We wrapped up our Ireland trip with an all-too-brief stop in Belfast. As the site of many of “The Troubles,” Belfast was a fascinating city of contrasts. In some of the more working class, staunch Catholic and Protestant neighborhoods, the city felt very much divided between two factions, where past tensions simmered under the surface of the present day. And yet, in the downtown, more touristy areas, Belfast looked like any other European city. Spending a half day in Belfast could not possibly do both of these worlds justice, but we were lucky enough to experience a small bit of both.
We began by driving through some of the areas where the recent conflicts were most evident. As we headed toward Shankill Road, the heart of Belfast’s Protestant area, we passed a police station ringed in barbed wire, perhaps a telling sign. When we reached Shankill Road itself, we were greeted by an explosion of Union Jack flags. They lined the roads and hung from literally every apartment and shop.
We also drove by the Peace Wall, which separates the Protestant Shankill Road from the nearby Catholic neighborhood. While I unfortunately didn’t get any pictures of it, the 20-foot tall wall was covered in murals and served as a sobering reminder of ongoing difficulties.
From there, we left the grittier side of Belfast behind, heading downtown to the absolutely gorgeous Belfast City Hall. The building is guarded by a statue of Queen Victoria, who made appearances all throughout Ireland; while I expected to see lots of Victoria-related buildings and monuments in Britain, I was surprised by how ever-present she was in Ireland, too.
In front of Belfast City Hall, we found two rows of miniature Terracotta Warriors. The colorfully painted replicas reminded me of the decorated bears or cows scattered throughout the streets of some other cities (see: Berlin). I was unclear what exactly Terracotta Warriors had to do with Belfast, but it was nonetheless fun to check out their colorful designs.
Just outside Belfast City Hall we found a memorial garden for victims of the Titanic, which was built in Belfast. The city is also home to a shiny new Titanic Museum, and this afternoon, my mom and I actually split up: she headed to the Titanic Museum; I wandered around downtown Belfast. As someone who was
mildly majorly obsessed with Titanic in middle school, I can’t explain precisely why I didn’t want to visit the museum, except to say that we had an extremely limited amount of time and I didn’t want to run through it. So, I settled for seeing the garden – and now have a good reason to return to Belfast someday!
I also spent a bit of time poking around inside City Hall. One of my favorite features was the hallway of stained glass windows. They were so colorful and beautiful, depicting a variety of scenes from the ever-present Titanic to messages about Protestant and Catholic unity.
From City Hall, I walked a few blocks to St. George’s Market, which was one of the most eclectic flea markets I’ve ever visited. The market had everything: from food (fresh produce, baked goods, and more than a few smelly fish stands) to crafts to antiques to things that could only be described as “garage sale junk.” Oh, and there was also a funeral planning booth. Like I said, it was an eclectic mix.
After sifting through the bric-a-brac at St. George’s, I headed to Victoria Square, a nearby shopping mall. My goal there wasn’t to hit up H&M or Zara; it was to swing by Wagamama for lunch. While you can now find Wagamama in Boston, I first became obsessed with the restaurant while in London in summer 2006, so I was excited to make a return visit purely for nostalgic reasons. My gigantic plate of Pad Thai did not disappoint!
Victoria Square also houses an observation deck on its top level. When I heard the word “observation deck,” I pictured something really tall with excellent panoramic views…and this, unfortunately, was not that. You’re not very high up, and you’re greeted with quite a few views of industrial warehouses. Of everything I saw in Belfast, this was the only spot that disappointed me.
After our quick visit to Belfast, we headed back to Dublin, coming full circle to where our trip around the Emerald Isle began. In the afternoon, we relaxed at our hotel, walked to the post office, and made one last Laduree visit on Grafton Street. Then we headed to our final Irish feast at Eden Restaurant. I had my one millionth (give or take) goat cheese salad to start, a delicious duck leg for my main, and a sweet chocolate mousse – adorably presented in a glass jar – to finish.
As we walked back to our hotel that evening, I kept telling my mom how sad I was that our time in Ireland was over. This was a trip I had anticipated for a long time, and it turned out to be as wonderful as I had hoped. What was my favorite part? In a country as fantastic as Ireland, it would be difficult to pick just one thing (though those charming Irish accents and the warm, friendly folks they belong to certainly make it to the top of any list). I am so happy I went – and I’d be more than happy to return someday.