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Belfast: Balaclavas and the Titanic, part 1

September 19, 2008

Yesterday I finished my last exam and ran over to the train. As soon as I entered the train in Connolly, I had a feeling of being in another land. It was strange- suddenly Northern accents appeared out of nowhere and there was a map of the North with red dots leading up from Dublin, tracing our route.

  I fell asleep and woke up surrounded by water. It was like the scene from Spirited Away

It scared me for a moment, then I looked closer. The train was riding on a narrow bar of dry land between two huge lakes. It was surreal. The train turned suddenly and we were in the middle of the Mourne mountains,  dotted with small white houses and rising into fog. Sheep were standing diagonally  around a perfectly round manmade pond in a field halfway up the mountain. The land fell away to flat arable land and patchy fields until eventually the road markings turned white rather than yellow. I knew I was in the North when I passed Newry and saw that the entire town was drenched in the Union Jack. They didn’t leave a pole or possible flag-hanging place alone. Again, it was surreal.

   When the train pulled up into Belfast, I had to admire the train station- it felt more like an airport. What can I say- I’m a sucker for nice train stations. I grabbed a map of Belfast on the way out and studied it for a moment. Destination: City Hospital. Eventually I was walking down Donegal Road, quivering a little under the UVF flags hung everywhere. The red fist was in your face everywhere I looked.  It was unsettling.  Twenty minutes later, I had to laugh at the hospital- it’s a bizarre building. It looks like a few architects had a night out and decided to stage a weird-off. Gazing at the glazing, I forgot to take a photo. Thank goodness for Wiki commons. Here it is:

You cant get much weirder than this, architecturally.

You can't get much weirder than this, architecturally.

I met up with David (‘Heyyy!’) and we walked home together. They live in the yuppie district, dotted with shops like Gucci, Prada and O’Brien’s, where Sanna’s working now. It’s a pleasant area on Lisburn road with a pretty park near their house. Speaking of which, their house is the most adorable thing ever. It’s small and reminds me of my own little apartment. It’s an IKEA type house with wooden flooring and a nice vibe to it. I settled in, we had burritos for dinner (‘Oh no, really, I couldn’t have another one…’), some dessert (pastries from O’Brien’s!) and coffee. We had a chat for a while, then headed out to the scariest part of Belfast; Shankill road. The kerb is painted in Union Jack colours and there are huge murals everywhere depicting UVF members sporting balaclavas and guns. Falls Road was different (hunger strikers rather than guns) It’s bizarre. It was too dark to take photos, so we planned to take a walking tour the next day with our cameras
  We headed over to the city centre and walked around. It’s quite englishy, with rather grand looking white buildings, jazzy new sculptures and we went into the Vaudeville club to celebrate the end of my exams. It’s like a cross between a Burlesque club, a 1920s jazz club and a fancy modern club. My favourite part was the huge chandelier type things with several velvet tasselled lampshades. Again, I wished for my camera.
 By now, we were pretty tired and it was just about all we could do to drag ourselves home. I had a cute little bed in their office made up of cushions from the couch. I fell asleep as soon as my head hit the pillow.
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