Oh, Belfast, you’ve been good to me.
Also, tourism in Ireland is a work out.
Belfast has been a wonderful experience. First thing Friday it felt good to be back in a big city, with its big buses, honking cars, and crazy pedestrians it felt so much like home. Friday was sunny, sunny, sunny, unlike any other day I’ve spent in Ireland so far. My plans to head to museums and learn a little bit about the city were completely botched by the beautiful weather (not complaining). I walked around and took in the beautiful architecture of this city. I’m completely in awe of the buildings here. I know Toronto doesn’t have the some years of history that exist here but at the same time the prevalence of absolutely stunning buildings is still mind-blowing.
I ate lunch on the lawn of the city hall and actually managed to get a small sunburn, something that I really didn’t think I’d need to worry about in Ireland. It was so wonderful sitting there, though, looking at all of the people who were also taking the opportunity of the beautiful day to sit outside. Students, couples, business men and women in suits spending their hour lunch breaks sitting on grass and looking up at the sun. There was such an appreciation for the beautiful day that it was infectious. You couldn’t help but bask in it, either.
We paid for it yesterday. It was rainy and cold and miserable for hours. Literally. Usually when the weather report says “rain” here it means twenty minutes intermittent with cloudy skies throughout the day. Yesterday it really meant rain.
I took the black taxi tour with a girl from my hostel, something which, if you haven’t heard about them before you need to and to make it a goal in life to take one. It continued my discovery of “the troubles” in Northern Ireland and what’s been happening here for decades. More murals, more sidewalks painted loyalist colours, more bloody history. What struck me most were the peace walls or, I suppose I should say, “peace walls” as they are not a symbol of peace at all.
Constructed during a time when entire streets were being burned to the ground by opposing sides, they are actually built where homes used to sit. They are about forty feet tall and stretch for miles. They are called peace walls merely because they were put there to keep the peace not because they were a monument to peace in the city. These walls were still being built in 2008.
I’m blown away again and again by how fresh all of these things are, how this is still happening, how even though the heavy violence may not exist as much there are still riots, marches, and hatred. A census done recently in the city showed that the majority of people aged 18-24 have never had a meaningful conversation with someone that lived on the other side of the wall.
Could you even imagine?
The feeling it gives you is beyond words, really. You’re in awe for all the wrong reasons. You’re a little terrified. You’re very much baffled. But I suppose when you start the tour off with being shown the most bombed hotel in all of Europe, you should know what to expect.
There was even a mini protest yesterday outside city hall when they were holding a mayor’s party due to a recent decision by an IRA-run political party to remove the Union Jack from the flag pole outside.
Despite what we might be told, these troubles are far from over.
I wrote on the peace wall and I felt honoured and odd all at the same time. I hope that one day what I wrote on there is erased completely when those walls come down.
Happier things now… I went to the Giant’s Causeway today. Also to the Bushmills Distillery and a couple of castles and saw some spectacular landscape, no big deal really.
This country is spectacular.
I crossed a rope bridge 100 feet in the air over an open sea with the sea water dampening every step. My legs were literally trembling before, I’m not going to lie. I was absolutely terrified going over and coming back. But it was worth it just so that I could say I did it.
I loved the Giant’s Causeway for its mix of folklore and incredible natural creations. The cliffs, the pillars, the Giant’s Organ, the camel rock… I’m pretty sure I had a constant smile on my face the entire time (even while I was scaling the path back up the side of the cliff that didn’t make my legs want to fall of or anything, no sir).
I’m honestly surprised by my ability during this trip to do things that would normally terrify me completely. There was a day not too long ago that I never would have dreamed of being on that bridge or walking along a cliff edge. I never would have allowed myself to be convinced to get on my stomach at the Cliffs of Moher and look over. But I think that a big part of this trip was facing fears, realized or not. The fear of traveling alone, the fear of leaving everyone you know, the fear of possibly discovering that when you’re left along with yourself you might not even like who you are. The fear of finding out that when you come back, some things might have changed. The fear of simply going out to eat alone. But it’s all part of it. And if you can’t find a way to face your fears when there’s no one else to hold your hand, you’ll never make it. It just gives you a higher appreciation for the people in your life who cheer you on at all times, even when you can’t.
Today was just a day of amazing views, good history, good whiskey (12 year old Bushmills reserve, anyone?), and wonderful memories.
Thanks, Belfast, you’ve been wonderful.