DRIFT Travel magazine - - Inside This Issue - BY: JEN­NIFER COSTANZO

Con­trasts and his­tor­i­cal day trips.

Belfast, a city once di­vided is thriv­ing on tourism through its fas­ci­nat­ing past. A city of un­der half a mil­lion peo­ple with a his­tory of un­rest, may not seem like the first place on your list of places to visit. You would be wrong. Next time you’re crav­ing some­thing new and ex­cit­ing, book a trip to Belfast, lo­cated in North­ern Ire­land, United King­dom. On my re­cent trip to Ire­land and Lon­don, I was able to visit Belfast for a few days and ex­pe­ri­enced a truly di­verse travel ex­pe­ri­ence.

Belfast is the cap­i­tal and largest city in North­ern Ire­land. Driv­ing to Belfast is a must. As you leave the bustling city of Dublin you em­bark on a beau­ti­ful ride through au­then­tic Ir­ish coun­try­side.

Af­ter a two-hour drive (longer if you make the many scenic stops along the way) you ar­rive in a city that is on a smaller scale in com­par­i­son to Dublin, but don’t dis­count its size. Belfast is a fas­ci­nat­ing and his­toric place with a big per­son­al­ity and wel­com­ing to trav­el­ers.

I was lucky to have stayed in a quaint lit­tle house in cen­tral Belfast with friends; how­ever, there are lots of dif­fer­ent ho­tels avail­able to tourists. The fa­mous Europa Ho­tel is a four-star ho­tel in Great Vic­to­ria Street, Belfast that has hosted nu­mer­ous Presidents, Prime Min­is­ters and celebri­ties. Its his­toric sig­nif­i­cance is what makes the ho­tel known across the world as the most bombed ho­tel in Europe af­ter suf­fer­ing thirty-six bomb at­tacks dur­ing the Trou­bles. It has since been ren­o­vated and is a won­der­ful and no­table ho­tel to stay when vis­it­ing the city of Belfast.

Our first day in Belfast was a truly eye open­ing ex­pe­ri­ence. I never quite fully grasped the his­tory be­tween the Repub­lic of Ire­land and North­ern Ire­land. Af­ter tak­ing a Black Cab Tour, I be­gan to un­der­stand it a lit­tle more. The tour, which lasts roughly an hour and a half, is an es­corted tour of Greater Belfast’s his­tor­i­cal sites. An ex­pe­ri­enced driver takes you on a jour­ney back in time to ex­plore many places of in­ter­est. Our driver brought us on a ‘Po­lit­i­cal Mu­rals and The Peace Line’ tour, where we learned about

the po­lit­i­cal mu­rals that tell their own graphic story of what has been called “The Trou­bles” in Ire­land’s re­cent his­tory. We were taken to see the peace wall that was built to keep Repub­li­cans and Loy­al­ists apart and to this day still di­vides the two com­mu­ni­ties, the Repub­li­cans and the Loy­al­ists. It was hard for me to quite grasp the idea that these two com­mu­ni­ties were still di­vided, es­pe­cially stay­ing in the city cen­ter where there were no peace walls. How­ever, when I asked our driver, he said there is still con­flict hap­pen­ing to­day. Although lo­cals will al­ways re­mem­ber The Trou­bles, hav­ing af­fected their fam­i­lies, some res­i­dents would say the divi­sion is not felt any­more. This Black Cab Tour is a must for any­one vis­it­ing the city.

Our sec­ond day, we left the city to visit the fa­mous Gi­ant’s Cause­way. We all hopped into our friend’s mini­van af­ter stop­ping at a lo­cal cof­fee shop, The Think­ing Cup for a quick cof­fee and pas­try to go.

The drive was a spec­tac­u­lar, coastal drive that took about an hour and a half from Belfast. The Gi­ant’s Cause­way is an area of about 40,000 in­ter­lock­ing hexag­o­nal basalt col­umns, which were the re­sult of an an­cient vol­canic erup­tion. It is lo­cated in County Antrim on the north­east coast of North­ern Ire­land, just out­side of the town of Bush­mills. The tops of the col­umns form step­ping stones that lead from the cliff base and dis­ap­pear un­der the sea. Most of the col­umns are hexag­o­nal in shape. While we were walk­ing along the cause­way, one of our friends told me the le­gend of how it was cre­ated. Ac­cord­ing to the le­gend, the col­umns are the re­mains of a cause­way built by an Ir­ish gi­ant. A Scot­tish gi­ant named Be­nan­don­ner chal­lenged an Ir­ish gi­ant named Fionn mac Cumhaill to a fight. Fionn ac­cepted the chal­lenge and builds the cause­way across the North Chan­nel so that the two gi­ants could meet. Once Fionn re­al­izes how much big­ger Be­nan­don­ner is, he de­cides to hide from him. So Fionn’s wife dis­guises Fionn as a baby and tucks him in a cra­dle and once Be­nan­don­ner sees the size of this ‘baby’ he de­cides that his fa­ther, Finn must be a gi­ant among gi­ants. Be­nan­don­ner flees back to Scot­land and de­stroys the cause­way so that Finn could not fol­low. Across the sea there are iden­ti­cal basalt col­umns at Fin­gal’s cave on the Scot­tish isle of Staffa, and per­haps is how the le­gend was born. On our drive back to Belfast, we had to make a manda­tory stop at Ramore in Port Rush, which is fa­mous for their desserts. We got four desserts to share and I was de­lighted by how de­li­cious they were. A def­i­nite stop when you’re vis­it­ing the Gi­ant’s Cause­way.

Belfast is a great place to visit for a short trip, but I felt like there was a lot more I could have ex­plored if I had more time. It is a city with his­tory, beau­ti­ful ar­chi­tec­ture and a dif­fi­cult past. The city suf­fered greatly dur­ing the Trou­bles, but has since un­der­gone con­sid­er­able expansion and continues to grow as a ma­jor city in Western Europe.

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