairs waiting on the younger members of our entourage to visit the Alnwick Gardens. I got as much fun watching families with their children walking around as they did, many of whom were eating ice cream cones from the outdoor restaurant. We were exhausted and knew it was still a hike to get back to our hotel! We were in an “energy saving mode”.

By 5:30 pm we were back at the hotel—worn out—and in yet another meeting. Our leader was laying out the next day’s activities and our evening dinner plans and sampling a local distiller’s wide variety of tasty products. The best gin you ever tasted is my only memory; but I was in need of a Guinness or a whisky. Off to the bar! Another lovely dinner at 7:30 pm, constant visiting anong tables and discussing our day and our reunion. Then, as customary, back to the bar for “dessert” and then off to bed, perchance to dream? A five hour time change does strange things to ones biorhythms.
Day Three of Our Adventure (Sunday 9 April 2017). We are not going to ever get any sleep! Sheila is used to getting more than 8 hours sleep, but I’m not. I feel her pain, but she’s having a good time in spite of the routine and sore feet. We will learn when we get home that we actually lost a few pounds after all of this. The walking has been beneficial and my feet are holding up wearing dress shoes all day. On day one, of the many miles we would walk, my comfortable shoes came unglued. I got a little unglued as well, I look down at my left shoe and think a leaf is stuck between the sole and the shoe. That would not be the case. My shoe broke, and I thought I had tied off the leather string. Later I looked down and my entire shoe was nearly “blown up” and I was a mile from the hotel. Why did I decide not to buy those boots I saw earlier? I had to wear my formal dress shoes the rest of the two weeks.
It is too early to have to get down to the dining room and get something to eat and then be on the tour. The bus is ready to depart Sunday morning at 0830 hours—Sharp! No room service meal in this “joint”. They are very polite and service is very British and proper. The accents and phrases they use are so quirky, and so is their food. No American fried bacon with your eggs, beans and sausages and ham-like bacon are their staples. A fry-up-full-british-breakfast includes potatoes and toast, eggs, and I don’t know what all.
We are on the bus and ready promptly. We depart at 8:30 am for a 90 minute ride to the Open Air museum. The countryside in eastern England is quite lovely; a lot of farms, sheep, and mostly small farm houses. Not one trailer (Mobile-Homes) like you see in farm areas of America.
This photo is the Turbinia, launched in 1894. What you see is the original ship, not a model, although it has been repaired and re-painted. It was the fastest ship of that day.

Our bus trip to the River Tyne for our next stop is not too far away. This is going to be a treat—no walking (or swimming), just a three hour boat ride with lunch and beer or wine.
After parking the bus, it is a short walk to cross this unusual bridge. It raises up for taller ships and blinks like an eye. It is in the up position in this photo. Here’s a short video: https://youtu.be/dkjY6COhR0Q

After another short bus ride we are at Trinity House. This beautiful building dates to 1803, but the guild which occupied it dates all the way back to 1514 under King Henry VIII. I told you everything around here was ancient.

Back to Alnwick for dinner and visiting the bar. Again. Tonight we get to relax, we didn’t walk all day!! We don’t even need to wear formal clothes for dinner. As usual, our table-mates have varied from night to night and the days adventures plus discussions about Titanic are ever present. The dining room is significant and for every night the entire dining room is reserved for our group.
Why is this dining room so special to us? It is literally identical to the first class dining room on the Titanic—it is the actual wood and fixtures rebuilt from when the Olympic was scrapped out in 1936. White Swan Hotel, Alnwick shown here.

After dinner we regroup in the bar for more visiting and yet another round of libations to ease the aches and pains of our day.
Day Four of Our Adventure (10 April 2017). This is the the fifth anniversary of our group sailing out of Southampton on our Titanic Memorial Cruise. Our last day has arrived. We are settled into a routine. We’ve gotten to know our driver Brian. We are a tightly knit group, but at the end of today I will come unwound. Profoundly!
Another bus trip and we have a 0730 Monday muster in the front lobby. Everyone is ready for a great day. Shown below is the oldest wooden warship in the British Navy. The HMS Trincomalee, launched in 1817. Still afloat but permanently docked here for visitors it is our first stop after an hour ride south of Alnwick.
I can’t imagine any crew members over 5′2″ being below deck; that’s about the total headroom. I got tired of bending down once our tour guide led us down there and truly back in time. The canon was interesting but I can’t imagine firing those guns in such a small place. I probably ruined my own hearing while in the military—I can’t imagine being able to hear after a sea battle! The living conditions for a long time under sail must have been brutal. I can see why sailors drank so much and swore so much when seen at port!

We all get loaded back on to our travelling home, and a short jaunt to an inn for a spot of lunch. Sandwiches and tea. Beer or other spirits for those who wish to take a wee nip and sit outside to have a “smoke” or “vape”.

The story of the Sheperd and Sheperdess is quite historic.
shepherdbeamish The [S]hepherd & [S]hepherdess pub and Holly House were built in the 18th Century, but were altered in the late 19th century. The pub is decorated with two life-sized painted lead figures of a Shepherd and a Shepherdess.
The Figures are said to date from the Napoleonic wars (1796-1815) when England’s armaments and munitions capability was restricted by a French blockade on lead. As part of clandestine measures to import the metal without detection, lead works of art were commissioned abroad. One of ten pairs of figures brought from the continent to be melted down for weaponry, the Shepherd and Shepherdess, escaped their intended fate when the squire of beamish Hall purchased them. Firstly, installed above the entrance to the Hall, they were later moved to the lawn when a storm destroyed the accompanying figures of a dog. Sometime in 1870, according to local legend, the squire was returning home after a night’s drinking and stumbled on the figures in the dark. The experience was such a shock that he gave the pair away to the inn at Beamish. Thereafter the pub was known as the Shepherd & [S]hepherdess Inn.
Having finished my lunch and a chat outside with fellow Titanoraks, I took my empty Sheperd & Sheperdess glass back in to the bar. I asked the owner/bar keep, “Do you have a web site?” He replied he did, and I inquired, “Might I be able to purchase a glass like this?” as I held up my empty pint. “No,” he replied, “let me give you this clean one to take home…” I was gob-smacked, as they say! (Foot note: The clean one made it safely home to The Colonies! The one shown below was exchanged for the free one)

The Beamish Village was our afternoon stop before heading back to Alnwick. This village recreates life as it used to be. A trolley ride. Beer stop at period pub complete with an off-tuned piano. Quaint. Cold beer.

After an hour ride, some closing remarks about the past few days travels, we would be ending our fun and mostly uneventful—well planned trip to Alnwick. As we arrive at the parking lot behind the hotel we say thank you to our great tour guide Brian. He was prompt getting us to our places, and we were very pleased.
We traipse back to our hotel, a bit sad about this part of our trip being over so soon, but excited about the Gala Dinner planned for our closing day at the White Swan.
I enter our wee bar for a pint with the group. As I am slowly sagging into my lounge chair, I look at the table… “WHERE’S MY iPHONE!!!!!” Not in my jacket pocket zipped up! “Do you have my iPhone Sheila!!” My eyes dart about the table for my phone, and to the others with me. As my heart races, and my face goes ashen, “I need to call BRIAN!!!” I bolt out of my chair and run to the parking lot only to find the bus gone…the only think I can hear in my head is ”I left my #%@& phone on the bus!!”
Arriving at the front desk in shock and panting, and after calling Dr. Telford in his room from the front desk getting Brian’s cell number; I leave him a hasty voice message pleading my case when he doesn’t pick up. The taxi the desk clerk called for me arrives after an eternity.
The 5 minute trip to the bus barn took an hour—so it seemed. Arriving at the bus location I confirmed the bus was there. Locked!! My mind now in full turmoil!! I see a sign on the building next to the bus, “OFFICE”. After entering the door I see another sign with an arrow pointing up which says “OFFICE” and I read as I run past it and taking two steps at a time! “Hello? HELLO???” No one there, so I go loping down the stairs and outside—confused and having no idea of what’s next—I look over at my taxi waiting and I see Brian coming around the corner!!. My iPhone in his extended hand. My ears went deaf. My mind overloaded! What did he say? I guess he got my voice message before I arrived at the bus barn. I am now aware and explain to Brian, “Tomorrow, early, we fly to Belfast! Our e-tickets are on that phone. My credit card in in the wallet-case with the phone. Thousands of photos, documents, etc etc my electronic-life lives there! You are a Saint, Brian!” I think that’s what I said. My mind collapses as I climb back in to the taxi.
“I got it!!!” I exclaim as I enter the bar with the “trophy” held over my head as if I’d won an Olympic event. (Irony intended) My pint of Guinness is still as I left it. Gulp gulp, I down my pint. That is also another first; I normally savor “me Guinness “.
Calm down…I once was unwound, but my phone was found and now I’m going to hang around. “Another wee pint please!!…”
Tonight is our grande finale, formal, live music, singers, and a wonderful dinner. To cap off the evening there is a quiz to work on. Each table gets a 40 question test to answer. The most correct group answers entry wins a prize. Here’s some sample questions. Our group missed with about 12 answers wrong! It was not a very easy test as you see from this image:

The evening just flew by. We all agreed, “We need to begin planning for our 2019 reunion. Liverpool to Southampton, then across to Cherbourg, France. The days of the week in 1912 and 2019 match up—the dates in April will be even more significant.”
Once the good byes were said it was one last trip back to our room. Up the stairs, through a small hall way and then through a door, a right turn down a short hallway, another door and a short flight of stairs then a final door and right turn to our room on the left. Nothing like an old fashioned board house-hotel.
Day Five of Our Adventure. (Tuesday 11 April 2017)
This morning is bright and crisp as a few of us gather out front where we met on Friday. It seemed like yesterday, but the memories we packed into this lovely area in and around Newcastle, England will be reviewed time after time for the rest of our lives.
Taxi with Claire, Denis, Sheila, Maureen and me to the airport. We will be in Ireland in a few hours. The flight to Belfast was a non-event, no tour guide needed. Relaxing actually. A routine flight across the Irish Sea and an invitation to visit with the Nightingales in their home. A change of pace to kick back and watch TV and chat. Sleep in and or stay up late. Refreshing our bodies!
Day Six of Our Adventure. (Tuesday 12 April 2017). A tour of the Dark Hedges, “Game of Thrones” television series. We also drove through several very typical Irish seaside villages.
Day Seven of Our Adventure. (Thursday 13 April 2017)
We leave for Cobh, Ireland early today, but our only schedule is…no schedule, just arrive in the coastal city at the southern end on Ireland. Lovely country, all motorway or dual-carriageway. The direction signs are in Gaelic, unpronounceable for my wife and I, and in English.
We met for lunch met with those who were already in Cobh. The choice of the Bunnyconnellan was a perfect relaxing spot overlooking the Atlantic Ocean on Cork Island near the Titanic’s last port of call. It was not always easy to keep as many diverse agendas in sync but the view from the restaurant was lovely. You may have noticed by now, not a lot of clear blue sunshiny weather, but it keeps Ireland green!

We found our hotel in the heart of Cobh, Gilbert’s Bistro in the Square, walking distance from our other gathering place—the Titanic Bar & Grill.

It was next to the the sea, intimate and cozy. There were about 15 of us sitting at two tables set at 90° to each other. It was not easy to talk around the table sitting this way.

While out on the deck vaping, I met a fan of a Fox News show, “The Tucker Carlson Show”. This is definitive proof that the world is small!!
The spectacular sunset seen above was my favorite photograph I made of the 200+ I took!
The old Titanic pier, long ago abandoned, was also right here at the restaurant.

Day Eight of Our Adventure. (Friday 14 April 2017)
Outdoor café breakfast. Good Friday found nearly nothing open.
On our way back to Belfast stopped at a small inn for a toilet break and it was unusual. The display in the lobby area indicated this was a fun place after dark.

Day Nine of Our Adventure (Saturday 15 April 2017). A memorial service at Belfast City Hall. A visit to a local pub, Claire, Sheila and I. So much fun to be in Belfast, our second visit to this city.
The memorial service very moving, as it was in 2014. We met two relatives of stokers who died in the sinking of the Titanic. So sad to be so bear to the real people who lost relatives. The movies about that disaster can never connect you personally to the common citizens whose lives were torn apart. May they Rest In Peace…
A dander found us at a wee pub; here’s Sheila chatting with Claire (not in photo).

Day Ten of Our Adventure (Sunday 16 April 2017). A day off but it is Easter Sunday
Day Eleven of Our Adventure (Monday 17 April 2017). Easter Egg hunt with the Nightingale family. What an honor!!! Dinner at Del Toro steak house.
Day Twelve of Our Adventure. (Tuesday 18 April 2017). Claire drives us a short distance to Belfast International Airport. Goodbyes are said and we will not see anyone we know until we arrive in Atlanta two days later.
Always sad to look back on an adventure after looking forward to it for over a year!
The airport isn’t busy in the middle of the week. It sure is relaxing to know that our next flight in England isn’t until tomorrow—phew. We remember the rush trying to maintain a running pace getting to our next (connecting) flight!
Day Thirteen of Our Adventure. (Wednesday 19 April 2017). A day relaxing at our hotel, breakfast and a 5 minute walk to the Newcastle airport for lunch. We flew to London and checked in to yet another hotel. A bit expensive but time for a light snack and relaxation.
Day Fourteen of Our Adventure. (Thursday 20 April 2017). We had time for lunch at the airport. We had time to watch people. We read the newspaper. We leisurely got to the gate and ready to be home!
Back in America. What a trip!!! The leisurely trip home with two overnights; a lot of relaxed time in two airports (Newcastle and London) made our journey stress free. No rushing about through security lines, no time stresses. This pace made for a time to reflect, eat and enjoy adult beverages, and people watch. Our British Airways flight was actually fun. Coach seats aren’t that bad, even though we were in the back of the plane with some colorful hoi poloi. The flight was smooth and relaxing until about five hours in to the eight hour conclusion of our trip. Clear air turbulence. CAT can be as scary as flying through dark and menacing thunder clouds. We were buffeted for an hour. Not severe, but continuous. In front of us was an older couple, and “the missus” was very religious from my view three seats abaft. During the shaking and banging of the plane (a 777-300), she began to raise her hand and point heavenward with highly animated gestures. Her pleadings with The Lord finally prevailed and her admonitions were granted! The flight continued on smoothly—finally. Sometime later I decided to use the toilet and it looked like a goat had been sacrificed in there! What a friggin mess. Different folk react differently to crises; some pray, some destroy the toilets!!!
Great journey. It will take weeks to totally unwind!!! Hated to leave y’all but love to be home. Life is always about living in the “middle”—between the peace and love of friends and the great unwashed masses on the other extreme.
From the “middle”, a very serene place. Thanks for reading…to the end of this reunion. 2019 is getting closer every day! See y’all then.
It’s great to be home again!

Titanic Memorial Cruise Belfast Reunion 2014

Chapter 1

TMC Reunion 2014, Belfast, Northern Ireland

Friday 18 April 2014
It was with heavy hearts and much sadness, with a long goodbye, that we left Northern Ireland just now.

image

Leaving Belfast

As the wheels went up on our plane, leaving George Best City Airport, we looked back on those few days with many many warm memories. We could never have imagined this trip as it now lives in our memory.

Thinking back to when we arrived at our new international terminal, where we set out from on 9 April 2014 in Atlanta, Georgia, ready for a lifetime adventure. It was 6:00 PM and the security and ticketing was much smoother than we expected. Time for dinner, and then wait to board our British Airways flight to London.

It is never easy to sleep on a plane, but we tried. It reminded me of Christmas Eve as a child, you fight sleep thinking about what the morning would bring.

I woke up somewhere over the North Atlantic several hundred miles before we saw land.

The Irish coast was as pretty as we imagined. Green open pastures and small farm houses. We were going to be over Ireland for a little while as we headed for London.

The London airport was noisy and crowded. Very much like any airport New York City, except they all drive on the left. We never got used to seeing that.

After some shuttling around through a rat maze of buildings and tunnels, we got from our arrival terminal to our departure terminal.

More waiting.

Leaving London behind, we headed north back over some of the same terrain we had just travelled over, but with anticipation growing as we got closer and closer to where we would spend the next 10 days.

Claire met us and made our short trip to our temporary home very easy. After a few hugs we were ready to head to the Ramada Encore. Again, as I got in the front seat, it felt awkward to see the steering wheel on my right as I sat where I sit when I drive. Weird. But we were in Belfast, and didn’t care that it was raining just a little. Northern Ireland is the rainiest part of Europe, so we felt lucky that we never had to use our umbrellas.

The rain does make Ireland as green as you can imagine, especially in early April.

Sitting in the bar at our hotel, listening to someone singing Bob Dylan music, was not exactly what we imagined, as I drank my Guinness and Sheila drank her Stella (no Bud Lite!). The music was good enough though, especially after listening to the whine of those jet engines for 8 hours over the Atlantic and 1 1/2 hours over Ireland.

Now our on going chore we would never complete was the 5-hour time change! I kept reminding Sheila that as we drank our -nth beer it was only 9:30PM back home while it was 2:30AM in Belfast. We were told to stay up as late as possible the first night (or until they ran out of Guinness- which didn’t happen) to get on local time.

Chapter 2

Thursday 10 April 2014
Our first surprise met us in our room. It was dark and the lights would not turn on. A trip to the front desk made me feel stupid, I forgot you need to use the room key to activate the lights. But your room key could not help the bathroom situation—shower and loo area all common. No shower enclosure separated the bath from the loo, but a nice hot shower in the morning still felt good, even as I wondered if I was missing something as I missed about those lights earlier. Lovely people, the Irish are. I am proud that my mother’s parents are from Ireland.

Off to sleep— too tired and had a wee too many pints to battle this odd shower. Tis off to bed for me and Sheila. Tomorrow is an off day but the group of about 60 Titanaracs will be arriving.

Friday 11 April 2014
We have until 3:00PM to relax and get unpacked, sorted out and then our first adventure begins. What time is it? Should I be sleeping now? Why am I tired?

I am watching people in the Encore restaurant and looking at people as I drink my 3rd cup of black coffee. Sheila’s sleeping, but since I don’t know if I recognize this couple from the Balmoral or not.

Off to the room with coffee for Miss Sheila and get ready for our first tour on the River Lagan. It is not real warm, but it is damp and overcast. We didn’t come here for sunshine and beaches. Titanic is on our brains, and we expect there is no test when this trip comes to and end, so we will listen and pay attention.

image

River Lagan tour boat

There are about 11 of us leaving the hotel at 2:30 PM to find our way to the statue of a fish near the River Lagan and where our very small boat will carry us up and down the Lagan to see several Titanic landmarks. It is exciting, but the wind is biting, did I dress warm enough?

After some confusion (no one would admit they were lost or where the building was to buy our tickets) we made it through some construction and detours and it was nice to get inside.

The boat we climbed aboard was about 50′ feet long, all outside seating. Our Cap’n. navigated and explained the sights we were chugging past. We made our way past The Belfast Titanic Centre, the H&W cranes, the reconstructed bow section of the Titanic (for The Discovery Channel TV show), the Pump House and docks. All these would be visited individually over the next several days. This was a great boat tour and last a little over an hour, giving everyone a preview of our upcoming adventures. Our “den mother” Claire and her two assistants Maureen and Susie would see that all of us were organized and on time for each of all these trips down “memory lane”. Photos and excitement enough to last forever was in store.

image

Encore Hotel Bar

Back to the hotel for another round of refreshments for most of us, and a nap for others. Our adventure had begun, I was snapping a few photos and trying to sort out the myriad of sights, where we were, and pausing to think, “We are really really here in Belfast after waiting so long for this reunion!”

The meet and greet begins at 8:00 PM and we will then realize this trip is actually underway!

The name tags are great idea, since we didn’t meet everyone on Balmoral, even though we were on the same ship it was quite a large “place”. Lots of fun meeting people and putting names with faces and hearing their accents: German, Australian, Danish, Irish, British, Canadian, American, and Scottish.

Saturday we will be on our first bus trip, but for now, “All ees vell from zee bridge…” Time for a pint and off to bed by midnight. Leaving early tomorrow morning.

Chapter 3

Saturday 12 April 2014
Today is another early trip out and about. We better be assembled in the lobby by 8:45AM for our briefing and instructions for a visit to Thomas Andrews’ home, “Dunallen”. This is our first venture away from the centre of Belfast.

Mr. Andrews said goodbye to his wife Helen and his daughter Elizabeth on 2 April. The sailing date was delayed one day due to weather. He assumed he would return to his family after a maiden voyage to New York City. He was only 39, and had just recently celebrated his last birthday— 7 Feb.

We were greeted by Thomas Andrews (impersonator) who explained that our visit to his home was poorly timed. He was headed off to board the Titanic, which he explained to us was an amazing feat of engineering! He was quite charming but here is a video that might explain it better. Thanks to Mal Stocker-Jones for this great video and permission to re-publish! https://m.facebook.com/story.php?story_fbid=545471572239424&id=100003297593076

After about 45 minutes (?) we were back on the bus. Next stop was Comber. What a beautiful ride through some country before we arrived here. (We took Kings Road, A22)

We were greeted by several school children at the Thomas Andrews’ Memorial Hall. This lovely old building was now being used as a school and was Immediately across from an old linen mill. This was owned by the Andrews’ family and that was where they earned their fortune.

Andrews' Linen Mill (historic photo)

Andrews’ Linen Mill (historic photo)

The Andrews Mill papers comprise 544 volumes relating to the flax spinning mill in Comber, Co. Down, and 55 volumes pertaining to the various Andrews family farms and estates, Cos Down, Cavan and Kilkenny. Once the volumes had ceased to be of administrative use they had been placed in the attics above the mill offices for safekeeping and there they had remained relatively undisturbed. The archive was uplifted in its entirety from the attics during the summer of 1997, and transported to PRONI in two van loads. This massive business archive, perhaps one of the biggest in PRONI, provides a unique insight into the life not only of a major manufacturing company but a whole community.

The archive has been divided into two principal sections comprising: records of Andrew flax spinning mill, Comber (D4189/A-D); and farm books (D4189/E). Before describing the archive and the wealth of information recorded within it, it may be helpful to give a brief introduction of the family which created it. The Andrews family loom large in the history of the mill and of the town of Comber, which to a large extent is a mill village, dominated by the spinning mill which was the major source of employment in the town.” http://www.proni.gov.uk/introduction__andrews_mill_d4189.pdf

We will visit PRONI in a few days, but for now we shall return to our visit.

imageThe children were dressed in costumes representing various settings. A soldier, a bride and groom (two girls as they didn’t have enough boys). They had also made drawings and paintings. They had just performed “Joseph and His Technicolor Coat”. The children also made drawings of the Titanic. Very delightful welcome they gave us.

Thomas Andrews' home

Thomas Andrews’ home

Back on the bus and a trip to Thomas Andrews’ church, the Comber Non-Subscribing Presbyterian Church. It sits a short distance off the main road over looking a lovely valley. The view spread out along and in this valley was so pastoral and serene I hated to leave. The patches of different shades of green and the sheep grazing with those hedge-lined fields was photogenic. Typical of what anyone who has not been here would seen in a photo of Ireland. I am glad I had the opportunity to see this with my own eyes, and feel the wind in my face and smell the Earth. Beyond description.


On the vista side of the church is the Andrews’ family cemetary, with the memorial stone to Mr. Andrews who was lost at sea when the Titanic sank. It is a very peaceful place next to this quaint and small country church. The church does not tell the story of its famous congregants by merely looking at this modest building. Upon closer examination, the observant viewer is rewarded with several beautiful stained glass windows depicting scenes of the Andrews’ family.

After a few more photos of our group, followed by the ladies and gentleman of the church serving us tea. The custom of an afternoon tea is quite nice, and I could get used to this practice…

We were soon back on the coach after a short walk. The driver had been kind enough to move the coach closer to the church while we are, so our return walk was shorter. It would be a short drive to our next stop.

We arrived at the Ulster Folk and Transport Museum for our final stop of the day. The museum was dedicated Titanic, old cars, and trains. Lots of walking here. Several levels needed to house all odd these displays. We all went past the rains and cars, the Titanic was our focus. Wow!

We all enjoyed the Titanic displays, but we had already done a lot of walking, so I know Sheila and I were a wee bit tired. The scale model of the Titanic sinking which showed how many perished and how many survived based on classes was interesting. A shame Conor Clarke will need to call them to discuss a few things: I think he said the bow was too high out of the water at this point in the sinking and there was not enough starboard list to the ship. It was still a dramatic depiction of that event where we all sailed together to, 24 months ago, on the Balmoral out on the cold dark North Atlantic.

Time to get back on the coach and head back to the bar- I mean the hotel…

Chapter 4

Sunday 13 April 2014
9:15 AM the coach leaves for the Belfast Titanic Centre, time for a 3 hour walk around and then Tea at 1:00 PM followed by the Titanic Grand Staircase group photo.

Belfast Titanic Centre

Belfast Titanic Centre

I must relate that by this point in our visit everyone knows that we had better be on time. Miss Claire gives us our orders, but Susie report around midday concluding that, “… and from zee bridge, all ees VELL!”

The Belfast Titanic Centre is an amazing piece of architecture— depicting the bow of the Titanic as the four corners of the building. There is already a crowd here touring this collection of Titanic memorabilia. There are nine interactive galleries. http://www.titanicbelfast.com/The-Experience/The-Galleries.aspx

Walking all over this place is a real treat, which we are told will conclude at 12:45PM sharp on the 5th floor. There would be a group photo and many selfies made on the grand staircase. The clock reads 2:20, and was the center piece of lots of photos. We had a group photo made here and then we had lunch— but not before one of several surprises.

I was told by Maureen that, “someone wants to see you!” This fellow sticks a video camera in my face and starts by asking me a question or something. Before he gets very far I realize it is Craig Lee! What the…!!! He was only able to attend our reunion for 2 days and sneaks into our tea hiding behind a video camera. It was great to see my photo-running mate from the Balmoral. He had already surprised Claire. The video is on the TMC 2014 video page. Very well kept secret, and quite a nice surprise.

Some tea, pastries and sandwiches were very delicious. My feet needed some rest too. Then we were all ordered to gather on the staircase for a group photo. Sort of like “herding cats” as they say, but we behaved long enough for several “snaps”. Now, time for all of us to photograph each other on the staircase, make some selfies and generally clown around.

Now to go back out to the bus. It was a short ride to the Hamilton Dock at 3:00 PM for a tour of the SS Nomadic. This was something many were really anxious to see.

image

S.S. Nomadic

Nomadic was built as a tender ship for the Titanic. The ports were not designed for ships as huge as the Titanic and this ship was a H & W built beauty. http://en.m.wikipedia.org/wiki/SS_Nomadic_(1911) Nearly the same age as the Titanic, her keel (#422) was laid 22 December 1911 while the Titanic’s was laid 31 March 1909 (#401).

This was like being transported back in time. Some of the people that were on Titanic’s maiden voyage, for example Molly Brown.

H & W Drawing Offices. Tour and another iconic photo event. This was another “time-travel moment”. Walking into this cavernous building and visualizing all the drafting tables in place and the design of the Titanic being put into construction plans. From this room came the life of the Titanic, as those workers from Belfast would put iron and steel to life into Thomas Andrews’ ideas.

Back to the Encore, and Claire gives us our briefing for when where and what for the next day. We better pay attention and report promptly. She will call names and check her list…counting noses so she has all her “peeps”.

…It was a very good day…as Frank Sinatra once sang!

Chapter 5

Monday 14 April 2014
By now we all know the drill. Wear comfy shoes, get a good nights rest, and eat a good hearty breakfast.

image

Thompson Dry Dock (H&W)

We are going to the H & W dry dock where the Titanic was “fitted out”. Remember this ship was over 882 feet long, so the dry dock is a massive piece of construction. Everything about the Titanic is gigantic. Largest ship ever built, so imagine this ship floated into a dock and set down on steel and wooden blocks so that it could be built after the hull and keel were constructed.

We walked from one end to the other, staring in wonder and in amazement at the scale of this dock! We were shown photos taken from where we were down in this cavern and could most visualize this ship in front of us.

This physical labor (non-mechanized) that was done to build this ship, the sheer muscle power was staggering. But, as the tee shirt says, “She was ok when she left HERE!” she was an engineering marvel, grand and opulent like none before her, nor since.

We made a short drive to visit PRONI (the Public Records Office Of Northern Ireland). Not just any public government office, but a very secure, and as it happened, a very interesting repository of documents. They are all searchable and printable. You can find out about property, marriages, deaths, public information galore— but also an abundant amount of Titanic memorabilia. Stunning glimpses into the letters, news articles, photos, and everything you ever wanted to see about this ship. If was built not far from this beautiful building. You can see the H & W cranes (Samson and Goliath) from the building, they make an interesting reflection on the building.

Before we were able to get Into the secured part of the records area we had to lock up all of our belongings in a locker. No phones, cameras, pencils erasers, pens, etc allowed near the documents.

We filled out a form and got our photo taken by a polite clerk, just like you would if you were getting a drivers license.

The document tour was great and we spent over an hour here. Exciting!

Albert's Tower

Albert’s Tower

A short Walking Tour of the downtown was our next stop for some of us who didn’t have enough walking for the day. Aidan McMichael, Chairman of the Belfast Titanic Society was very informative. We saw where Thomas Andrews went to college, we saw the Europa Hotel to conclude our tour. This hotel was ground zero for “The Troubles” in the recent past. We are all grateful and hopeful all of that is PAST history never to happen again. We spent about an hour or so looking at landmarks and statues, places of interest all around the City Centre. Great history lessons and decent weather- no umbrellas needed.

The evening was dinner at a lovely place: Robinson’s Pub, and some pints of ale were had by many, including your humble author.

To cap the evening off we left the pub around 1:30 AM and walked to City Hall for memorial service. It was a short walk, but leisurely, we were sort of tired by now. We spent our time eating, not drinking.

The memorial service was respectful, somber and tearful.

We experienced the loss of Titanic this night, 102 years after the tragedy, as we did 2 years earlier on the North Atlantic—tears and song in the deepest respect. Their was a small chorus singing and there was also a small group of drunken young people milling about. Not much different than the screaming that must have been heard from the lifeboats in 1912 as survivors rowed away from the Titanic; the darkness and the cold waters drowning so many lives, and dreams.

We took a cab to hotel around 3:15 AM. We would return later on this morning for another official memorial ceremony. It was a long day and part of the next day before we were finished with paying homage to so many lost souls!

Chapter 6

Tuesday 15 April 2014
We have a public ceremony today at City Hall. There will be press coverage, politicians and photogs, reporters and the general public watching this event. Time for flowers, wreaths, and more tears.

Amy & Maurine at City Hall memorial

Amy & Maurine at City Hall memorial

The Belfast City Hall encompasses an entire city block. It is a magnificent building, and we will see only a fraction of it. What we do see is opulent (Titanic-esque).

There are a few treasures to be seen here, but not until after a public recognition of the contribution and lives that Belfast people have invested in the memories of Titanic. Here, at the centre of Belfast’s government is the heart of Titanic’s story. Her citizens who built this ship, created her in steel and rivets. They spent nearly 3 years building and equipping her for what resulted in an extraordinarily brief life. From our first gathering of our band of Titaneracks until today was almost as long as Titanic’s time on the waters of Ireland and the North Atlantic. Her memory will live on well beyond our years, our descendants years, on into generations as yet unborn. We will do our part to strengthen and uphold this bond we feel towards Belfast and her Titanic. Forever.

There are interviews, photos, prayers, proclamations, politicians and clergy involved in setting aside this day as an honor to those lost in peril on the sea that night in 1912.

Chapter 7

Wednesday 16 April 2014
There are a few things to take away from this visit to “The Emerald Isle”: Memories of friends, the Titanic’s Legacy and all the world’s fascination of her, and her birth place. Titanic’s womb was in Ireland, her birth was in this magnificent place. The lovely people, the lovely country, and The Antrim Coast. I have been to Hawaii also, and I now know where Hawaiians go when the die and go to heaven. Ireland. What an amazing place we are about to cap off our visit to when we climb aboard our tour bus this final morning.

Tired and with little sleep after a very long day, Claire rounds up her charges one more time. We are going to live to tell about seeing heaven. Stupendous.

Supercalifragilisticexpialidocious

The roots of the word have been defined[4] as follows: super- “above”, cali- “beauty”, fragilistic- “delicate”, expiali- “to atone”, and -docious “educable”, with the sum of these parts signifying roughly “Atoning for educability through delicate beauty.” According to the film, it is defined as “something to say when you have nothing to say”. [wiki]

We will see scenes that defy our previous definitions of nature’s gloriousness. The green spring of Ireland is beyond description. We see little nameless hamlets as we are transported up the north east coast of Ireland and County Antrim.

It was these waters that we see out of the right side of our coach that carried Titanic away fro her birth home and into history and everyone’s hearts. Joy and sadness, commingled. Bonneybefore, Northern Ireland is stop #1. http://www.discovernorthernireland.com/Andrew-Jackson-Cottage-and-US-Rangers-Centre-Carrickfergus-P2801

The view from here would allow a glimpse of Scotland out across the Lough, but not today. A wee bit misty and hazy.

We were surprised to hear our guide report to those who were interested (your author and his wife!) that the HBO series, “Game Of Thrones” was filmed in this area. “If you will look to your left, she said, you will see some white buildings at the foot of those hills.” Many scenes were filmed right there along an old abandoned quarry. Dumbfounding. I was “gobsmacked!!” http://www.ireland.com/en-gb/articles/game-of-thronesGetting back on the bus, we would continue to notice spectacular coast lines, rocky sea cliffs and fishing boats in harbors. Cameras were a buzz and our guide would describe scenes that were noteworthy. I continued to be in wonder like the school kid I was decades and a lifetime earlier!

HBO's Game Of Thrones set location.

HBO’s Game Of Thrones set location.

image

A pretty irish country scene.


We passed old churches, rugby fields, pubs, shops; we saw first had with no scripts exactly how these simple people lived. No huge mansions or estates, but tiny row houses and cottages along the road.

We arrived at a place to pull off the road an take in the Irish Sea’s coastal view. We were near a town which I forget the name of at the moment, but we (me, anyway) shall continue on. Photo ops we evident and we all got out our smartphones and took loads if photos that would be shared around the world. There are 9 countries represented on this bus.

We continued westward along County Antrim’s coast and if was approaching meal time!

Bushmill's Distillery

Bushmill’s Distillery

Bushmill’s Distillery was granted a license to produce Whisky in 1608 (406 years ago). I tasted their Whisky and I know why they are still in business. Yummmm-EEEE!
This was our lunch stop: they have a restaurant here and the food was as good as their Whisky. The dining room was not fancy nor large, but it was a lovely break to enjoy, and build up our strength for the rest of our afternoons walk.

Giant's Causeway

Giant’s Causeway

The legendary Giant’s Causeway! If you haven’t seen it, the photos don’t do it Justice. Rocks! Huge boulders and oddly shaped stones
Strewn about— as if by a giant. The walk from the parking lot to the sea was about 1/4 mile. All down hill, I am wondering why such beauty is so hard to get to. I can walk down this hill, but can I and others walk back up? For a £ each the problem is solved. A wee bus runs back and forth, up and down this hill side. I decided to save time and ride back up the hill, but not before I saw some unbelievable scenic ocean views. Fortunately, nature was not cluttered by any signs of buildings, pasture fences. It was just like it had been for millennia. It was undisturbed, and not destroyed by man.

I left my mother’s ashes there, now at peace, she is home where her roots are. Ireland. By the seaside. R.I.P.

We had heard the story of how the giant of lore had created this place in a battle told by those who had heard the story passed down by generations whose bones are not even dust now. Fascinating place, but we have 2 more stops to make before we rest our weary bodies.

A 14th century castle and a rope bridge, over rocks and water- the Irish are clever lads.

Dunluce Castle

Dunluce Castle

The Dunluce castle has been old since before the Colonists settled in North America. It fell into the sea in 1639 during a storm, and has been abandoned ever since. http://www.discovernorthernireland.com/Dunluce-Castle-Medieval-Irish-Castle-on-the-Antrim-Coast-Bushmills-P2819

The Carrick-a-rede rope bridge is scary but beautiful. http://www.nationaltrust.org.uk/carrick-a-rede/

Carrick-a-Rede rope bridge

Carrick-a-rede rope bridge

For a few £ you can risk life and limb and cross this contraption. Pray that your knees don’t rattle your bones right off this device and into your demise and oblivion. Photos as proof were made by all (all of the others) who dared to cross. Some made their own photos, but all made it across and back- “shaken AND stirred” by the adventure to quote Mr. Bond.

Back to the Encore for libations and stories and posting photos to the internet. What a way to end a great visit. Well, not quite, but the organized part anyway.

Thursday 17 April 2024 was our day off. No travel plans, just a time to relax.

We decided even though it began to rain, we should walk next door to take a peek inside the cathedral next to our hotel. We saw the back of the church from our room and we went to take a look see.

St. Anne's Cathedral

St. Anne’s Cathedral

What a place! This cathedral was built in 1904, but the church dates back to 1776. it was a work of architectural wonder. Vaulted 125′ high ceilings, stained glass windows and candles lit all around. Time for my last selfie. Why not? http://www.belfastcathedral.org

http://en.m.wikipedia.org/wiki/St_Anne’s_Cathedral,_Belfast

Chapter 8

Saturday 19 April 2014
We are safely home. It is both sad and joyful. We had an almost uneventful trip home. The “almost” is what nearly happened and I did confirm it with the aircrew as we disembarked the plane in Atlanta.

It was a very bumpy ride almost from upstate New York flying south to Atlanta. As we approached Atlanta airport we descended through the clouds we were in and the bumping was over— almost. We were going about 150 mph (the 777 has a display at each seat) and the runway was in sight. As we touched down, it was obvious we were not landing level. The right wheels touched first and a second later the left wheels touched. THEN, it got interesting very fast. We veered to the right about 10-15° from straight down the runway. There were audible gasps and mumbling conversations heard as the plane shook as the crew fought back and bounced and quickly turned the plane back straight. We had briefly begun a skid heading off the runway. Everyone must have wondered if we were going to have a “bad” landing. We had a scary landing.

As I passed the crew a few minutes later on exiting I remarked to the three crew members, “Nice SAVE on the landing!” One crew member nodded towards another and said, “Thank HIM!” I said, “GOOD job!!” and he sheepishly grinned knowingly that it was correct. We skidded unexpectedly and he recovered nicely.

Home safe. Home sad. Home with a lifetime of memories.

Goodnight, Claire, Maureen and Susie, wherever you are. We are home but ready to return.

Chapter 9

Saturday 19 April 2014
We are safely home. It is both sad and joyful. We had an almost uneventful trip home. The “almost” is what nearly happened and I did confirm it with the aircrew as we disembarked the plane in Atlanta.

It was a very bumpy ride almost from upstate New York flying south to Atlanta. As we approached Atlanta airport we descended through the clouds we were in and the bumping was over— almost. We were going about 150 mph (the 777 has a display at each seat) and the runway was in sight. As we touched down, it was obvious we were not landing level. The right wheels touched first and a second later the left wheels touched. THEN, it got interesting very fast. We veered to the right about 10-15° from straight down the runway. There were audible gasps and mumbling conversations heard as the plane shook as the crew fought back and bounced and quickly turned the plane back straight. We had briefly begun a skid heading off the runway. Everyone must have wondered if we were going to have a “bad” landing. We had a scary landing.

As I passed the crew a few minutes later on exiting I remarked to the three crew members, “Nice SAVE on the landing!” One crew member nodded towards another and said, “Thank HIM!” I said, “GOOD job!!” and he sheepishly grinned knowingly that it was correct. We skidded unexpectedly and he recovered nicely.