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Cinnamon patrol

Mr and Mrs Lili Wedding



(the photos aren't great - sorry)
Today I took a trip to Belfast. It's two-and-a-bit hours on the train and I didn't feel like making conversation with the very nice elderly lady sitting across sitting across from me. I listened to Boards of Canada and The Roots and she read the Reader's Digest and napped. She had bought a packed lunch and a kind of orange juice drink that comes in a foil packet. I think she would have been a good talker.

After plenty of aimless wandering, including a futile search to find cheap sushi, I decided to hire an audio-visual device to assist me on a Titanic-related walking tour. (Quite inappropriately I have it in my head that my mother traveled to New Zealand on the Titanic. Clearly there are a number of things wrong with that; the most obvious being: that the two events (my mother traveling to New Zealand, and the Titanic's maiden voyage) were not at all contemporaneous and: that my mother, and all the occupants for all I know, completed their journey safely. An association must have been had made in my young mind...)

The walking tour device didn't work, so I had to queue up at the visitor's centre for a replacement. the replacement didn't work either, but of course I tried it before I left, and third time lucky. The device looked like a very very large and uncool mp3 player with the added bonus of large and knaff looking headphones and using it ensured that I felt just self-conscious enough to never relax and enjoy myself. Nevermind because as I started my tour, a large parade (part of Belfast's summer activities) also started, making it more or less impossible to hear much from the headphones. But I did learn a few things.

In a more successful excursion, I took a trip on the Belfast City Sightseeing bus. There's a way I like these sightseeing bus trips to go. What you need is quite a large, oldish, and good-humored man doing the narrating in away where he makes the jokes funny even though he's really sick of delivering them. And that's exactly what happened. We took in the city center, and went back out over River Lagan to repeat, more or less exactly, the aforementioned self-assisted Titanic walking tour. And then things got more interesting.

We drove back through the city center and looked at some of the ornate court buildings obscured by ugly walls, razor wire, and barricades. And we drove out to the "interface areas" of west Belfast. At that point I couldn't believe I was there. This was the Belfast of the news clips I watched from the safety of various Auckland couches. We were shown a pre-school building that was the scene of many gun fights; bullet holes clearly visible. In fact the whole street was just building after building of high fences and razor wire.

Then we were shown one of the peace lines. The peace line is a wall. The wall runs quite some distance; for miles. For most of its length it looks to be pretty much in people's back yards. It's tall; it towers over the houses. It runs through parks. On this particular peace line, our guide said there are 4 crossing points. Two are permanently closed on Friday evenings and don't open again until Monday morning. Please keep in mind we were about 10 minutes drive from the city centre. The city centre of high street shopping, Starbucks, parades, music festivals, and a cathedral quarter. I couldn't believe this wall existed, or that I was in Belfast looking at it. Of course the good news is all the positive progress, especially recently. But seeing the wall was something else. It's the closest I've been to a war ground; all kinds of atrocities were perpetrated here and many of them within my lifetime.

To balance that out, Belfast is in fact, a very compact and attractive city. It has plenty of good shopping, a cathedral quarter with some beautiful churches, and many impressive Victorian civic buildings. It is clean and the people are friendly. It has been judged the 2nd safest city (for tourists) in the world (after Tokyo). It felt safer than Dublin - I didn't see any scumbags (Dublin has scumbags). And the city is positively buzzing.

The train trip home was one of the best train trips I've had. It started to rain, sometimes quite hard. The view is mostly of country side; and it was green and lush and pastoral. The train makes a few stops (at Portadown, Nerry, Dundalk and Drogheda) and the towns are all pretty. They all have one or two old churches with tall steeples and usually a river. The red terraced houses are all neatly arranged. The train ran fast and smooth. It was wonderful.

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