Friday 1 November 2013

Welcome to Belfast

During my stay in Cork and Dublin, Michael de Verdier and I took decision to visit the capital of Norther Ireland, Belfast.
Usually when I visit some city, you can notice that on this blog, as I like to make an pictorial reportage.
This particular city left very deep impression on me, so I need to write something about it.
I shall try to do that in a way that you can not already find on the Internet.

First of all, I want to avoid to write about touristic attractions of the cities and the countries that I visited, as the main purpose of this blog is to present my Chess activities, but Life part of it should just colour it and add a personal dimension on it.
This time my travel has nothing to do with chess but I found it interesting enough to publish some details here.

Before we arrived in Belfast we have a very little knowledge about the city besides that you can find on Internet or what you can hear in the media.
Couple a weeks before my visit to Belfast, I read on some Internet forum that Belfast was declared as the safest city in UK, and that the stories about conflicts are exaggeration.

We arrived around noon, and as we expected, the main train station is not really in the centre, but after short walk we were there...

On our walk to centre we visited very interesting market place.
Of course, Belfast would not be Belfast, if the day was not rainy.
The centre of the city was surprisingly small, so we were surprised many times when we just walk to much in north or west direction, so we were forced to go back a little.
Neither Michael or I like to use sightseeing tours or similar services in order to explore the cities, so we did it on our own.
In the centre I took some pictures of Belfast City Hall.

That something is not right, or better to say resolved, one could see in some souvenirs shops, when on the almost the same articles that refers to Belfast you could see the different names of the country (Northern Ireland and Republic of Ireland).
However, I did not put much attention on that.
We wanted to see Cathedral quarter in the Northern part of centre, and on our way there we took some time to find a nice restaurant.

Everything was pleasant and nice, and I remembered one article that I read in one magazine that you can find in the seats on the airplane, when one (I don´t remember the name) World traveller answered the question about the best cities that he visited.
He pointed to nice and friendly atmosphere of Belfast´s restaurants and pubs.
I could only agree with him at that point...
I mean, Belfast in not some top touristic location in Europe, not alone in UK, but something was just right with this city.
Later on, as we had more then 4 hours before our trip back to Dublin we decided to see some murals and see something that reminds of time of the troubles.

Why on Earth I want to write something about that, when I know how irritating it can be to the persons that were involved actively or passively during the period of the troubles.

Well the answer is bellow:

Divided cities (the link is just bellow) is the book that I can recommend to everybody who wants to know more about five divided cities in World, but the way this book is written is that you can really get a feeling about life in these cities.
How I know that?
Answer is simple, I am from Mostar.
Yes, my home city is one of the five cities on the list (Others are Belfast, Jerusalem, Nicosia and Beirut), and I know how irritating can be when somebody who knows only that media wants you to know, tries to know better then you what is going on. 
For example, the common media version is that Mostar is divided by the river Neretva on the east and the west part, and that rebuilding of The Old Bridge reunited the city.
Neither are true as  the city is divided by the main city boulevard and the rebuilding of The Old Bridge has nothing to do with process of reunification.

Well, with that kind of experience, I could imagine how irritating can be to ordinary people in Belfast to hear or read that someone who did not experienced the troubles write or talk about it.
I shall spare them and I will not write about that, just a little about my impression as a person who spent twenty seven years in one of these cities (all right, I spent only 12-13 years after war in Mostar, as I lived there first 14 years of my life before the conflicts in the 90-ties).

West Belfast

After our visit in Belfast I read that the West part of the city was not the most dangerous area during the troubles, but it was one of them.
As we wanted to see some murals, and we were sceptic about Black cab tours (not that it´s not good, but it´s not our cup of tea), we decided to walk in some area where we can see the murals.
I asked one man who kindly showed the way to Falls road.

I could not imagine that Shankill road is so near, and that the two communities lives so near to each other.
As the matter of fact, in the whole city they are completely mixed (In comparison to other divided cities where the huge majority of one ethnic or political group lives in one part and the other in other part of the city).
They are divided by a peace walls and the shocking true is that there are as many as 99 walls (maybe more or less, as I found this information on Internet, but anyway, the number is huge).
In any part of the city you can find the both communities.
In Falls road we didn´t find anything that reminds of the troubles up to the point when we seen some murals....

I shall remind the readers that I do not share any political opinions about any problem in Belfast, and that these pictures represents the pictures that I took there and want to publish on this blog. Nothing more or less.

After some time we walked in the direction of North, and I could see that we got some looks from some people in between the two areas, but did not understood the meaning.
Soon, we understood that we crossed the line and that we were in "other" part of the city.
We were in Shankill road.

One could notice that even sidewalks curbs are coloured in the colours of UK flag.
In both parts we could see children while playing outside and they all looked similar to me.
At that point I understood how similar we on Balkan looks to the other people, and how ridiculous are the reasons of our conflicts.

To be fair, some of the murals had peaceful messages.

It was already twilight when we decided to cross the imaginary line between Shankill road and Falls road again, and then we decided that we saw enough and it is time to go back to the centre.
We walked through some quarter southern from Falls road, and the last picture I took from West Belfast (at least for this time), was this picture:

My impression was that unfortunately there will be more conflicts in Belfast, but that some parts of this city (especially the centre) has an extraordinary pleasant atmosphere.
I am not sure if the same impression of visiting Falls road and Shankill road you can get, but I could feel that something was wrong there.
It is a feeling that I can not express with the words but now I fully understand the graffiti that was made in the end of the 90-ties on one sign just outside of Mostar.
The text on graffiti was "Welcome to Belfast".

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