Tuesday, November 12, 2013

Overnight in Belfast

Our first trip out of the city of Dublin actually took us out of the country of Ireland.  We wanted to explore some of the more famous outdoor sights of this island with our first trip out of town, and the Antrim Coast offers no shortage of natural Autumn beauty.

Without political commentary, the facts are these:  The island of Ireland is divided into two separate countries.  The Republic of Ireland occupies all but the Northeast corner of the island, and is what most people imagine when they think the words "Ireland" and "Irish."  The Northeast corner of the island is the country of Northern Ireland, which is part of the United Kingdom.  The two countries are currently at peace, but there is an international border between the two, and they do not share government or currency.

The easiest way to explore the Antrim Coast of Northern Ireland is to rent a car in Belfast and drive, because the area is rural and a bit remote.  Public transport can be tricky.  We planned our trip to leave Dublin in the afternoon on a Bus Eireann bus to Belfast, spend a night, and take a car out of Belfast in the morning.

Vagabonds Hostel in Belfast, Northern Ireland
Vagabonds Hostel Belfast
 We arrived in Belfast as planned in the afternoon.  The weather was dark, gray, and rainy, but we were ready for it.  One of the first things to notice when traveling to Northern Ireland is the presence of everything...British.  United Kingdom Union Jack flags (many of them old, faded, and tattered, c'mon N.I.!  Have some respect or don't do it at all!) fly from nearly every light post and building.  Red mailboxes with the symbol of the queen sit at every corner, just like in London.  Black taxis prowled the streets looking for fares at rush hour.  We had to get cash from an ATM to pay for our hostel, because Northern Ireland does not use the Euro, but the British Pound Sterling.

After getting some "Queeny Money," we got to the hostel and checked in.  We were staying in the group room, so we dropped off our bags, looked around, and took to the streets.  The sights of Belfast are much more spread out than those of Dublin, so even though we were near the City Centre, it wouldn't have been easy or cheap for us to see everything.  We decided the easiest sight to see given our timeframe, budget, and weather would be the famous Belfast City Hall.

Belfast City Hall in Belfast, Northern Ireland
Belfast City Hall
The City Hall is quite large and quite old.  So there's that.  The gardens around the building are nicely trimmed and maintained, and it is circled with monuments of Belfast's proudest moments and achievements.

Queen Victoria scowls down the street of Belfast, Northern Ireland
Queen Victoria
Did I mention that they love them some Queen Victoria up there?  They love them some Q.V., just love her.  Can't get enough of her.  With a face like the one above, how could you not love her?  Check out the rest of the statue in the photo below:

Queen Victoria stands above the people in Belfast, Northern Ireland
Starving Peasants
 We didn't quite capture the detail, but those dirty black figures below the Queen are starving working class peasants.  So, let me sum up the whole work of art that is so revered:  The Queen, white and pure, scowls and stands on a pillar, wearing a crown and holding her orb of power (like something from science fiction?) above the dirty, poor, starving people over whom she rules under threat of mutilation and decapitation.  Nice.  Hard to believe a surprising amount of Planet Earth is named for her.  Oh well.  Did I mention there would be no political commentary in this post?  Anyway...

Belfast is also famous for its ship-building.  Large portions of Titanic were designed and built in the shipyards in Belfast (even though the ship said Liverpool on the rear, another chance for the English to snub the Irish?!) and the city takes pride in that history.  A recent monument was built to honor the builders, passengers, and stories of Titanic in the City Hall garden.

Titanic Memorial Statue

Names of the deceased

Closeup of the names of the deceased
 After a long afternoon of walking and exploring, we were cold, hungry, and ready for a nice hot meal.  With our budget, we decided a homemade cheap-o meal of spaghetti and cheap wine.  We got our supplies and walked back to the hostel with a surprisingly well-equipped kitchen for guest use.  For extra class, we enjoyed our wine from beer glasses likely stolen from nearby pubs.

Spaghetti, cheese, crackers, and wine at Vagabonds Hostel Belfast
Spaghetti, cheese, crackers, and wine
We relaxed and rested for the big days ahead after our satisfying meal.  Some of the other hostel residents put in the movie Kingpin for our viewing pleasure, and boy did we I enjoy it.  Plan in hand, we went to bed ready to take on the rest of our Northern Irish adventure.

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