Belfast or Beal Fierste, is obviously the capital city of my home country of Northern Ireland. That home will always be the original Belfast – where the name began, just like New York is really just York with skyscrapers.
So around the world there have been scattered a few “Bangors” and “Belfasts”, and spontaneously I made it to Belfast on the South Island of New Zealand, with an amazing Northern Irish twist thrown in to remind me of the good times.
I knew there was a Belfast somewhere in New Zealand but had never really researched where it was, and the chances of finding it on a one week hop on hop off busy jaunt round the South Island were pretty slim. I was wrong.
I began my circle trip of the South Island in Christchurch, and on the Saturday morning I saw a bus with Belfast 16 on it. That was the bus number to get to Belfast, but I had assumed it to be miles away. I was wrong!
It’s basically a northern suburb of Christchurch and can be reached by bus in about 30 – 40 minutes!! So after watching the festival and walking round the city that morning, it was time to “cure” my curiosity and board a bus to Belfast.
Chance then played a part in what was about to unfold. I had contemplated getting a “Burger King” first as it was right next to the bus stop, so instead of getting the very next bus to Belfast, I joined the queue in Burger King and would get the next bus after that to Belfast. However for whatever reason the queue in Burger King was massive, so instead I popped to the shop next door and grabbed a pie instead and decided just to hop on the next bus. Just as well I did.
The bus was very quiet, about 10 passengers just, and the ticket was $3.20 I think. About 15 minutes into the journey, a guy hops on and sits in the seat opposite me.
That day I was wearing my Sydney NISC polo shirt, and this guy notices it, but in a Kiwi accent says to me “Nice top – are you one of the Northern Irish Sydney boys?” Totally alarmed by this I couldn’t believe it! Most people don’t even like football in New Zealand and Australia, and very few would recognise a Northern Ireland badge.
I started talking to this guy, whose name was Sam. I told him I was on my way to Belfast on my own with my NI fleg to get a photo by the road sign and to check out what was there!
He then told me how his family were Protestants, originally from Donegal, yet Sam had grown up in New Zealand having been born in Kent in England, and was also a big Rangers fan! What a small strange world!!
He pointed out where the Belfast sign was and told me the best place to get off the bus. Before this he had told me he was on his way to work in a pub in Belfast. So I just had to pop in there for a beer didn’t I?
On the way I passed New World, with initials like NW makes it sound like a Nigel Worthington reference.
Sam told me he worked in Robbie’s Bar which was on the main road, so I’d easily find it, and it was just a 15 – 20 minute walk, with the whole of sightseeing round Belfast on route. To others it may not be “sightseeing” but on that walk there was so many different Belfast/NI references which just had to be photographed.
Right enough after 20 minutes or so I was at Belfast Centre – basically a shopping mall with a bar thrown in.
In I went and there was Sam working away behind the bar. It was quiet enough and was a Saturday afternoon.
IN New Zealand people “shout” you a beer, and thanks to Sam, I was treated to two “shouts” of beer. The first one I went to Monteith’s Radler, which went down very well. Then I also had a DB. I’m actually not sure what that stands for but it’s a nice beer.
The taps. Sam was working away but in between serving all his regulars, Sam was able to talk away to me telling story after story.
I was again getting to love the relaxed New Zealand spirit. If you ever thought Australia was relaxed, then you need to go to New Zealand and realise that it is even more chilled out. A guy walks in with an empty two litre plastic bottle and asks Sam to fill it up from the taps.
Sam fills it up and they even have buttons on the till for how much a customer wants – in this case was 2 litres of fresh keg beer. If you tried that in a bar in the original Belfast in Northern Ireland the bar man would ate the face off ye. The UK and Europe are much too strict and so into customer service that they actually neglect the very thing they try to promote – customer service!!
In fact in the UK a few of the companies I worked for wouldnt allow you to read a magazine/book or listen to iPod during some of your shifts, which is totally strict and ridiculous. Everyone does it. The difference is in New Zealand they don’t hide it or shy away from it, they do it, but are always putting the customer first, and when no customer about they can iPod it up.
The chef Casey even popped out of the pub just to check the bus times for me for heading back to Christchurch. I was due to go on the 5.36 pm bus back. So I said my goodbyes to Sam for now, thanked him for the beers and the most random day out in Belfast.
On arrival at the bus stop however a lady informed me that on the Saturday time table they were less buses, so actually my next bus was at 6.06 pm.
It was outside Harrington’s Cafe Bar and Bottlestore. This gave me time to have another quick drink before heading back to Christchurch.
The splendid range of homebrew beers in Harrington’s. I opted to try the Clydesdale Stout, no doubt inspired by my chat about Scotland and Rangers with Sam.
I was served by Dale, the duty manager there, another aspect which I admire about the “chilled out te fock Kiwis” in days gone by I have worked for some companies whose managers believed they were above the level to serve the customer. Customer Service in the UK really has rotted away, its nice to not have to put up with all that shit.
Key song – Tell Me Ma:
Wee Van Morrison Version of Tell Me Ma:
WALKING IN BELFAST:
HAVING A DRINK IN ROBBIE’S BAR, BELFAST: