“Someday we’ll return here. When the Belfast Child sings again.” – Simple Minds
How can you go backpacking in your home country? Is it even possible? You know the towns, you know the roads, you know the local lingo, you can talk your way out of a political argument. But then…I’ve been away a while. It’s 11 years since I took my wandering soul away from my home country of Northern Ireland. Here, in October 2014 I’m back for my longest stint here since 2003 and guess what…I’m going backpacking!
“Never forget where you’re coming from” – Take That
When I left Bangor in 2003, I didn’t mean to travel the world. Honestly. I didn’t mean to. It just happened. Yet here I am, on a Sunday afternoon in Belfast, working out my schedules. I’m backpacking in Northern Ireland and I’m loving it. How do I get from Belfast to Ballintoy? What’s the quickest and cheapest route? Why do tourists take taxis in Belfast, when walking normally suffices? How much is a Guinness in the Crown Bar in Belfast? What’s the best hostel on the north coast? I’m off to find the answers!
“It’s a city that’s changing” – Boney M
After my constant writings on numerous sites promoting Northern Ireland, an opportunity came up for me to travel round my home country. My local newspaper in Bangor featured me in 2013, then it was my birthtown of Ards and that Northern Irish radio interview for the BBC. I’m not shy of being Northern Irish. In fact, it’s my lifeblood. I’m Northern Irish to the core and I buzz off it. Geographically we’re on the island of Ireland. Politically we are under the rule of the UK. But me? I’m Northern Irish.
“One man’s freedom fighter is another’s terrorist” – Primal Scream
I’m proud of our 6 counties and the weights we constantly punch above. I said it before: I don’t want to be an “also ran”. And neither, my friends did Rory McIlroy, Gerry Armstrong, Wayne McCullough, Van Morrison, Tim Wheeler, Ian Paisley, Darren Clarke, Dennis Taylor. David Healy. Yes, David Healy. None of them were “also running”. They were the best at what they did and they made bloody sure the world knew where they were from. This little magical country called Northern Ireland.
“There’s something magic in the air” – Tim Wheeler
So here I am, sat with a pint of Guinness, my favourite beer in the world. I’m sitting in the Piano Bar here on Great Victoria Street in Belfast. The very building I am in is the swanky Europa Hotel. Some would argue, this is the best hotel in Northern Ireland.
In the 1980s it made headlines as being the most bombed hotel in Europe. I’d get home from school. “The Europa was bombed again” said my Dad. It was casual, normal and as a 1980s Northern Irish kid, we lived in the moment. It was enjoy yourself, on with the show and if we get a future, we’ll enjoy that too. “Don’t Stop Living.”
“They [Spartak Moscow] couldn’t beat Glentoran in their Belfast home” – Stephen Le Fevre
My plan for the next week then is to backpack through Belfast, have a pint in the Crown bar, relive the tourist sights of my hometown of Bangor, stay by the Atlantic Ocean in Ballintoy, near the Carrick a Rede Rope Bridge and grab a coffee in Newtownards. I’ll be working alongside Hostelling International Northern Ireland and a night in Bushmills too as well as going to see my football team, Glentoran and attending a Kilmaine Primary School Reunion. It’s a busy week and I plan to chill out after that.
“We’re not Brazil, We’re Northern Ireland” – Stewart McAfee
On a final note though, and I rarely mention family, my Mum is in hospital. So my mind is on her. She’s number one. Love you Mum.