A New Year in Beal Feirste!

I arrived in Belfast late on the 30th, bone tired after a long day of travel. I was happy to scratch a day of journeying off the ledger and start fresh the following day, so I turned in to dream about New Year’s Eve. My eyelids cracked open at 8:30a on the 31st and promptly snapped back shut, quite dismayed to realize the sun hadn’t fully come out. The space-heater had put up an admirable fight against the night’s colddamp but seemed to have surrendered at dawn. I struggled to shake off the blanket of heavy sleep and fumble down the many, many stairs to the dining room. I stopped at the 3rd floor landing to greet the still blue and bleary Belfast.

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A breakfast of homemade scones, cereals, fruits, smoothie, pancakes, coffee and tea had been laid out by my gracious hostess, Mary.

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I chatted up the Bostonian/ Californian couple staying with me- an audio tech and a PhD candidate studying Irish conflict history. They’d been in Belfast for a few days and were headed over to Scotland to ring in the New Year. We chatted about home and travels and parted ways- they to a ferry, myself to the streets.
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Belfast wakes up a bit slower than I’m accustomed to, though we never actually go to sleep in New York, so I’ll admit my judgement may be a bit skewed. I kept company with two school kids awake before all the grown-ups and a gimpy stray as I descended on foot from Northern Belfast toward the city centre.
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‘Take the Cliftonville Road to the Antrim Road and then on in ’til ya see something worth lookin’ at’, I was told, to which I replied, ‘It’s all worth looking at to me.’

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Belfast is a city of nooks and crannies and alleys and back drives that my imagination fills with wild and illicit histories.IMG_8434 copy

The modern is layered in with the archaic. No eyeful is purely either.IMG_8440 copy

I was beginning to think I’d stumbled into a black hole. Where were all the people? It was cold and wet, sure, but the day had begun. After a few blocks, I found fresh(ish) signs of life. A bit of last night’s fun, mixed with rain?IMG_8446 copy copy

The weather had already begun to seep into my extremities, so I stumbled across the Belfast Central Library just in time warm up.

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This gorgeous old building has been around since 1888 and houses a cafe, exhibition space in the lobby and a decent music & cultural collection.

I popped in and out of slowly-opening businesses, wandering in whichever direction held my interest longest.

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I stumbled across Writer’s Square by accident. Opened in 2002- the plaza faces St. Anne’s Cathedral and features quotes from local greats, including C.S. Lewis, Lois MacNeice, Sam Hanna Bell and Stewart Parker. IMG_8544 copy

Once again slowed by the cold, I sought sanctuary in the cavernous (and not much warmer) St. Anne’s Cathedral- aka Belfast Cathedral. IMG_8556 copyThis impressive example of neo-Romanesque architecture was built in 1899 and features some gorgeous mosaic murals and a very friendly welcoming crew.

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Traveling in the cold means bursts of exploring between tea/ coffee/ food fill-ups. I was thrilled to stumble across The National Grande Cafe– I’d first learned of it while flitting about the Twitterland of the fine folks at ForkedIMG_8591 copy

I started off with a cappuccino. The coffee scene is odd here- there seems to be a boost of Italian-inspired espresso coffee culture that mingles alongside A LOT of instant coffee. I was really pleased to sip on this solidly crafted beverage.IMG_8594 copy copy IMG_8597 copy copy

I was really pleased with the variety of fresh, artesianal menu choices. I ordered a tomato, red pepper and balsamic vinegar soup with a grilled pastrami, chili and Emmental sandwich. This is a what a hot sandwich should be- creamy and savory with a kick. The soup was a beautiful balance of sweet and tart.

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I ambled about for another few hours before finding myself at Muriel’s. It was pitch dark and not yet 6p. I settled in to write and reflect and warm up with a drink and was quickly joined by a handful of fellas who turned that lonely Guinness into a cocktail or two or four. Things got rowdy and I skedaddled back to my cozy Airbnb digs to ring in the New Year with my lovely hostess Mary and her dog Bailey in front of her roaring fire place.

I swam back mentally to December 31st, 2012, and found myself in a tiny hostel bedroom in San Jose, Costa Rica, grateful to have landed on my feet in another exciting new land of the cusp of a new year. Surprising myself is my every day resolution, so I slipped off to sleep after 30+ conscious hours with not one utterance of what I expected 2014 to be.

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