In the morning we walked over to Paddy Wagon Tours, the starting location for our day trip to Belfast.
What I didn’t realize was that Northern Ireland was actually a different country altogether, so I became pretty excited when I realized that we were going to be crossing the border. The Republic of Ireland is part of the European Union but not part of the United Kingdom, which means they use euros rather than the pound. Northern Ireland, however, is part of the United Kingdom so they still use the British pound.
Our first stop was a spontaneous stop thanks to the enthusiasm of our tour guide, Lee. He was really excited about showing us Monasterboice (Mainistir Bhuithe), deserted monastery grounds that held graves and engraved crosses. The crosses were used in earlier times as teaching tools, with the pictures engraved on the sides illustrating different Bible stories.
The tower in the graveyard was also supposedly a guard tower used by the monks to see whether or not the Vikings were approaching. We didn’t get to go up the tower (it was locked and forbidden) but for miles around we could see green pastures spread out, slightly touched by frost.
After visiting the monastery we continued on driving towards Belfast. As we were entering the city, Lee pointed out the Europa Hotel, a hotel that has survived the most bombings in all of Europe due to all the political conflict between Northern Ireland continuing as part of the United Kingdom or joining the Republic of Ireland. The debate is still actually a current one, as evidenced by the protests we witnessed when we drove into the downtown district.
Protests or not though, the city is quite gorgeous. Check out the buildings and City Hall below (City Hall being the domed giant).
We stopped by for some mulled cider (apple and ginger Kopparberg! So good.) before continuing on our way to a local market, called St. George’s Market. Everyone on the tour had only about two hours to spend in Belfast and, while most people spent £10 or so on a black cab tour of the city and its street art, Jack and I went looking for the food.
We did look at the local craft and cheeses but we eventually settled on a delicious dish of meatballs (£5; which came with paella anyway, minus the sausage, as well as a piece of Irish soda bread) to start.
Next was a four-cheese panzerotti (£4), a savoury filled Italian pastry, and then a Cuban sandwich (£5). The panzerotti was okay, being reheated only briefly in a chilly marketplace. The Cuban sandwich, however, was amazing. Slow roasted pulled pork, salami, mustard, pickle and Swiss cheese pressed in Cuban crusty bread made for a mouth-watering, crunch-jamming sandwich that Jack polished off in no time.
Jack let me purchase a book of Irish poetry and another book about the history of food and then we were back on the tour bus driving towards Titanic Belfast, a museum dedicated to the development and history of the Titanic.