After a sleep so sound Angie supposedly considered holding a mirror under my nose to see if I was breathing, we had a final breakfast with Jen & Gary and on the morning of Thursday, August 9th, we took a taxi to the train station and made our way from Dublin to Belfast.
The folks at The Merchant Hotel were kind enough to store our bags and point us in the right direction for shopping. I was thrilled to see an old favorite from the States, where we both bought a few things.
We wandered downtown for a while noting places we’d like to stop back at, and climbed to the Victoria Square viewing platform.
Since Northern Ireland is part of the UK, and London was hosting the Olympics, we were technically in the host country. So, a giant public viewing area was set up on the City Hall lawn. We wandered in and sat down just in time to see local favorite Katie Taylor fight and win the (first ever) Women’s Light Weight Boxing Gold Medal. The crowd was nervous for her and cheered like mad – I am thrilled we had the opportunity to watch with them.
We shopped a bit more and Angie coordinated a Black Taxi tour of the city. Oh, Belfast! Your history (“The Troubles”) is fascinating and confusing, and your future is full of promise.
A stop at the Crumlin Road Courthouse:
“If buildings have memories, Crumlin Road courthouse must harbour more emotions than almost any other in Belfast, having been for decades an epicentre of the Troubles in the city. The courthouse is where more than 10,000 republicans, loyalists and others were tried by the Diplock non-jury courts. At a rough guess, the judges who heard these cases handed down sentences that totalled more than a quarter of a million years.”
We were overwhelmed at stops along the Shankhill / Falls Peace Wall, and embarrassed we weren’t more familiar with Irish history. Thankfully, our driver offered fantastic explanations. And, we’ve vowed to read up on it all now that we’re home.
A series of separation barriers in Northern Ireland separate Catholic and Protestant neighbourhoods. The stated purpose of the barriers is to minimize inter-communal violence between Catholics (who are mainly nationalists that self-identify as Irish) and Protestants (who are mainly unionists that self-identify as British). The barriers range in length from a few hundred yards to over three miles (5 km). They may be made of iron, brick, and/or steel and are up to 25 feet (7.6 m) high. Some have gates in them (sometimes staffed by police) that allow passage during daylight but are closed at night.
We saw a lot of murals depicting the Belfast’s political and religious divisions:
And we drove by Queen’s University:
After dinner at the Crown Liquor Saloon, we headed back to The Merchant. Here’s a tidbit about the hotel we learned on the tour, though I hesitate to use these names in a post as I wonder what kind of traffic it will bring to my blog… Belfast hosted the 2011 MTV Video Music Awards. Though many guests made reservations and were settled in at The Merchant, JBeebs himself, Justin Beiber, and gal-pal Selina Gomez arrived and bought out the hotel, offering guests unaffiliated with their entourage money for vacating their rooms in addition to paying for their new accommodations and offered to pose for photos with those they displaced as they vacated the hotel. Oh, I how wish I had been there so I could have been the holdout, refusing to leave…
Another bit of interest we learned from our driver is that the hotel’s bar appears in the Guinness Book of World Records, since they have the world’s most expensive beverage: a $1,300 Mai Thai made with very rare rum. Our tab wasn’t quite that much, but we did enjoy two different cocktails each, so we could taste four total. And we loved them all so much we bought copies of the menu, which are really nice books.
After a hotel breakfast on Friday, August 10th, we crammed as much into our remaining time in Belfast as humanly possible! We shopped for souvenirs and gifts before heading to St. George’s Market, where I wished I wasn’t so full:
We sped through the Ulster Museum, raced through the Botanical Garden and managed to have a final pint at Crown Liquor before it was time to take the train back to Dublin.
A quick Boxty dinner in Temple Bar, a flight at 8pm, arrival in Germany around 11pm and we were back at home a little after midnight.
I’ll wrap up our time together in the next post!