Gyles Quay to Belfast
From Gyles Quay we headed around the coast toward Belfast in our little Wicked camper van on our road trip adventure. Little seaside towns dotted the meandering road and we made numerous stops to admire the view. Crossing over to Northern Ireland was uneventful, except the speed-limit signs became very slow (also known as miles) and prices were in British pounds.
Once in Belfast, we went to visit a few points of interest. Our first stop was the Peace Wall. This was not a good choice for a first impression of the city. It was a beautiful sunny day, which should make any place seem welcoming. Unfortunately that’s difficult to do with a giant security fence covered in graffiti.
The most alarming aspect of the Peace Wall is that the gates are still in operation. Each night large gates are closed and locked to stop the Catholics and Protestants from crossing paths. In a survey conducted in 2012, residents felt the wall should remain and was effective in curbing violence in the city. Hence the wall stands tall, proud, and fear-inducing. We drove along both sides of the wall, noting the emotive language on both sides disparaging the other. There was an air of uneasiness in those that walked along the streets. Angry looking residents watched us as we drove past. Our van was hard to miss and was a catalyst for violence. We locked the doors and sunk low in our seats, trying to avoid making eye contact.
Leaving the Peace Wall district in a cloud of old-vehicle smoke, we headed for the Titanic Museum. The Titanic was built in Belfast and the large shipping docks are still in operation. A massive, funky-looking building houses the largest Titanic attraction in the world. It seems odd to me that they would celebrate the fact that they built a ship that plummeted to the ocean floor so quickly, but it keeps the economic propellers turning. I like to think that they would take the opportunity to educate people on shipbuilding and the history of the Titanic, but then I saw that you can buy a copy of Titanic the movie from their gift shop.
We had parked the car in a dodgy looking railway car park while we explored the area. It was a beautiful summer’s day, which I’m led to believe is a rarity in Ireland. We walked up and down the docks, around the SS Nomadic ship, and through the visitors center. After a short period I began to get nervous that all our worldly possessions were in an attention-grabbing van, with basic locks on the doors, in a gravel car park next to a railway, in a city where there is a great, big wall to stop people who are itching to incite carnage and destruction. By the time we reached the car park I was resigned to the fact that our van wasn’t going to be there. I mentally planned out where we needed to go to call for help and how many clothes we needed to replace. When I saw our van glaring back at me with its big eyes I was surprised, thankful, and decided never to leave it again.
Our final stop in Belfast was the Belfast Castle. We drove up a winding road and arrived at a beautiful rolling garden with a castle perched on top. Wandering around inside, we found it had been refurbished and was available to group hire. We turned to leave when a tall, muscly, bald, tattooed man called out, “What are you doing here?” I hadn’t thought we were trespassing, but his tone suggested otherwise. All the color drained from my face and I stared back blankly, unable to speak. Ben stuttered back, “ah, we’re just leaving.” At this his face turned to surprise and he responded in the same tone, “Why? Go upstairs. You have to see the ballroom, it’s lovely at this time of the day, and please go down to the restaurant below and have a drink in the garden.” Stunned, we did as he said, not sure we were allowed to do otherwise. The ballroom really was lovely in the afternoon light. Sitting in the garden below we sipped on our first Irish Guinness and cheered to Belfast. It certainly seemed scary on the outside, but underneath its rough exterior Belfast was a lovely place to visit.
Click here for the next in the series.