There are many ways to see Belfast. The obvious are the open-bus tours, the new “Belfast Eye”, walking through the city center or standing on one of the many surrounding mountains (or hills, for those of you who live near “real” mountains). The past few months I have had the opportunity to see Belfast through some less obvious lenses.
For frequent travelers to Belfast the famous “hen nights” are ubiquitous—seemingly endless arrays of women in pink bunny suits or red devil tails frequent pubs in celebration of their lovely bride-to-be. Of course, they travel in style as well–pink limos and fire engines drive by blasting “It’s Raining Men” or comparable eighties hits. I can now say from experience that this is an amazing way to see Belfast. For a good friend of mine’s birthday we rented a limousine to drive us around Belfast City Centre. The driver was great and assured us he would be waiting (recognizable as “the wee fat man in a suit”) when we brought her out of the club. Not only was she totally surprised, but we were too when we found out the champagne was included! The driver took us all around Belfast, stopping at the site where the Titanic was built and waiting as we stared in awe at the massive hole used to mold the ships built in this city not so long ago. The city was beautiful at night, but what isn’t beautiful with a good eighties soundtrack and a limo?
Another way I have been able to see Belfast is through the eyes of the thirteen year old boys I have been working with through my volunteer work at Public Achievement. Public Achievement is an organization devoted to not only teaching students about civics but allowing them to develop their own passion for it. My group consists of seven thirteen year old boys who have been able to forgive my ignorance of football and help remind me that the city of Belfast I have grown to know is not the same many locals embrace. Many of the boys have never traveled to the city centre, much less Queen’s University, and find the fact that I live in America almost as fascinating as the fact I live in South Belfast. While they have tested my patience, they have also challenged me to see Belfast as small communities and groupings of streets. My greatest challenge, of course, has been getting them excited about Johns Hopkins Lacrosse’s three game winning streak, but they are coming around.
Finally, I have started to see Belfast as home. I have a routine, friends, and memories here, which had not truly formulated last semester. I spend much more time than I used to walking around the city, going to the markets and bonding with the other masochists in my classes at the gym (I will not bore you with the many hours I have seen Belfast from the windows of the library, as I work on my dissertation, but that is another part of my routine this term!). There are places where I am a regular and I recognize people I see on the street. I recently traveled to Barcelona with a group of my friends from Belfast and was relieved to walk into my room and feel like I was at home. Of course, this feeling is coupled with the realization that I am more than halfway finished my program and before I know it, I will be heading back to America again. Until then, I just think of all the things I have to look forward to. My birthday is April 2, and perhaps after that I can report what Belfast looks like from a pink fire engine!