I think Belfast is probably the most interesting city I have come to on this trip, and I am pleased that I included a night here on my loop around Ireland and the uk.
The reason I find it so interesting is because of the change it is currently going through. With the city marred by at least 30 years of fighting and violence, referred to locally as "the troubles", which has both political and religious roots, that was still a frequent occurrence less than 10 years ago, with peace now clearly a priority, the city is undergoing renewal.
There is a lot of development down around the waterfront, and the differences between old and new Belfast are obvious, for example glass fronted buildings on one side of a road, and 12ft thick concrete reinforced walls on the other side of the street to protect buildings from car bombs.
Although the city is relatively small, doing the city tour on the hop-on-hop-off bus is a really good option to gain an appreciation of the city and the commentary is one of the best I have had on the handful of these tours I have done in different cities around the world.
Following the bus tour, I did a walk around west Belfast, which is the central area where a lot of fighting occurred during 'the troubles', and still has many signs of these times, most notably the murals across both the republican and the nationalist quarters and the imposing 'peace fence' that was erected to try and keep the two sides apart, but in my view now only serves as a reminder of their division, especially when some gates between the fences are still locked of an evening, a sign that unity is still a work in progress here in Belfast. Less noticeable, are the bullet marks that mark some of the buildings in these areas. A recent development was some graffiti and also a sign on a hillside referring to Margaret thatchers death, with the republicans not being too fond of her, given she was the PM during a period that was very heated between the two sides, including seeing a member of the british parliament die as a result of a hunger strike during her time as PM.
For my final night of my holiday, I treated myself to a fancy dinner at a restaurant called James Street South, which was excellent, and included some of Ireland's best produce, such as scallops, pork belly, lamb and of course a glass of whiskey (it was an Irish one so note the e). I finished the evening off with a pint or two or maybe it was four of Guinness and listening to traditional music at one of Belfast's oldest pubs, Kelly's cellars. Rather than an organised group, the band seems to be a bit of a ad-hoc affair, where people who haven't met each other before turn up at different times through the night with their instruments such as a version of a bagpipe, a guitar and drum, and join in, including some guy whose contribution is to play 'drums' on a plywood timber box he sits on (complete with sheep shaped cushion), so not sure how traditional that part is. Ultimately, it appears to be a random group of people, who can manage to drink beet whilst playing a variety of instruments, but somehow they all know what tune to play, it all works and is good fun.
This morning I spent my time checking out a new exhibition all about the titanic, that only opened a few weeks ago in a purpose built building which has 4 sides that are an exact replica of the bow of the ship. Rather than a museum, it is called the titanic experience, as it is more of an interactive journey through the making, sinking and then discovery of the wreckage and was really well done.
After grabbing some lunch it was time to grab my bags and head to the airport to make the long journey home. Will post some photos of Edinburgh and Belfast shortly.