Tuesday, 26 August 2014


It's been a long time since posts - sorry about that!
Internet access in Ireland was complete rubbish intermittent at best. I think there was only one hotel where it worked consistently and everywhere else was either down for maintenance or just not connecting.  Ironically there was excellent mobile Wi-Fi on our coach, but I get highly sick if I do anything but look out a window on a bus so it was just too difficult to do more than a quick Facebook update.  I got sick on the way home and then spent a few weeks completely laid up by illness so I'll be playing catch-up for a bit. Bare with me!

I arrived in Belfast at 10.30pm into a cool, drizzly haze. After more than 16 hours travel including a car, two high speed trains, the metro, tube, regional train, a severely delayed flight that had no air-conditioning till we actually took off and a taxi - all through a European heat wave - I was so grateful to crawl into a shower to wash away several layers of grime and flop into bed.

Saturday morning was grey and threatened rain, but it held off while I walked into town and caught one of the open top bus tours that circle the city.  The whole tour took more than two hours and I went past the Titanic experience, through the Catholic and Protestent areas, past the Peace walls, the Cathederal quarter, parliament buildings and a number of other areas.  A guide talked us through 'the troubles' and it was interesting to hear about a piece of history I have only ever seen on the news.  

As the tour ended it started to rain and became steadily heavier over the rest of the afternoon so I spent the rest of the day walking around the city centre, dipping in and out of the shops and attractions and soaking up the scenery (and quite a bit of rain). The shops were busy, but not crowded and it was a nice way to spend some time.

On Sunday I had a lazy day and slept in and then dawlded until late checkout.  My next hotel was only about 20mins walk away so I set off down the road with my suitcase.  Along the way I found an open laundrette so I stopped and washed everything in my bag so I could start the tour with fresh clothes.  After five weeks of the same things, I expected to be sick of my clothes, but its amazing how you turn off your mind to silly things like choice of shirts to wear when there are so many other interesting things to focus on.  This is possibly a good thing to remember the next time I browse my way through a dress shop! 

I found an Italian restaurant and had lunch and a coffee and by the time I arrived at the hotel, people on the tour had started to arrive and we had a chat and a coffee before the welcome meeting.  There are 11 people on the tour (not including our guide) and they are all women so the poor guy is going to be kept on his toes I suspect!

Monday was the first day of the tour proper and we started it with a guided tour of the peace wall.  Our tour guides picked us up in cabs and drove us to the wall, talking about "the troubles" and some of the more salubrious events in Belfast's recent history.

It was disturbing and enthralling and shocking all at once.  But while I walked through housing estates and high streets in both the Catholic and Protestant area, I was torn in my feelings about it all.  I don't want to diminish the decades of destruction and death that this internal war has wrought.  And there's no doubt that it will leave its stain on the populace for generations to come as people seek to move beyond the labels they have given one another.

But I got the distinct feeling that much of the commentary was being played up for us tourists and I didn't like the feeling.  I struggled with it for much of the tour, trying to find a way through feelings that wanted to be respectful to the city's history and issues that are relevant to residents - but also true to what I was seeing and hearing.  Not one conversation I had with anyone in Belfast - or anywhere else in Ireland - tied in with the picture that was painted on that tour.  But then people also didn't talk about Belfast's long and glorious history where it was once one of the richest cities in Europe either so there's that to consider. 

I'll leave the bigger issues for those more equipped than I to grapple with and leave you with a few photos from around Belfast. But I will say that everyone I met was friendly and welcoming and ready for a chat - Irish 'craic' is certainly alive and well!

My first glimpse of Northern Island homes from my hotel's window.

The Peace Wall - taken from a moving bus - hence the blur.

That's a lot of beer barrels for a tiny pub!

Protest wall.   The images are updated every few months depending on current issues.

There are images like this all over Belfast to depict various scenes in its history.

First glimpse of the Irish countryside. A patchwork of green!

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