Sydney right now is miserable. It’s cold and rainy which are two things I don’t deal with well in this city. Like a wuss, I am rugged up and sitting in front of the heater as I write this. Rain and icy weather I can deal with when I’m in London, sure, Paris, Madrid, Tasmania even, but not here. I believe that in certain cities Winter weather brings with it a sense of romance and adventure but Sydney is not one of those cities. The only way I can deal with it is casting my mind back to trips overseas.
Continuing on from last blog post, I was in a taxi with the friendliest driver I had ever met. I’d turned up 20 minutes early to Paddy’s Palace, the hostel meeting spot, so as I sat in the lounge room playing the waiting game I eyed up who was in the room and tried to figure out who I thought would be on the tour with me.
So far no young people. Great. Just great…
Oh great now a group of ten older Japanese tourists who so far haven’t shown any signs of speaking any English…
Perfect, and now an older looking couple who look like they’re on the edge of divorce…
Oh yay, now a man who couldn’t look creepier if he tried…
Moments later a lively Irishman with a shockingly orange beard came bounding into the room to lead us to the coach and luckily for me none of these groups of people followed.
Out of sheer desperation I turned to the two girls who looked about my age, “Are you guys doing this tour too?”
My nerves relaxed a bit more when they confirmed my suspicions with nervous laughter and nods of their heads. We struggled to catch up with our tour guide, whose name we soon learnt was Tiernan, as he walked with leaping strides to the bus and piled us all in. As we all boarded we got to meet the others that were joining us, with majority of them being Australians. There was a combination of ages and people from all walks of life, which I really appreciate. I could have very easily chosen to join a Contiki tour and be surrounded by people my age who were always ready to party but here I was surrounded by an eclectic mix that soon became my family.
The first stop on our Paddywagon tour was Belfast, a city two hours away from Dublin that’s a part of Northern Ireland, which before this trip was something that I hadn’t realised meant a whole lot. As you cross the border you notice the roads change, kilometres become miles and the euro becomes the pound.
On reflection, Belfast was definitely an interesting time… It was rainy and gloomy which matched the fact that we chose to do a black cab tour, where they take you around Belfast and you learn some of the cities history. And boy is it intense… so intense that that alone would involve about 30 blog posts but I do definitely recommend looking it up if my brief explanation isn’t enough. Although the Irish are some of the friendliest, liveliest and loveliest people I have ever met, their history involves a lot of blood, violence and murder due to the conflict between the Irish Catholics and Irish Protestants. The city broke out into a riot in 1969 when the public believed that the police were one sided and thought that the IRA were failing to defend the Catholic community. Violence intensified as the years went on with bombings, assassinations and street violence being weaved into every day life. Sides retaliated and the PIRA were soon killing Catholics at random. In the 1990s loyalist and republican paramilitaries stepped up the killings of each other before a ceasefire was reached in 1994.
Even though a ceasefire had been agreed upon, the city still remains scarred by the conflict as the city is filled with memorial gardens, a peace wall and murals dedicated to the lives lost and is still segregated into different sections where Protestants and Catholics live. Doing the black cab tour really makes you realise the massive contrast between the established and beautiful city centre and the disheveled and derelict working class area which is just seconds away.
After a day of absorbing heavy information I was determined to go out and experience the nightlife the city had to offer. Since Belfast didn’t seem to have a pub crawl, Emily, a girl my age from New Mexico, and I decided to create our own. We were told about a pub called the Crown Liquor Saloon which used to be popular amongst women back in the day as it has hidden rooms where you can drink in secret. These rooms were built so that women could drink during the day without people knowing as it was considered to be severely unladylike to be doing so. Nothing can keep the women of Belfast from a good drink! The Crown is heritage listed and is absolutely stunning with its elaborate tiling, stained glass and woodwork. It was built by Italian craftsmen who were brought to Ireland to build churches and who were convinced to work on the pub after hours which explains why it’s so incredible.
One of the main things that I couldn’t get over in Ireland was the relaxed drinking laws. In Sydney we have lockout laws (one of the most ridiculous laws in existence) where you can’t enter a venue after 1:30, have to show ID at all times and can’t buy from a Bottle’o after 9:30 but Ireland has absolutely nothing of the sort. As we were about to enter the Crown they asked for ID. I’d lost mine days before leaving Australia and didn’t want to take my passport out in case a drunk Billie lost it, so my heart started beating inside my chest.
“I’m sorry! I lost my drivers licence and I didn’t want to bring my passport out in case I lost it!”
“When’s your birthday love?”
“October the seventh 1994.”
“Grande. Ok go in.”
“Wait… that’s it?”
I was shocked but so over the moon when that was all I needed – granted, I did have to ask him to repeat himself three times because the Belfast accent is so strong but I didn’t care! Going out was so much easier in Ireland.
Once we had drunk our ciders we decided to try hunt down a pub our tour guide had recommended called Filthy McNasty’s and by the name alone we were desperate to go. As we blindly wandered the streets getting soaked by the sudden rain we were surprised how empty they seemed but we soon realised why… everyone was in a pub. We ran into a bar to seek temporary refuge from the rain and were greeted by a room packed with drunk and merry thirty somethings singing at the top of their lungs to a live band. Emily and I sat ourselves down and ordered drink after drink as we absorbed the good energy and listened to songs that I grew up with. Little did I know that the songs Galway Girl and I’ll Tell My Ma would be part of the trips soundtrack.
After we had had our fair share of people watching we went out again to try hunt down Filthy McNasty’s. After a few wrong turns and almost paying 15 euros to enter a club we found it! And boy was it worth the hunt. We were met with an eclectic interior consisting of mix matched furniture, vinyls covering walls and empty bottles hanging from the ceiling. We traipsed through the different sections: The Secret Garden, The Gypsy Lounge and the Filthy Chic cocktail and wine bar. We settled for the front where there was a live band and hoped to meet some locals.
Soon enough, an extremely drunk Englishman came up to us who made attempt after attempt to flirt with us but he was failing. Eventually his friends swooped in to save him from further embarrassment and I am so glad they did! They were local Belfast boys who offered to show us what Belfast had to offer. Once Filthy Mcnasty’s closed they piled us into a cab (which they paid for) and lead us to a club that you could hear before you could see. We didn’t have to wait long before we were let in and once inside the boys paid for our entry, with no complaints from Emily or myself.
“Just a warning girls, most of the people that come to this club do ecstasy,” one of the boys explained as we walked up the stairs.
I laughed at his warning, “I come from Sydney. This isn’t new for me”.
Walking inside it was absolutely PACKED and I LOVED it! We quickly made our way to the bar and downed a few vodka shots (which again, the boys paid for). I honestly wish I found out what the club was called! It had multiple levels with hidden rooms and beer gardens but the main part of the club rested on two floors, with the second level allowing you to look down at the bottom floor as we danced. The only thing that was semi confronting was the fact that kids as young as 16 were let into the club and were clearly on drugs. Drunk Billie thought it was a great idea to go up to two boys on separate occasions and both exchanges went a little something like this:
“How old are you?” I would ask.
“Have you taken drugs?”
“You’re so young! If you’re going to take MD at least wait till your older!”
“Don’t worry about it, all my friends have taken it,” and they then would proceed to go in for a kiss which I would quickly avoid… obviously my attempt at being a good Samaritan and saving Belfast’s youth didn’t work.
My new friends and I danced the night away before calling it quits around 3:30 in the morning as Emily and I had to wake up early. We said goodbye to our new Irish mates and dodged their attempts of trying to get us to stay out later. As we made it back to our hostel after filling our cab driver in on the night we had we bumped into another group of Irish boys sitting in the foyer of the hostel. We sat and chatted with them as they filled us in on their road trip around Ireland and I gave them recommendations on where to go in Belfast and half an hour later Emily and I were passed out in bed.
My first night of the tour had already squashed any worries and fears that I had of doing this trip alone and the people of Belfast had proven to me that the Irish really are some of the most welcoming people in the world.
If you have made it this far thank you so much for reading! Not every blog post will be this long and not every post will only be on this city, it’s just hard to fit it all in when I did so much!
Keep on shinin’,