Belfast and Giant’s Causeway

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December, 2004

The flight to Belfast was probably the shortest international flight I’ve ever taken, clocking in at what I believe was a whopping 21 minutes at a maximum. Departing from Scotland, I don’t think I even lost sight of the Scottish coastline behind me before the Irish coastline started appearing on Belfast City Hall Northern Irelandthe horizon of the forward window. Not even time for in-flight drink service.

Once touched down in Belfast we made our way past City Hall and into easily the most fortified hostel I have ever stayed in, which was a hulking wooden building in the city center that featured electronic passcode enabled doors, three sets of outdoor locks, and security cameras in every corner of the outside alleyway. Apparently, the pub directly across the street was an IRA hotspot and violence was common in the area. While the violence has since subsided, the security features remain.

While Belfast has a charming downtown district and plenty of sights all over the city, the real sight in Belfast is all of the “Peace Walls” that are constructed all over the religion-torn city. While there are openings in the walls during daylight hours and the city is technically one unified district, Belfast Peace Wallsfor all intents and purposes, Belfast is a modern-day Berlin. Originally constructed in the late 60’s and early 70’s, the walls were meant to keep peace between the Protestant and Catholic neighborhoods by simply separating the two from each other. Nearly 4o years later, the walls still stand, and are only growing in number. Those wanting a guided tour of the murals, neighborhoods, and various other sights in the city center can arrange a tour with a local guide through the famous Black Taxi Tour service for a more intimate connection with the city.

Walking around the city near dark, the mood around the neighborhoods is decidedly somber, and while the political murals and graffiti on the walls scream out messages of both hope as well as hate, the reality of the cold gray slabs quells any sentiments of progress. It is easily one of the saddest sights I have seen in modern day Europe.

After an evening of Guinness and traditional Irish music (or simply “trad”) at White’s Tavern, (the oldest pub in all of Belfast,  located directly across from the Europa hotel, which holds the dubious distinction as being the most Giant's Causeway Northern Irelandbombed hotel in all of Europe), we boarded a bus the next morning to the northern tip of the island for a visit to the renowned Giant’s Causeway.

Situated on the impossibly green coastline of  Antrim county, Giant’s Causeway is a collection of hexagonal stones and columns that leap from the crashing surf and sprawl about the coastline in a wonder of natural formation. Listed as a UNESCO world heritage site, the Causeway is probably the most famous site in the entire region, even besting out the town of Bushmills and they’re world famous whisky. While the geological formation was astounding and surreal, a large part of my attention was drawn to two Giants causewaymen surfing in the bay next door who were sharing perfect waves with nobody else around.  Green open spaces, perfect surf, and an endless supply of whisky…this country just keeps getting better all the time.

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