Saturday, 19 August 2017

19th August 2017 - Ravello to Rome - Heathrow - Belfast - River Lagan - Hillsborough

Saturday 19th August 2017

Belfast hydrangeas are The Best!
54 degrees 30.063N
05 degrees 50.819W
Belfast, Northern Island

Hotel Parsifal from the road below
It seems we left our peaceful nest on the Amalfi coast, where it was around 30 degrees, and were suddenly in Belfast, where it is around 15…

Jetsetting!!  We caught a bus from Ravello at 7.30am and got to Salerno, after a beautiful drive along the coast – slightly less death-defying than the road from Sorrento to Amalfi.

A short trot through Salerno from bus stop to train station and we were on one of the fabulous speedy frecce trains, whizzing towards Rome.  (Just a teensy bit of bother when there seemed to be five people for the four seats 7-8, facing one another.  It seemed we would be sitting on knees until the nice young bloke opposite me re-read his ticket and saw he should have been in Carriage #9, not #7…Everyone was very civilised and polite about this.)

I love these trains.  They run exactly on time, whizz through the countryside, the seats are comfortable and…there are toilets! They are also very expensive but…speedy, efficient, clean!!

By midday we were in Rome and onto the metro, heading for – Tinkerbell!

At the door!
Tinkerbell is a very new and stylish airbnb accommodation place on the third floor of an old apartment building not far from Vatican City.

Pete, Manuela, Marguerite - Tinkerbell!
It is the brainchild of an effervescent and charming young chick called Manuela.  We loved her and this beautiful comfortable place.  One night was not enough!

In fact we weren’t even in Rome for 24 hours…

Pete cut a stylish figure outside the Borsalino shop...
We left the next morning at 8am in a car Manuela had organised – not our usual style at all!

But we crammed in a LOT of sightseeing!  First we went on a full circuit on the hop-on hop-off bus.  Always a good thing to do, a hop-on hop-off bus, although this one had a few problems.  Usually there is a good commentary over headphones.  This bus…the headphones didn’t want to work in English.  And then when they did work, there wasn’t much information at all, just a whole lot of very irritating (to me) music.  Maybe it was beautiful music but I go heartily sick of it.  I really did want to know what the great big stone wall on our right was sheltering, or what the large angels up ahead were for.  Also about havflway around the bus stopped and they made us all get off, saying we could get back on in one hour.  Well no; we wanted to do the full circuit and THEN get off.  Many disgruntled voices all around us but all was well; we found another one and hopped onto that.  It was more civilised and welcoming.

And really…how could anyone complain?  It was a beautiful clear blue-sky day – hot but glorious.

And Rome is simply magnificent.



I hadn’t wanted to go to any of the big cities, especially Rome.  I had heard so many stories of pickpockets, muggers, huge crowds.

But we were lucky.  There were indeed huge crowds around the major attractions.  Hard to get any sort of view of the Trevi Fountain, for example.

And the queues to get into the Vatican were immensely long and thick and wide.

But when we got off at last, near the Spanish Steps, we managed to ease our way though the crowd and then walk back to Tinkerbell with no problem at all.  Not a sign of beggars or thieves…but many MANY police and soldiers, heavily armed.  A teensy bit ominous…especially in light of what happened two days ago in Las Ramblas…everyone in the major European cities is on high alert.

We walked a long way through the narrow cobbled streets in the late afternoon light and admired this fabulous city very much.

We had dinner about 9.30pm in a small restaurant not far from Tinkerbell.  (It was not nice; the service was slow; I was very crabby because…9.30 is too late for me!!  But really, we have had nothing but beautiful service and beautiful food the whole time in Italy – had to expect at least one dud.)

So…the next morning into an elegant car and off to Fiumicino Airport.; So much easier than going by bus and metro as we had planned – thank you Manuela!

No problem on the plane.  We actually turned left…we had Business Class tickets because Pete had got them on frequent flyer points.  We had a delicious and elegant little lunch in our comfy seats, and were given fast priority access cards to whizz us through security in Heathrow. 

Ha!  So they said!  We had three and a half hours to get through business in Terminal #2, then we had to get onto an airport train to terminal #5. Plenty of time.  Except…not so much!!  There were only about 20 people ahead of us in our special priority queue but…it just didn’t move!  There was some sort of hold-up at the two passport counters.  A few people went through, but we timed it at about ten minutes for each person.  The queue started to get restive…people were going to miss their connecting flights.  Including us!!  Everyone was very nice and co-operative.  The people ahead of us let us get ahead of them, and we all let a nice young women get a bit ahead to try to catch her connecting flight to Los Angeles.  She had her small daughter in tow and was trying to not get frantic.  FINALLY it was our turn and…we didn’t get held up at the counter at all!  Stamp stamp, off you go!

Lock keepers cottage River Lagan
We rushed liked the wind, onto the airport train, along many kilometres (three, in fact, I counted on my iPhone step-counter!) but we still missed our plane.  We managed to make a few desperate phone calls to our kindly expectant hosts, telling them not to come to the airport until 8.30 instead of 5…

Greenery awaited us
We were a teensy bit stressed but…all was well and we soon found ourselves in the bosom of yet another lovely hospitable welcoming family.

The weather here in Belfast is a bit ghastly.  Chilly and drizzly, interspersed with a bit of sunshine and some heavy showers.  And the odd icy wind.

Liz and Pete
But…we are in a warm and cosy house with lots of delicious food coming our way.  Dessert every night…I am going to rollypolly away from Belfast!

Marguerite and Freddie
And Northern Ireland is just beautiful!  Maybe not Belfast itself.  Freddie and Liz took us on a drive around the sights.  All a bit depressing along the Shankill and Falls Road.  Lots of memories of violence and misery, and I think it is still going on, just a bit.  The Troubles…

We visited Stormont, the seat of government. The government is actually in total stalemate and shut-down.  They had an election in May, because the one last September didn’t do the trick.  And they got the same result.  Maybe they will have another election now, but the result will be the same and at the moment…nobody is governing Northern Ireland!   But…the sky is not falling…

Paint it black!!
Stormont was an interesting building, very impressive, set in beautiful parklands.  In World War II it was the centre for operations for a large part of the war effort.  But it was such a target – big, gleamingly white, set on a large cross-road which formed a perfect target.  Bombs away!  So they decided to paint it black…With tar, mixed with moss, to make it easier to clean off.  Except it wasn’t at all easy to clean off – it took thirty men working full time seven YEARS to get it back to its pristine whiteness!  But the tar and moss saved the building from destruction so no complaining!

Liz and I went on a beautiful walk along the tow path bordering the River Lagan.  It was breathtaking – SO green.  Wonderful green trees, little stone bridges, swathes of green grass.  I just loved it!

Mary Peters, gold medal decathlete 1972, much revered and admired here
Yesterday we went to a charming little village called Hillsborough to meet various members of our Irish tribe.

We ambled up and down the main street

paid a quick visit to the lovely lake

and then home again.

Not quite home...these are the gates to Hillsborough Castle, where the Queen stays!
So far loving Northern Ireland!

(By the way…I am very grateful we are travelling so light!  Just one small bag each. Mine weighs less than 7 kilos, Petes’ about 10.  It makes it possible for us to gallop from bus stop to railway station to airport terminal…)

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