I had an amazing trip to Belfast this last weekend. I wasn’t sure what I was expecting Belfast to be like, but I do know that it blew what little expectations I had out of the water. The city was a lovely combination of paradoxes. Every time I thought I was starting to understand the complexity of the city I was thrown a curve ball. When I first arrived, the beauty of the city took my breath away. It was not a classic beauty, but what made it breathtaking was the history that was a tangible element everywhere I looked. Belfast seemed to dwell in both the past and the present simultaneously. The seamless blend of the past and present had me falling in love with the city. The city exuded personality, so much so that I could easily personify Belfast. Belfast on the surface was an old man who had weathered much in its long life and the struggles were physically present much like wrinkles: a physical blemish, but they give testimony to the trials one goes through and overcomes. Housed within the city was the heart of a little boy brimming with life and joy. As I said earlier the complexity of the city that was teeming with paradoxes definitely made an impression.
I was lucky enough to see quite a bit of Belfast thanks to the Belfast City Bike Tours. I am not an avid cyclist, in fact I never would have signed up for the tour without work urging me too. I am going to be writing an article about Belfast and one of my colleagues thought going on a bike tour would be a good way to get a feel for the city. I was definitely out of my comfort zone, and it was most likely obvious to the guides that I had not been on a bike in years. It is funny that the one thing I dreaded the most about the trip was the one thing I loved the most. The guides were incredible; they handled my initial unsteadiness like pros and didn’t make me feel embarrassed or uncomfortable about my mishaps. The tour itself was fantastic and I was able to not only see the big attractions, but I was riding around the city on a bike. It is a more intimate experience to be on a bike, it made me feel like I was actually a part of Belfast. It gave me a stronger connection to the location then I could have gotten in a bus merely glancing at everything through some glass.
On the tour, two big stops were made that easily became my favorites: the George Street Market and Titanic Belfast. The George Street Market was one of those pieces that gave me a glimpse of the little boy heart hidden within the city. The market was full of local food, crafts, and artists. I didn’t spend as much time as I wanted to there, but as soon as I arrived I was in love. There was a live band that brought with it the lovely sounds of “Come Together”, the smell of wonderful food hung in the air, the excitement was palpable and sunlight drifted in from the rafters. The products on display were gorgeous examples of handmade creations. I wanted to buy everything and probably would have if I had sterling cash on hand. Unfortunately, I only had Euros being unaware that Northern Ireland had a different currency. That did save me from buying everything though! I took a video of the market so I can show it to my family. It was the next best thing, when what I really wanted to do was have the ability to pack the market in my purse and haul it back to Oregon with me.
The Titanic museum was one of those paradoxes I mentioned earlier that make up the city. The museum itself is brand new. In fact it is only a year old. Everything within the museum is of course artifacts pieces of the past built on the same location that Titanic itself was built. It was slightly disconcerting to stand on the same place the Titanic was built and to turn around and view the modern looking Titanic museum paying tribute to a piece of the past. I felt as if I was able to straddle the past and present at the same time in that moment. It was a truly unforgettable experience. The shipyard still contained the life-size outline of the Titanic and I was able to stand on it!
I feel like I could write pages about Belfast, but I would probably sound like a broken record constantly extolling about the beauty and history that are a vital part of the city. Instead I am going to make a few last comments on what I have already said. I am sure it is easy to glean from what I have already written that this is one place I will be visiting again because even though I spent all day there I still haven’t seen enough of this city. I also learned an important lesson from this trip, well actually two. The first lesson is to never let misconceptions stop you from visiting a place because you need to form you own impressions. I will admit I knew I wanted to see Belfast, but I had heard some things about the place that it made me slightly hesitant. I am thankful I did not let that stop me though because it was an incredible experience! The second lesson I learned was it is good to push yourself outside your comfort zone once in a while. If I hadn’t I never would have gone on that bike tour, and I know the trip wouldn’t have been quite the same.