Friday, May 1, 2009

Belfast & co, Northern Ireland

Oh mother of Jesus, it's bloody cold in Belfast! And grey. And the sun is not right. In short: i'm not happy.

I'm wearing all my clothes in the same time and i'm still cold! I know, i'm being ungrateful, it's actually a beautiful Irish spring outside and considering that it's the very beginning of April, the weather is wonderful. It's sunny, it doesn't rain and i'm actually very lucky. I know all that, but my body screams: i need a real WARMING sun and could someone fix me a mojito, please?

When i go walking in the city, i get a second shock: everything is so fucking expensive (pardon my French)! 0,4 pounds for one sad-looking small tomato! Are you kidding me?!? Even the instant noodles are about 2 pounds a package. The cheapest .., no, strike that! .. the least expensive food in Belfast is the fast food and there's plenty of that to go around. The best deal for a burger-meal is about 4 pounds and i must admit that though i'm not generally much into fast food, in the current state of perpetual freeze, i can't imagine of eating anything else. Eating fast food gives me at least an illusion that i might be able to generate enough energy to withstand the cold.

One day i found a very nice Chinese buffet restaurant and i went there with a definite plan to eat twice my body weight and not worry about expenses on food for the next couple of days. My plan of course failed and my hunger returned the following day, but at least i got to eat something else than burgers and french fries. The most surprising part about that Chinese place was that i hadn't even realized how much i'd been missing simple good jasmine tea. Mexico has it's wonders, but good tea definitely isn't one of them.
I quite recommend the buffet though: China China, 1 University Street. 5,99 GBP, 12am-5pm, every day.

My hostel (ARK Hostel) was kind of a fleabag place, the toilets worked in x hour shifts, rooms were border-line dirty and kitchen somewhat dodgy. The in-house internet cafe was temporarily closed but i talked one of the reception guys into hooking up one computer just for me, so i could finally revise my 4 gigabytes of Cuba photos. My 6-bed dorm stayed empty for only one night, but even in the following nights i was lucky that i only gained one neighbour as opposed to part of that very same Slovenian football support-team that was camping out in the next room. Once again, thanks God for ear-plugs!

What i love about being back in Europe is that there's no excessive attention. Nobody is gawking or trying to sell me anything. It's relaxing that i can window-shop without the shop-keeper running out and offering me a "special good price" or walking after me for 20m with "special discounts just for you, my friend!".

Belfast as a city did not impress me much. The central area is small but instead of being cute and lovely it's way too much packed with all kinds of imaginable fast food joints. The smell of grease and burned meat is floating around and after some time it gets very nauseating. The outward streets are lifeless and boring. The only photo i took in Belfast itself was of the Somalian guy Kadiir who also stayed in my hostel. He called me his white Northern sister and insisted in being photographed with his brother Obama.

It might be due the cold, crippling prices or post-Mexico emotions, but i just don't feel content. Before coming to Ireland/UK, i was looking forward to seeing pubs with hand-painted signs, rows of houses with colorful doors, red-headed people etc. And there really are sickeningly many hand-painted stylized signs everywhere, blocks and blocks of houses that look identical and which's only attempt to distinguish themselves is having multicolored bright doors; and the people: i must admit i've never met more uninviting people in my life than the ones in Belfast. I'm sorry if that offends somebody, but this blog is about personal opinions and not about petting anybody's national pride.

Remember when i wrote about fart-mimicking Irish youngsters in the RyanAir plane? Well, those weren't an exception, more as a rule. The local youth is a mix of skank and rebel-culture accompanied with foul-language and border-line awful dressing. I know it's all subjective and they don't represent the whole population of Belfast, but they are not exactly small subgroup either. A big part of adults are also walking around in punk haircuts and displaying certain attitude. I guess i'm not in position to really understand them, because my childhood was quite peaceful and not a battleground for itchy extremists using religion as an excuse to violence and hatred.

But whatever were Belfast's faults, they were greatly redeemed when i walked in the first shop and saw a huge Cadbury Caramel chocolate bar for 1,99 GPB.
Ah, a person needs so little for happiness.

The tour around Belfast

There were couple of places in Northern Ireland that i wanted to visit and due to lack of personal car i was forced to book a tour. First thing i hear when i step into the bus is Estonian language. Turns out that mother & daughter sitting behind me were Estonians. They looked a bit dull so i decided i won't venture into making pointless chit-chat. Instead i was being sneaky and listening in what they were talking about, muahaha! One of them was translating to the other what the guide was talking and then the "white whale" became in translation a "white shark" i almost blew my cover giggling.

The tour-bus was full of specially itchy Chinese. They seemed to have like a collective photographic diarrhea, because they were photographing absolutely everything. It reached it's peak when a bumble bee got stuck in the bus. That poor bee was photographed with and without flash under every conceivable angle, accompanied by nervous hyper pitch giggle of Chinese teenage girls.

We visited Giant's Causeway, Carrick-A-Rede Bridge, the city of Derry and some other stuff on the way. The tour was generally ok; if you like guided tours, you will probably like this one.
Paddywagon Tours,, 18 GBP.

While Giant's Causeway is an interesting natural rock formation, definitely worth a visit, then that Carrick-A-Rede rope bridge is an absolute tourist trap. It's a bridge that was originally built by local fishermen between two big mountain rocks in the sea to access better salmon waters. When the guide tells you about this bridge he says that it's an old historical bridge that is hanging loosely between two mountain rocks in the sea and by the sound of it you think that crossing might be actually exciting and scary. I'm personally afraid of heights but crossing that bridge did not move me in any level. It's a tourist trap because not only do they forget to mention that the old bridge is long gone and the one you're about to cross is a newly built very stable and safe substitute, but it's also only about 10m long and even after you cross it, there's nothing to see after that. The price is 4 GBP and since it's about 1 km walk to the bridge from the ticket office, you don't really see what you are paying for. I suggest to walk along with the rest of the crowd until the bridge (you don't have to buy ticket for that) because the nature and the views on the way there are nice, but don't buy the ticket for crossing the bridge (there's a ticket check-point right before the bridge).

The views from walking to the bridge:

Giant's Causeway

The courtesy of
The Giant's Causeway is an area of about 40,000 interlocking basalt columns, the result of an ancient volcanic eruption. It is located on the northeast coast of Ireland. The tops of the columns form stepping stones that lead from the cliff foot and disappear under the sea. Most of the columns are hexagonal, although there are also some with four, five, seven and eight sides. The tallest are about 12 metres (36 ft) high, and the solidified lava in the cliffs is 28 metres thick in places.

Don't be mislead, the place was absolutely crawling with tourists, i just really really wanted to get a tourist free shot, so i exercised some patience (you see, i don't believe in Photoshoping photos afterwards)

Dunluce Castle

Details of the city of Derry, known as Londonderry to Ulster's loyalist community

Details of the city of Derry, known as Londonderry to Ulster's loyalist community

The whole time i was in Belfast the weather was just super: though cold it was still brightly sunny and dry. But when i got on my Dublin bus, it started raining and and i mean raining. The bus was more swimming towards Dublin than actually drove. About 2,5 hours later i arrived in Dublin, which turned out to be quite a different city than Belfast.

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