My sports travel adventures resumed last weekend with the start of the ice hockey season.
It was a modest adventure, but very successful. Belfast.
The city is 40 minutes flying time from Edinburgh, and using Belfast City Airport it is a whopping 8 minute bus journey from airport to city centre. FlyBe uses that airport, and easyJet flies to Belfast International so the competition keeps prices down. I paid £98 return, booking quite late.
The reason for the trip was Belfast Giants v Augsburger Panther in the Champions Hockey League. I watched a bit of German ice hockey during the Ingolstadt phase of my life, and loved it. The quality is high, with an emphasis on speed and skills. The crowds are electric. Indeed I remember going to at least one Ingolstadt v Augsburg derby.
The game in Belfast was tremendous, ending as a 2-3 win for Augsburg in overtime. I reckon 1,000 out of the 5,000 crowd were Augsburg fans, and they generated a wonderful atmosphere. I started as a neutral and they won me over.
I stayed in the AC Hotel (a Marriott label) across the river from the SSE Arena, as I did last time I was in Belfast. It is not cheap, but Belfast is plagued by stag and hen parties so a cheaper hotel brand increases the risk of late night/early morning noise. The riverside location is convenient and pleasant, and quiet.
I have walked past McHugh’s many times over the years and never gone in. I rarely venture into pubs these days, but this time I took the plunge. I recommend it. They have a great range of beers – I had Guinness – and even on a busy Saturday afternoon the atmosphere was friendly and relaxed. Like most pubs they have caved in to the TV addiction (I counted three – two normal size and one massive) but they also had a folk music trio playing in a corner.
The North has belatedly come to feature a lot recently in the media in Little Britain after London realised the Brexit plans (or lack thereof) have major implications for Ireland as a whole. I will not wade into that controversy.
I will just mention it is the only part of the UK where police officers all carry guns all the time, and travel in armoured cars. You will find a “Peace Wall” in West Belfast which keeps the two sides of the community apart.
Belfast has changed enormously for the better since my first visit in the mid 1990s, well before the peace agreement was signed in 1999. Anyone in London who risks that progress and the relative peace since then has my total contempt.
ⓒ iain taylor, 2019