We're going to Ireland today! Well... Northern Ireland. Big distinction, as we'd soon find out.
Parking the bikes in the line-up at the ferry docks. We're basically island hopping through the British Isles!
While waiting inside the lounge, I notice that all the cars have to go through some kind of separate security check
The inspector slid a mirror underneath each car. OMG, they were checking for car bombs! I thought the Irish Car Bomb was just a drink these days. Is this really still a thing?!?! The only other time I've ever seen vehicles checked for car bombs was when we were riding through India!
A bit concerned about our safety now...
No, the ferry worker is not checking my panniers for a bomb. If he was, he'd be inspecting the shaft drive... #funnybutnotfunny
It's a three hour crossing between Douglas and Belfast, and because of our late departure, we arrive on Northern Ireland's shores in darkness. The roads are empty as I route our way towards the AirBnB we booked. We're sleeping under a roof tonight! It's almost midnight when we ring the doorbell and it takes some time before our elderly host opens the door in her nightrobe. It's obvious we've woken her up, but she's hospitable and she's got the most charming Irish accent. She sounds like a leprechaun! :)
She shows us our room and expresses surprise that we are arriving so late. "... since you've got to be leavin' so early tomorrow".
Huh? Was there some mistake? We booked this room for two days!
She told us that in her AirBnB listing, the checkout time was 9AM. Everyday. Regardless of how many days we've booked the room. She explained that she babysits her grandkids so she didn't want guests to be in the house during the day. What an unusual arrangement. I've never heard of that before, but we checked the listing again, and sure enough, it did state that. We had just misunderstood because no other AirBnB place had that kind of stipulation.
Well, that was quite a kick to the groin. We were really looking forward to spending a whole lazy day under a warm roof instead of inside a cold tent. No wonder her AirBnB was the cheapest listing in Belfast!
She noticed our disappointment and offered us a compromise, "I'll let you stay till 10 tomorrow. Have a good night!"
Her Irish accent didn't sound quite as charming anymore.
10AM comes around way too soon and we're turfed out of our AirBnB room :(
Where to now?
We've got a whole day to kill before we're allowed back into our room. So we do a Google search for some good breakfast places.
St George's Market is a popular place in the city not just to get fresh produce, but also to grab a meal. We find parking (very) close by.
There's a ton of selection inside. I decide on a falafel breakfast. Yes, I traveled all the way to Northern Ireland for Middle Eastern food...
The dark-skinned guy at the falafel booth took my order. To my surprise, he had the thickest Irish accent I've ever heard! I was dumbstruck. It was like watching a movie that was dubbed. I sat down next to Neda with my falafels and exclaimed to her, "OMG, that Middle-Eastern guy over there has an Irish accent!" She shot me a WTF look and that's when I realized... this Asian guy sitting right here has a pretty thick Canadian accent (or so I've been told)...
Holy hypocrisy, Batman.
Over breakfast, we search the Internet for things to do in Belfast. I was really only interested in seeing one thing, and that would only take an hour or two at the most. And now we had to find a whole day's worth of activities!
Okay, first stop: The Titanic museum just down the street from the market. I spy with my big I, a Neda
I had no idea the Titanic was built in Belfast. The museum only opened recently, in 2012 (the year we left home), and is designed to look like the prow of a ship. Belfast has a rich history of ship building.
Statue of Titanica, made to look like the figureheads on the front of sailing ships
This is Nedica, the figurehead on the back of a BMW motorcycle
We didn't actually go inside the museum. £9 each was too expensive for us, considering we actually weren't that interested in the Titanic. We're just killing time.
So we hop back on the bikes and ride to our next tourist destination.
Belfast Castle! Basically checking off the "Top 10 things to do in Belfast"
Just an average run-of-the-mill castle within the city limits. But we quickly discovered the garden was full of cats!
Some are in plain sight, some are hidden. Some are in the form of sculptures, others in mosaic.
Some are even in the form of shrubbery!
These are my favorite kinds of cats. The ones I'm not allergic to!
We only found out after our visit that there are nine cats in total hiding in the garden. We weren't really looking for them at the time and managed to find five. Legend has it that visitors to the castle will have good luck if there's a white cat living there. So to celebrate the legend, the garden full of hidden cats was created. Good fun for kids and motorcycle riders looking to kill time!
But now it's off to see what I was really interested in. We rode out of the city and into the suburbs of Belfast.
Belfast is a divided city, with English Protestants and Irish Catholics clustered in self-contained neighbourhoods. Violence between the two factions have been ongoing for over a century now, ever since war broke out between Irish separatists in 1919, leading to Ireland leaving Great Britain in 1922.
I became aware of "The Troubles" in Northern Ireland when I was barely a teen. U2 was on the radio and the most popular song at the time was, "Sunday, Bloody Sunday". Bono wrote the song about the Bloody Sunday massacre of unarmed civil rights protesters by British troops in 1972 in Derry, near the Irish border.
I was only a kid at the time, but that song made me realize that there was a whole world full of stuff happening outside of my suddenly much smaller existence.
Walls were erected in some of the more problematic neighbourhoods where Catholic neighbourhoods butted up against Protestant neighborhoods
We visited a park where children were playing soccer, joggers were running on the paths, and barbed wire tipped the fences that separated Catholics from Protestants.
It floored me to realize this was not a historical remnant. This is present day life in Belfast.
Every night, the gates would close and be locked up, to prevent night-time violence between the two communities
We rode out to one of the Protestant subdivisions. The flags on all the houses left no doubt which neighbourhood you were in
A group of young men were gathered outside of one of the houses and watched as we rode by. Despite our Canadian-plated motorcycles (and a British passport tucked somewhere deep inside one of my panniers), I still felt a bit uneasy. All of this nationalist imagery surrounding us made everything a bit more menacing.
Murals cover the sides of many of the houses, depicting violent events in the history of "the Troubles" in Northern Ireland
1969 marked the peak of the violence, when British troops were sent in to Northern Ireland to quell the violence. This lead to the resuscitation of the nascent Irish Republican Army (IRA) in retaliation. Although there was supposed to be a ceasefire in 1994, some of the murals disturbingly commemorate deaths much later than that date - neighbours that had been killed in the local skirmishes between Catholics and Protestants.
I saw little kids playing among the buildings, with these murals watching over them. It was very sad to think that they were being indoctrinated into this ceaseless cycle of hate and revenge. I always thought these paintings were Belfast's scars. But they're not. They're clamps holding the wound open so the city never heals.
A lone mural called, "The Women's Quilt" celebrates Love and Forgiveness amidst all the hatred and vengeance
We rode to one of the Peace Walls on Shankill Road
Erected in 1969, a number of Peace Walls were built along public roads to contain the violence between the Irish and English communities. They were only supposed to be a temporary measure at the time, and were due to be torn down within 6 months. They are still standing today. And the gates close every night.
More murals adorn the Peace Wall
The murals on the Irish side depict the usual Irish-flag waving rebels and...
African-American historical figures, Frederick Douglass and Barack Obama?!?
A large part of the Irish struggle is against the systemic racism by the British. There is a close identification with African-Americans and the abolitionist movement to end slavery in America.
Obama is *very* popular in Ireland.
The wall and its murals really reminded us of when we visited the Berlin Wall
Heading over to the Catholic neighbourhoods
Very different imagery on the Irish side. Lot more greens.
Suddenly, that British passport seems to be burning a hole in my pannier. I'm doing a lot of nervous gulping around here. Then it dawned on me: Northern Ireland is still a part of Great Britain. *Everybody* here, Catholics and Protestants, have British passports...
And that's the root of the problem for half the population here. Duh.
IRA mural painted above a store
We stopped so I could take more pictures of the murals. When I returned, I saw a group of kids talking to Neda about her motorcycle. She let the kids sit on her bike. Over the intercom, I heard one of them ask her, "Can you turn the bike on?"
Alarmed, I spoke into her ear, "DO NOT PUT THE KEY IN THE BIKE! They'll ride off with it!"
She came back over the intercom, "I've worked with kids before. I'm not an idiot, you know."
Some of the kids are fiddling around with the switches on the bike. I hear Neda gently admonish them, "No no, don't do that"
She said it in the exact same way she talked to the kids at her old job. As we rode away, I mimicked her tone of voice over the comms: "No no, don't do that". We had a good laugh. They were good kids.
But they would have totally rode away with her bike if she had left the key in.
Back across one of the other Peace Walls
What a long friggin' day. Is it 4PM yet?
Are we allowed back into our AirBnB room now?