Why Ir­isheyes are smil­ing

Lee Lixenberg takes a tour of Belfast city cen­tre and finds a city re­vived af­ter years of tur­moil

The Jewish Chronicle - - TRAVEL -

THERE WAS a sayi n g d o i n g t h e r o u n d s a mong bat­tle-hard­ened peo­ple of Belfast dur­ing the height of the Trou­bles in the 1970s and ‘80s, which went some­thing like this: “Any­one who isn’t con­fused here, doesn’t re­ally un­der­stand what’s go­ing on.”

To­day, a con­fi­dent new Belfast is emerg­ing from the fog of bat­tle and tourists are re­turn­ing in droves to spots once made fa­mous for all the wrong rea­sons.

As the guide on my open-top bus tour suc­cinctly put it: “Build­ings are now go­ing up — where once they’d be blow­ing up.”

Tak­ing the bus tour from the city cen­tre is a great way to find your bear­ings — es­pe­cially if, like me, you are a first-time vis­i­tor.

It takes in all of the well-known land­marks — from the stately Stor­mont par­lia­men­tary build­ings, with their im­pres­sively sprawl­ing and land­scaped grounds, to for­mer paramil­i­tary fief­doms along the Falls and Shankhill roads, com­plete with their mu­rals of repub­li­can and loy­al­ist icons.

Along the way, the bus passes a land­mark which pretty-much sums up the new Belfast and its re­la­tion­ship with the past.

The fa­mous yel­low Har­land and Wolf cranes, Sam­son and Go­liath — once cen­tre­pieces of a bustling dock­yard where the Ti­tanic was built — now act as mark­ers for a new, multi-mil­lion pound science park and tech­nol­ogy com­plex called, per­haps pre­dictably, The Ti­tanic Quar­ter.

This new cen­tre is just along the River La­gan from an­other prod­uct of the mil­lions of pounds of in­vest­ment now be­ing pumped into North­ern Ire­land in the wake of re­cent peace agree­ments. This is the 2,000-plus seat Wa­ter­side Hall which is de­vel­op­ing into a ma­jor in­ter­na­tional en­ter­tain­ment venue — at­tract­ing ev­ery­one from Amy Wine­house and The Pro­claimers to Nana Mousk­ouri and The Ul­ster Orches­tra.

One of the good things about visit­ing Belfast at the mo­ment, be­fore the cor­po­rates get too strong a foothold, is that the city boasts more than its fair share of in­ti­mate eateries, niche shop­ping out­lets and idio­syn­cratic at­trac­tions.

The main shop­ping dis­trict starts near the Belfast Eye (the city’s own ver­sion of Lon­don’s em­bank­ment tourist

The Belfast Eye and the main shop­ping dis­trict: the city boasts more than its fair share of in­ti­mate eateries

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