Before I went to Belfast, I put together a short list of things you… er, I, didn’t know about Belfast.  Then later at the beginning of the trip, I put together an even shorter list of radically cool things.

Yeah, I didn’t know jack back then.

Uh, a month ago.

Y’know… waaaaaay back.

When I was younger and much less sophisticated and worldly than I am now.

But NOW… oh, friends, NOW, I need to issue a serious revision.

Big time.

Must be done. 

Lemme just say it now:  BELFAST ROCKS!

It’s an amazing city and a grrrrreat!!!! place to visit.  You need to put Northern Ireland on your short list, immediately.

(you’re still here?  I said:  put it on your short list!)


(Ok, if you’re asking this NOW, you clearly haven’t been reading my blog closely enough.  Get on that, please.)

Here’s my list of all the stuff I discovered in 3 short weeks that I love about Belfast and Northern Ireland.  (And let’s be clear here:  I was working 10-15 hour days, including weekends, so if I can find all this when I was distracted by this crazy *work* thing, imagine what you can find if you go there just for fun.)

Let’s go:

1.  The people – Gosh, how do I even describe the generosity, openness and friendliness of the people of Belfast?  Belfast City Council, MCI, the Hilton, all the community/voluntary/statutory professionals, even random strangers in the market.  Everyone I met was just smashing… and beyond accommodating, even when you’re vegan.  And Americans have the rep of being friendly out-and-about in the world?   Go to Ireland, friends.  We got nuthin’ on them.

2.  Architecture – I totally loved the mix of ancient buildings with ornate styles right beside brand new, highly stylized and glass-abundant buildings.  The architecture mix was a huge contributor to my overall impression of Belfast that it’s got a rich sense of history with a forward-looking perspective.  Love that.

3.  Titanic Museum – Gosh, simply a GREAT museum.  Inspiring and moving too.  Loved loved loved it.  Also love that it was a huge gamble on the part of the city that is handsomely paying off.  A Must Do.

4.  Black Cab Tour – Excellent tour.  Peter, our guide, really inspired me with his own story of living through the Troubles and making it to the other side.  Must Do.

5.  Victoria Square and downtown shopping – Another Must Do that I didn’t do enough.  What a great outdoor shopping area this is… is it just me or are clothes cooler in Europe?  I had 2-ish happy hours just wandering around stores on the first Saturday morning with a soy latte in hand, happy as a clam.  But that was it.  Sigh.  There is a black leather(-like!) jacket that has my name on it in Next.  If I wouldn’t have been working so blooming much, it would’ve come back in my suitcase.  (see? this whole *work thing* interfered in numerous ways…)

6.  Restaurants – Gosh, fabulous restaurants.  We went to some truly delish places – Ox, Shu, Deane’s spring immediately to mind – and they also did a wonderful job of accommodating my dietary preferences.  I didn’t even have to play the Cancer card to get a vegan meal, either.  They just cooked me up some plants because they’re nice like that (see #1).  Bless these lovely establishments.

7.  Countryside – Ah, the Emerald Isle.  Yes… it’s quaint, green, rolling-hilled… exactly what you’d expect.  I didn’t see much but what I did see?  Beautiful.

8.  Giant’s Causeway and the Northern Coast – Fabulous.  (am I overusing this adjective?)  The Giant’s Causeway is a UNESCO World Heritage Site and it should be.  Must Do.

9.  Clean Air – As a cancer survivor, I am thrilled and delighted to breathe fresh clean air.  I did, a lot.  One of the cab drivers told me that they brought children to Ireland after Chernobyl to heal, due to the clean air.   Yes, please.

10.  Castles – Alas, I only got to see two, Dunluce Castle and Stormont Castle, which is where we met an Assistant Deputy Minister for discussions about Belfast’s deprivation and how to move beyond segregation.  Both beautiful but want to see more.  Love castles.  Want to live in one.  Preferably with a turret.

11.  Sense of History – Ah, history.  Belfast has history in spades and, most seemed to agree, is still living their tumultuous history for a couple more generations.  It is a rich and difficult history, to be sure, but also a study in human behavior, which is why it’s so fascinating.

12.  Revitalization and Inspiration – This is perhaps the thing I loved the most about Belfast:  even though the legacy of the Troubles is difficult, it was so incredibly inspiring to me to see so many people rising to the occasion and working so hard to make Belfast a better place.  Admittedly, this is a Survivor’s perspective (something I know a teeny bit about):  the deepest sadness and fear – the worst things that happen – also bring out the absolute best in humanity.  I found it incredibly inspiring, not unlike making it to the other side of my own personal trial.  Hooray for coming out the other side!

13.  City Hall – Our workplace for 3 weeks!  A great, historic building.  We presented in the Great Hall, which was virtually destroyed in WWII.  The sound of the city rushing by as we walked to this inspiring building every day… priceless.

14.  Game of Thrones – What an unexpected pleasure it was to find out after I left home that my favorite show (right up there with Sopranos, Seinfeld) is filmed in Belfast.  The countryside and Northern coast reminded me of the show and touring the set was absolutely marvelous, a real treat!  There are even Game of Thrones tours all around Northern Ireland too…  so many things to do, so little time.  Sigh.

15.  Cathedrals – I got to visit three:  St. Anne’s, St. Peter’s and the Clonard Monestary cathedral.  Awe-inspiring, beautiful.

16.  Running by the Lagan River – I did this several times, but there’s nothing like that first time (here), which is when I saw a fox.  A fox!  In a city!  I never saw a real fox before… y’know, one that was alive.  So cool.  I love it that there are so many green spaces and walking trails.  Needed way more time to explore….

17.  Seagulls and Cathedral Bells – The first and last sounds I heard every morning and night were the sounds of St. Anne’s chimes and the scream of seagulls.  An unusual auditory juxtaposition but so iconic.

18.  Crumlin Road Prison – Fascinating.  Eerie.  I definitely would be too chicken to do the paranormal tour at night.

19.  Belfast Community Circus – I was so incredibly inspired by the children and teenagers in this circus.  It was but one example of integrated programs going on in Belfast that is breaking down the traditional boundaries between community backgrounds.  Awesome.

20.  St. George’s Market – Another favorite, just a stone’s throw from our hotel.  I got to have lunch a couple times and breakfast once at the market.  Loved the sun streaming in the sunlights on throngs of people shopping and eating and bustling about.

21.  Fish n’Chips – It’s all in the post.  Don’t read it if you’re hungry.  Yum.

22.  Wheaten Bread – Another major yum.  Must Eat.

23.  Van Morrison – Aww, I’m chillin’ to my Born to Sing CD as I write this.  Perfect.

24.  C.S. Lewis and Queen’s University –  Loved the little reading room at Queen’s.  Also loved the architecture of the university, as well as how many of our friends at City Hall went there.  As a product of my local (small) undergraduate university, I’m totally down with finding educational value and rigor right under your nose.

25.  Bushmill’s Distillery – Another grand tourist venue and the impetus for the best Mommy’s Gone For Work gifts I’ve ever gotten for Steve.  They have a single malt Irish whiskey that’s aged for 12 years that you can only get on site.  So I did.  Yes, I did give up that much space in my suitcase for Steve.

26.  Belfast Culture Night – This was like an enormous street party that spilled onto multiple streets.  Such a great way to get people downtown.  Another fabulous example of the creative ways Belfast is overcoming segregation and having tons of innovative fun in the process.

27.  Carrick-a-Rede rope bridge – Scary, fun, spectacular scenery.  Loved looking out over the water to Scotland, while hearing waves crashing on cliffs and a cool breeze through my hair.

28.  Crowne pub – Deirdre would squash me if I forgot Guinness at the Crowne.  So I didn’t.  (No, really… it was cool.  All pub-y and Victorian.  Y’know.  Cool, not like a bar.  Soooo American. *scoff*)

Whew, I’m sure I’m forgetting something here…. but as you can see, I’ve got more in this list than I had days in Northern Ireland.  There were many things I would have loved to see but didn’t have time for too:  the zoo, Carrickfergus Castle, Belfast Castle, Cave Hill, Ulster Museum…  more shopping.  Lots, lots more shopping.

So, here’s the nutshell version:  go to Belfast, but not for work.  You won’t be sorry.  #smartercities Challenge