Belfast, Northern Ireland
August 2nd, 2006
I spoke to Alan first and we fell into a Scot-English discussion, political and historical.
PS: Just to give an insight into how the relationship stands, when England lost in the WC this year, drinks worth ₤1000 were given for free in a Glasgow pub. “It’s not that we have a problem, but they go on and on about it, they are still not over 66, but we thrashed them before they even got their hands on it”, said David.
However moving on, Alan asked me where I was from and the moment he heard Kashmir, he gasped and I was treated with Ah, usual I thought. He heard me speak about the place and instantly said, now that sounds like Northern Ireland. I didn’t know that I would end up in the place myself, soon.
Belfast, a village in the 17th century grew into an industrial centre. They made linen, ropes and the Titanic. Currently, a third of NIs population resides in the city.
My date with Belfast took me from Buchanan through Ayr to Stranraer and further onto the Stena Line across the Irish Sea, landing in Belfast (which has the world’s largest dry dock). The Stena is the fastest ferry in the world, and everything you would imagine from Burger King to Casinos to children’s play areas are all on board.
From the dock we moved to the Europa bus stand and as we entered the city, we were greeted by Victorian (and Edwardian too, I am told) architecture. The first sight of the city with a traffic jam, dirty streets, and lots of people reminded me of Connought Circus(yes, the one at home!). We got ourselves a map, and ventured into the city.
Donegall square paved the way for The City Hall, which on the day was a 100 years old (I didn’t know that, so it was quite a surprise, a pleasant one at that). We were treated with blaring music on the entrance to the hall but as we stepped in, the scene changed. Opera flowed in the background; we walked past the history with our feet in the present. The city hall was a picture of eloquence. It instantly felt like a small town dressed to glory cos they made it a city. The first dance at fifteen, perhaps?
Further on we came across a building which seemed like a Victorian monument and turned out to be Tesco. We gawked at the picture of urban consumerism and heritage, meshed together. The North Street culminated into the quay with the fish, and the titanic tours. Blame it on discovery and James Cameron or whoever, but the place gave a sinking feeling! This part of the city was totally deserted for some weird reason. It had an unpleasant air about it only partly broken by the stepping stone (which when stepped on screams musically).
We traced our way back to the Donegall square meeting small areas and gallis which seemed to have a stifled, stubborn and rebellious, quiet feel. The lull before the storms. IRA anyone? Dangerous twas. The place reeked that one feel. I don’t know how many people have been in a city on curfew- that is exactly what it felt like, to me. I relived a part long forgotten.
We stopped at McDonald’s for a quick bite and passed a group of girls barely in their teens. They started off hitting on Anurag :D. Leaving out the funny part, I realized that the stat the Ireland has the highest teen-pregnancy rate in the world is not made up. I quickly thanked the person above for my upbringing.
We were increasingly making up our minds on how the city was, not very comforting I must add, (not for Anurag atleast ;)). And just then we walked over to Stranmills street and realized that almost everything had Queens on it. Close to the university, we were. The crowd changed drastically. We started bumping into people in their own thoughts, groups of students. Inadvertently, a sigh of relief followed. It was a richer neighbourhood devoid of graffiti and groups with beer cans. The first sight of the Queens University was breathtaking.
As we entered and sat near on of the department stairs, we talked about the place, the crush was increasingly turning into love. We almost forgot about the hour before. It was so different, this part, that it was almost walking into two different cities.
The next day we strolled into the Royal Botanical gardens. Picture perfect, with a bed of roses. That’s how life could be, I maintain :).
We ran back to Europa, just about managing to catch the ferry back. I left Belfast with a smile. It was comforting and disconcerting. Posh and street smart. Snug and rebellious. A city with many a facets and stark contrasts.
As far as my memory can stretch, I now know exactly why Alan thought it sounded like Northern Ireland.