July 17, 2011
I came into Belfast on the Corrymeela bus on Friday morning with most of the summer volunteers. Some were finishing their 3 week cycle, and some were spending the day in Belfast before the return trip at 5 pm with a new crop of summer volunteers.
After I checked into my accommodation at the Elms Student Village at Queen’s University, I set off. My one major task, which I had offered to do, was to buy a Celtic turf cross from the tourist information place. These crosses (pictured below) are sculpted from real Irish bog turf, and are similar to the one used for worship in the Croi. My task was to pick one up for the couple who are leaving next week after their year at Corrymeela.
I also had a few other things on my wish list – some things at the pharmacy, a pay-as-you-go cell phone, a beer at the Crown Liquor Saloon (“the most famous pub in Belfast!”), and maybe, just maybe, I was going to buy a guitar. Oh yes, and have a meal without potatoes, preferably with a nice glass of red wine.
Somehow I got very turned around while walking on Friday, and just kept getting more and more lost. I finally did find the Welcome Centre and got the Celtic Cross, but got lost again and did not find the Crown Liquor Saloon. In frustration and tiredness, I walked in and sat down at what seemed like a nice place, but I immediately felt like I was in the middle of a Sex and the City movie set. At the table next to me four very well dressed women were sharing a jug of something very pink, martini glasses in hand. I sighed heavily, looked at the menu and felt deeply unhappy.
Then, with all the courage I could muster, I picked up my bags, put on my coat, found a taxi and asked him to take me to the place I had seen recommended on one of the flyers at Queen’s – Villa Italia. I’m glad I did – I had a wonderful meal. It was exactly what I was craving. And, not one potato.
Back at the residence, I sat down with my knitting to watch some TV. I was the only one in the lounge – and after flipping around a bit, found Coronation Street. Of course it’s way ahead of where we are in Canada and I didn’t quite know what was going on, but I did feel like I was with old friends. The students below me were making quite a racket by this time, which was to go on well past 3 in the morning. I remembered the sign I saw when entering the student village – “Quiet students make happy students – quiet time 11 pm.” I guess the folks below me didn’t get that memo.
The good thing about being wide awake at 2 am was that I began to look at my map and tourist materials again, convinced that I would be checking in to another place of accommodation in the morning. In the process, I got re-oriented to the city, and realized how I had gone so terribly wrong in my directions the day before. I made a plan for Saturday, which included meeting up with Ivan in the late afternoon at the Europa Hotel, which I was finally able to locate on the map, along with the Crown Liquor Saloon.
I did manage a few more hours sleep, and in the morning decided that I would lose most of the day if I tried to find a new place to stay. Hopefully things would be better the second night. After a great breakfast, I set out – took the bus to the City Centre this time, which was a good thing, as we drove past where I needed to be in the afternoon. Then I found the place that had been recommended to me for a phone – Carphone Warehouse. The guys were very helpful, and interested in my stay in Northern Ireland. I showed them my map, and asked where I could find some Irish stuff, and, maybe a guitar. They were helpful on both counts.
At Carroll’s, there is everything Irish, from Guinness T-shirts and paraphernalia, to cheesy leprechauns, to beautiful jewellery and claddagh rings. And, family crests. I was delighted to find several things, including a family plaque, of the name Madden, which was my family name. I guess the name goes back to the 10th Century, descendent of a great chief of Ui Maine and means “hound or mastiff.” Not sure if I’m happy to know this or not. I bought a few coasters and a plaque, and went off in search of my guitar.
I actually bought a guitar. I had a wonderful encounter with a salesperson at Matchett’s Music Store, who helped me chose a guitar that I can play while I’m here, and then leave behind. One of my goals for my sabbatical was to reconnect with my musical side, and I have been feeling the call to pick up the guitar again. So within a very short time, I left the store with a reasonably sounding fairly inexpensive guitar, and landed in the Crown Liquor Saloon for lunch.
I had a great lunch at the Crown Liquor Saloon, (Irish stew with yes, potatoes ... but it was the house specialty, and, I only ate about half ..) in my own little “snug” or booth. Then I proceeded across the road to wait for Ivan. His bus was late getting in, but we connected, and he graciously invited me to dine with his group. We had a fabulous meal at the Europa, and then decided to take one of the Black Taxi tours – the taxis that take you to the political murals and the Peace Wall..
All in all, it was a full and satisfying day. And, the folks downstairs seemed to have gotten the memo about quiet time – either that or I was just too tired to hear them. Had a great sleep, and was on the Ulsterbus “Antrim Coaster” to Ballycastle at 9 am. Time to meet all the new volunteers, and get ready for two new groups coming in tomorrow.