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Traveling to Antrim- the wild coastline, history of “The Troubles” and the Titanic explored

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Stop on the Black Cab Tour of Belfast
On Thursday morning we set out for Belfast, Northern Ireland. It was the first of two trips organized by IFSA-Butler for the semester. Not only did the Galway students get to participate, but all of the Irish schools with Butler students were brought along.

Thursday consisted of driving to Belfast via Dublin. We stayed at the Jury’s Inn, a nice hotel that was located in the heart of the city and thus great for exploring. We were given dinner at the hotel that night and then were free to do whatever we wanted.

A group of us walked over to City Hall in the hopes that it might still be open. It wasn’t, but we got some great pictures of it all lit up anyway. We then walked to the Crown Liquor Saloon, one of the oldest pubs in Belfast. The saloon was gorgeous, with amazing detail everywhere from the bar to the ceiling. It also had private booths with little doors on them. Not great for meeting people, but interesting nonetheless. I ordered a Magners, which is Northern Ireland’s version of Bulmers cider.

When we returned to the hotel my roommate (Tiffany) and I decided that it would be a great idea to stand in the window sill and try to get the attention of our friends across the way (the hotel was in a U shape, so they were about 100 feet away from us). Even though one of our friends (Kate) was sitting on the bed with the window open, it took her twenty minutes to finally notice us. All the while we were dancing around (at least as much as you can dance around on a 6-inch wide window sill) acting like complete dorks. Good times .

Friday morning we began heading north along the Antrim Coast Road. We were accompanied by a member of the Northern Ireland Tour Guide Association, who told us little factoids and stories about the areas we were travelling through. For instance, the Antrim Coast Road was originally constructed by the British Army. To build it they needed to blast parts of the mountains out, which explains why the beaches below the road contain black rocks (from the cliffs) and lighter rocks. There had been a rock slide just a few days prior, so we needed to take a little detour.
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The weather was pretty foggy around Belfast, but it cleared up a little bit as we got further north. We still weren’t able to see Scotland like we could have if it was clear, but it was very scenic regardless.
Our first stop of the day was the Carrick-a-Rede rope bridge. The bridge is located at the end of a beautiful coastal trail and takes you out to a small island. Even though it’s only about 20 feet long, it’s pretty high over the water and thus can be quite scary for those of us who are afraid of heights. Not to worry though, I crossed it just fine and was rewarded with getting a glimpse of a seal who was hanging out down off the island’s shores.

Our next stop was Dunluce Castle, an impressive sight since some of it has fallen from the cliffs into the sea. After lunch in Portrush, we concluded our North Coast trip at the Giant’s Causeway. There are very few places in the world (Scotland, Japan) that have this type of odd rock formation, and it was named Ireland’s only World Heritage Site in 1986. Millions of years ago, rapidly-cooling lava created thousands of hexagon-shaped columns, thereby creating the Giant’s Causeway.

The area got its name from a legend in which the giant Finn McCool (what an awesome name.) built the causeway to fight his Scottish counterpart, Benandonner. I think the latter is a much more interesting story than boring geology. Although I had been to all three sites over the summer, it was still a lot of fun to visit them again with a great group of friends.

Saturday was the day I was looking forward to most on our trip. We began by taking a Black Taxi Tour around west Belfast, which showcased the Catholic and Protestant neighborhoods most-affected during the Troubles.

The main feature of the tour is getting to see many of the murals around both neighborhoods (the tour guide called them one of the largest open-air museums in the world). In addition, we got to sign our names on the Peace Wall, an extremely high barrier that will only come down when both sides want it to come down. The guide also showed us where Rihanna had signed the wall (“We found love in a hopeless place”) when she had been there a few months ago to shoot the music video for that song.

We learned that there are 59 streets going between the Catholic and Protestant neighborhoods, and that the gates put up on each end of the streets by the British are still closed every night by 10pm. It’s extremely hard for an outsider to fathom how both groups wish to remain so segregated.

Finally, our guide told us that the crime rate in the Protestant neighborhood (it might have been the same with the Catholic, too) was 0.0%. How is that the case? Well, it turns out that people like to deal with issues themselves and only very rarely get the police involved. Such a different world.

The tour lasted just over an hour but it seemed to go by so fast. I easily could have spent all day driving around the area and listening to the history of it. One of my favorite classes this semester is Northern Ireland: The Politics of a Divided Society, so it makes sense that I find this issue so fascinating.

For lunch we headed over to Victoria’s Square Mall, since Butler had given us 10 Pound vouchers. I managed to use 9.55 of mine, score. After some delicious mint Aero pie and a trip up to the observation deck, we jumped in a taxi and went to the Ulster Folk and Transport Museum. The main draw here was the Titanic exhibit in the Transport Museum. I spent about an hour looking at old papers and relics from the Titanic and her sister ships. The Transport Museum also housed many old streetcars, trains, and cars from over the past hundred years. We climbed around on everything for about two hours taking picture.

Since the museums closed at 4pm we only got about an hour at the Folk portion of it. I wish we had more time to spend there because it was so adorable. It was a very historically-accurate representation of a traditional Irish village from about a century ago. There were cobblestone streets, a church, houses, stores, and sheep in the “rural area.” We even saw a couple who had just gotten married, hope we didn’t end up in the background of any of their pictures. The museum workers were all dressed up in period costumes and told us information about the characters they were playing (riveter, homemaker, etc). My favorite part of the little town was finding a police museum in the constabulary. I’m so glad I wandered into that random building because it really brought out the criminal justice nerd in me.

Instead of taking a taxi back into town we decided to catch the train. Since this was my first time travelling on a commuter train (the Phoenix light rail doesn’t count) I was really excited, especially since we had just spent the past hour looking at old trains. It was a fun ride, and very pretty too since we travelled next to the water for a portion of it.

I would love to get back up to Belfast before I return home. It is such a nice city and even though I’m lucky enough to have already been there twice there is still plenty of things I haven’t visited (Stormont Castle, the new Titanic museum etc.). We had a wonderful time and got to experience so much in such a short span of time.

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