Belle of the Belfast City

After my return home to Denver, I can begin reflecting on my time abroad, and I can say I am grateful for my placement at Queen’s. This university and the city of Belfast in general made for a one of a kind experience, and I would strongly recommend exploring this destination to others considering places to go abroad. That being said, if Belfast doesn’t make your cut for programs, I would also recommend it as a place to visit. Why you ask? Well here are a few of my favorite things about this wonderfully underrated capital of a British territory with a full and rich history, a great music scene, and colorful characters straddling their British and Irish identities.

If you do plan to visit Belfast, or attend Queen’s University, these are my Belfast top 8 locations to visit:

1. St. George’s Market

This great weekend attraction is an indoor open market in the city center. If you are looking for a traditional Northern Irish breakfast, a chance to check out some crafts, or even buy fresh produce, this is a one-stop-shop. I spent many weekend mornings exploring the booths at the market and enjoying a breakfast fry or fresh bakery.

Some of the cute items available at the St. George's Market
Some of the cute items available at the St. George’s Market

2. Shankhill/ Bus Tour of the City

One of the coolest parts of Belfast, whether you are a history buff or simply looking for artistic creation is the Belfast murals. The Shankhill neighborhood is one of the divisions of the city that still holds many political ties to the Troubles, and the murals represent these political standpoints.  The tours, like Black Taxi Tours, offer visitors a sad beauty within the city.

IMG_2610

3. Titanic Quarter

If you didn’t know, the Titanic was made in Belfast! There is a quarter dedicated to the remembrance of  not only those passengers of the Titanic who died, but the crew who died in the building of the ship is also memorialized. Recently, a new museum was built at the shipyard. I highly recommend visiting the Titanic Quarter as a way to learn about the facts that Leo and Kate may have glossed over in their depiction.

The shipyard where the Titanic was built
The shipyard where the Titanic was built

4. Black Bear Cafe/ Bookfinders

Not far from Queen’s campus is a great cafe. Locally owned and run, The Black Bear Cafe has great coffee, lunch specials, and serves as a quiet study spot or a delicious food stop.  My favorite was the pastries, cappuccino, and the sweet potato fries. The other great coffee shop is Bookfinders, owned and run by a local Belfast woman,Mary. It has quite a bit of character and may not be everyone’s cup of tea, but equally as close to Queen’s campus, it offers a great place to study while enjoying coffee, tea, or Mary’s great soup!   In any place you choose to go abroad, I strongly suggest trying local shops and restaurants.  You can get Starbucks anytime, but you’ll miss out on opportunities for local flavor if you stick to American brands.

5. The Eglantine Inn

Food, drink, karaoke? The Eglantine Inn, also along the main road of campus offers a true Belfast experience. And what I mean by that is not only is there fantastic food and drinks, the company is friendly and lively, and the night ends in a rendition of ‘Galway Girl‘ where everyone sings along. For a night to enjoy Belfast life, make sure to stop at The Eg!

6. The Botanic Garden

Less than a three minute walk from my house was the Belfast Botanic Garden. On the wonderful sunny days in the city this was my favorite place to go on a run, walk, or sit and people watch. Filled with dog walkers, stroller pushers, and students from Queen’s the Botanic Garden is beautiful, scenic and a favorite spot to enjoy the autumn leaves falling during your fall quarter abroad.

WP_0011897. The Parlour 

Another great spot for eating, music, and general merriment is The Parlour. After spending lunches, dinners, and evenings listening to the music and enjoying the atmosphere of the local pub/restaurant. Socializing with societies like the acting society or the English society  in the Parlour is a great way to get to know the Queen’s community and visit a great student hub.

8. Christmas Market

Being lucky enough to visit Belfast during the pre-holiday season I was able to visit a European Christmas market. Bringing together traditions from across Europe in food and shops, the market is a beautiful cultural mixture that delights taste buds and fulfills souvenir gifts alike.  I went to the market multiple times, and it was quite a site to see City Hall lit up for the holidays taking part in the traditions of a city.

IMG_4075

Enjoying a German tradition: Bratwurst!
Enjoying a German tradition: Bratwurst!

If you are studying in Belfast I also made a top 5 list of day trips you should plan on taking!

1. Giant’s Causeway and Carrick-a-Rede

This was by far my favorite day trip. The Giant’s Causeway is a natural attraction, being a special rock formation that not only is a gorgeous site at sundown, but has fun Irish Folklore associated with it. I took an organized bus tour along the coast, but this is an easy trip to plan on your own. Either way, I would make it a priority to visit Bushmills, Northern Ireland and see both the Causeway and walk across the old Rope Bridge. Luckily on my trip, we avoided most of the rain, and instead got to see two rainbows along the tour!

IMG_3881

View of the Causeway at Sunset
View of the Causeway at Sunset

2. London Derry/ Derry

Another location for those who are interested in the politics or the history of the Troubles is the city of Derry. I was a fan of the murals in the ‘Free Derry’ location, the site of political Civil Rights Protests and the current Bloody Sunday Memorial. Learning the history of a divided nation that that of Ireland and Northern Ireland is important in understanding much of the cultural narrative, and so I made it a priority to learn more about the Troubles and the Peace Process.

My favorite Derry mural
My favorite Derry mural

3. The Mourn Mountains

After living in Colorado for the last 3 years, the Mourns don’t really look much like mountains, but on the island of Ireland they are the site of highest elevation. This being said, it is a great day trip to New Castle to go and explore the mountain trails and then warm up in a local cafe in the small town. If you really like the hikes, there is also the Mountaineering Club at Queen’s that takes monthly camping trips up into the mountains.

View of the Mourns
View of the Mourns

4. Dublin

Crossing into the Republic of Ireland is luckily a lot easier than it was just a decade ago. Now the two hour drive to the Republic’s capital is a direct bus ride, taking you from city center to city center. Although it is two hours away, it is still a doable day trip as the early morning bus leaves at 6am and buses then run all night long. I recommend buying your return ticket right away, as it is cheaper and an open return is good for 30 days after purchase. Dublin is a great city with too much for a single blog post, but some of the things I really enjoyed included: Trinity College, Kilhilmain Gaol, and Temple Bar neighborhood.

Morning on the river in Dublin
Morning on the river in Dublin

5. Downhill

Over the river and through the woods, into the fairytale like forest towards Bishops Gate is the next day trip I strongly suggest. Taking a train to the New Castle easily puts you in one of the most scenic areas of Northern Ireland. This small town is a great stopping point on your way further North to Downhill, a magically tiny town 2km away. On my trip there I walked, finding the short hike anything but dull. The small towns along this part of the coast offer a different culture than the city and a great place to relax. I spent more than a day here, staying in the Downhill Hostel, which was owned by a wonderfully hospitable couple and served as a quite secluded getaway. Be aware though: bring your own food to use in the kitchen, as there are no restaurants close  by, and I was just lucking enough to be driven to the store by the hostel owner.

Downhill Hostel, where I stayed
Downhill Hostel, where I stayed
The beach in Downhill, Northern Ireland
The beach in Downhill, Northern Ireland

Well those are all my recommendations for Northern Ireland. If you decide to study at Queen’s or just visit the country, there is plenty to see and do!  I had the experience of a lifetime in the small country, learning about people and history that is often an overlooked culture. There was an endless list of things to do and places to explore, so I hope the next group studying at Queen’s adds more to my list!

Still on the fence about studying in Belfast? Check out what one of my housemates had to say about the great country in his video.

Jessie GG, DUSA Blogger

Home Sweet Homesick

Homesick?

There are quite a lot of people who experience homesickness, but just because you may not think you are, remember that it can come in many forms. I personally experience little to no traditional homesickness. Summers spent across the country at camp for months at a time cured me from this normal feeling. When I moved across the country to go to college I never had the achy sadness of missing the past, and it is not to say from time to time I didn’t think about friends and family or even my puppy! However, I never went through traditional homesickness. Going abroad has not been very different. Of course I was nervous and anxious about quite a lot of new things, but I have been easily caught up in the excitement of the new environment and different experiences. Homesickness is, by no means, a bad thing! It is natural! But like most things, it is about moderation, putting your privilege in check, and being in a mindset of taking advantage of the new experiences in front of you. Remember that you can simply survive abroad, or you can LIVE while you’re abroad, and that is much more fun!

Belfast at dusk, a beautiful time in the city
Belfast at dusk, a beautiful time in the city, but evenings often yield themselves to homesickness

-Moderation-

Missing people or things from home is natural. In the inconsistency that is the Abroad Experience, it is normal to miss some of the things that are staples in home life. The problem with giving in to homesickness is letting it consume you. If missing home becomes the main focus of your trip, this could become detrimental to the experience as well as harmful to your wellbeing. To keep yourself in moderation, I recommend:

  • Talking to family and friends once or twice a week. Don’t spend your entire trip on Skype!
  • Try joining the gym. If it is something you consistently do at home, it might help you feel more stability. (This has been a great decision for me! I love being able to work out to handle stress).
  • Make your favorite meal! Share it with the people you’ve met as a way to positively talk about and share memories of home. You could also watch a tv show or movie with people. For Halloween I organized a movie night in my house to watch Hocus Pocus, Nightmare Before Christmas, and Corpse Bride, which helped me feel better about not being home.
Sharing Halloween Traditions
Sharing Halloween Traditions

-Check your Privilege-

This “p” word tends to turn people off, but I think abroad is a time to reflect on where you come from. This reflection can bring up bouts of homesickness, but it is important to map your growth. Think about what things you are missing and consider if they are really necessities worth whining over. Also, recognize that people you meet are going to have distinctive experiences, come from diverse places, and potentially have very different outlooks than you. If you feel out of place because of this, don’t worry! This is also ordinary. Here are a few ways to handle this:

  • Take a moment to recognize that it is OKAY for people to be different than you, it makes the world more interesting. Living with 15 people from all over the world in my house, view points can be very different! But take advantage of this. I have learned so much about the politics of the EU, European immigration, and even capitalist theory, topics I would probably never read about or take courses on, but have now explored in a bit of depth.
  • Don’t make other people feel stupid for not having the same experiences as you. If there is something you think most people know, even silly things like chocolate chip cookies or Dr. Seuss, don’t belittle someone for not having knowledge about them. (I have seen Americans do this and it just makes you look more foolish)
  • Keep a journal. Even something basic, where every day you write down one thing that you learned to think about differently or something someone said that challenged a belief. I have personally started this, and it is a great way to remain open to new ideas, as you can search for things to write in your journal!

*Also remember that many people who would like to go abroad don’t have that opportunity, so you are privileged in going and should not take that for granted* 🙂

-Take Advantage of the New-

Abroad is not about doing things the way you have always done them. This is the most important thing to remember when mentally preparing for your trip. Things are going to be different! Sights, sounds, foods, people, will all present chances to get out of your comfort zone. But don’t mope about what your new local doesn’t have, instead delight in the new!

  • Try cooking new meals, buying different things from the grocery store or market, or just eating different food in general. It is not the time to be picky! Food is a bonding time for many cultures and it can offer you insight into greater pieces of the new world you’re in if you eat the food.
  • Words, words, words. I am in a country which speaks English, but the accent can sometimes be a challenge. Try to be comfortable with the new language or accent around you! When you get back to the states it will sound so plain, this is the time to love the different sounds.
  • Moping or complaining about the differences gets you nowhere. Try to have a mindset that allows you to enjoy the differences, rather than constantly contrasting them.
  • Get involved! Attend campus events you may not  go to at DU or join a new club. Belfast is filled with active school groups and they offer open activities to the whole campus!
Attending an open stage night hosted by Queen's Players was new, but I loved it!
Attending an open stage night hosted by Queen’s Players was new, but I loved it! Belfast really supports its local arts!

– Jessie GG, DUSA Blogger