I have always wanted to go to Belfast. More than any other place in Europe (it was my pre France obsession), even as far back as the early 80s, and as most people not unsurprisingly ask ‘why?’
It is a good question as Belfast was often and still sometimes mostly makes the news for ‘the Troubles’, a common name for the ethnic conflict in Northern Ireland hat had escalated racial tensions, gave rise to the IRA, and is political arm n the 1970s, and resulted in many many casualties. So why did I want to go there?
As a Canadian of European descent, my maternal grandfathers family came from Northern Ireland. My great grandmother from Newry and my great grandfather from Kilkeel approximately 30 kilometres apart. But they traveled across the Atlantic ocean and half way across the vastness that is Canada to the Canadian prairies to meet and raise a family. regardless they passed down traditions and a love of Norther Ireland and I have visited both their hometowns. Both are stunning though I favour Kilkeel. But my Belfast fascination really started with my Belfast pen pal in the early 80s. the most unusual time to fall in love with Belfast. But I did, how she wrote about her hometown, the gifts she sent, the Irish idioms. I couldn’t wait to go. And I did albeit 30 years later. My only regret was I know longer kept in touch with my pen pal.
By 2010, Belfast was a much safer, calmer city than the one I had read about but unfortunately, Its reputation still followed it. Though it has remnants of the conflict still obvious, it is a city worth visiting. Though most people couldn’t understand why Belfast.But i can not emphasize this enough. GO TO BELFAST!!!!! it is the friendliest city I have ever visited, has a rich history, troubles and beyond, great food, fun pubs and in the most beautiful countryside.
Upon touching down in Belfast we took a cab into our hotel (The friendliest hotel I have ever stayed at!!!!!) our cab driver was kind and hilarious and spoke a mile a minute. As we drove past the infamous Hotel Europa, he commented (with a strange pride I think) ‘Most bombed site outside of Beirut’. the pride coming from is that it was still standing I think. Either way we got to our hotel near Queen University and were really hungry, It was late and we found a lovely little cafe called the Other Place https://www.facebook.com/Topbotanic/. Despite the late hour, our server was ore than happy to have us and we had delicious but simple ‘toasties’ with fresh ingredients. this sounds like it should be a given but more often than not, it isn’t. Our server not unlike everyone else we knew, wondered what brought us to Belfast. ‘ We don’t get many tourists especially not during the troubles’ he was friendly , chatty and though you could bring your own, they didn’t have alcohol on the menu. No worries, he gave us a big bottle of Stella Artois, a customer had given him. After assuring us, life would be incomplete unless we came back for the Ulster fry breakfast, we left with a promise to come back.
My real favuorite moment in Belfast came from visiting the Crown Liquor saloon, across from the Hotel Europa (bombed 42 times, our bartender told us, Wikipedia says 36) The Crown liquor saloon http://www.nicholsonspubs.co.uk/restaurants/scotlandandnorthernireland/thecrownliquorsaloonbelfast opened in 1885 and is gorgeous! A hand painted tiled bar, snugs with your own door, gas lamps and metal plates fro lighting matches for the lamps, it retained its original charm. Pub food is usually OK, sometimes terrible, sometimes good, but Crown Liquor saloon was amazing.
From its Guinness pie, to goats cheese tart and sticky toffee pudding, i finally had pub food i adored. A must see. We did a mini pub crawl on the way home and every place we went were were greeted warmly ad chatted with the locals. The kindest reception.
Belfast has other recommendations from a walking tour, to the gardens at Queens University, to the incredible friendly service. But get out of Belfast to the nearby Carrickfergus , to Bushmills distillery for whiskey tour and a drive along the coast of some of the most beautiful countryside i had seen. The Bushmills tour obviously includes a whiskey tasting. Our tour was at 10 but they warmed the whiskey and added cinnamon to make it more palatable that early in the morning.At least that is what i believed, not being a whiskey drinker. Benton8tor still drank his straight.http://www.bushmills.com/
Oh and I did go back for the Ulster Fry, my arteries still haven’t forgiven but my heart was happy thanks to the friendly people and beautiful city. Belfast,ignore the hype and enjoy the city. You wont be disappointed.