25 February 2010

Fiddle-De-De! A trip to Northern Ireland [Day One]

Having visited a lot of Southern Ireland, I thought it time to take a look up north. So I planned a weekend trip to the city of Belfast – the capital of Northern Ireland, famous mostly for building the Titanic and religious conflict.

Another very early Saturday morning (4am!) I was up and out the door to catch the bus to Stansted Airport. Flight was on time, departing at 8:30am, arriving in to Belfast City Airport about an hour later. By 10am I was in the centre of a very cold and windy Belfast. The first thing that caught my eye was a huge Ferris Wheel that looked to have been plonked right beside a large historic building.
It turns out I was standing beside City Hall, and the Ferris Wheel was meant to be removed in January 2009. I don’t quite know why they put it there in the first place, and I don’t know why they have not yet got rid of it – it seems so out of place. City Hall is a building with a lot of historical significance, with memorials and statues – then on the grounds less than 10m away there is a huge white Ferris Wheel. Kinda weird.

After a good McD’s breakfast, I headed out to join a walking tour. This was run by an older guy who was a little eccentric, but very interesting all the same. He had lived through a lot of the religious conflict and had some amazing stories to tell. He led us around the streets of Belfast, showing us along the waterfront, the Statue of Harmony, the Big Fish, the Albert Memorial Clock (Belfasts answer to the Big Ben and the Leaning tower of Pisa - check out the pic, its on a serious lean!) and St. Anne's Cathedral (with its HUGE metal spire - a bit strange?). It was really good to get a locals perspective and opinions on the history of the city, and to learn about the things that still are going on today. While on the tour I met a group of students who were also in Belfast for the weekend. They were mainly from France, with a couple from Austria, Finland and Germany. They were all really nice and we made a plan to meet up later for a drink.

Next on the list was an open-top bus tour. Although the morning cloud had disappeared and the sun was shining, it was still bloody cold! But for the sake of good pictures I sat up top and braved the wind. Although I thought the commentary quite average, I was glad I made the effort to go, as I saw things I otherwise would not have (mainly the peace walls and the murals). If you don't know the history of 'The Troubles', my basic understanding is - the mainly-Catholic nationalist (including the IRA) wanted an Ireland free of the UK. They were fighting the mainly-Protestant unionist. Please do not take this as fact, my description is probably not quite right - if you are interested, look it up! So these huge walls were erected throughout the city between areas of catholic and protestant - called peace walls. There are also some amazing murals showing the history of this part of town, the horrible acts committed against each-other, and other 'patriotic' images. The crazy thing is, this is not something historical event that happened years ago. These walls are still there, and the people are still very divided. Although Belfast has come a long way and the violence has for the most part disappeared, things are still far from perfect.

Other things I saw on the tour included the Parliment Buildings and the dry dock where the Titanic was built.

After an hour and a half on the top of a bus freezing my ass off, all I could think about was a nice hot shower. But being the dedicated tourist I am, on the way home I passed Victoria Square, so called in for a quick squiz. Victoria Square is a huge shopping complex that has a glass dome roof and a viewing platform. Apparently the views are just as good as the Ferris Wheel, but free – a significant advantage!

So as the sun was setting, I made my way into the warmth. Taking a good 30 minutes to slowly thaw, I then rugged up again to head out and meet up with my new friends. On the way I stopped by the City Hall to take a couple photos of the buildings and wheel lit up, which looked quite cool. The rest of the night we spent drinking in an authentic Irish pub - was a lot of fun.

Coming soon, Day two - with details of my trip around the Northern Coast to the Giants Causeway and Derry.

Next Post - 'A Giants Causeway'

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