Hello Belfast, Goodbye Ireland
I tore into Northern Ireland’s capital like a mad man recently released from military service. My stretch of recuperation was done and I planned on letting this city do what it wished to me. The days are long here and I continuously wander among the marvelous architecture just trying to absorb as much of Belfast’s energy as I can. Queen Victoria would be proud of the way her pet city looks today. It’s a fine mixture of 19th, 20th and 21st century buildings, all blending together in some sort of weird…not harmony exactly, but more like a coexistence. I guess buildings can reflect the people who live within them.
Take Great Victoria Street for example. On one side you have the newly refurbished Europa Hotel, a modern looking 20th century building which at one point had the lovely distinction of being ‘the world’s most bombed hotel’. Directly across the street is the Crown Liquor Saloon, built in1885 with enough beautiful Victorian decadence inside to bring a drunk of any era to tears. These building don’t look odd standing across from each other; on the contrary, they almost look natural.
Despite the coexistence of the buildings and, for the most part, the people, there is still an air of tension in some parts of the city. One day I took a Black Taxi Tour, which brought me through both the Falls Rd. area (the hard-line Catholic neighborhood) and the Shankill Rd. area (the hard-line Protestant neighborhood). I saw the amazing murals and heard the rugged stories of Belfast life from the mid 60’s until the 1994 ceasefire between the IRA and the various Ulster armies. The “Peace Wall” is still up, separating the two sides. Those whose houses border this wall still worry about the occasional Molotov Cocktail that manages to find its way over.
But this is a new era in Belfast.CafÃ© culture is taking root, and the night life is insane! The people here, especially the young people, don’t want anything to do with the Troubles of the past. Good things are happening here, it’s impossible not to feel it.
As for me, I’m tired of the road and it’s starting to snow here in Belfast. In three days I’ll be back in San Francisco. I’m going to miss the stout beer, the lovely lasses, the random pub conversations with old men, and most of all, the craic. I’m definitely gonna miss the craic.
Stuart’s Euro Saving Tip of the Day: All throughout Northern Ireland there is a restaurant chain called Lloyd’s No. 1 where they offer 2 for 1 meals all day long. So if you go in for lunch, and order 2 meals, you can box up the second one and bring it home for dinner. Genius, I know.