Belfast, Northern Ireland:
After arriving in Belfast, I’ll admit that I was a little taken aback – not by the visible aftermath that years of ”The Troubles” created, but by the lack of thereof. The image of a torn city that had been created in my mind differed greatly from the progressive and rejuvanated city I actually saw. Not to go into too much history, but Belfast has been the site of on-going conflicts, hunger strikes, and bombings for decades: clashes between one faction that felt the six counties of Northern Ireland should belong to the Republic of Ireland (primarily Catholics) and those who felt that they should remain part of the United Kingdom (primarily Protestants).
Though one can still feel the history when walking around and see reminders of the past, such as the 4-km long “Peace Line” that still separates the Catholic Falls and Shakill neighborhoods, much of troubles in the past have faded to memory. In fact, many of the famous political murals that adorned the sides of building even a few years ago have begun to be replaced with Peace murals, promoting harmony and non-violence. A great option, though, if you’re visiting the city is to take a Black Taxi tour of West Belfast, in which you’ll be guided through many of the historic spots and landmarks of the Troubles, while being given a personal retelling of the events that took place. Sadly, I personally didn’t have enough time ot take this tour; but as they say, you should never do everything in a new destination, as you’ll need to safe something for your next visit.
Today, Belfast has a very cosmopolitan feel to it, with a host of international cuisines, high fashion shopping districts, various universities, and beautiful gardens and public spaces. Additionally, the night life has been described as “hedonistic” by more than one source, so if you are looking to hit the town, it is a great spot to visit.
Another attraction that Northern Ireland boasts is a dramatically beautiful coastline that runs from Portstewart to Ballycastle known as the Causeway Coast. There are a variety of attractions such as Carrick-a-Rede Islands, the Bushmills Distillery, or Dunlunce Castle, to name a few, but the climax of this region is the almost alien landscape known at the Giant’s Causeway. This is essentially a rugged coastline populated with thousands of basalt pillars in various hexagonal shapes. The legend goes that the giant Finn McCool created this area to best one of his rivals, but geologists seem to have a slightly different theory involving volcanic activity in the area. Regardless of its origins, it is still quite a site.
DISCLAIMER — if you’ve grown tired of my postcard-like scenary pictures, then I’d strongly advise you stop reading here. Otherwise, enjoy:
After leaving Belfast, 1 taxi, 1 ferry, 3 trains, and roughly 12 hours later, I arrived in the bustling and historic captial of Scotland known as Edinburgh, just in time to catch the Edinburgh Festivals (but more on that in a minute). The city itself is much larger than the last few towns I’ve visited, but it instantly feels comfortable for any traveler. When exploring the city, be sure to bring your hiking shoes, as walking around will force you through more ungulations than trying to putt on green at any of the nearby links courses. And in case you get lost, you can always regain your bearings merely by spotting the ever-present Edinburgh Castle that stands watch over the entire city from its perch at the center.
Whereas there is quite a bit to see while in Edinburgh, I timed my trip to coincide with what are commonly known as “the festivals.” For roughly one month each year, over 300 different venues throughout the city host thousands of music groups, theatre performances, art installations, comedy acts, and dance routines. The already-packed city feels even more vibrant and alive with the thousands of addition visitors that the festivals draw in, creating an almost electric feel and energy around town. Sadly, most of the performances do not allow photographs, so I don’t have too many pictures to post, but so far I’ve attended a raucous Japanese Raiko Drum session, a dramatic play centering around the people coming in an out of a take-out restaurant, a Korean music and dance troupe, a post-apocalyptic opera, a blown-glass art exhibit, and a few late-night stand-up comedy acts (though unfortunately the Buddhist Meditation class I wanted to attend was cancelled). The shows run all day, so you could easily squeeze in 5 or even 6 performances per day, if you were feeling ambitious.
I’ve got a few more pics and anecdotes queued up for my next “Food and Drink” post, so hopefully I’ll have that out in the next day or two (hint: being in Scotland, it involves Scotch Whisky). Other than that, I’ve booked a train to London for tomorrow afternoon, so I’ll be leaving Scotland without even playing a single round of golf (shame on me — but again, I’m just saving it for the next trip!). Regardless, I’ll likely be hitting mainland Europe after my stay in England, but I’m still unsure how to attack it. At the moment, however, Spain is the front-runner in my mind, but we’ll see how I feel in a few days. Until then, cheers!