Northern Ireland is beautiful. I am a northerner and convinced that the further north you go, the prettier the world becomes. I had initially visited Belfast, Northern Ireland in October of 2001. At the time, there was still political strife and the air in Belfast was thick with tension. I remember stepping off the train from Dublin to Belfast and immediately recognizing the stark contrast. Dublin was cheerful, friendly, outgoing… Belfast, at the time, was ominous. No one smiled or made eye contact. The hostel we stayed at strongly advised adhering to evening curfews. We even got shot at while we were there 2001.
Fast forward 16 years, Belfast is renewed. My most recent trip to Belfast was incredibly different from the first trip. For one, the sun was literally shining. People were out an about, walking the streets, shopping, mingling, exchanging welcoming glances. It is beautiful. My heart is glad for this city. It seems that businesses are prospering and people appear to have a peace that I did not see 16 years ago.
We spent just one day milling around Belfast on this trip. We took a black cab tour, which I had taken in 2001 as well. A driver from Paddy Campbell’s Belfast Famous Black Cab Tours (http://belfastblackcabtours.co.uk) takes you from one point of interest to the next, explaining his perspective of the politics and troubles of Belfast over recent years.
The black cab tour mainly consists of viewing a number of murals throughout the city that depict key events and people. The driver gives explanation for each mural. Additionally, we saw how neighborhoods remain divided by “Peace Walls” which were intended to reduce violence between opposing parties. At one point, the black-cab-tour driver pulled over and invited us to leave our mark, along with many others, by writing a message on the peace wall. It was difficult to find a blank space to leave a message and intriguing to see what others had written.
I love Northern Ireland. It is a beautiful, artistic, interesting and hospitable country. I would not hesitate to return. In fact, I would like to explore more of it. There are tours that will take you from Belfast to surrounding must-see spots. During my 2001 trip I visited Old Bushmills Distillery (if you like whiskey, volunteer at the end of the tour), Giant’s Causeway (one of THE MOST interesting natural wonders I have visited in all of my travels), and the Carrick-a-Rede Swinging Rope Bridge (which was closed for the season when we were there; still BEAUTIFUL).
Northern Ireland and Belfast are underrated. Go!