This will likely be my last post until we leave. 2 weeks from today! Yippee!!! And Belfast is the last stop we will be making, so it’s the last thing for me to preview. It might be one of the places I am most looking forward to, actually. So growing up I had a pen pal from Belfast. She was in MN for a summer as a sort of foreign exchange thing. And the funny thing is that since I’ve been planning this trip, I have thought about her. Well, about a month ago I saw this story on the local news: http://www.kare11.com/news/news_article.aspx?storyid=983823 I am almost positive that she came over as part of this program. We met at a week-long Fellowship of Christian Athletes (FCA) retreat. We became pen pals after she went back home and I remember what her envelopes and letters looked like, her writing, etc. But I can’t, for the life of me, remember her name. And one topic I remember us conversing about? Peat. Yes, she explained to me how they used peat as their source of heat in their home. I don’t think we talked much about “the Troubles”, but I know we touched on it. Obviously, this was during the Troubles and I always wondered if she was safe. How I wish I had saved her letters or could remember her name and look her up when I get into town. Oh well.
Anyway, I have always been interested in Belfast and the sectarian violence there. As much history as Ireland holds, the turmoil in Northern Ireland is the history of my generation. So I am excited to go there, to see the murals, to take tours, etc. I am also over the moon excited about the fact that Loren and I will be staying the in Europa hotel. The Europa is considered the most bombed hotel in Europe, as it was home to the journalists covering the Troubles. It was bombed 33 times between 1970-1993 (I think I got those dates right). It was closed in1994 and remodeled and is now a 4-star hotel. It is expensive, but we got it for dirt cheap! I can’t wait to stay there!
So, considering what I’ve already said in this post, the number one thing Loren and I want to do in Belfast is take a Black Taxi tour of the political and religious murals. One part of town is the Loyalist (to the Crown)/Protestant Shankill Road district and the other is the Republican/Catholic Falls Road district. It is advised not to tour these areas alone, though they are completely safe (well, perhaps not at night). But because of the recent nature of these issues, foreigners are advised not to discuss these issues with any Tom, Dick, or Harry one may come across (unless, of course, they raise the topic). So the best way to get the stories and ask questions is of your cab driver on these tours. If one was to go out on one’s own, the rule is that one begins in the city center and goes out to one of the areas, then back to the city center before going to the opposite neighborhood. One does not traipse from one side directly to the other. Good to know!
In addition to the murals, the Black Taxi tour will also take us to the “Peace Line”, which looks more like the Berlin Wall to me. But people can write notes, thoughts, and messages on it about the Troubles to the citizens of Belfast.
The second most important thing in Belfast that I am looking forward to seeing is the new Titanic Experience exhibit. Considering 2012 is the 100-year anniversary of the Titanic, I think it’s appropriate. The new exhibit looks really neat and I can’t wait to check it out. Here’s the outside of it.
Belfast is home to Queen’s University, essentially the alternative to Trinity College in Dublin. It looks really pretty! I’m sure we will walk around the grounds while we’re there.
This is also a stunning photo of the Queen’s Bridge. Beautiful!
If we have time, I would also like to see Belfast Castle.
On our last actual day in the country (not counting the day we fly out), we plan to head north to the Antrim Coast and see Giant’s Causeway. I am thrilled that it looks like we will have time for this. (I was afraid we wouldn’t and had relegated that to the “next time” pile.) Giant’s Causeway was created from molten basalt lava or, you know, giants. Specifically Finn McCool. So that he could walk over to Scotland and fight a Scottish giant. The Scottish giant tried to follow Finn McCool back to Ireland, but got scared and went back, ripping up the causeway as he went. As a result, only the ends remain (there are remains in Scotland, too!).
After experiencing the Giant’s Causeway, there are additional areas to explore in the area. One of them is another rock formation that is called the Organ. It’s a stack of vertical basalt columns, which resemble organ pipes.
A little east of the Giant’s Causeway (but still along the Causeway Coast), is the Carrick-a-Rede rope bridge. It is a rope bridge that fishermen put up each year in order to get across to Rathlin Island for salmon fishing. The bridge has gotten safer, but it’s still the same idea that the fishermen have been putting up for the last 200 years. I’m not sure if Loren is game for this yet, but I sure am! Good thing I’m not afraid of heights!