Segway NI: Belfast’s best guided tour!

I’m a sucker for city tours. In each city I visit, one of the first things I like to do is jump on a hop-on-hop-off bus tour to give myself a feel for the place, the people and the history of the area. My own city is steeped in culture and interesting facts, and so when I played host at the beginning of the month to two friends from England, I did some researching online. I soon found something a little alternative to give them a proper taste of Belfast city – Segway NI.

Image Courtesy of Segway NI

Image Courtesy of Segway NI

For those of you unfamiliar with a Segway it’s defined as a two wheeled electric vehicle. What’s different about it is it’s powered by new technology which detects and uses centre of mass to control its movement. Drivers shift their weight forward to go forward and backwards to reverse – clever, eh?!

The idea was perfect for the girls’ first trip to Belfast. Vanessa, Katie and I arrived, grabbed some fetching high-vis jackets and helmets, and set off (a bit shakily at first!) for an afternoon’s outdoor exploring. Of course, we were given some time to familiarise ourselves with operating the Segways first – and you’d be surprised how easy it is!

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The 2 hour tour costs £30 per person and takes visitors around the entire Titanic Quarter in Belfast which includes Titanic Belfast, the SS Nomadic ship, the slipways, the Titanic Docks and Pumphouse, the Harland and Wolff Cranes and Titanic Film Studios, where HBO are currently filming Season 5 Game of Thrones. Our tour leader fantastic; very knowledgeable about the area and very patient with those of us who took a little longer to find our feet  sorry, wheels…

Not me of course, I was a natural… eventually!

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A big thing that impressed me was their high level of customer service. Unfortunately, one of the girls missed her flight in the morning and would have been unable to make the scheduled tour time. Segway NI were extremely accommodating and quickly changed our booking to a later time free of charge and without any difficulties (thanks again, guys!).

Here’s a quick little video taken by us during the tour. Segway NI really helped to make the trip very memorable for Katie and Vanessa- and as for me, I’m already talking my work colleagues into booking the off road tour!

Be sure to check out Segway NI on Facebook, Twitter, Tripadvisor and their website for details on their upcoming tours!

Kathy x

A Sunday Trip to Ballintoy Harbour

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Sundays are my favourite days to go exploring outdoors. The world just seems to move a little bit slower, a little more gently than the rest of the week and so it’s great to take that opportunity to dress down, grab my warm jacket and woolly hat, and venture out for some fresh air.

I’ve been completely immersed in Game of Thrones lately and finally finished Season 4 at the weekend (what an ending!), so where better to spend my Sunday than by Ballintoy Harbour, Co. Antrim, where HBO film a lot of scenes for the hit show.

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Ballintoy harbour, located just east of Bushmills (home of the famous whiskey) and down one of the most winding roads known to mankind, has been around for centuries, used by mining and quarrying industries in its early days, and since then for fishermen in the local area.

However, it is more globally recognised as a port in the Iron Islands, home to Theon Greyjoy in Game of Thrones (Season 2). The TV production, based on George R.R. Martin’s ground-breaking book series, spends a lot of time filming in Northern Ireland, and it’s easy to spot many familiar locations throughout the province, as well as taking a peek at their main filming studios in Belfast’s Titanic Quarter.

Game of Thrones has undoubtedly brought a lot of tourism to the area, with themed bus tours and fans regularly descending on some beautiful, yet once very deserted ground. It’s lovely to see local people benefiting from the increase in visitors – many cafes and tea rooms have sprung up since my last visit as a young child.

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Rourk’s Kitchen sits right on the water’s edge and provides a quaint little refuge for some hot coffee and cakes, the perfect pit-stop during a day of exploring!

If you’re a Game of Thrones fan, or simply just in the area, I highly recommend a stop off at Ballintoy Harbour, for the beautiful views, the nearby caves and the friendly people.

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A free activity with a lot of character, what more could you ask for on a Sunday afternoon?

Kathy x

The Origami House: Kells, Co. Antrim

Each September, the Northern Ireland Environment Agency bring us European Heritage Open Days – a weekend event which sees hundreds of properties opening their doors to the general public in the name of celebrating local art, culture and history. My typical EHOD weekend consists of burying myself head to toe in the old and grandiose, but this year I decided to go for a little bit of a modern twist…

This is the house that Jane built.

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Jane Burnside is one of Northern Ireland’s greatest champions of contemporary design and modern architecture. And this is The Origami House, her family home nestled in the secluded countryside of Co. Antrim, Northern Ireland.

As part of 2014 European Heritage Open Day weekend, Jane very kindly invited us across the river and into her home, for a hot coffee and an intimate guided tour of her most famous work to date.

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As you approach the house, that feeling of leaving the hustle and bustle of the world behind embraces you. Journeying across the bridge before entering the main house provides the opportunity to absorb the calming effect of the surrounding woodland and listen to the trickle of the flowing stream.The Origami House is a type of sanctuary; a refuge from the 9-5 routine.

For a house which showcases the beauty of glass and open space, it is incredible how secluded it feels as I stand inside. Until this moment I have been quick to categorise this type of house as attractive, but decidedly impractical – yet it is clear that The Origami House is very lived in, and somehow it works. Better than that, it works effortlessly.

The walls are all painted white, both inside and out, yet the house vividly pops with colour through the clever positioning of artwork and one-of-a-kind sculptures.

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What is most impressive to me, is the strategic use of space, which makes the house appear bigger than it admittedly is. The house is single story, yet its high ceilings draw your eye to each room’s X-axis and make it appear very extensive.

Jane has also created the illusion of space through building shelf and drawer space into the walls of each room (perfect for hoarders like me!).

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For me, this is a house of contradictions which somehow blend together perfectly to create a prototype for modern architecture. A building with strong design elements of pushing and pulling frames; of open, white space yet visual warmth; of transparency yet privacy.

The Origami house is the perfect example of how to make big use of a small space, and how to place contemporary architecture within a rural backdrop.

To find out more about this award-winning architect and view a portfolio of her recent work, you can visit JaneDBurnsideArchitects.co.uk  or pick up her book Contemporary Design Secrets at your nearest bookstore.