Thanks to Fi's brother-in-law, we were able to get a free trip (and bring the car) on the ferry to Belfast. Belfast is a beautiful city, and it is reaping the benefits of all the recent investment. However as we quickly discovered, the city has a strange juxtaposition of the old and new.
While the city is undoubtedly modern and funky while still showing off the Victorian charm, there is still a lot of evidence of the Troubles and the sectarianism which still lies beneath the surface. Just a quick walk from the Cathedral Quarter, an up-and-coming area with modern pubs and galleries, and you'll be in West Belfast, home of the Catholic Falls and the Protestant Shankill areas where the neighbourhoods are still separated by barbed wire rimmed walls. A pleasant walk to the Botanic Gardens near the university interrupted by an Orange Walk (where despite the colourful costumes and music is a thoroughly unpleasant thing to behold). And as we were told during a city bus tour, the reason the city centre is so modern is due to the fact that only a decade ago many of these buildings were bombed out, thereby making the property easy to reclaim and refurbish.
But these contrasts make up much of the experience that is Belfast. Mind you, so does watching England get knocked out of the World Cup at the pub with a Guinness in hand.
Since it was early July, we were close to the 12th of July celebrations (where the Protestants celebrate William of Orange's victory over King James II). Even knowing this, I was still amazed at the number of Union Jack flags flying on seemingly every street in Shankill. The picture to the right is one of many massive bonfire sites being prepared all across the country to be set ablaze on the night of the 11th. The wall in the background reads "Ulster will always remain British. No surrender."
One of the many murals found in West Belfast.
City Hall in the centre of Belfast
The Crown Liquor Saloon: looks like a novelty Irish pub, but this is the real deal and more or less the same as it was when it opened in 1839.