Tuesday, 26 June 2012

Day One in Ireland: Dublin to Belfast

Dia dhuit (hello in Gaelic) everyone,

On my first day of my Paddywagon tour I was woken up by an Asian girl as she was getting up early too and my iphone was flat. I got ready, packed up my backpack and headed down to my free breakfast at Paddy's Palace. Down at breakfast a nice German girl called Sue started a conversation with me and we found out that we were doing the same tour starting that day. She could speak English but was a little difficult to understand sometimes lol She was so pretty and really friendly and I found out that she was also a beautician. After breakfast we sat and waited in the Paddy's Palace reception area with loads of other people doing similar tours of Ireland. Sue was also travelling alone and once our group was called out we sat up the front of the bus together. We met our tour guide Lee and headed towards Belfast. I was used to a driver and a tour guide after Contiki but Lee was doing both jobs on our Paddywagon tour. He introduced himself and I remember him not being as enthusiastic and detailed with his information as Mia ha There were around 25 people on our Paddywagon 6 day All Ireland tour that day and I was a little freaked out when I noticed there was obviously no age limit. We had a mixture of young and older people and we even had an elderly couple that were joining us for the first few days who were about 70!geez I don't know why they would want to sit in a cheap paddywagon bus with a bunch of younger people who were ready to party but each to their own.  

As we travelled along Sue and I got to know each other and I thought she was pretty cool. Ireland looked so green and grassy and there were so many sheep and cows along the way. I noticed how different their houses were as they had pointy roofs and lots of pebbles as main features usually placed around the front door entrance. On the way to Belfast we stopped at a cemetery where we saw a huge Celtic cross-and stone tower and legend says that if you can fit both arms around the tower with your fingers touching (like your hugging it) you will be married the following year lol
Celtic Cross at the cemetery
Sue and I against the stone tower-I don't think I'd be able to fit my arms around that!
We also drove into a small town called Drogheda where we saw the preserved head of St. Oliver Plunkett (executed 1681) in St. Peters Cathedral. The head was all brown and deteriorated and kind of freaked me out to be honest that it was on display! I started talking to a women called Anna this day and from the moment we met seemed to click. She was easy going and we started chatting like we had known each other for days while we waited for everyone to come out of the church.
Preserved head of St Oliver Plunkett

Me outside St Peter's Cathedral
We then drove on and arrived on arrived in our first destination-Belfast.

Belfast:
Belfast was once known as one of the four B's along with Beirut, Baghdad and Bosnia as the places for travellers to avoid. Belfast used to be known for it's bombs and bullets but has undergone a huge transformation and is now one of must see historical destinations in the world.

We visited Belfast's Titanic Quarter birthplace of the Titanic in 1911. We vistied the Harland & Wolff shipyards where we saw the famous cranes that helped make the Titanic the 'unsinkable' ocean liner which hit an iceberg and sank in 1912. We saw the slipway where the Titanic was built and Belfast was the last place it docked from before it left Ireland.

Harland & Wolff cranes used to build the Titanic

Where the Titanic was built in Belfast
We then went on the world famous Black Taxi tour where we saw the Peace wall and political murals in West Belfast. The Black Taxi tours were a great way to hear from a local Irish man about 'The Troubles' of Belfast. They recommended we do these tours as tourist buses are not safe to travel through some of the worst areas in Belfast. Our tour guide was an older man who looked quite tough with tattoos and had been a first hand witness to the Belfast bombings and 30 year conflict known as 'The Troubles' surrounding Belfast.   As our guide was talking I was overwhelmed at the history behind this area and couldn't believe some of the stories he was telling us about the Belfast bombings. He took us the see many political murals which are run by the IRA and each were symbolic of particular events that had either happened in the past or were affecting the worlds future at the present. He drove us into the areas of Catholic Falls Rd and the Protestant Shankill Rd which have been separated battlefronts of conflict since the 1970's. This is where we saw the infamous 'Peacewall' which is a 4km long barrier that divides the Protestants and Catholic districts and has now been standing for longer than the Berlin wall. We saw poor housing areas which were located right near the wall and also drove through the security gate which still shuts of 12pm each night so that neither of the two can pass into each others districts.

We drove through Bombay Street where during 12–17 August 1969, Northern Ireland was rocked by intense political and sectarian rioting. There had been violence throughout the year arising from the civil rights campaign, which was demanding an end to government discrimination against Irish Catholics and nationalists. The most bloody rioting was in Belfast where seven people were killed and hundreds more wounded. Scores of houses and businesses were burned-out, most of them owned by Catholics. In addition, thousands of families were driven from their homes.

These areas are now quite safe but used to be the most dangerous parts of Belfast and up until 1994 if you had been standing where we were standing that day you would have been bombed or shot. 15 000 bombs were set off during 1969-1994 in Belfast and in the area we were standing before 1994 there would have been soldiers and members of the IRA (Irish Republican Army) marching around the streets with fully loaded machine guns, helicopters flying overhead and people packing cars full of bombs to head into the city of Belfast.

The men in the Black Taxi tours also took us to an area that kind of reminded me of  'The Block' in Redfern-Sydney. As soon as we got there we saw loads of younger Irish men with their shirts off smoking and throwing wooden crates into piles on the grassed areas while they were drinking and smoking. Apparently they celebrate the night before the Orange march and burn these crates to make huge bonfires. They were all staring at us while we watched them which was actually quite intimidating. They had so many political murals on their houses and I also saw a group of little boys aged from about 4-8yrs old who were playing with toy knives and guns which was quite confronting. I loved the Black Taxi tour and after going on it I am so keen to learn more about the history behind the IRA and the Belfast bombings as there was far to much information to fully take in and understand that day.
Small kids playing with fake guns and knives in West Belfast

Political Murals- The army man follows you just like the Mona Lisa does when you walk away from it, Freaky!

Barbed wired surrounding the top of the protecting gates that are closed at 12pm each night

Me standing near some of Belfast's political murals

Young men collecting wooden crates whilst drinking and smoking

Political murals on some of the houses

Black Taxi tour

Protecting gates that are closed at 12pm each night

Bobby Sands mural-First Protestant hunger striker

Political murals

Peace wall artwork

Me writing my name on the Peace wall in Belfast

Peace wall separating the Protestants and the Catholics
After our Black Taxi tour we arrived at our hostel for the night and Anna and I decided to room together. I found out that she was a 32 year old nanny from Queenstown in New Zealand. She had previously lived in London for 6 years where she was also a nanny for a beautiful family and she had over stayed her Visa by 4 and a half years!ha I really liked Anna and we could already tell we were going to have fun together on the trip. That night I along with some of the Paddywagon people went and had dinner in Belfast at Ryan's Bar and Grill. I sat with Anna and met a funny couple called Vicky and Jeremy who were from Cronulla in Australia. I ended up having a bottle of wine to drink with dinner and then we walked down with the rest of the group to an Irish pub which was playing traditional Irish music.

It was so fun and I met Kelly, Chris, Ryan, Jarren, Jodie, Luke and Justine that night. We all hit it off and were having a great time listening to the music. Chris a gorgeous girl from Sydney had been living in Clapham in London for the past two years and was heading back to Australia just after Ireland. She was so good to talk to about travelling and countries to see as well and she had loads of tips and advice for living in London! I immediately clicked with a guy from Melbourne called Jarren and he couldn't believe I was a teacher apparently because I seemed too cool and dressed trendy ha Apparently teachers are wrinkled old women who never have fun and smell like moth balls lol When I was in the pub I knew I had to call dad that night because he's always talked about visiting Ireland and I know he would have loved the food and the Irish music!I called him while I was drunk while the band was on a break and told him what I had been up to and that I had arrived in Ireland safely. At the end of the conversation I got a little emotional as dad started crying again saying goodbye to me :( I love you dad and I miss you too everyday! I had a great first day on my Paddywagon tour of Ireland and I was looking forward to the next day and visiting Derry. 
Anna up dancing with the Irish band at the pub

Me, Jeremy, Anna and Vicky

Our tour guide Lee, Anna and I
Love The Black Taxi Riding Backpacker

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