When life gives you historic snowfall, make lemonade?
I began writing this post sat in a cafe in Belfast. Sounds like a typical afternoon for me if we’re being honest. But you see, I was supposed to be flying about 30,000 feet over an ocean at the time. I’d like to know the odds that the one weekend I booked my flight home from Ireland would have been host to the biggest snowstorm in the UK in something like 10 years. Should I have bought a lottery ticket that weekend? I may never know.
Belfast turned out to be a charming city, and one I was happy to spend an extra day in. There was, however, one issue: I hadn’t planned to be there over the weekend, so the budget was pretty much gone, and most public transport was cancelled or delayed to some degree. So I now had an extra 24 hours in Belfast on a tight budget while stranded. My hostel was located in the Botanic Avenue area of South Belfast down by Queens University, so I figured there had to be something cool nearby.
Eager to start my snow day – and get my mind off of my uncertain travel plans – I headed out from my hostel towards the Ulster Museum. I knew very little about the museum except that it was free and close. The streets were oddly quiet. Everything felt muted, almost like walking into a cathedral. It was that peaceful, muffled quiet of a city after heavy snow. Hardly any footprints were visible on the sidewalk, and only a few bundled students crossed my path as I made my way through the University campus to the Belfast Botanic Gardens.
The Ulster Museum
With all the snow on the ground, the gardens looked like a scene from Narnia. Black metal signposts stood at the intersections of the paths, reminiscent of that famous lamppost. It felt like Christmas all over again. With my face buried deep in my scarf, I wove my way through the trees following signs for the Ulster Museum. On one end it looked just like many other museums with decorative columns and classical features while the other was a mass of large cubic projections. It was definitely unique to say the least.
I stamped the snow off my (definitely not waterproof) boots as I crossed the threshold into the gift shop. I grabbed a map, and began to peruse my options. For a relatively small museum, it was a bit of a puzzle box. Each floor wound its way around the central atrium leading down to the lobby, and each gallery held something completely different. I must have looked a little lost as a guide came over to me and suggested I work my way down from the top.
I walked through rooms filled with Irish paintings, precious gems, dinosaurs, and a 77 foot long tapestry depicting the events of the wildly popular TV show Game of Thrones. My personal favorite, or at least the most memorable exhibit, was the deep sea room. At the back of the space, a small, dark hallway was lined with windows looking into a tank filled with fake fish, sharks, and a giant squid. I power walked through that room, not going to lie. In my defense, giant squids are terrifying.
I spent almost 3 hours wandering the museum’s halls, and I didn’t even make it to the ancient Ireland gallery, which is the thing I usually run to first. But it was well past noon, and my stomach began to protest. I conceded and headed off to grab some lunch. I made my way back out the entrance of the museum, crossed back through the botanic garden (pausing to snap a few pictures), and walked down College Park East towards the center of town.
As a rule, I am generally always on the lookout for good cafes. It’s like a constant radar, searching for good spots to camp in at all times. On my walk to the hostel from the train station, I had spied a good contender, French Village Cafe & Bistro. The small crowd of people waiting inside the doorway of this bright, cozy cafe confirmed my initial evaluation. On this particular snowy day, I managed to grab a table near the window. Hands curled around a cup of tea, I watched as people trudged through the falling snow. Over my three days in Belfast, I ended up back here twice. Whether it’s breakfast, lunch, or brunch, these guys have you covered. The breakfast and lunch menu range from about 5-9 pounds for a main. The french toast is delicious, and their sweet potato fries are a beautiful thing.
After lunch I began thinking that maybe I should schlep my way into the city center to take some pretty winter photos. The old buildings coated in snow would be quite the sight. But then again I am lazy, and those streets were really slushy. So no, I did not make my way back into the city. Instead, I decided to do what I do best, go find myself a cute cafe, grab a window table, and read a good book. I stumbled upon this modern but quirky little place called Clement’s which was just what I needed. Armed with some tea and a caramel shortbread, I cracked open my copy of The Aran Islands by J.M. Synge that I had picked up in Dublin.
At first I felt frustrated that my flight had to be rescheduled. I had been so excited to be going home, and paying for extra nights of hostels wasn’t an awesome surprise. With all the public transport delayed indefinitely, I wasn’t even sure when I’d be able to leave. The uncertainty can easily be overwhelming.
But in the end, my extra 24 hours in Belfast taught me something. My final weeks in Ireland had been a rush of bus trips and day tours. I wanted to see so much that I didn’t have time to just sit and enjoy being in Europe. All it took was a freak blizzard – and how many tourists have seen that beautiful city blanketed in several inches of fresh white snow?
Have you ever been stranded while traveling? How did you cope?