Sunday, 17 October 2010

The Tropical Ravine and revisiting the Ulster Museum.

Ulster Museum FrontageOn Saturday we had a free afternoon so we made the most of it and headed on down to the Tropical Ravine in Belfast's Botanic Gardens and paid another visit to the Ulster Museum now that Sean Scully's 'art' has been removed from the walls after our previous visit to the Ulster Museum and criticism of Scully's work. We were not the only ones taking in the Museum: Nelson McCausland, the Northern Irish Minister for Culture, Arts and Leisure was also viewing the works on show.

We began singing our way out of our rented house with a rendition of Spandau Ballet's “True” (best not to ask) and made our way to the bus stop, a bus wasn't far off and once in town we walked from the City Hall up past Queens University to Botanic Gardens.

It was around 2.30 so we quickly got a bite to eat in the Ulster Museum café. If anything the prices have gone up - a solid meal from the café menu today will now set you back £7.50 (approx $12) but I went with the Mushroom Soup and bread at £3.50 ($5.60) which was nice but a little too salty for my taste. Can't complain too much though - entrance to the museum is free which has for almost the last decade been one of the best things about heading to the UK.

Once fed, we headed to the Tropical Ravine in the Botanic Gardens. I'd never been in it and was expecting something like the Roundhay Park's Tropical World in Leeds. It was a little like it though a lot smaller and only has Koy Carp and Plants. The plants as you'd expect from a Tropical Ravine are tropical species and although it's only a rectangular walk on a raised platform in the canopy of the plants, for free its well worth a quick walk around. Here are a couple of photos of the flora on show today:

A tropical Plant

Tropical Plant

From our tropical wander, we made our way into the Ulster Museum, gave a small donation then made the best decision we've ever made in a museum - we got the lift to the top and went somewhat backwards through the exhibits and galleries. This wasn't just a mad idea born on the spur of the moment, this was using gravity to our advantage and making looking around the trip that little more enjoyable as walking down 5 flights of exhibits is a lot less demanding than walking up 5 flights of exhibits.

So from the top down, we were this time starting off in the section of the museum which spoiled our last trip - the Art Galleries. This time however, several huge rooms of simplistic repetition had been replaced by several galleries of diverse artworks. A brilliant change of scene which provided not only painted art but also sculptured small objects to enjoy.

The art on display was an eclectic mix. The first thing we came across was a mix of glasswares and crockery. Some was a bit random but others like a fish-like vase of brown and blue were quite exquisite. Following this we created our own little art works in the kids Art Interactive Area where we created some thumb print creations. Mine was a woodlouse on its back. In the next rooms were framed pieces ranging from traditional oil paints of local scenes to pencil drawn portraits, from colourful fantasy art to framed photographs. This room led onto a room of fashion featuring dresses, shoes, bags and jewellery from some famous names.

The rest of the Art Gallery section was populated with traditional art works largely from the 18th and 19th century. This part of the gallery was where we happened to come across Nelson McCausland and I presume his wife. For those who don't know who Nelson McCausland is, he is a DUP politician who is a Minister in the Northern Irish Assembly. Since we were at the recording of a BBC TV debate last year where I described he and his fellow politicians' performances as only going so far as to “re-enforce my doubt in the usefulness of a political system dominated by polarised viewpoints”, since then he has become famous for his request for this very same Museum to display creationist and anti-evolutionary material. On that subject I have to say I pretty much agree with the article by Malachi O'Doherty on the Belfast telegraph website basically saying, in other words, that if he wants to be the fundamentalist who put unsubstantiated fairy tales into our national museum, let him. Putting his unsubstantiated views under scrutiny will only reinforce the fact that those ideas are only one of an infinite number of science fiction ideas, a genre he should maybe read more of? He is also well known for his controversial views on seemingly pretty much anything beginning with GA... such as Gays and GAA. You may be able to tell, I'm not a fan of Mr McCausland.

Back in the room and there he was, spending a little time at the paintings in the largest gallery, looking at the fine art from scenes of religious iconography to a female nude, yes a female nude, not a male nude. There was a male nude in the previous gallery but we don't know if he took time to appreciated that work of art or not. I just want to make sure I don't give the impression he may have admired the male form at any point because obviously I wouldn't want to infringe on his point of view.

Thankfully for us, we only had to share the room for a few minutes with the Minister who wants the museum to “reflect the views of all the people in Northern Ireland”. Due to his comments I do wonder when the 'Jedward are God', 'an outline to the Jedi belief system' and 'Satan is the head of the Church' exhibitions are opening alongside the proposed creationism displays.

Oddly his presence wasn't infringing on our enjoyment of the art. Being in the same room as him instead added something. Pointing out the humour in the works to one another subtly with him in ear shot made it a fun challenge. We were the naughty school children at the back of the class.

Leaving the guy to his afternoon, we took in a slightly surreal media exhibit created by Turner Prize finalist Willie Doherty called Ghost Story. It featured a path, a few bushes, a motorway underpass, an eye and a guy who needs to either get over it or take some Prozac but at least it made more sense than the Sean Scully video that was shown in the room before.

AzuriteThe rest of the museum was pretty much identical to before and I once again enjoyed the geological section. This time I took a fancy to Azurite, blueness! There is a nice example in the dark area lit up and sparking in all its blue finery but there is also an Irish sample in one of the draws with the fossils and other geological period rocks and minerals. Do open those draws up if you get chance, they're internally lit but no one ever seems to touch them even though they are there to be looked at.

Though the museum was on its countdown to closing, we managed to quickly call into the History Interactive Area and pencil rubbed a tracing of our names in ancient Egyptian hieroglyphs:

Simon in hieroglyphs
Simon in hieroglyphs

We made it out of the door before the doors shut and made our way home via crunching through some crisp Autumn leaves and sampling a Vanilla Rooibos.

The Ulster Museum is certainly a great place to visit and whilst there it's worth calling into the Tropical Ravine. As far as something free to do in Belfast goes you can't go too far wrong.


  1. To my shame I don't think I have ever been into the tropical ravine in botanic.

    I really must go sometime.

  2. We began singing our way out of our rented house with a rendition of Spandau Ballet's “True” (best not to ask)

    Spandau Ballet? Really? What, were you freeze-dried at one point or just doing hard time?

  3. It only takes 10 minutes to walk around slowly so maybe a place to take a warm break Belfast Cabby :)

    Haha, yeah JD something like that anyway! I guess I should explain that neither of us were born when the song was released but it's instead a side effect of one too many SingStar 'attempts'.



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