November 2008 Reflection

A little over two months ago, my wife Kacey and I embarked on an adventure here on the Emerald Island. The two of us enjoyed living the 9 to 5 in Washington, D.C., but the thought of a year of travel and study in Ireland was worth making the move away from that bustling city we called home. After arriving, we quickly moved into a flat in South Belfast atop a lovely family’s home in Windsor Park off the Lisburn Rd. Our living room window frames a view worthy of hanging in a glamorous gallery. Autumn has caused the trees’ leaves to turn different hues, and a gothic spire stretches into the hazy Belfast sky, overlooking a magnificent row house.

I must also insert here that another feature that defines Belfast living, or rather living anywhere here on the island, is the rain. Upon hearing that I was selected for the Mitchell Scholarship, I became keen on checking the Belfast weather while still in the states. I noted that most days were forecasted as being rainy. I personally loath cold and rainy weather, but I have come not to enjoy but rather to respect the wetness of Northern Ireland. You see, I came prepared to Belfast with waterproof shoes, jackets and, of course, multiple umbrellas. Despite my efforts, there is no escaping the rain. It is as if, when it rains, the rain comes from every direction…from above, below and sideways.

The rain is not all bad, however, as it does have some positive side effects. The rainy days create the perfect backdrop for staying in, building a fire in our flat’s fireplace, and picking up a good book. My courses at Queen’s University are very interesting, and with only two courses per week, I have the leisure to pick up a few books outside of each course’s required reading list. In this way, I am expanding my knowledge base in ways that I had not imagined before coming to Ireland. As of late, I have found Hemmingway as the perfect complement to a cup of tea on these rainy days, but, over the course of this year, I am looking forward to exploring several other classics in addition to my academic readings.

Another side effect of rainy Belfast days is the desire to skip town. There was one particularly unbearable stretch of rainy days here in Belfast, so my wife and I decided to hop a plane to Paris, France for the week. There, we discovered more than a drier climate. It was a trip full of romantic experiences that we will forever remember. From visiting all of the main attractions (Notre Dame, Eiffel Tower, Arc de Triomphe, etc.), we savored escargot and similar local cuisine, casually strolled past the artists along the Seine River, and enjoyed some impromptu singing and dancing at a local festival in a quaint neighborhood on the outskirts of town.

To be fair, however, there are some really beautiful days here in Northern Ireland. On these days, I have enjoyed getting out and about around town and exploring. The area near Queen’s University is beautiful. The main university building was modeled after Magdalen College at Oxford University, but maintains its own unique redbrick look. The structure itself brings back fond memories for me from my time studying at Magdalen in Oxford a few years ago. Next to Queen’s is one of my favorite spots in Belfast, the Botanic Gardens. This outdoor garden hosts a colorful rose garden as well as many other picturesque spots. For a local Belfast treat, I often turn to my favorite “chippie” called Café Fish on the Lisburn Rd. While the sign outside this quaint little hole-in-the-wall storefront says that they serve traditional fish ‘n chips, rather I liken it to battered heaven in a box. (For those Northern Ireland readers, “hole in the wall” is not to be confused with an ATM.)

I have also been fortunate to discover some areas in Northern Ireland beyond Belfast. Recently, my wife and I took a trip to the northern coast to visit the Giant’s Causeway. This magnificent wonder of a site is truly unique. The stones are cylindrical in form with smooth, flat tops, perfect for climbing. With the waves crashing in, this spot is truly worth the visit.

Finally, this would not be a proper journal entry from an American living in Belfast without mentioning the Troubles. One quick read of my profile and you will see that I have no problem finding trouble whenever I travel abroad. But here in Belfast, I have…well.. had trouble finding trouble. It is hard to believe that this was once an urban battleground. Sure the Troubles are still at the forefront of many local residents’ minds, but their cordiality and forward-looking demeanor make it difficult to notice. I must have only been in Belfast a few days when I quickly hired a Black Taxi for a tour of the Peace Lines and the Falls and Shankill roads. While the mural here were a very interesting display of the pride of differing nationalisms, I was taken aback by how relatively peaceful these areas were. They seemed like good places to grab a pint and a bag of chips more than anything else.

I am forever grateful for this opportunity. I have only elaborated on a few of the highlights from my short time here thus far, but every day has truly been full of memorable experiences. In the coming months, I hope to continue this new adventure in my life with the humility and appreciation it deserves. I hope to yet again feel the crisp breeze off the Irish coast, walk the cobblestoned streets of mainland Europe, and perhaps find a bit of trouble as well.

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