Ireland Part 1: Belfast

Day 1: Titanic Museum

Belfast’s greatest claim to fame comes from the fact that the Titanic was built here, so we woke up early and went to the Titanic Museum. The ship was almost designed, built, and tested in the same spot where the museum is located.

We spent 3 hours at the Titanic Museum. It started out talking about the city – their history of industry (linen spinning), immigration and ship building. How the ship was designed and commissioned in a world without computers. How they drew plans and built 3D models (they actually got a very large room and drew out the plan by hand with chalk).

The part of the museum talking about shipbuilding in Belfast transitioned nicely into how the Titanic was built. They had to demolish three other dry docks to make space for the Titanic’s size. Then it took them 2 years of building just to prepare to start building the Titanic. And then when the construction began they needed 15,000 men to build it. An interesting fact we learned was that the rivets (3 million in total) were mostly installed by hand. The rivets would be heated in an oven then thrown (melting hot steel rivets thrown up into the air, OSHA weeps) caught, then put into a pre-stamped hole in the steel. One man would stand on one side to hold it in place while two men on the other side (usually a right handed and a left handed man to go faster) would hammer it into place. 3 million of these. Workers often went deaf and suffered burns. But, the Titanic was the largest ship ever built, and it was the pride of Belfast.

The museum had a little “ride” where you were strapped into a cart and lowered into a “ship building experience.” Basically they just used heat lamps and speakers to show you how hot and loud the shipbuilding yards would’ve been, corny but really interesting.

After it was built it still needed curtains, carpet, bedding, etc. So the museum had samples of the exact linens, carpets etc (in the picture above). Nothing else made this feel more real than to see exactly what the berths looked like or to touch the exact carpet. Titanic stopped being just a ship that sunk and started being a real place where people had walked, worked and stayed.

Something else we found interesting was how much stuff went down. Yes the loss of life was tragic and intense, but the sheer number of things lost is mind-boggling. Again 832 passengers and 685 crew members died but let’s also talk about

  • 6 to 9 million letters (it was a registered mail ship) and between 700 and 800 parcel post shipments. Some people think it can/should be salvaged.
  • 40,000 eggs, 6,000 lbs of butter and 1,200 quarts of ice cream.
  • 29,000 pieces of glassware, 44,000 pieces of cutlery, 18,000 bed sheets,  45,000 napkins.
  • 15,000 bottles of beer, 1,000 bottles of wine and 8,000 cigars.
  • 3,500 lbs onions, 40 tons of potatoes, 800 bundles of fresh asparagus.
  • 250 barrels of flour, 1,000 loaves of bread, 2,200 lbs of coffee and 800 lbs of tea.
  •  415 tons of coal
  • 2 libraries worth of books
  • 1 photography dark room and equipment for their own on-board newspaper.
  • more lifeboat accommodation than was legally required at the time (16 wooden lifeboats and four collapsible-style lifeboats)

Anything valuable like old lady jewelry The Heart of the Ocean like from the movie?

  • 1 neoclassical oil painting La Circassienne au Bain valued at $2.4 million in today’s money
  • 1 1912 Renault Type CE Coupe de Ville car
  • 1 jeweled book valued at $50,887 in today’s money
  • 1 squash instructor. Seriously one employee on board was a squash instructor (the game, obliviously, not the food). I think it’s sad he was hired just to do that one thing and then… well. He died.

There was only a small section in the museum about the discovery and some films about its existence underwater. You could use computers to explore the wreck site – the most chilling of which was a pair of shoes laying where a body lay.

Afterward you could walk the length of the Titanic. Just to the rear of the museum (where the dock would’ve been) they painted lines to show where all the parts would’ve been. This takes a while to walk as it’s so big. Here is Chris showing how big the lifeboats would’ve been.

Onward. After the museum we went to lunch at Drawing Room 2  – named as such because it used to be the drawing room where they drew the Titanic plans (not where they drew it in chalk but where people designed things). We had a posh little lunch there (aka it was expensive and small). The hotel has the staircase that inspired the staircase, but we didn’t see it.

Did you think that was enough of a Titanic filled day? We didn’t think so either so we headed to the SS Nomadic. This is the only remaining White Star Line ship left afloat. It had a very obscure roll in the Titanic in that it ferried 274 additional passengers to the Titanic from Cherbourg. The Titanic left Belfast, picked people up in Southampton and then picked more people up in Cherbourg, France (then finally picked a few more up at Queenstown). Cherbourg didn’t have the dock size for such a big ship so the SS Nomadic ferried people on and off the Titanic. 24 people actually got off the Titanic at Cherbourg. They only wanted to go across the channel.

This is actually in the 1997 movie. Enter Molly Brown to raise hell as she gets off the SS Nomadic.

So we got to walk around on the deck and look around.

The SS Nomadic with the Titanic Museum in the background

Finally that was enough Titanic for one day. It’s worth noting we were there on April 18th. It sunk on April 11th 108 years ago. So we visited on the anniversary of the Carpathia arriving in New York City with the 710 survivors. It would’ve arrived in New York on the 20th if everything … well you know.

Just across from the museum are the Titanic Studios, this is notable because all 8 seasons of Game of Thrones were filmed there. And they’re currently preparing to film the new prequel Game of Thrones show. So we were very, very intrigued to look at it. The studio was STUPID big. The entire inside was just green screens to film Game of Thrones.

The set next to it/inside of it is an unbelievably big wooden set with all these giant green screens and secrecy. It was maddening because it’s right there. There were all these burned out towers and walls that they haven’t taken down after filming. Why is it burned?!? Oooooo the secrets. We stared for probably 15 minutes discussing.

Then next to the studio and set was a Game of Thrones exhibition with all the props! It opened only a few days before we got there. We hadn’t known about this or planned on going but come on! The last season is literally happening right now and we’re standing where it was filmed (both the studios and throughout Northern Ireland).

They had prop swords you could take pictures with and even put your face on the faceless wall. Of course they had the Iron Throne to sit on. Then they had all the costumes, swords and props to look at. The list of famous things was endless.

Here’s Chris on the Iron Throne, me with “Needle,” our faces on the faceless wall. Arya and the Hounds costumes, various props, a man next to a huge dragon skull prop and the Lyanna Stark statue from the crypt. Oof.

It felt really special to see the props used in the series and the studios where they were partly filmed. Maybe we’re geeking out about Game of Thrones but it’s the most watched show on Earth. More than 23 million Americans watch it legally and it airs in more than 170 countries. It is also the most pirated show on earth (guilty- we couldn’t watch in Korea so we, um, watched it how we could). It’s also been something we could talk about with anyone anywhere. My coteachers here, friends in Germany, and people in Korea have all talked about enjoying it. I like how global it is – it’s the one thing I can think of that the whole world can agree on. While we were in the exhibition, the gay Scots, the French family, and the Italian girls all looked at Shireen’s stag and made tragic “awwwwww” sounds. We all can agree that that was sad. We all all agree that Game of Thrones is an enjoyable world to spend a little time in. So that’s why we geek-out about it.

Our day ended with some disappointment though. After two years of living in Spain we’ve grown accustomed to eating dinner pretty late. Generally we don’t even get hungry until 8pm, and we don’t usually eat till 8:30-9:00 pm. This is all well and good when living in Spain, but the UK/Ireland follow the same eating schedule that Americans follow, so when we went out looking for food we found only packed restaurants and long lines. So we contented ourselves with a take-away burrito that tasted more like curry than Mexican food. We can’t complain too much though! At least Belfast has burritos.


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