This year’s invitations to do talks for LGBT History Month included one from Queen’s University, Belfast. I’d never been to Belfast before, and had a friend who teaches at the University who was able to put me up for the night (thanks Danielle!) so I said yes. It turned out that the cheapest way to get there was to fly to Dublin and head north from there, hence this little travel adventure.
Thursday started badly with heavy fog over Darkest Somerset. When I got to Bristol airport flights appeared to be coming and going OK, but mine wasn’t. I think the problem was that the likes of a 757 were OK, but the little turbo prop that Aer Lingus was using for my flight was too small to risk it.
I got re-booked on a later flight, but there was no time to fulfil my plan of going into Dublin and catching the train to Belfast. Instead I booked myself on an express bus from Dublin airport to Belfast. Thanks to Jon Turney for the travel advice. I normally travel very badly on buses, but this one was motorway pretty much all the way to Belfast. I actually ended up feeling much more sick on the short hop from plane to terminal at Dublin because we had a shuttle bus driver who thought he was in a rally.
The other reason I survived the bus trip was that I slept most of the way. I woke up when we got to Ulster and started making stops. We arrived in Belfast just before 17:00 and looking at the traffic I figured we’d be stuck, but there is a secret bus-only route that takes you right into the city centre. I’m impressed, Belfast.
By the way, that did mean that I was asleep when we crossed the border. There was no passport check at any point on the journey. That ease of travel will probably go away post-Brexit.
Having made it to Belfast on time, I did my talk. Huge thanks to the lovely students in the Queens LGBT+ group. We also had a great meal at a local Nepalese restaurant. There seems to be plenty of good eating in Belfast.
On Friday morning I was able to check out the trains. I caught a commuter service from where I was staying into the city, then the Enterprise down to Dublin.
It is worth noting that the main station for Belfast city is Great Victoria Street. However, the Enterprise leaves from Lanyon Place which is smaller and in a commercial/industrial district. The bus station is next to the Great Victoria Street station.
It is also worth noting that the train is much more expensive than the bus. I paid £30 for a Belfast-Dublin ticket on the train, and €8 for a Dublin-Belfast single on the bus. Of course I my case I can work on the train. On a bus I can only sleep or be sick. So the extra cost is worth it. Also the train has free wifi and a food & drink service, which the bus does not. The journey time is about 2 hours on the train. It is also 2 hours from Dublin airport to Belfast, because the airport is north of Dublin right on the motorway. If you get the bus from central Dublin you need to add at least an extra half hour to get out of the city.
There were no passport checks on the train either. I knew when I crossed the border because my phone told me that I had switched from a UK service to a (free) roaming provider. The free roaming will go way after Brexit too.
The other way that you can tell whether you are in Ulster or the Republic is the signage. In the Republic it is all dual-language. In Ulster it is defiantly English-only.
Having got to Dublin I spent an hour or two wandering around taking photos of things of interest close to the convention center where Worldcon will take place in August. I tweeted the photos, and you can find the thread here.
I also got into a lengthy conversation with a lovely Croatian woman who was working at the Tourist Information Office in Dublin. She gave me a lot of advice about places to visit (most importantly whiskey distilleries). But I’m saving that up for another post.
Thankfully my trip home was a lot smoother than the outward leg.