It is officially less than a month away from Christmas and what better way to celebrate than travelling to Christmas Markets in Ireland and eating kangaroo and venison burgers. Nothing says the holiday spirit quite like biting into Rudolph—and while the other reindeers may call him names, I shall only call him one: delicious.
My friend Victoria and I decided to tackle both of our Irish heritage by taking a tour with Bus2Alps. At first we only had plans to go to Dublin and Galway as the tour company’s plan dictates but then decided to fuck plans and go to Belfast as well.
We started out day one by going on a walking tour after having met our six other roommates in the Generator Hostel. They were all American and female (an eery trend on our trip), who had come from their study abroads on this organized tour because, for this particular type of young woman, they prefer man-bun clad tour guides to listen to them giggle and cart them around long enough at each place to get a selfie there. You know the type.
Due to this I am now able to recreate a Long Island accent and feel a crippling disappointment in American’s education system after being asked, “What state is Toronto in?”, by one Mississippian backpacker.
After the tour we finished the evening with the Guinness Storehouse. Although it was pretty interesting to learn how beer is made in general, it felt rather masturbatory at times. I mean they had video clips with various hired actors inflating Guinness as the herald of Ireland’s prosperity and giving weird facts about the creator, Arthur Guinness. Did you know that he had twenty one children, ten of which survived to adulthood? I do now thanks to a clip of a random actress dressed up as a nurse. That may just come into use in Jeopardy?
Near the end I was pretty sure Guinness could cure cancer and be used as a penis enlarger. As well, for the love of god, do not touch the barley. Just don’t.
The next day we were dragged from our beds haggard after a night of drinking at the Temple Bar and trying to break into university awards ceremonies to load onto a tour bus for the Cliffs of Moher.
Okay, I’m a sarcastic shit and there is a lot I could say about the Cliffs of Moher, but honestly it was just really beautiful.
Although, this place did have my “High Place Phenomenon” on red alert as I kept asking Victoria, “HOW MANY PEOPLE DO YOU THINK WERE DUMB ENOUGH TO GO TO THE EDGE?” as I pressed my back to the stone wall and spasmed every time someone even entertained the idea of standing near the edge for a selfie. I was having flashbacks of my second cousin dangling over the ledge of a cliff in Wales looking at the dead sheep at the bottom, reduced to little white flecks from so high up. Those sheep were made for those cliffs and are still dead. What chance do you think you have, oh feeble fingered human!?
My anxiety was calmed as we finished off in Galway and visited the first Christmas market. Corndogs, mulled wine, and fudge was had all around.
Now freed from the lynch mob of knit headband wearing, ugg-clad girls screeching, “PLAY P.S I LOVE YOU OR SO HELP ME GOD” at the poor solo male tour guide, we set our sights on Belfast.
Neither of us really knew what was there except there was some sort of weird connection to Titanic.
God, am I glad we took the receptionist’s advice at Lagan Backpackers. We didn’t really miss out by not going to it, and swung by to look at the Titanic’s sister ship the Nomadic for free instead. We now had fifteen pounds burning a hole in our pocket and was told by the same charming receptionist that Black Taxi Tours was the way to go. At fifteen pounds per person for an hour and a half… you could not spend your money any wiser in Belfast.
We were greeted by Bobby Walsh, a greyed man whose lack of dental care and bone-crushing game of handshake chicken told us immediately that we’d been given a real Belfaster. I impressed him by knowing that my favourite chef Anthony Bourdain had filmed with them and then immediately put in place when I loudly proclaimed I had British grandparents (hoping, I guess, to show how I had somehow carved out a little place for myself in history).
“Don’t go saying that too loud in these parts, okay?”
Bobby took us to the Catholic side first to show us the murals and the ridiculously large eleven meter wall that still runs through Belfast and is routinely locked at night. As we stared at the murals I pointed up to the names weaved into the mesh. “So… are those names of people who are in jail?”
He nodded but then pulled me closer by the elbow as a few people walked by. “Yes, and the Catholic side wants them out of jail, but honestly these people killed people. They shouldn’t be released.” His voice was conspiratorial and was quickly silenced by the cigarette he smoked during each of our stops.
The hushed words put a certain tone to the whole tour. Bobby insisted that there wasn’t any trouble between the parts, and that may be exactly true, but there was a tension bubbling beneath the surface. Watching the gates close off two parts of the same town and then heading to the Protestant side and seeing their very vigil-esque murals with snipers and large faces of murders painted as glorified military commanders was unsettling to say the least.
The fact that only 8% of students are integrated is a testament to the continuous segregation. As a baptized (although now atheist) Protestant myself, and Victoria being a Catholic by baptism, sitting side by side and listening to stories about people from “our sides” fire bombing and shooting each other really put the history in context in a very visceral way.
Belfast wasn’t all tension and religion though, and the parts that were were extremely fascinating. The Crown Bar was beautiful (though overpriced) with real gas lamps and private booths, and we were lucky enough to find another Christmas market, this time right smack in the middle of city hall.
The first thing we saw when we arrived was a paella stand that reminded us of our impending Spanish doom. Though once we were into the heart of the market and weaving through the slow trudge of people, we found ourself more food in the form of kangaroo burgers and kettle corn (which is so Christmas-y).
Eventually we had to head back to Dublin to catch our flights home and actually attend classes again. In summary my recommendations for Dublin and Belfast are:
- Visit O’Neill’s in Dublin for huge portions of really potato-heavy Irish fare
- Visit the Temple Bar, no matter how touristy, during the evening when they have live music
- Take the trip to the Cliffs of Moher to make yourself feel tiny and insignificant
- Go have a “proper Irish fry” at Maggie Mays for a few pounds (there are vegetarian options too!)
- Take the Black Taxi Tour, but make sure you do it with a reputable company since there are many fakes… do your research!
- Walk down to the SS Nomadic ship and take a look at it or take a cheaper tour, but don’t bother paying the fifteen pounds to visit the Titanic Museum unless you are a huge history buff