Monday, April 25, 2011

VoM2: Belfast, Northern Ireland

I readily admit to knowing practically nothing about Belfast before I came here. I’ve now crammed three different tours of the city into my day — and learned a ton! — but somehow feel like I know less than I did before. I can’t remember the last time I was so fascinated by a city. I hardly know what to write about it.

Once one of the wealthiest and most prominent places in the world, Belfast has suffered through decades — centuries, even — from just about every kind of difficulty there can be, both external and internal.

The downtown core is very lively and architecturally striking, surrounded on one side by a run-down industrial zone that is showing some signs of rejuvenation, and on the other by devastated neighborhoods — many still divided by immensely high walls — that are showing signs of tense yet hopeful coexistence.

Belfast is famous for its murals — large paintings on all different kinds of buildings — largely of a political nature. Many have been painted over with more “neutral” historical or artistic themes, but enough polarized murals remain to remind one that the conflict is not far under the surface.

I hope the peace process continues, and that I will be able to return soon to explore much more of this astonishing city. Meanwhile, I will take a train back to Dublin tomorrow and be in position for the ferry that will be the first leg of my crazy transit to the Faroe Islands. Stay tuned!

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