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Disclaimer: These are my personal opinions about my visit to Belfast. If you’re looking for an in-depth history of “The Troubles” in Northern Ireland, this is not it.

Most of my reluctance to visit Belfast was the recent renewed tensions (violence) ~ it’s covered extensively on British TV. In the end, I’m so glad I went to see the city for myself rather than rely on the media. It’s obvious there has been a lot of progress made in the last 15 years since the Good Friday Peace Accord was brokered (in 1998). We didn’t plan it, but we were in Belfast on Good Friday so there were a few events happening for the anniversary. Unfortunately, the famous pub “Crown Liquor Saloon” (circa 1826), which is located in a beautiful Victorian building and still has gas lights overhead, was closed due to Good Friday. The Irish take the Good Friday holiday VERY seriously ~ even the pubs in Dublin were closed or so we were told from our Dublin cab driver.

City Hall, Belfast

City Hall, Belfast

Staircase in Belfast City Hall

Staircase in Belfast City Hall

Stained Glass in City Hall, Belfast

Stained Glass in City Hall, Belfast

"No Mean City" Exhibition at City Hall, Belfast

“No Mean City” Exhibition at City Hall, Belfast

Memorial to the Titanic Victims, Outside Belfast City Hall

Memorial to the Titanic Victims, Outside Belfast City Hall

We visited City Hall which was dealing with the “British Flag” flying controversy.  From my understanding, the British Flag used to fly 365 days a year but recently, Sinn Féin formed a coalition, gained a majority in the government and voted to fly the Union Jack a limited number of days. The decision is not sitting well with the Loyalists and so it is ratcheting up the tension once again in Belfast. As we were leaving town, we saw Loyalist demonstrators in front of City Hall waving the British flag. Our taxi driver said he was making about £5,000 a month prior to the latest controversy but since news about the renewed tensions (and bombs being found), his income from tourists has dropped to £1500.

St Annn's Cathedral, Belfast

St Anne’s Cathedral, Belfast

Mural in Cathedral Quarter, Belfast

Mural in Cathedral Quarter, Belfast

Belfast has beautiful and interesting artwork throughout the city

Belfast has beautiful and interesting artwork throughout the city

Mural in Belfast

Mural in Belfast

Belfast Alleyway

Belfast Alleyway

Parliament Building, Belfast

Parliament Building, Belfast

Titanic Experience, Belfast

Titanic Experience, Belfast

Extreme Style in Belfast

Extreme Style in Belfast

We opted for the Hop-On Hop-Off bus tour with a live tour guide. As a lifelong Belfast resident, she was a fantastic guide and gave us the dramatic, tragic history of the area while infusing just the right amount of dark humor to keep the story from depressing us too much.

Peace Mural in West Belfast

Peace Mural in West Belfast

Political Mural in West Belfast

Political Mural in West Belfast

West Belfast Mural

West Belfast Mural

Curbside paintings designating what side of the political argument you're on(one hint: this would be "loyalist"

Curbside paintings designating what side of the political argument you’re on(one hint: this would be “loyalist”)

Political Mural showing how far back the tension goes in West Belfast

Political Mural showing how far back the tension goes in West Belfast

Intimidating Political Mural

Intimidating Political Mural

Peace Wall, West Belfast, Northern Ireland

Peace Wall, West Belfast, Northern Ireland

The Peace Wall, also known as “peace lines,” have been built all over West Belfast to separate Catholic and Protestant neighborhoods. It’s the hardest part of the Peace Agreement for me to understand. Everyday, people in West Belfast wake up to these peace walls which are build with corrugated metal and barbed wire. Graffiti created by locals express everything from “Peace” to “Break the Wall Down.”  The walls are a constant reminder to residents (and visitors) that this kind of peace is fragile. I feel in order to move forward, integration is essential. Once you get to know your neighbor, you then start to respect your neighbor. Easier said than done, but I’m a hopeful person!

On a happier note, the restaurants we ate at in Belfast did not disappoint! Muriel’s in the City Center was a favorite of mine ~ delicious food and a quirky interior complete with “knickers” hanging throughout the restaurant. It used to be a hat shop at the turn of the century (I think) and the restaurant is filled with art deco.  Made in Belfast had a very fun atmosphere.  Both restaurants had comfy couches and a relaxed ambiance.

At "Made in Belfast" Restaurant

At “Made in Belfast” Restaurant

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Not sure where to list Belfast ~ under UK? under Ireland? We use Lonely Planet guides on most of our travels and they list Northern Ireland in the Ireland book. I’ll play it safe and list it under all three: Ireland, UK, and Northern Ireland. Belfast was not on my radar as far as planning this trip but John insisted we go for at least one night. He wanted to make the boat trip into Ireland because some of my family are from Ireland and they immigrated to the US/Canada in the mid-1800s. John said “They left by boat, we should return by boat.”

Stena Line ~ Loading for Belfast

Stena Line ~ Loading for Belfast

Luxurious Seating on the Stena Line

Luxurious Seating on the Stena Line

Ferry Boat to Belfast: Stena Line

Ferry Boat to Belfast: Stena Line

We took the train from Glasgow to Ayr (about an hour) then a bus from Ayr to Cairnryan (about 90 minutes) then a ferry from Cairnryan to Belfast (about 2 hours). Stena Line is the nicest ferry I’ve ever been on ~ downright luxurious and we were in steerage. I’m used to bench seats and small ferrys. It was a full day of travel but interesting to interact with those making their way to Belfast for the Easter Weekend.

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