I flew into Belfast after a 2.5 hour flight delay and made it not long before my next Topdeck trip was due to start. We met at the hotel and met the other Topdeckers, my new topdeck family for the next 10 days. I also bumped into my bus driver from my first Topdeck trip and have the pleasure of his company again for this one! What are the odds!?!!
It is so wonderful to be staying in hotels for this trip! Having now been 26 days on the road again in shared hostel dorms of up to 15 people, now sharing a twin room with one other in a fresh and clean hotel with free towels, comfortable pillows, no concern of bedbugs, and ensuite bathrooms is a dream.
Moving on, Northern Ireland. To be honest I knew very little about Northern Irish history, so coming to Belfast I had no idea what to expect. We went on a short walking tour and saw the city call, the main parts of the town, the Europa hotel which is the most bombed hotel in Europe having been bombed 26 times (it used to be the most bombed in the world until Lebanon recently), and the Titanic memorial (as the Titanic was built in Belfast). We stopped in the Crown hotel for a drink and to get to know some of the other Topdeckers. They say the Crown hotel was owned by a Catholic wife and Protestant husband, and they argued about what to call it. The wife won and called it the Crown but the compromise was that her husband got to choose where the crown logo went, so he put it on the ground entry way so it was always walked all over. Whether or not there is any validity to that story remains to be seen, but it’s a very cool pub! Inside, the booths look like confession boxes! The bar and general decor is rather unique and I loved the feel of the place.
After this we went on a black cab tour. It wasn’t a usual tour, nor a regular cab ride. Basically it was a historical tour of the Catholic and Protestant war that raged on and still holds a lot of tension in Belfast, we just happened to ride in black cabs to get to each destination.
There are Catholic and Protestant districts in Belfast and the town is much like a chess board in the layout of the two. The Catholics had Irish flags hanging proudly from their houses, while the Protestants had either British flags, or God save the Queen flags hanging from theirs. Murals were painted on the sides of houses of war victors / martyrs and when you were in the opposing side of town, memorials of the lives lost from said person/s were on display. An amazing chance to see both sides perspective, and see ones war hero as the others murderous enemy.
On the 12th of July every year the Protestants celebrate bonfire night. This is the date that King William 3 who wanted to make Britain Catholic was defeated. They build insanely huge bonfires for weeks beforehand so we could see a few starting to take shape. Houses close by the bonfires experience such intense heat that they could burn down or have melted doors, so council boards them up and sprays them with water to protect them. Residents dump their old wooden furniture or other things that can be burned by the bonfire and they get added to the middle of the bonfire structure as it is built. It burns for roughly a week.
Between the two religious sections in town stands a wall, which is 3 X higher than the Berlin Wall. As the layout is like a chess board, not 1 but 48 walls separate the city. They are joined by gates that are still to this day locked overnight, every night. People ask why this hasn’t been pulled down or the gates opened, like Berlin, but the difference is that these walls were built by the people of Belfast for their own safety. Berlins wall was built to keep them in, while Belfast’s is built to keep them out. It was built by the people,for the people, at their will to keep peace. For the most part it helps to keep locals safe, but violence is still a part of every day life there.
The wall has murals and people write messages of love, hope, peace, or general shit talk on the wall. Famous people have done so, but the wall is repainted and new messages are written fairly often. We all wrote a message on the wall. People throw things over wall at the other. As we were there writing our messages of love on the wall, the Catholics threw rocks over at the Protestant side which we were standing on. A local warned us to be careful as it was just a few meters away and we were in danger of being hit.
Houses on both sides which back onto a wall have metal cages where their back patios should stand, to protect their house from rocks or other things thrown at them.
Retailers used to have to check through the store at closing time and check the coat pockets on racks, or in the shelves to make sure no petrol bombs were there to set the shop on fire overnight. Our black cab tour guide used to work in retail found a few during his time, many years ago.
The conflict in Belfast was intense with many losing their lives, and still to this day has animosity. Obviously it is much better now, and everyone you meet on the street is incredibly friendly. Everyone will stop to have a chat and ask where you’re from and wish you well in their country. It is only when religion is brought into things that the violence or hatred is born.
After learning about the conflict and seeing both sides of town, we grabbed dinner and headed out to a local pub called Filthy Mcnasties. When we first walked in they were playing grunge rock, then out in the beer garden it was a mix of pop, indie and electronic as the DJ changed hands. As we were leaving, a live duet of a guy on an acoustic guitar and another on a djembe played and sang inside. Talk about a mixture of music! The patrons were much the same with every man and his dog at the pub. Young people, old people, the rich in suits from work, and the poor with few teeth left, and everything in between. We laughed and we danced and we called it a night.
Belfast was a short stop of one night and the next morning we headed to the Giants Causeway. Volcanic action a long time ago, caused these rock formations of awesome hexagonal columns that stood high and jutted out into the ocean. The local legend however is that these rock formations were built by a giant to make a path to the other side. We had about 45 minutes to explore the area and climb about. It was really unlike anything I had ever seen before! The weather was gloomy but it was still amazing and definitely worth the trip to go and see them! I wish there was more to say about them really, as I feel I need to give them more weight of a few sentences, but there isn’t too much to say really! Just check out the pics