That’s pretty much the reaction you get from people when you tell them you will be spending 30 hours in this city during Easter break.
Well, due to EasyJet’s late departure, it turned out to be 28 hours in Northern Ireland but Anka and I were determined to make the most of this time to discover the city. We arrived at Belfast International early afternoon and enjoyed a nice taxi ride through Irish rolling hills to the city center. We dropped our bags at the hotel and ventured outside.
As we headed to the center, we walked past brick buildings and Victorian houses and saw industrial architecture as you might expect it in a port city. Sun was peeking through the clouds, a couple of cars were passing by and a few pedestrians were strolling down the empty streets. We later learned that we were actually walking through the business district which is obviously very calm during the weekend.
Then, arriving to city hall square we were struck by the crowds of people: young punk teenagers hanging out, hundreds of people hopping from shop to shop on this warm Saturday afternoon. We followed the crowds and finally ended up in a brand new shopping center at Victoria Square.
We spent the evening enjoying a typical Guinness cooked meal at a local restaurant, then went to the movies and finally experienced the traditional pub gathering.
So is that all there is to Belfast you might ask? Business district, industrial architecture, shopping mall, charming pubs and restaurants? Yeah… well we still had the feeling we were missing something. We normally like to discover the places we visit walking around but this time a question didn’t seem to get answered: what about the religious conflict we heard so much about in the 80’s and 90’s, was that history?
On Sunday morning we asked the hotel reception about the propaganda painted walls often mentioned when you read about Belfast. We were told that they are actually outside the city center and that a taxi visit could be arranged for us. After a nice brunch in the only restaurant we could find open on Easter Sunday, a Scottsman —married to an Irish woman— cab driver picked us up and drove us to the outskirts of Belfast. While listening to his explanations and trying to get past his thick Scottish/Irish accent, we felt the atmosphere building up and we began to understand the burden of hate still consuming the life of the city’s inhabitants.
Here we were, looking at rows of suburban houses painted with military and propaganda scenes trying to understand why catholics and protestants still hate each other so much. The cab driver showed us around the protestant quarter, drove along an actual 6 meters high wall parting the town and then drove through the unique open gate to the catholic quarter. You could see memorial monuments everywhere and gardens protected by metallic fences. The sky was dark and low, the scene was gloomy.
Going back to the hotel the cab driver told us that, although tension is still thick in the air, things are slowly getting better. But there is still a lot to be done and the path to peace is a long one.
We can only wish that the children we saw playing on the streets will someday live together in harmony.
I hope you enjoyed the pictures. Have a wonderful week!