pack up your troubles in your old kit-bag

I’m back at the sumptuous Merchant Hotel in Belfast’s Cathedral Quarter, site of a rather infamous party I threw almost three years ago. (let’s just say people are still talking about it, thank you very much.) It’s posh, for lack of a better word – meaning attentive, attractive, and very well-proportioned – with an Italianate sandstone facade of columns and capitals backed by carefully restored High Victorian interiors. In fact, the former Ulster Bank headquarters wouldn’t look out-of-place in London or Paris. For a city which ten years ago had but a single boutique hotel, the Merchant is a perfect example of how much in this city has changed. Even at the height of the property bust two years ago the hotel was able to build an Art Deco extension and more than double in size, adding rooms, a spa, and the city’s only authentic jazz bar. To call it a success would be an understatement. From the soaring grandeur of the Great Room Restaurant (where even the profiteroles are swan-necked), to the perfectly judged and beautifully friendly staff, to the overstuffed beds and ample marble bathrooms, the Merchant is an all-out triumph.

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on the steps of the palace

Spain’s grandiose Palacio Real quite obviously had designs on being heralded as an Iberian Versailles. The 2,800 room Italianate baroque colossus built by Felipe V never quite managed to challenge its European counterparts, but its soaring white facade is pretty magnificent – as are the fifty rooms open to the public; the highlights of which are the Royal Pharmacy, Royal Armory, the Porcelain Room, and the Throne Room with its Tiepolo ceiling and crimson velvet walls. Perhaps embarrassed by the imperial extravagance of it all, Spain’s current ruling family lives in more republican digs, dropping by the family manse only when duty calls. And while we’re on the subject of duty: all this pomp’s got me thinking I’m forgetting something royally important today …

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