I was born and raised in Belfast during the height of The Troubles. When I left in 1988, at the age of twenty-four, it seemed that the ingrained prejudices ran too deep and there could never be peace. The Good Friday agreement was announced a decade later and I questioned if it would hold. How delighted I have been to see the city of my birth emerge from the rubble and ashes of conflict to become a place worth visiting for its history, culture and for the welcome given to visitors by its people.
For my most recent stay, my husband and I checked into the Europa Hotel which is located in Great Victoria Street in the heart of the city. We flew into the International Airport and caught a bus which drops passengers at a terminus just behind this hotel.
Check in was swift and we soon found ourselves in a small but comfortable bedroom, impressively insulated from the sounds of the nightlife below.
Of course, we had to sample a little of what was on offer. We enjoyed cocktails in the hotel’s Piano Bar, and then crossed the street to the iconic Crown Bar where we were lucky enough to find an empty booth within which to enjoy a carefully pulled pint of Guinness.
Over the course of our three night stay we ate out at a variety of restaurants: Flame in Howard Street, Deanes Deli Bistro in Bedford Street, and Villa Italia in University Road. In all three the food and ambiance were excellent. The attention to detail in the eclectic decor at Flame and Deanes especially appealed to me. Villa Italia was perfect for the evening my parents joined us.
During the day we were tourists, visiting just a few of the many attractions now available within walking distance of our hotel. For us, the most interesting of these was the Crumlin Road Gaol. Our tour guide was informative and entertaining. My husband was particularly amused by the fact that the official opening of this facility as a visitor attraction was conducted by the then First Minister and Deputy First Minister of Northern Ireland, both of whom are ex-residents. We learned that many famous names have done time behind these walls.
With working class family connections to the linen industry and the shipyard I was keen to visit Titanic Belfast. This attraction was very busy and tells a story I am familiar with but was worth the time just to stand alongside the fabulous building in which it is housed.
As a graduate of Queen’s University Belfast I was also eager to wander around the University Quarter and explore the changes that have been made to my alma mater over the years. There were many impressive, new additions to admire but I was pleased to once again stand before an unchanged Lanyon building.
And finally I got to visit the Linen Hall Library. We could not fit the tour into our schedule so instead enjoyed a short stroll around the stacks. The gallery located in the back stairway was a highlight, as were our brief chats with the informative librarians.
Ireland may have a reputation for being a tad soggy but the weather was kind to us throughout our stay enabling us to wander at will and enjoy the many changes. New buildings have appeared and old ones unwrapped from their security blankets. It was lovely to see.
As we picked up our luggage, helpfully cared for by the hotel until we were ready to leave, the heavens opened. We bid Belfast a fond farewell and journeyed home bearing the gift requested by our teenagers. However popular artisan crisps may become, it is still hard to beat a bag of the best crisps & snacks in the world.