City Hall: so empty yet so ornate!
Alongside the train to Northern Ireland, flooded fields gave way to Union Jacks flying above the roofs of seemingly endless townhomes. I got an alert on my phone from my wireless company stating “Welcome to the UK.” This preplanned weekend trip to Belfast started off a bit dreary, and the weather didn’t look like it’d clear up anytime soon. But nevertheless, my curiosity and anticipation kept my hopes up. As we pulled into the station, the short trek to the hostel proved to be a relatively easy endeavor (although there was a large pile of trash we had to avoid near our hostel).
This was right outside of our hostel… We had a good laugh!
After me and my good friends Gabe, Colin, Joe finished unpacking in our room, we all went to explore a few blocks around our hostel. Coming from a Catholic background and a Catholic university, we found it quite comical that we were staying in a more Protestant part of the city with the presence of Union Jacks and a “God Save the King” mural around the corner. We dodged pink double-decker buses on crosswalk-free streets as we made our way to find a place for lunch. We settled on a place called Queen’s Pizzaria, which lived up to its name in having some of the best stone-fired pizza around. We finished off the meal with an “Imperial Mint” which in my opinion was aptly named given the British nature and humor of our surroundings.
A moment of pure bliss caught on camera!
Back in our hostel, we had a mini freakout as we could not figure out how to turn on the light in our room’s bathroom. There was a large cord coming down from the ceiling, but we got scared that it was one of those emergency pull cords that were commonplace in Dubin. After designating Colin as the official rope tester, he gave it a yank and light flooded into the previously dark space. We had quite a sigh of relief and a good laugh afterward.
About an hour later, we all took a black taxi tour of Belfast. It was insane still seeing the divides that separate communities, and how the city seems to set itself on fire (with giant pyres of wood) every July to commemorate the nighttime arrival of King William. One aspect of the tour that stuck out to me the most was how the Catholic Nationalist Irish side supported Palestine, while the Protestant Unionist British side supported Israel. There was a massive mural on one side supporting the Palestinian cause, while on the other side, there was one supporting Israel. It’s insane how deep the divide still runs despite the calm demeanor of the city on the surface. Our guide even told of an old gravesite just outside the city that had a wall nine feet deep in the cemetery to divide the ground in which the dead lie.
A picture says a thousand words…
I wondered how the modern conflict in Israel and Palestine (technically Hamas) has affected the people of this city. As of the time of writing, both Israel and Hamas are engaged in a brutal war that has seen old hatreds flare up to their most contentious point in my lifetime. Although it is so unfortunate that this conflict is even occurring, I cannot help but wonder what that does to the psyche of those living in a divided Belfast. Our guide mentioned that, despite the gates to the walls being open for most of the day, if the walls were taken down tomorrow, The Troubles would reignite. For now, the only thing that is lobbed over the massive wall are golf balls, but who knows what the future holds in this insane and unpredictable world.