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Belfast continued….

Tuesday evening began with a few rounds of Hockey (the card game) before heading out to a pub. We went to the Botanic Inn (or The Bot), which was fairly dead for the evening, but we made our own fun nonetheless. Andy was teaching some of the girls how to fight defensively, John and I decided to take our chances with some crazy gambling machine (it started with slots, but let you continue on to other varying games depending on what you got with the slots), some people spent their time chatting with the smokers. Turns out John and I had good beginners luck and we won £14, free drink and taxi ride home! When we were chatting with some of the locals, we found out one of them worked at this night club called Rain, and a few of these guys were heading over there later. They brought our crowd of Americans with them; we had to take a taxi over into the City Centre. Rain was an interesting adventure, we mostly stuck together (six of us went along). Apparently everyone in Belfast absolutely loves Americans. After dancing the night away a bit, we were on our way to catch a cab back to the dorms. One guy came over to tell us how much he’d loved Americans, gave me a hug, said he goes to America all the time, America is his thing, etc, etc. Silly, silly, but funny nonetheless. So as it turns out… it would be accurate to compare Rain Nightclub as being a Belfast equivalent of the Gay ’90s in Minneapolis. Our tip off was that some guy kissed John and bought him some drinks, so we asked the cab driver if it was a gay nightclub, which it was. When we got into our dorms for the night and showed our cards to the security, they clarified that it was about half and half. Nevertheless it was a fun evening.

Wednesday was field trip day! We took a trip to the Antrim Coast to see Dunluce Castle, Giant’s Causeway, and the Carrick-a-Rede Rope Bridge. The Dunluce Castle was amazing because it was perched right on the edge of the coast and cliffs (parts of the castle have actually fallen into the sea on multiple occassions). There are wonderful views from all over the site. There is also a cave underneath it that you can go check out (it tells you not to go down into it for safety…doesn’t mean everyone in our group heeded the warning). I had a great desire to jump in and go swimming, the water looked absolutely beautiful. At Giant’s Causeway, we got our exercise walking the site, and a little sunburn. It was an unsually warm and sunny day for the coast (good news for us!). Everyone came back a little pinker. All of the mythology surround the Giant’s Causeway about Finn MacCool was very interesting. Apparently he has a camel, a dog, and a duck, all covered in basalt. Finn also turned his grandmother into stone on one of the hills. His boot and the pipes of his organ can also be seen on the site. The hexagonal shapes of the basalt are absolutely unbelievable; it seems impossible that nature provides a reason for it. (It’s all very complicated geological stuff about the way the lava cooled from the ancient volcanic eruption.) There is also a rock which is said to be the wishing rock that you sit on, make a wish, and rub your butt on the stone three times (you can ask for anything but money and a significant other, and you may only make one wish a day, oh, and of course you must tell no one your wish until it comes true). After the exhausting walk back up from the Causeway we went to the Carrick-a-Rede Bridge. More beautiful views of the coast, the bridge wasn’t too scary (but I saw some pictures from the ’70s, definitely wouldn’t’ve crossed it then, yikes!). The island you cross over to is a fun little place, very relaxing. A bunch of seagulls and puffins enjoyed living on the cliff edges. The day overall was a bit exhausting, but I had to rest up because we had tickets to see Harry Potter that evening! It was fun going to the movies there, but much less organized or popular as it is in the States. They didn’t even have a midnight showing. We had a fun time regardless of the circumstances :).

Thursday we had more class. We discussed the position of the Irish language in Northern Ireland and its history there. I skipped out on the lit class since I’m not testing in it and I needed a nap and lunch (it turns out it left much to be desired anyway). We then had our Stormont briefing to bring us up to date on the main political issues facing the Nothern Irish Assembly, and how it got to be so. When we finally got to Stormont, it was a massive building that has a mile, up hill, of drive from the main road. The only thing of great interest, to me anyway, was the painting of the ceiling (apparently it was an everlasting paint that was invented by the man who painted the ceiling, but he died almost immediately after the job without passing on his formula to ANYone). Listening to the four representatives of the Assembly talk was fairly typical of politicians that don’t agree with each other. It was a bit ridiculous about how stubborn and unwilling they were to compromise on any of the main disagreements they have with each other. Some of the comments were, in my opinion, ignorant or ill-informed. The set-up of the evening was that we all wrote questions and Peter Collins, the leader of our Belfast program, chose a few that got asked to the representatives. No discussion between us and the representatives happened otherwise, unfortunately. The Ulster Unionist representative actually compared the Orange Order Parade to the Civil Rights marches of African-Americans, which is actually a bit offensive in my opinion, since many of the Republicans and Nationalists here compare their march as equivalent to a KKK parade. Nevertheless, it was interesting to hear the varying views and opinions of the representatives, though, as Siobhan says, they’re all bigots up there and there’s no changing them. I am not sure that I would go that far, but I definitely saw where she was coming from. I think the biggest thing we discussed was the subject of education and the system they have in the North. State schools are basically Protestant schools, and the Catholic schools are private. At the age of 11, all students must take an exam, and if they do well they proceded to a grammar school of higher education, if they do poorly they are put into high school. Basically, if you make it to grammar school, you have hope for a future and university, if not, tough luck. There are SOME integrated schools, and some Protestants that go to the private schools and some Catcholics that attend state schools, but it’s few and far between. Also, due to the extreme separation of neighborhoods, neighborhood schools are also fairly segregated. It’s a bit of a dire situation that is making no decisions one way or another.

Finally on Thursday evening, we went out to take a look at some of the more historical pubs, but ended up staying at a little place called Auntie Annie’s, very lively little pub. On our walk home we stopped at an Asian restaurant for a little take-away since most of us had skipped dinner as well. It was an adventurous evening of walking around Belfast, didn’t last too long since the Stormont discussion went on until 9, and most of us were exhausted from the busy week as it was. Friday morning we packed up and shipped out to come back home to Dublin, which led to a fun weekend of adventures that I will indulge upon later.

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