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On the crest of a wave: The cruise ship passengers flocking to Northern Ireland

 

By Mark Bain and Stewart Robson

The history, the architecture, the food, the friendly people and, for once, the weather - tourists are visiting Belfast for a variety of reasons and they seem to be finding exactly what they want.

And more are set to arrive on our shores, with cruise ships due to dock over the rest of the summer, including the Queen Elizabeth tomorrow morning, bringing over 2,000 passengers, and The Royal Princess on July 29, bringing another 3,500 visitors.

And tourists from countries across the world seem bowled over by the warmth and hospitality they have found here.

Alexandra Nickel had just arrived from Leipzig in Germany and says she's fascinated by the architecture.

"It's a crazy place and I'm enjoying it," she said. "There's a real contrast - some broken, old buildings but some modern architecture mixed with buildings from the 1970s.

"I'm looking forward to historic walks but want to go to the Causeway. I like a bit of everything and there's a bit of everything here."

Rolf Brenne, Hanne Stousland and Roar Aakvik had arrived from Norway and will be in Belfast for three days.

"We're enjoying a week in Ireland as part of a larger group and Belfast seems like a really nice city," Hanne said.

And for the Norwegians, it's been all about the food.

"We've been to the Titanic Centre so far but the seafood has been superb. We're big fans," Hanne added.

"We can't say there's been anything negative and most of the money we've spent has been on food - especially the oysters."

First-time Belfast cruise visitors Grace and Rino Merlo travelled from British Columbia in Canada.

Rino said: "I've been most impressed with the friendliness. I'd like to come back and drive around Ireland. I would say things are more expensive here though. But we're getting so old we don't need anything.

"I don't think my perception of Northern Ireland has changed much. Looking around you do feel sorry for the people that have died, one side or the other."

Rino had one small criticism though: "There aren't enough public bathrooms. If we went to France we'd never be too far from a bathroom as they have them on the sidewalks."

And Buddy and Lynn Lewis, from the sunshine state of Florida, had high praise for the Titanic museum.

"It's fantastic. It's a really historic spot and we're definitely going to have a Guinness somewhere," Buddy said.

"Everyone is very friendly, but the ladies in the museum talked very fast."

Leontine Chuang is visiting from even further away - Hong Kong.

"It's a very pretty city. It's our first time here. We've enjoyed walking around. We went to John Long's for fish and chips and the kids loved that," she said.

"We've loved speaking to people in the stores and in the restaurants.

"I'd come back for sure. When you're on a cruise you're only here for a day so don't see everything. We'd love to have seen the Titanic museum and W5 but cruises are good to get a taste of cities that you might want to come back to."

She did managed to squeeze in a bit of shopping though: "My friend told me to visit Avoca and I spent about £40 buying scarves."

Yi, Michael and their daughter Puato are visiting from Exeter and it's the countryside that's impressed them most.

"The rope bridge (Carrick-a-rede) was great," said Yi. "We loved the Giant's Causeway."

But Michael wasn't sure if he'd come back to Belfast. "We like to see different places. I felt Belfast was somewhere I should see. We've been to the Falls Road and the Shankill Road. I wouldn't say it was something I was looking forward to but I think it was good for us. I did wonder what the people who live there think of being a tourist attraction."

Keeping daughter Puato happy has been a priority.

"I liked Glenariff Country Park," Yi said. "But the best bit was the 24-inch pizza in Little Wing."

For brother and sister Alice and Jacob from Slovakia, Belfast has been all about walking.

"We're here for two days and want to see as much as we can," Alice said.

"It's a great city to visit for the weekend. We'll be going on a walking tour. We're touring Ireland and we're on a budget so we'll try to do things cheaply, but it seems like a very interesting city."

Belinda Reidy and Robin Bowman from Durham have made the short trip across the Irish Sea and will be spending a week on holiday in the city.

"I was here four years ago at a wedding and I always said I'd like to come back," Robin said. "It's a wonderful city to walk around."

Belinda added: "Lots of people we've met have made suggestions to us. And we've really noticed the sense of humour. "We've spent a good bit. But we knew that before we came. We've been to the Titanic museum and walked up the Lisburn Road to get a flavour of what the city's about.

"There's been plenty of eating and drinking.

"I haven't seen too many negatives that you get in other cities. We've had a wonderful time."

Robin continued: "St George's Market had some fantastic stalls. We'd definitely come back, maybe in a camper van or we'll hire a car to see the country."

Greek woman Alkie Dragoon is visiting her friend Edward Alsop who came to Belfast three years ago and never left.

"I like the architecture and I'm looking forward to heading up to Belfast Castle to get a great view," said Alkie.

"I work in England and it didn't cost too much to come here, and from what I've seen so far it's a great place to visit.

"I won't get too much time to see a lot of the countryside but we'll probably spend some time in parks. It's a lovely country to be out and about in."

And with that they set off, with some excitement, to explore St George's Market.

Belfast Telegraph

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