September 21st, 2009 – by: nicoleah
The hotel breakfast was actually pretty good. Yet another Ulster fry and I was disappointed as it said this would come with black pudding, but it didn't appear on my plate. Just have to try it another time I guess. I headed out towards Belfast, making pretty good time and trying to figure out how I was going to spend my morning. Signs were very confusing though, and I made a wrong turn on my way to the airport which took ten minutes to fix. I still got to the airport exit by 7:45 but I hadn't seen a gas station to fill up the car yet. Luckily there was one at the next exit, but there was also a lot of rush hour traffic trying to get off the freeway there.
Peace wall with writing
I ended up in the wrong lane, causing me to have to turn around. It took over an hour to drive four blocks in a circle as traffic was at a complete stand still. I got in just after 9 which was the deadline for the car (though I had a half hour grace period so it was still okay). I then caught a bus to the city center finally getting off after 10.
It was pouring rain when I got off, so I quickly dropped off my bags and called for a taxi. He arrived much faster than I expected, so I quickly hopped in and met Al who was my driver for a West Belfast tour. This is the area where "the troubles" centered around and still displays murals dedicated to either side of the fighting. Apparently while there is no longer open warfare, things aren't exactly settled down yet either.
Mural comparing the fighters to historical icons like Martin Luther King Jr. and Gandhi
There is a huge wall separating the Catholic side of town from the Protestant side with several gates along it. One gate is open for one hour first thing in the morning, then it shuts down and a different one opens. The driver explained that the two sides never mingle at all and the children are indoctrinated into an early age into the conflict. The murals were interesting as they openly displayed guns and heralded as heroes people who most would consider terrorists. One compared a number of fighters who were imprisoned after killing a number of Protestants with bombs and guns and died in prison as they chose to go on a hunger strike. On the border of the mural, there were displayed icons of non-violence like Gandhi and Martin Luther King, Jr.
though I find it hard to understand how people who were imprisoned after killing a bunch of people could be compared to those who preached against violence of any kind. Not that I agree with the Protestant side either, seems like both sides have gone about things the wrong way. There is a peace wall as well where the driver gave me a marker to write on as apparently that is the tradition. One of the walls is called the international wall, also on the Catholic side, that shows other struggles that they identify with. These included the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, Frederick Douglass, and the Basques.
After the tour ended, I stopped at the Crown Bar for some Irish Stew. It is a really intricately carved bar both inside and out, with stained glass windows and plenty of attention to detail.
Inside, you either sit at the bar or in walled off private booths, each with its own door blocking you from being seen in the cozy little booth.
It was raining a little less when I finished, so I took a bus out to a candy factory on the other side of town. I told the bus driver the wrong stop (I said Road instead of Street) and was a bit turned around, but luckily I still stumbled across the right place. When I walked up however, a little sign said closed for lunch, so it was off to a pub for a beer while I waited. They were open when I returned and the woman was excited to tell me the story of the candy shop and took me into the factory in the back to show me how the candy was being made and handing me some samples. I thought it was a little odd I was allowed to just pluck candy off the table as it was being made without gloves or head coverings or anything, but maybe those requirements are more of a US thing.
The candy shop is all old fashioned candies made on site and she pointed out the ones made that morning already including candy apples for Halloween. I hadn't realized that Ireland celebrates Halloween the exact same way as the United States. The only difference seems to be that sometimes kids are given money when they go trick or treating in Belfast.
It was back to the city center to wander around and shop until it is time to meet Niamh my host for the evening.
I met Niamh at the bus station and we both walked to her father's waiting car. On the way to her house, we talked politics and health care- a very interesting discussion. Her dad dropped us off in front of her place which was in a series of row houses.
She has a very nice place, but it is very cramped for space. In the bedroom I was staying in, I had to lift up the comforter if I wanted to shut the door. She made me some toast and cheese and then we began a rapid walk through a park and university to a little movie theater. She introduced me to her friend Fredericka who is here temporarially from Italy. Fredericka and I went to a movie called Fish Tank while Niamh went back home to finish some work. The movie was British and incredibly depressing. It was about a girl who lives in poverty and all these awful things going on in her very miserable life. It was pretty heavy material and I think dampened both of our moods.
Next we headed back to Niamh's where she had made some delicious meal that I couldn't identify- something like a chicken tortilla in a garlic sauce.
Mural across the street from the Candy factory
It was excellent whatever it was. Her table seems only meant for two though. I couldn't even pull out my chair all the way to sit in it, so instead sat sideways and Niamh on the other side was hitting the door to the room. I brought out some yellow man candy I bought that day, but none of them seemed that interested. It was actually pretty good but I think it would take out your fillings pretty easily as it really clamped your jaw shut when you bit into it. Niamh's cousin Emma live with her and her mother dropped by as well, so we all had a very nice chat before calling it a night. Then Niamh gave me a lesson on how to lock the front door (which was pretty difficult actually) and we said our goodbyes as she would be gone before I left for the airport in the morning.