I had decided to go to Belfast for the day, in late July. The intention was to go up earlier, but it’s never ideal to go up North during the famous marching season (in July). For people who don’t know what this is, well … it’s basically men in orange safety wests who march from one spot to another, causing huge aggravation among their republican neighbours. I never really understood the point of this march, and the Orange Order is not making the explanation any easier. They walk the traditional route to-and-from Drumcree Church to celebrate themselves. Both sides of the conflict are unhappy with the terms and conditions, hence the annual clashes. One side are unionists and the other republicans.
Anyway, I decided to travel first class. Man, it was brilliant! The seats were extremely soft and cozy, perfectly adapting to the shape of my bum. However, the really cool bit was that they had a button that could adjust the seat position. I spent the first 30 minutes playing with the various positions, until the steward kindly asked me to stop acting like a kid – “you are traveling first class you know!” 🙂
It was a very pleasant and relaxing 2 hour train journey to Belfast. I can highly recommend paying the extra money for the comfort.
A good part of the first hour was spent on the Irish side of the border. The landscape flew by in a blur of green colours along the coast. As we got nearer the Northern Ireland border, the mountains got closer. They rose out of the ground like enourmous boulders, blocking the green grass from moving further North. The giant clouds lay gently on top of the mountains, making it look like cotton covering the mountain top like snow.
It is hard to believe that only 10 years ago you could easily spot the military watch towers guarding the border, like Amun Sul in LOTR (Lord of the Rings). One could also spot the odd army helicopter hovering the narrow mountain pass where some shady person would carry arms across the border to the IRA, or escape from the police in North. Now, there are huge patches on the mountains, probably where they demolished the fortresses?
Having consumed a full Irish breakfast (eggs, sausages, tomato, toasts and bacon), it was only a matter of time until I had to visit the 1st class toilet. The time emerged sooner than I had anticipated. I legged it down the isle and locked myself into this glorious and spacious toilet on wheels. The mirrors everywhere were fairly annoying, as I could see my less fabulous belly from any angle! It is actually an art to stand up and pee on trains, planes or buses, without covering the floor in urine – hence the smell of pee in most public transportation toilets. Obviously we men don’t do this on purpose.
Just as I sat down on the shitter, with my Irish Times, the train stopped. I could see and hear people walking by the toilet window. Thankfully the window was frosted, so nobody would get a fright seeing a pale buddha sitting on a plastic can. In order not to embarrass anyone (particularly myself), I finished my job and I was ready to flush. But…
Of all places, the train had stopped at Portadown, the famous marching epicentre, and I had to flush the toilet!! That meant, dropping pooh on the tracks in Portadown. If someone spotted me doing this or getting out of the toilet, I would be chased across the fields to Drumcree Church. What a dilemma!
On the other hand, I couldn’t occupy the toilet any longer either. People could be heard in the corridor, patiently waiting for me to come out. Either way, I was caught in the act!
Calmly, I opened the door, covering my face with the Irish Times and hurried back to my seat. Excellent, the person entering the toilet after me was an old man, so he was going to take the heat 🙂 . The train started to move again, and I heard the old man groan. He probably peed on his Clarks shoes.
As we drove through the Northern Irish landscape, the English flags became more and more prominent. They are obviosuly very proud of being British, in some parts of the North, and they feel a need to show it off. However, they could at least show some appreciation for the flags and replace them once in a while. Most flags were torn by the constant battering of the wind and rain. It’s interesting to see that some parts of the North have painted everything in the Union Jack’s colours. I guess that’s were graffiti artists got their inspiration.
Slowly the train prepared to stop at Belfast Central station. I jumped off and left the train station, walking towards the city centre. It’s amazing how small Belfast actually is. It’s a really nice little city, and EVERYTHING is within walking distance. It is very hard to believe that such a small place has had so many issues throughout the years.
Most of the day was spent walking, with my Dr. Martins, around town. City Hall, shopping area, Titanic museum, Waterfront area and Europa Hotel (most bombed hotel in Europe) were some of the stops along the way.
The best way to see Belfast is the “Hop On ‘n Off” bus. It takes you to all the sights; Catholic and Protestant sides. As you drive through these areas, you can clearly see who they support. Houses are covered by murials of their heroes. Beautiful drawings and loads of history being told on the walls. Witnessing the army watch towers, walls and ruined buildings brings you right back in time, and you all of sudden feel part of history. You quickly realise how small Belfast is. The two groups are practially living next door to each other. The main troubles were confined to a small area of Belfast. The scars are still visible but most people have moved on.
I LOVE the Belfast accent. They “sing” as they talk and everybody I spoke to were very polite. Most pubs are friendly and curious about you, and you can also always see somebody smile and nod to you. Not sure if that’s a good or bad thing, but I nod back anyway. But, you still wonder which of them are IRA and which are UDP – are you in the “right” pub?
Forget politics. Belfast is a great place to visit for a day.
I headed back to the train station to head back South. I hope to back soon again.