How and where do you start with a city like Belfast? Torn in two for generations over the rights of the English and the Irish to govern this rainy spot, peace seems to be gently settling on this troubled place.
After travelling through the luscious Irish Country side, kissing the Blarney Stone, sipping on an ice-cold Guinness next to the Liffey, marvelling at the incredibly dramatic Cliffs of Moher, transversing Dublin’s ha’penny bridge, explored the enigmatic ruins of Charles’ Fort and marvelled at the gluten-free offerings of Ireland, we hopped on the train to Belfast. There was no announcement en route of the country’s border line, one minute you were in the emerald Isles, next thing back on English soil – yet that imaginary line has been the subject of so much suffering.
Each time we re-visit we don’t really know quite what to expect. The murals still line the infamous Falls Road striking with Republican/Nationalist messages; the curbstones lining the Shankill Road strike the eye with patriotic red white and blue Loyalist hues.
Peace walls “designed to protect neighbourhoods from sporadic attacks and retain a sense of peace and protection” still stand proud. Mostly unlocked during the day, in heightened periods of unrest the click of a key in their locks ring true.
For the most part fervour seems to have abated somewhat allowing the city occupants to start a fresh with busy day-to-day lives. It isn’t a pretty city, but one mired in recent history, with talks still ongoing.
Not all of the murals are political, modern artists are taking advantage of the history to create their own image of the of the city. Tourists are beginning to visit this city – for the ill-fated Titanic (built in Belfast), the Crumlin Road Goal (good enough for her Majesty the Queen to visit) and their museum of modern art.
We especially loved the live music scene and spent a toe tapping Friday perched on bar stools around the city center before inhaling a burrito bowl of delicious proportions.
We rounded our evening by popping into an opulent hotel for a blackberry nightcap (I was much mocked by the boys) whilst we planned our next day.
Waking to homebaked croissants and the cheery sound of coffee cups and kids chattering, our effusive host (Mr Kiwi’s friend for more than 20 years) asked if we wanted to see the Titanic exhibition. It’s an awkward thing to do, but as we politely declined he laughed with relief and asked what we’d really like to do (he’s been roughly 10 times with overseas visitors).
Basically we just wanted to spend time catching up with him, so in the spirit of the black cab tours, we took a drive through the mural districts and spotted peace walls dotting the town. We walked the hushed hallways and tunnels of Crumlin Road Goal, and briefly stopped into the modern art museum.
Tourists are slowly beginning to chip away as the firm veneer of this troubled city – we lunched in a Michelin Starred Restaurant, sipped a pint or two in the stunning Crown Pub and settled in to watch the world go by with a tray off coffee.
Belfast, we can’t wait to revisit again – the Giant’s Causeway is calling.