May 1, 2012

Belfast 2012 ~ Day Three

Day three in Belfast took us to the very windy Titanic quarter. Where we passed the SS Nomadic, the only surviving ship from The White Star Line and used to take 1st and 2nd class passengers travelling from Cherbourg, France to Titanic. The HMS Caroline, built and launched in 1914. Titanic studios, Northern Ireland has a thriving film industry with movies such as City of Ember filmed there and a little known show called A Game of Thrones.
It’s hard not to notice the two giant yellow cranes overlooking this area of Belfast. Samson and Goliath (also sometimes known as Samson and Delilah) sport the ‘H & W’ symbol of Harland and Wolff, the ship builders responsible for building the tragic luxury liner the area is named after. A three story brick and sandstone building in the area housed the administration and drawing office of the shipyard.
Now another landmark shares the spotlight with the cranes. Nicknamed ‘The Iceberg’ by locals, the glass and aluminium clad building of the Titanic Belfast has taken three year to complete and accommodates 3,000 visitors at one time. It took 700 trucks arriving every two minutes to pour the basement concrete and contains a replica of the well known grand staircase.
Inside, we travelled through Belfast of the early 1900’s and walked across plans projected onto the floor, learning all about the designers. Next onto the shipyard where we learned how the great ship came to life, including how supervisors wore bowler hats to protect from rivets dropping from above and ‘going to the other shipyard’ was a term used for those who died on the job.
The walls of the building are made to re-create the hull, complete with massive scaffolding and sound effects giving an idea of what it must have felt like to the men working there. This area included a ride into the bowels of the ship.
On the 31st May 2011, Titanic was launched into the water watched by 100,000 people. By the magic of technology we looked out of a massive window onto the actual slipway as it is now, moments later through the same window we watched Titanic enter the water for the very first time.
We moved on to the interior of the ship after she was fitted out, viewing recreations of 1st, 2nd and 3rd class cabins among other areas of the ship. Next were were ready to walk on deck for the maiden voyage and to meet those who sailed on Titanic’s ill-fated journey out into the Atlantic Ocean.
As we know, she never reached her destination. At 11.40pm on the 14th April Titanic hit an iceberg that ripped into the hull. Two hours and 40 minutes later, she floundered off the coast of Newfoundland. It’s quite something to listen to the Morse code calling for help in a darkened room with atmospheric lights recreating the rippling water underfoot.

In the aftermath of the disaster there was an outpouring for grief for over 1,500 lost lives and an investigation on both sides of the Atlantic. Standing beside one of the lifeboats, we listened to actual questions and answers from that enquiry. A young maid told how Mr. Andrews(Thomas Andrews, Chief Designer) told her to get her life jacket on and how she saw in his eyes the ship was doomed. This scene was very briefly recreated in the 1997 movie, Titanic.
This takes us on to myths and legends where we separate fact from fiction in the many movies and books about the ill-fated journey.
Lastly we visited the wreckage and the exploration centre with exclusive footage shown on a cinema screen and a glass floor where visitor have the opportunity to imagine walking over the ocean floor 4kms below the surface.

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