I took a not so wee journey up north at the weekend for the first time and was blown away by all it had to offer.
As a thank you to my mother for her general amazingness over recent weeks keeping The Little Fella and The Whirlwind Princess entertained, I brought her along for the one night whistlestop tour. Despite (and maybe because of) growing up hearing about all of the atrocities in Northern Ireland on the news, I have to hold my hands up and admit that I know very little about its history. Like many 'southerners' my love of history travelled further afield to the great battlefields of Europe, Africa and Asia, as well as the Republic. And so it was that we arrived in the Titanic Belfast Centre on Saturday and got our first taste of Northern Irish history. The centre - which opened in 2012 - is located right beside the harbour which makes it all the easier to imagine the activity and the scale of the work involved in building 'the unsinkable' ship.
The centre is - in a word - magnificent. It draws you in with its personal stories and leaves you astonished in wide eyed admiration at the wondrous achievement of designing, building and launching just a few hundred metres away - the RMS Titanic, the pride of the city, into Belfast Lough.
The luxury Cunard Olympic class vessel by Harland & Wolff was something to behold and its legacy endures as reflected in the many films and works made about it.
Listening to the survivors' stories and reading press accounts of the days and weeks following the tragedy, which claimed 1,503 lives, was a truly moving and memorable experience.
Titanic Belfast extends over nine interactive galleries, with multiple dimensions to the exhibition, drawing together special effects, dark rides, full-scale reconstructions and innovative interactive features. No ocean floor stone is left unturned in this world class centre, which warrants half a day really, even if we only got to spend two hours there as we were rushing off to dinner at Home, which staved off the cold on a particularly chilly November night in this city of 300,000. The following morning we left our little rented house on Hillfoot Street in a typical snug and inviting Belfast suburban area and headed south, and having finally found our bearings, north, to the coast road, starting at Carrickfergus. The coastal road is a must. As you drive along you are practically flush to the wild tourquise and deep royal blue sea. Our destination was the Giant's Causeway, a place I've heard about since my days in primary school listening to tales of Fionn mac Cumhaill. For this leg of the journey I wished I had the little crew with me, but then the peace and quiet was enjoyable. Along the way I lost count of the amount of times my mother exclaimed 'Wow!' as we wound our way up the coast in glorious sunshine. We stopped at Carrick-a-Reede to see the rope bridge and drank in the spectacular views. Next the Giants Causeway Centre's basalt facade greeted us. Seamlessly integrated into the wildly romantic Antrim coast's rugged landscape, it was a sight to behold. The new audio guides were fantastic, as was our guide Chloe. Seeing the vertical ploygonal columns of solid basalt made the long trip up all worthwhile, even with the bone chilling cold to contend with. The centre is fantastic and great value at £11 a ticket. I was like a big child taking in the legended stories of Finn Mac Cool (as they call him up north) by the mighty rollers.
On the way back we had some wonderful seafood at The Plough Inn in Hillsborough to cap a wonderful weekend by the Irish Sea.