I'd arrived in the city mid-morning on a weekday, having just endured the 23-hour flight from Melbourne to London before flying the short hop across the Irish Sea.
I've always believed the best way to forestall jetlag when flying west is to stay up until the local equivalent of one's usual bedtime, so what was I to do for the rest of the day before a dinner appointment?
A flick through the Lonely Planet chapter covering Belfast gave me the answer - check out its numerous attractive old pubs, many located in alleyways the Northern Irelanders call "entries".
Given the city's maritime history, these were probably once rough-and-tumble joints full of boozed-up sailors and dock workers, so it'd be interesting to see what they were like in these more refined times.
My course was set; first port of call...
1. Bittle’s Bar (103 Victoria St). Just down the street from my hotel, this corner pub decorated with a big shamrock stood out because it couldn't be much more of a corner pub without completely disappearing into its own acute angle:
2. The Champ of Lunches. Inside I found a narrow but cosy triangular space with a big portrait on one wall of Oscar Wilde and other Irish writers serving pints of beer. For lunch I ordered what I was soon to jokingly call the national dish of Northern Ireland - pork and leek sausages with "champ", a mixture of spring onions and mashed potato:
3. Pottinger's Entry. This was my first Belfast alley, named after a prominent local family who supplied Sir Henry Pottinger, first Governor of Hong Kong:
4. Morning Star (17 Pottinger’s Entry). This pub dates from 1810, when it was one of the termini for the Belfast to Dublin mail coach. It has some interesting architectural features on the outside:
... and a fairly shiny interior:
5. Winecellar Entry. By this point, of course, I'd realised that I couldn't order a pint of Guinness in every single pub... especially not in my befuddled post-flight state. So it was down to half-pints (well, one had to be civil). Here's my next alley, though less visually exciting:
6. Whites (1 Winecellar Entry). Here I found what's claimed to be Belfast's oldest tavern, dating from 1630. This is a good point at which to pay tribute to the friendliness of the locals - while I was taking photos in the alley a young guy who was passing stopped to have a chat and tell me more about the pubs, before heading off about his business:
... and here's the interior. Although there's been a tavern here since 1630, like so many of these places it's been completely remodelled from time to time. I found out later that Whites was rebuilt in 1790 and more recently refurbished in the 1990s after a fire. Here's what the interior looks like now - dim, cosy and atmospheric:
Next week: Three more Belfast pubs - one full of colourful signage, another humble but with special stew, and one spectacularly overdecorated for the Victorian gentry...