The bus dropped us off in an alley outside the bus station. I was hardly conscious, my back was tense from my backpack and the winter air was cold. But we were there.
To be honest, I was a little jumpy. I think research on a place your are going to visit is important before arrival. Sadly, my research on Belfast was not all pretty. Most anything I could find was about bombings, knee-cappings, street shootings, and blood baths. Woohoo! That combined with the near twenty-four hours of travel and, well, the baggage–not my luggage.
We flew out on the one year anniversary of the death of my mentor. It was a long day in the airport where I was left with little but my thoughts. Upon arrival, I felt like just a bunch of weary skin. Weary, weepy skin trying its best to hold together and hope that this trip would be something wonderful.
They say it takes about a year to grieve.
I was dropped off in that alley with the study abroad group on January 4th. It was the first day of a new year. The first day of moving forward with the heaviness beside me, hopefully no longer in me. The first day of hope. Yet as I leaned against the raised handle of my suitcase, all I now remember feeling was timidity. I had come with practically strangers. People I had had one class with, a couple girls I had lived across the hall from, but no one I was really close with. At least not at that point. This ‘hope’ was not exactly what I had bargained for.
So we stood in the entryway of the bus station, our ride to the manor late. I could only smell cigarettes of smokers past and take in the average urban grime–not exactly the Ireland you read about. Little did I know what lie around the corner.
Down the block and around the corner was the pub where I drank my first beer. Across from the most bombed Hotel in Europe. About a mile away from city center, two blocks from the bookstore called The Bookstore, all watched over by Belfast Castle. It was all there and in the two weeks we were there, it wheedled its way into my heart.
My heart broke in West Belfast, hearing the stories and surveying the heartbreak of the Shankhill road, walking beside the peace wall. My breath was taken by Carrick-A-Rede, the north shore, the rolling hills. My sense of adventure was stirred by wonderful poetry, and a regular flow of tea, conversations with locals in St. George’s Market, and live music in idyllic pubs. Around every corner was history and architecture, and music, and beauty. And the company. There were about ten of us, mostly girls. So many wonderful people that I would not want to have been on that trip without.
So many things of those two weeks I cannot even express if I tried. But here I am, trying. I was there a year ago today. My heart longs to go back. Earning my masters at Queen’s University has become a dream–pipe dream or not, only time will tell. Northern Ireland holds a small piece of my heart now. It’s hard to fall in love with a place. Especially one you know only briefly.
It’s like falling in love with the flirty barista. You give them your order, they give you coffee, you may see them the next time you get coffee, you may not. It’s a small beautiful moment that may or may not be relived. [And yes, now I’m rambling, but my blog, my world, remember?] That was Ireland–a beautiful spark of life that I hope to revisit someday. I’ve started praying for West Belfast when the longing becomes heavy. If I cannot be there in person, at least I can ask for true peace, or the steps towards it.
So that was last year: two days into my time in Belfast. Who knows what my adventures will be this year. Hopefully something international, but we’ll just see.
What were you doing a year ago?