Friday, September 30, 2011

The Europa Hotel

The Most Bombed Hotel in the World.

The Europa Hotel is located on Queen Victoria Street at the Belfast City Centre and stands as a testament to Belfast's refusal to be torn down by the terrible IRA and UVF bombing campaigns during "the troubles". Between the buildings completion in 1971 and the 1990's the hotel was bombed 28 times. However, after every bomb blast, the building was relentlessly restored and back open for business just in time for the next attack. During the worst periods of the troubles, the hotel acted primarily as a hotel for journalists covering the conflict. The incredible documentary, The Europa Hotel: Bombs, Bullets, and Business as Usual, was recently released by the BBC and tells a fascinating history of the hotel and of Belfast during the conflict.

The hotel is now owned by the Hastings hotels group after years of negotiations and has been renovated into a 4-star hotel. It is one of the tallest structures in the relatively squat city and is a well known monument to anyone who is familiar with Belfast. President Clinton even stayed here during his visit in the mid-1990's.

This building is of particular interest to my stay in Belfast as I attend the weekly Rotary Club of Belfast lunch in the penthouse level of the hotel. The Rotary club has been having their meetings here for decades and endured the numerous unforeseen periods of renovation.

Thursday, September 29, 2011

Botanic Gardens

Early homework and presentation writing could keep me from enjoying the most beautiful day in Belfast’s history! I took a stroll to the Botanic Gardens, which is immediately south of the main campus building, and found myself in a sea of co-eds enjoying the blue sky and dry ground.

The Botanic Gardens were established in 1828 to the south of the Belfast city limits and the area has been used as a public park since 1895. Today it has been engulfed by the Queen’s University campus and has become my running route to the River Lagan.

Along the south edge of the park is an enormous rose garden. Rose species from all over the world and in all different colors surround a trellis structure where people sit peacefully.

Wednesday, September 28, 2011

The Palm House

At the north side of the Botanic Gardens is the famous Palm House, which displays an incredibly early and handsome use of curved iron and glass architectural features.

The McClay Library at Queen's is the the building with the tower in the background.

The wings of the Palm House were completed in 1840 and the “Tropical Ravine” dome in the center was finally completed in 1889. It is one of the few remaining early examples of its kind and was designed by Charles Lanyon, whose name you will hear a number of times during my explanation of the Queen’s Quarter of Belfast.

Inside the glass facade of the building are a number of tropical plant and tree species. 

More on the Botanic Gardens to come... 

District Conference in Limerick

For those interested, my description of the conference in Limerick can be found on the Rotary Club of Belfast website.

Monday, September 26, 2011

Across Borders in Ireland

Over the weekend I attended the District Conference of Rotary in Ireland in Limerick (approximately 4-5 hours southwest of Belfast). I was challenged by those I rode with to locate when we were crossing the "border" between Northern Ireland and Ireland. I figured there had to be at least some sort of customs control.

To my surprise the only way I could tell when we had crossed was when signs were suddenly posted in kilometers rather than only miles and upon seeing a sign welcoming me to County Louth! There is absolutely no border and no reason for one to even think twice as they move across the national border that divides two states that for many years were at war. I found this fascinating in contrast to my time in Cyprus where an "officer" stopped you to check your passport and insurance (which you had to purchase seperately in their "country") at a military operated checkpoint.

Northern Ireland, the Republic of Ireland, the island of Ireland. I perceive the island thus far as the last image.
Apparently, in other areas along the border there are other clues that suggest where one nation ends and the other begins. One of the main examples of this is the difference in the road conditions from one side to the other and signage. I am told that until this past decade the roads in the Republic of Ireland were in terrible disrepair. Driving along a well paved road in Northern Ireland would at some point give way to a road full of pot holes or worse. This has changed substantially since European Union funds were used to bring the roads up to par.

Photo by flickr user: dr_urbanus (Martin)
Notice the difference in pavement as you move over the bridge from one county into the other. The road signs on the other side are also different from those used in Northern Ireland.

Sunday, September 25, 2011

You know you're in Ireland when...

... oil trucks are converted into beer trucks.

Thursday, September 22, 2011

Off to Limerick

The Rotary District 1160 Conference is in Limerick, Ireland over the weekend. A 4-5 hour drive from Belfast will allow me plenty of time to see the 40 shades of Irish green, and the conference will be a great opportunity to see a new city and meet Rotarians from around the island.

My next post will be Sunday or Monday.

Wednesday, September 21, 2011

Football Nationalism (acutally, Provincialism)

Through a slightly confusing story about football (or soccer for my American readers), let me try to explain the nationalism associated within the United Kingdom and the Republic of Ireland. With the London 2012 Olympics rapidly approaching, the International Olympic Committee is pressuring the country of the United Kingdom of Great Britain & Northern Ireland (yes, this is the country's official name) to establish a "Team GB" to represent the whole of the nation rather than the four individual provinces (England, Scotland, Wales, and Northern Ireland). Sounds simple enough right? Well that's not the case in the region where the sport of modern football was founded and where deep roots of pride and rivalry for one's province against the others. When the original constitution for the primary football authority (FIFA) was written for international competition, it was decided that at least one vice president on overseeing the sport must be from one of these small provinces. This means that until the FIFA rules are changed, any suggestion of creating a unified team GB will be vetoed by the overseeing vice president. Meanwhile, none of the provincial teams are able to compete in international competition because only nation states are allowed to enter. In FIFA competition the teams outside of England haven't succeeded in decades, but this is no matter for their loyal fans who would rather not have a team than to root for the team under the Union Jack (see below).

The "Union Jack", flag of the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern Ireland hangs high outside of many buildings in Belfast and throughout the country, but does not represent any of the provinces independently. The reason it is outside of more of many places in Northern Ireland may be more about making a statement of being tied to the United Kingdom than anything though as you also see Irish flags here (see below) which represent the Republicans living in Northern Ireland who believe it should be a part of the Republic of Ireland.

Flag of England

Flag of Northern Ireland

Flag of Scotland

Flag of Wales

Flag of the Republic of Ireland (Not associated with any of the above flags except by close proximity)

On a sort of related note, the tension between the Republic of Ireland (south of the island) and Northern Ireland (northern six counties of the island of Ireland but associated with the United Kingdom) runs deep in sports as well. Especially so since the modern Republic of Ireland was born out of the the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Ireland following a revolution in 1921. Since this time the national teams of  Rugby and Field Hockey (called Hockey here)  have remained as teams representing the whole of the island. Meanwhile, the football team, as mentioned above, have split and become two individual teams. I'm told this is because Rugby and Hockey have always been based in Dublin, while soccer was historically organized from Belfast...

Tuesday, September 20, 2011

City Centre

No Centre is not a misspelled Center... Now that I'm in the UK I figure I might as well try to get in the habit of spelling things as they do.

Anyway, as seen in my previous post about the celebratory Rotary dinner, one of the first places I was able to go in Belfast was the beautiful City Hall. This weekend I had the opportunity to get out and explore the city for a while and spent some time in the area known as the City Centre. In the middle of this and adjacent to many of the main shopping streets, lies the town hall and its surrounding plaza. The building dates from the early-1900's in a baroque revival style. It was built on the site of the former White Linen Hall.

In the surrounding shopping area, many streets have been closed off to allow for pedestrian traffic, and substantial effort has gone into emphasizing the street life in the area. Many of the buildings in this area date from this industrial period of ship building and linen manufacturing. The large copper lamp posts seen in the picture below are representative of each major ship that was built in Belfast's harbour, which includes the Titanic (I will explain this further in a later post).

Monday, September 19, 2011

Earlier this week, a "peace line" or "interface wall" that separated communities through last divided public park in Western Europe was finally removed. After 17 years, the park was reunited and will now serve as a recreational area for the two schools, Holy Family Primary and Currie Primary, which were once positioned on either side in this North Belfast neighborhood.

Saturday, September 17, 2011

Advice to live by in Belfast

"If you can't see the hills... It's raining.
If you can see the hills... It's going to rain."
- Bryan Johnston, my Rotary host counselor.

Friday, September 16, 2011

Rotary Club of Belfast turns 100

Last night I attended the celebratory dinner honoring the 100 years of service by the Rotary Club of Belfast. The event was located in the beautiful Belfast City Hall. It was an honor to be invited to such a special event! This year the four oldest clubs in the UK and Ireland district turn 100 (and each of course argues that they were the original). To reach a century of service in the Rotary community is a rare considering the first Rotary club of all time met only six years earlier than these clubs were started!

The ceremony highlighted a number of the great projects that the Rotary Club of Belfast continues to be active in.

Wednesday, September 14, 2011

Arrival and a New Residence

Despite the residual winds of Hurricane Katia's path through the UK, I landed safe and sound in the Belfast City Airport on Tuesday. Since I arrived I've been busy with International Student Orientation events and connecting with my host counselor at the Belfast Rotary Club.

Unfortunately, this means I have very little exploring to speak. That said, the small amount I have seen is absolutely beautiful. I will post pictures of the campus in a future post but here is are some pictures of my housing on Mount Charles, just north of campus.

The street has monitored car parking and is only open from one side leaving a primarily pedestrian walk down the long row of row houses that have been subdivided for offices and student housing. My room, as you can see above, has wonderfully tall ceilings and a massive double hung window. I have a sink immediately left of the photo inside my room and a shower right around the corner outside of my door. I live on the second floor (third floor if Ground Floor is called First Floor).

The rest of the block is lined with trees and additional housing, which looks as though it has been renovated recently or was built at by someone else. The beautiful brick elements similar to those seen in the second and third pictures from the bottom are all over the neighborhood.

Monday, September 12, 2011

Welcome Back!

Welcome back to Follow Woody for another season in my academic journey. I arrive in Belfast tomorrow to begin my term as the Rotary Ambassadorial Scholar of the Rotary Club of Belfast, which celebrates their centenary this year! My first few weeks will be filled with orientations at Queen's University Belfast, where I am pursuing a Masters in Urban and Rural Design, and conferences with regional Rotary clubs, which I will elaborate on further in a week or so.

Bookmark this page and my Flickr page where I update my photos:

Also, check out the newest links on this side of the page for my sponsor and host Rotary institutions --->