Sunday, February 13, 2011

Belfast Mini-Trip

After a few weeks, we all felt that we needed to explore a wee bit further afield.  We reserved some beds in a hostel and dropped ourselves off of a train in Belfast in the afternoon, with no particular plan of action.  Our hostel, the Global Village, was a charming and slightly bohemian Victorian row house that had been refurbished; it was a great introduction to hostel living!  We were located in the middle of the Queen's Quarter, a lively neighborhood centered around Queen's University.  To orient ourselves and to find restaurants and pubs we walked the "golden mile," a vibrant section of various streets from the University to Belfast City Hall.  We also browsed through the free Ulster Museum of history and art and strolled through the lovely Botanic Gardens.

After dragging ourselves out of our beds the next morning, we ordered what we thought was a black cab tour of the city.  We had no idea that our tour would be exclusively a survey of "the Troubles" in Belfast!  What we saw on our tour was a poignant glimpse into a community still reeling from wounds of religious and ethnic conflict; a history of violence and segregation of which we, especially we young Americans, had no notion, nor vocabulary to express.  There's no way to sum up what we learned; I'm still turning it over and over in my mind - the dividing "peace walls," the cages perennially set onto the backs of houses to keep out nail bombs and molotov cocktails, our tour guides' (one Protestant, one Catholic) ambivalence toward the tributes given to militant sectarians.

To lighten up our trip, we spent some time shopping in the large, open-air Victoria Square plaza.  After grabbing a few souvenirs, we trekked to the train station and rode, nodding off, back to Coleraine and the university. 

It was just an introduction to Belfast, and I want to do it justice and revisit the city again, really spend time learning the history and culture of the town through a more traditional tour.  But in any case, our trip was an eye-opening, fun experience.

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