Tuesday, May 10, 2011


Over the May bank holiday weekend we headed up to Belfast for Wes to run in the Belfast marathon. Living in the Republic of Ireland (aka The South), you hear things about Norn Iron/Belfast and well, unfortunately they're not very good. We get reports of bombs found on the Dublin to Belfast road, police officers killed by car bombs, and who can forget that pesky railway bridge that collapsed in 2009. And of course that whole Protestant/Catholic/Loyalist/Republican/Orange/Tan thing that I still have a hard time understanding. It's weird in Ireland and deadly in Northern Ireland. It doesn't really endear you with the idea of travelling north. But, Wes wanted to run another marathon before we left and he was told Belfast was flat and fast, so we risked our lives for his psychotic love of running (okay, that's a little dramatic) and headed north.

The trip on the coach bus was fine. Thankfully the scenery was gorgeous because two hours on that thing was my limit. We made a stop in Newry and I said a little prayer thanking God that I don't live there. It might be the armpit of NI. When we finally got to Belfast, my immediate impression was the number of fences. Every inch of the town has a fence around it. Fences have fences. Unfortunately I didn't get a picture, but I really wish I had since it was something I couldn't stop noticing.

After eating lunch and checking into our hotel (Holiday Inn Hotel Belfast - highly recommend!) we had to go to the city hall where they had the race packs and runners village.

When we came out of the city hall we were treated to our first loyalist parade. It was kind of strange because it was a Sunday afternoon and this parade wasn't really celebrating anything. In fact, it was celebrating something that half the town doesn't agree with and could potentially incite violence. It didn't feel sinister or anything, just strange. It seemed like it was impromptu, but I imagine they have to clear lots of things with the council before marching.

When we were walking up towards the city hall I mentioned how it reminded me of Leeds city hall. Later we were walking around I said how it reminded me of the red brick buildings in Manchester. We were in a shopping center and I said it reminded me of Cabot Circus in Bristol. The views of the hills outside of the city made me think of Arthur's Seat in Edinburgh. I'm sure Belfast wasn't planned to look like a bit of every other city in the UK, so I decided to stop comparing it and just enjoy the Belfastness of it all!

In 3 days I think I gained 10 lbs. Why? Well things like Nando's, banoffee pie (DELICIOUS!), Pizza Express, Guinness, and a cinnamon sugar pretzel from Auntie Anne's! You can smell that place a mile away and I was like a homing pigeon to my destination! There is AA in Dublin, but it's in Blanchardstown and that's on the way to nowhere.

Why were we in Belfast again?? Oh yeah! The marathon! It was a beautiful sunny day, but it was a bit windy. And by windy I mean freezing-ass-I-wish-I-had-my-hat cold. Apparently though, the Norn Irish don't feel cold. See?
I've never seen so many season pushers in my LIFE! The season pushers in Dublin have NOTHING on these people! Rest assured, the group in the picture weren't participating in the race, they were just spectators. They looked like intelligent people. Why are they dressed like that? When I was contemplating putting Wes' jacket on OVER my jacket, a girl in a mini skirt and tube top walked past. In the sun, it was bearable, but it was only about 55 degrees and the wind was blowing at about 15 mph. FREEZING!!!

Wes' review of the marathon can be found here. He was hoping to get a new personal best, but that didn't happen. Unfortunately, there weren't a lot of crowds out there cheering for the runners. I was in the city center for this picture and you can see a bit of the pathetic crowds:
Wes is actually in this picture. He's the first runner coming up on the left. Yeah, I felt a little strange since I was basically cheering by myself. They would probably have larger crowds if the entire town wasn't participating in races that day. In addition to the marathon, they had a relay, fun run, and charity walk. I believe the participation was around 20,000 people. That's why there were no crowds!

Even though it wasn't a great day for Wes, it was a great day for this guy. He won the marathon, setting a new course record just under 2:15. He was from Kenya and it took him 3 days to travel to Belfast. In those 3 days, he only slept 1 night. When he ran past, he looked like he was just starting out. Amazing! Color me impressed!

This guy, however, looked a bit like he was hating life. Yeah, he looks pretty good here, but you didn't have to walk with him! After we made it back to the room and had some lunch, he went back to the room to lay down and rub Bio Freeze all over his legs, and I went out to take advantage of the cheaper British prices in the shops!

That's about it for our trip to Belfast! Honestly, the best thing about Belfast were the people. Both of us commented on how friendly everyone was to us. Shopkeepers would make small talk with you and they were genuinely interested in having a quick chat. They were hands down the friendliest people I've encountered while in the UK. Another thing about Belfast were the amazing pubs. We walked into a couple of interesting places, but the Crown Pub was amazing! It's actually a National Trust property, so everyone should check it out!

All in all, Belfast was a lovely city and it was a nice weekend trip....even if we did risk our lives to get there!


  1. Woah, woah, woah. You went to Auntie Annie's? Color me jealous.
    Also, it sounds like you had a fabulous time!

  2. I'm glad you had a good time! 10 lbs is a VERY good time! xx

  3. Belfast is one of my favorite cities in the UK. Setting aside the Troubles, it reminds me a bit of Baltimore... waterfront industrial town reinvents itself kinda thing. I also found the people very friendly and yes, the Crown Pub is awesome! Remind me to tell you about the time I got stranded in a Unionist part of town in the run up to the marching season.

    There's a few other interesting things to do there but since you're not likely to get back up there this month, I'll spare you. ;)

  4. Balmerhon, we probably weren't in Belfast at the best time. We arrived on a Sunday and 90% of things were closed. Then Monday was the bank holiday, so places were still closed. That's why we ate at so many chain restaurants, because all the locally owned places were closed. Then we left on Tuesday. We did eat breakfast at a totally cool cafe.

    They had driving tours that take you up the Shankill Road and Falls Road which I thought would be interesting, but Wes was a bit nervous about this.

    If we went to NI again, we'd go to Antrim and up to the Giant's Causeway.

  5. Yeah, I did the Shankill and Falls Road tours. They are typically led by taxi drivers of Republican sympathies. I used to have a massive interest in the murals (from a design/art history perspective). I can see why people would be nervous though. You never know when something is going to flare up.

    The northern coast is a.m.a.z.i.n.g. I've been several times and would love to go back.

  6. Oh yes, I love Belfast! Been to The Crown as well (not surprisingly) and loved it too. Glad you had a good time.