On Sunday three weeks ago, I landed in Dublin Airport and straight into the arms of my Joe. We hopped onto the Aircoach (7 euros, excellent service) and in two hours I was in the center of his hometown-chilly Belfast, Northern Ireland.
Northern Ireland is a pretty unique part of Ireland because they belong to the UK, and many jokingly argue that they aren’t ‘really’ Irish. Due to their complicated political past and strong personal beliefs, as a confused American I’ll just leave it at that. They are known for their troubled history due to conflicts between the Protestants and Catholics. In many parts of their small city, the barb wired buildings are worn down and bare, the skies are an endless gray, and crumbling walls are covered with vibrant murals in remembrance of tragedies happened in years past.
But the ones who call Belfast home have created an exciting revival of their beloved city from behind rain tattered doors. Their economy is steadily rising, evident from their modern outdoor shopping centers, new and trendy restaurants, and lively nightlife. As my boyfriend and I walked through the streets, we were greeted randomly by his friends everywhere: in cafes, at crosswalks, having lunch..it was like living in Mister Roger’s neighborhood and I kind of loved the feeling of everyone knowing everyone.
The bars in Belfast have more soul than any other Irish city I’ve been in. There are five districts in Belfast and one of the best to go to for pubs is the Cathedral Quarter (where all the churches are, haha) From there, you are steps from historic pub to pub and there are enough interesting bars for you to stay out all night. We went to Harp first (which I through did a very good job looking like a busy Irish pub, and then realizing that it was the real thing, duh) then to The Spaniard (super cozy dive bar, it felt like we were in a damp cave but so in with the locals) and ended at APOC, an exceptional cocktail lounge.
APOC was my favorite, and it was really cool being in this bar WITH my boyfriend rather than him drunkenly Facetiming me from it. It only annoys me when this happens because I’m not there with him- I’m usually at work petting puppies. The entrance was pretty damn speakeasy-like, where you go down a dark, narrow alley and behind a plastic sheath and chain-linked fence to a back door with a doorbell and camera. I’ll never be able to find it again, and I don’t even know if they let commoners in. (**Update, peasants are allowed but you must make reservations beforehand 😉 Joe’s buddy was the bartender of course, so Michael buzzed us in and then we walked up linoleum stairs (super sketch, like going to the bathroom in the back of a Chinese restaurant AT NIGHT) into this warm, gorgeous, wood-beamed hipster attic space, all lit up with cozy lamps and candles. One intimate bar was nestled into the corner and a DJ was in the other, grooving to his own tracks. They are open late late late, and it’s the place to end the night if you can make it this far. Their cocktails were deliciously divine, strong enough to make grown Irish men giggle.
Other notable bars are the Duke of York and the cocktail bar at the Merchant. Duke of York is really old…like people’s parents there used to go on dates and get drunk there so locals are super fond of this place because it carries so many memories. Live music. I can’t even think of a place like that in Portland. The Wooden Chicken perhaps? The Merchant is super posh and fancy but the bartenders are kind of dicks. I wish I could have made it to afternoon tea there!
Besides checking out the bar scene, we spent some time at the Titanic Museum. Did you know that the Titanic was built in Belfast? It was their pride and joy, and a deep part of their city’s history. Although the admission is a bit pricy (15 pounds) it was rather impressive and worth it. I got to stand at the staircase where Jack comes down to meet Rose in his new clothes. Just saying.
In the evening while I worked, Joe cooked. This is where I find it hard to separate my personal life from traveling posts. Someday I’ll find a way, but in the meantime bear with me. I think when looking for a partner, you should find someone whose strengths differ from your own so that you can be better together, and possibly survive a zombie invasion. I’m pretty independent and do well on my own, but I don’t cook. When a man can cook well and enjoys doing it for you, I’m grateful to the edge of tears. Joe made the most amazing meals at night while I sat with my laptop on the kitchen table, marveling at how easy he made it look. Having dinner at home together was probably my favorite part of my time in Belfast. Put that in the travel guides..? 😀
I don’t think I could live here. There weren’t enough mountains, rivers and sunlight for me in play outside in and God knows I need to be outside during at least 80% of my free time. However, Belfast has established a loving place in my heart and I can’t wait to go back.