The bus to belfast was fine. It took about 2.5 hours, but it stank. There were some girls behind me putting on their faces for the night. They looked like slappers and the nail polish smell plus the aroma from all the other chemicals was really over whelming. The bus did have one cool feature though. The TV at the front of the bus was showing a picture from a video camera mounted to the front of the bus. So it almost gave the effect of sitting in the passenger seat.
I had to laugh at one point on the ride. We stopped at one bus station and the lady 2 seats in front of me stod up and starte gathering her stuff. But she had a dummy in her mouth. I could have sworn it was for her. She took ages to get her stuff and had pleanty of opportunity to take it out. Plus she only grabbed her baby at the last minute. Nevertheless it probided me with a couple of minutes of amusement.
I got into belfast at 1830. And went to an internet café. The only problem was it wouldn’t take Euros. And the only bank machine I could find wouldn’t take my card. It never gave me the option to select ‘credit’ so I guess that’s why it wouldn’t pit out any cash.
I ended up roaming the streets of Belfast in the dark in the rain looking for a cash machine. I eventually found one and again it didn’t give me the option to withdraw from my credit account. Luckily it still worked and it spat out a bunch of 20 pound notes. Another credit to them 50 Euro notes and 50 pound notes are useless!!
After I grabbed the cash I jumped on a computer at an internet café. I hadn’t heard from my host to be. So with my tail between my legs I headed to the counter to pay my 2 quid worth of internet and coffee. Apparently the 20 pound note was too big and the big jolly fella behind the counter told me not to worry.
Luckily another one of the couch surfers I’d requested a couch with had responded saying to come for a drink even though I wasn’t going to stay with him. He’d also given me his phone number. So I gave him a call. Luckily he could still host me. So I grabbed a cab over to his.
Saved by the bell, or sam, in this case the cab took me into a dodgy dodgy area of town. Sam’s place was pretty average too. It turns out that he was given the place for free board on the condition that he fixes it up a bit as the last tennants had made a mess of it. It was tidy, it’s not as if there was rubbish anywhere. But there was no heating and no shower. But sam was a pretty cool guy.
I went in and he showed me to my room at the top of the 3rd story. The plan was to head round to one of his mates for a drink. I changed my shoes threw some water through my hair, which is getting ridiculously long, and we were out of there, ready to destroy the town, 5 minutes after I walked through the door.
We went over to a guy named Harper’s house. The two of them grew up together. They were good fun, and we sat there watching the football and drinking Cider.
We went to the boys local haunt, a place called Laverties, we got to the front of the door where one of their other mates joined us. This guy was a giant, he had 4 inches and 20kg’s on me. He was very happy. This afforded him the affectionate name of Frankenstein.
There was a line at the door, but we kinda fell half way into it. We weren’t really trying to push in, but I guess were weren’t really trying not to, but it saved us 10 minutes so we weren’t complaining.
Sunday morning I slept in untill about 1000. I felt like I’d woken up in Angela’s ashes. Sam was tossing up between going home on Sunday or Monday. The call was made for him when he realized he’d left his electricity card at his mums home. Here they prepay there electricity with a card they get at a variety of different shops. He was nearly out and wasn’t real keen on hanging around waiting for the power to cut out.
That was fine but I needed to sort out some other accomodation. We started walking into town. This was when my foot first started hurting. The run home in Paris had driven one of my toenails into my foot and it was getting a little infected. Not too bad and I’d dressed it up with betadine but I still had to favour one leg and was walking with a bit of a hobble.
The weather was reinforcing the feeling of angelas ashes. It wasn’t raining, but I’m north enough for it to feel like the sun is setting before it’s fully risen. This combined with the Sunday morning lack of traffic, or much form of life for that matter. The wind was chilly too and we walked through the ghettos with our heads shrunk into our jackets and our hands in our pockets.
On the way into town I stopped to do some shopping and to grab some food. I couldn’t help laughing at how much passion went into the front pages of the newspapers here. “MY PROVO DAD DRUGGED AND RAPED ME” and “WHEN RATS RUN RAMPANT” making the front pages of the emotive alliterated (Is that the past tense verb for applying alliteration?) local rags.
We walked through the semi deserted town past the Europa hotel. Famous for being the most bombed hotel in Europe. I grabbed us a coffee at the internet café and we sat down. The coffee was terrible, and I still hadn’t heard from my potential host. So I sussed out a back packers and booked in. Turns out the place was right near sam’s so we went back to his and I packed my gear.
We set off from sam’s through the Belfast University. It was a really nice old Brittish University. My hostel was just on the other side of the Uni. It’s a place called Paddy’s Palace. We rocked up the the front door and there was little sign that it was a Hostel. I tried the Bell. No luck.
Luckily we spotted the ‘Paddy’s Palace’ Van just beside where we were and there was a guy inside it. I approached it, apparently I looked like a traveller with my filthy hair and back pack. Before I said anything in a thick Irish accent I received “Howerya, after’hostel are ye?” I just nodded in fear that if I spoke I may for ever sound as he did. He pointed me to I side door. “jus Pressdabell”. I left muttering a series of hail mary’s for some reason feeling instantaneously religious.
I parted here with Sam, organizing to meet him later on before his train for a farewell pint or two. Next I was feeling restless. My foot wasn’t feeling too bad so I set off for a run. The run was pretty good. My foot was feeling pretty sore at first but a bit of the panadol effect kicked in and I soldiered on, me and my inferiority complex.
Although getting lost a couple of times the run was great. It was easy to find where I was again though. There was a big spire at a church near the Uni. So I had that as a fairly stable nav point.
Back at the hostel. I was pretty warm and wanted to cool down. I grabbed all the shopping I’d done that morning and walked through the chill out room and the kitchen while the other hosts stared at the strange guests wearing tights and a singlet.
I made some sangas and sat down at a computer. My toe was feeling pretty sore so I had to take off my left shoe. Probably shouldn’t have gone for a run… back in the room I was talking to a couple of Slovenian dudes who had just shifted into my room. They were both interested in my run, one was a Judo coach, among other martial arts and the other was a professioinal footballer pretty cool dudes. After the worlds longest shower I joined them in the chill out room and we put a movie on.
Actually no. after I’d got dressed after the shower there was a knock at the door. A head popped in. “is that that big guy In the corner?” “Ah.. Yeah” I replied. “Your friends here, some guy on a crutch.” I didn’t have a clue what he was talking about. I went to the door half expecting to be stabbed my an IRA die hard. There was a short guy with medium long black hair there and indeed was on a crutch, the guy was no lier.
“I’m steve” he said. “The guy you just emailed.” At first I didn’t really know what he was talking about but then I remembered. One of the guys I’d requested a couch with in Belfast couldn’t host me but was up for a beer. I’d emailed him after my run explaining my situation and asked if he wanted to go grab a beer. He lived just near by so figured he’d drop in. That was sweet so I organized ot meet him later on. He had work to do in the mean time and I was meeting sam anyway.
After watching the movie with the Slovenian dudes I packed my gear and went to find this pub Sam was talking about for a beer. It was pretty cold by now so I rugged up with my scarf and gloves and walked to the train station.
The pub was supposed to be right beside the train station we’d stopped at that day. I walked past the station and couldn’t see it. I crossed over and kept walking before I heard sam call out behind me. “Yeah it was pretty funny watching you walk straight past it but I had to stop you.
By this time my foot was starting to feel pretty bad
We went in grabbed a couple of pints of Guinnes. It was pretty funny, even Sam had trouble understanding the Bar maids accent
I’ve just been for a beer with Sam. We met an hour before his train was due to leave. And not long after we’d finished a pint of Guinnis. While debating weather to have another with a deadly serious expression Sam decided for me. “You cant have just one guinnes.” he said, not as a joke but dead seriously. “A night full of guinnes is no good. But you cant have just one guinnis. Two guinnis’s is the perfect amount.” so two guinnisses it was. (note: I don’t know how to spell Guinness)
I got back to the hostel at about 1845 and sat down with my comp in the Chillout room. Pretty much before I’d had the chance to do anything I had to leave to go and meet steve.
I was meeting Steve just around the corner. And by 1930 it was really fresh. I’d even brought my trench coat this time. I met Steve at the Uni and we started off towards his place. I was glad he was on a crutch as it made walking on my toe slightly more bearable.
We went back to his place via an “off licence”, their word for a liquer store or bottle shop.
Steves a funny guy, he moves around almost like a chicken. His head movements are very jerky. This combined with his limp on the crutch unjustly adds to an odd character. I should explain the crutch, when he was born he had some desease in his right leg, as a result it was shorter. Since then he‘s had 2 operations to lengthen his right leg and one more recent operation to shorten his left leg resulting in the crutch.
I left at about 11 went back to the hostel and made a coffee. Something to cool down with before bedtime. Unfortunately we were kicked out of the chill out room and I had little option but to sit on the stairs outside, as the wifi didn’t work in our room before going to bed.
In our room we had one more new arrival, a Serbian girl who was sleeping on the bunk above mine. Nice enough, but did the general Serbian female populous no justice. She didn’t seem really impressed with the pack explosion that was my gear which pretty much formed a moat around our bunk. I pushed it all under my bed. But couldn’t help noticing the smell of my running gear coming from my washing basket. Oh well it’s a hostel what can she expect.
My alarm went off yesterday morning at 0700. I grabbed my computer and went out to the common room. It was still locked, I knew breaky was at 0730 so I guess that’s why. I sat down with my computer and looked at my watch. It was only 0600. I then realized I hadn’t changed the clock on my phone yet from when I entered the UK. So back to bed it was.
When the real 7 O’clock came around I got up and sat on the stairs for 15 minutes before the kitchen was opened. Free breakfast. Fantastic. I sat down with that and started talking to the Slovenians again. They were pretty cool. So we agreed to hang out, checking the sights of Belfast before heading to the airport together as our flights out were at similar times.
The three of us left the hostel at about 0930 and headed into town. I felt like a bit of a pain in the ass. These guys were pretty fit, but I was pretty restricted by my foot, which was pretty sore and felt like a fat dog slowing down it’s owner. Or a fat owned slowing down the dog.
We went to the tourist info and grabbed a map. All we really wanted to look at was some of the Murals that Belfast is famous for. We set off along falls rd. through the republican/nationalist/catholic area of town. We went past various murals that generally referred to freedom and murdered individuals. We passed various Sinn Fein establishments before deciding to move across to Shankhill road.
The walk took us throught the back streets of Belfast. And many times our walk was hampered by the ‘peace wall’ the wall built to divide the protestant and catholic areas. This wall is about 10 m high and has now been standing for longer then the Berlin wall. Eventually we found a gate on Larkin road. It made for a pretty feirce looking check point.
Once we got through the protestant ghettos of filth we arrived at shank hill road, the Unionist/Protestant side of the block. The murals here were quite different to the catholic ones. Many depicted the allegance to the queen and many sported large paintings of black cladded balaclavered individuals sporting a variety of different assault rifles. Most had the particular division of the UVF the killed fighters belonged too across the top or through the centre.
This walk took about 1.5 hours. And by the end my toe was killing. I was really worried actually and was delighted at the Slovenians obscure obsession with star bucks coffee and once back in town we sat down for a warm drink and I rested my foot. Apparently there is no star bucks in Slovenia and they loved it, even asking a local to take a photo of the three of us with the star bucks logo in the back ground.
We spent the next hour walking around the city. There were two spots they wanted to see. The second was the George street markets, which would have been quite impressive had they not been closed. The first of the two sights however was the top of Victoria square which sported a decent view… of the squallid city.
Belfast is not a beautiful city at all. It’s definitely up there with the ugliest cities I’ve been too. It kinda reminds me of the worlds biggest housing commission area. So many blocks of duplicate homes, with gardens and back roads full of rubbish, rubble, shrapnel, barbed wire (and other vicious looking obstacles) and graffiti everywhere. don’t think I’ll be coming back here in a hurry.
We went back to hostel at 1230. The plan being to leave by one. I sent out a post on the Edinburgh emergency couch forum, although it was very emotionless. I’d had little success with these in the past. I repacked my gear, redressed my toe and took a couple of painkillers. I wasn’t looking forward to the walk to the bus station to catch the bus to the airport.
Luckily we established that a cab would only cost us 1 quid extra if we shared it so we ordered one of these. After speaking to an Aussie expat from lakes entrance we jumped in the old cab. The Slovenians were pretty funny. The offered the driver to just make it 24quid and not to worry about the meter if he wanted. This is the Balkan way. Haha.
At the airport we sat down and I had a coffee. The Slovenians had no sterling left after they’d given me their handfulls of coins which they’d assured me, almost added upto 8 pounds. I didn’t mind. We sat at the coffee shop laughing. These guys were great.
They left and I went to a vending type machine to by some internet credit. I paid my 2 Euro and opened up my laptop to find it connected automatically to a free wireless network!
The flight was good. I’m just generally feeling better then I was between bosnia and spain, where for some reason although having a blast was just generally depressed and couldn’t be bothered even talking to people. But for the flight I was happy to talk to the people around me while waiting to board and while on the flight. The fact that they were gorgeos northern Brittons may have had something to do with it.