By day our fourth day, I was ready to move to Ireland. The natural beauty of the island and the vibrancy of the British-Irish cities took my breath away. Driving through the countryside and walking through the cities, I could easily imagine a life for myself there.
But after four days of adventuring, my sister and I were quite exhausted and needed a relaxing day. So we chucked our plans to visit Belfast Castle, Dunluce Castle, and the Peace Wall. Though I was excited to see them, my sister was much more keen on sitting in cafes and people watching. I was okay with this, seeing as now I have something to come back and see. Because this trip was a gift for my sister, I was more than happy to spend the day how she wished. We sat at a Cafe Nero, another of my favorite European coffee chains, sipping coffee and enjoying pastries. I was chiefly excited to enjoy such a delicious slice of gluten free lemon cake. I’ve become much more accustomed to finding gluten free options in European coffee shops than in American. Nearly everywhere I’ve gone, I’ve had plenty of options.
As we enjoyed our coffee and cakes, my sister and I sat and talked about what our lives could be like if we lived in Ireland. They were childlike fantasies but an enriching nonetheless. As much as I’d like to move to Ireland, my family is too important to me to leave behind. Hearing my sister talk about possibly living in Ireland gave me more hope about my own future.
After a few hours of chatting, we walked around downtown Belfast until our feet grew tired. We spent quite a bit of time in music stores, looking for the perfect gift for my sister’s boyfriend, before we finally sat down to write postcards we had collected throughout our few days. I’m a hug fan of sending post cards home to friends and family, even if all I write on the back is a joke (which is often the case). Having gotten my thirst for travel from many of my family members, I love being able to send them a small piece of where I’ve been.
We stopped into a plain looking establishment for dinner, assuming by the location and decor that popping in would be no problem. However, the wait staff were reluctant to give us a table, though the restaurant was completely empty. They were rather rude as a whole, and more than one might guess is caused by cultural differences. They rushed us out of the restaurant, mocked our order, and made snide remarks to us when it came time to pay, all the while, remaining completely empty. Yet, it was not an entirely negative experience. I did have the best bowl of whipped potatoes that I think I’ve ever had. I still dream about them sometimes.
With full bellies, we sat on the lawn of Belfast City Hall and watched passersby go about their days. Most people in downtown Belfast were either dressed in the epitome of grunge apparel or donned professional garb. The culture surrounding was much less like what we had experienced thus far. It felt much more Western European than the rest of the island, wrapped in pretension and accepting of disregard of others. The way people walked through the street and spoke to others reminded me much of London. While cultures like these do not appeal to me, I also recognize that it is my own bias that causes me to perceive them the way I do. Regardless of my own comfort level, I always strive to do my best to respect the accepted norm. But, that doesn’t make me enjoy the experience any more.
While I am not the biggest fan of the city of Belfast, it did not diminish my love for Northern Ireland. There will always be cities that I don’t like and people that make me feel uncomfortable or unwelcome, but that doesn’t mean they are any less of places worth seeing or people worth meeting. I’m grateful for the few days we spent in Belfast and the surrounding areas, especially in Sandy Row and Antrim County. At the very least, we experienced breathtaking views, exhilarating hikes, and delicious food! What more could you ask for?