When I’d left Belfast the first time in 2012, I vowed that I couldn’t live my whole life without returning However, I didn’t foresee the path my life would take that would lead me back to Belfast so soon.
While I sat waiting on the train at Connolly in Dublin, I was excited to be going back to the city I’d fallen in love with 3 years earlier. However, I was anxious as well. I’ve been through a lot in my life since my last visit. I was worried that I had changed so much that I’d no longer feel the same love and kinship with the city.
As soon as I stepped off the train though, all my fears disappeared. Belfast is still my city. I still felt at home while walking its streets and still felt alive by the bracing sea air. I spent only two days in Belfast and more happened in those two days than about a month in Dublin. Since that’s the case, I could never condense it all into one post. so here is my fires installment of my two part series. I hope you enjoy and this inspires you to visit!
I’d probably planned my trip to Belfast more thoroughly than any other I’d taken. There were so many places and things I wanted to see and do that I didn’t get to do the first time–chief among them visiting St. George’s Market and Belfast City Hall.
St. George’s Market (only a few minutes walk from Belfast Central Station) is a giant indoor market. You can get almost anything you want there–from handmade and unique jewelry to arts and crafts to bright silvery scaly fish and terracotta crabs.
I can only imagine what my cousins would have thought of the spectacle. I had to laugh as I thought what their reaction would be walking past a crate of slippery, slimy eels.
As I walked in, I happened upon a jewelry stand, fitted out with all sorts of rings, bracelets and earrings. Almost immediately I happened upon a bracelet, a simple black patent leather braided cord with a simple charm–an anchor. How fitting is that?
After St. George’s, I walked to Belfast City Hall, the place I most vividly remembered from my first visit to Belfast. City Hall rises majestically from the middle of Donegal Square. Topped with a copper dome, Belfast City Hall could itself be a palace or a cathedral.
You can take a FREE tour of City Hall at designated times throughout the day (even on a Saturday). The building is full of history, it was the host to parties for kings and queens (King George V and Queen Mary among them), and played a pivotal part in fight for home rule in Ireland.
Inside, it’s a brilliant display of stained glass windows and plush carpets. You can even sit in the Lord Mayor’s chair (I did). There’s even something very special in the largest room in City Hall–a sideboard that was supposed to be installed on board the Titanic in Captain Smith’s quarters, but it’s delivery was delayed and it was spared. This gives you an idea of the kind of glamour that was lost in the tragic sinking of the ship.
Now filled with the history of the city I wanted to take a famous taxi cab tour of West Belfast, the areas that are cordoned off according to your religious lines. Catholics on one side, with Irish flags waving sparingly, and the Protestants, with the Union Jacks plastered upon anything that would stand.
However, before I set off for one of these tours, I needed some sustenance. So I decided to get lunch (fish and chips, of course) at one of Belfast’s oldest establishments, the Crown Liquor Saloon.
The Crown dates back to 1826, and is spectacular inside and out. Fitted out with individual “snugs” for a private dining and drinking experience, and spectacular architecture. Since the downstairs bar area was rather crowded, I went upstairs to the dining saloon to have my tea first and then my fish and chips. I had a romantic table in the corner, where I could watch the traffic in front of the Europa hotel, which was one of the the most bombed buildings during The Troubles.
After filling up, it was time for one of the famous taxi tours of the city. I has taken one before in 2012, however, that was before I read Caroline Oceana Ryan’s “Adventures In Belfast.” Now that I had such an intimate portrait of the city in my head, I wanted to see it again with new eyes. The Falls Road and Shankill Road are the main thoroughfares in the city, controlled by the Republicans and the Loyalists, respectively. Each one is decorated with colorful murals, dedicated to the various martyrs and causes close to the heart of each side.
The murals really are spectacular, colorful and touching, yet menacing at the same time. Seeing gunmen painted on the sides of walls with smiles on their faces–that part was the most shocking. Having your cab driver (mine was spectacular) point out places where, just 30 years ago, people were gunned down in the streets, was eerie. It was an uneasy yet necessary part of knowing Belfast.
You can even sign the Peace Wall, one of the walls separating the Republican/Catholic and Loyalist/Protestant sides. Bill Clinton did it in 1995, and I did it, too!
My tour cost around thirty pounds, and it was worth every cent. I definitely recommend taking a tour when you’re in Belfast, it gives you a much better idea and appreciation for the city.
So, after my cab ride, I was too close to my hostel to head back to the city centre, so I wandered into a Starbucks (not my most international experience) to have coffee and charge my phone. While there I met the most wonderful girl, Michelle. We instantly hit it off because she wants to move to America, and I of course want to live in Belfast! It was one of those experiences where you feel you’ve met someone at the exact right time in both your lives. We must have sat in that Starbucks for 3 hours talking about everything, and now we’re like best friends! She’s even coming to visit me in Dublin in a few weeks!
That brings me to an end of Day 1 of my visit to Belfast! Stay tuned for Part 2!!!