By: Bridget Bartos
When I was getting ready to go pick a college the summer before my senior year, my mom gave me some of the best advice I have ever received before I went on my first tours. I was worrying about not knowing what school to choose or how to decipher between the schools. She told me to “read the vibes” of the campus and “get the feel” for what’s going on. The vibe of the people and place you stay tell a lot about how your future experience will be there. If you get an uneasy vibe then you will likely be uneasy being there. If you get a great vibe and feel content, there is a good chance you will feel happy there. I now take this advice and use it everyday as we travel and explore the United Kingdom.
This especially came in handy in Ireland and Northern Ireland. They are somewhat one country (and were not too long ago), but have split up due to religious difference. After visiting Dublin, Belfast, and Derry, I noticed that cities were drastically different from one another even though they are all pretty big and well-known. The vibe given off from each city changed as we traveled through them, versus just staying the same throughout our time at each.
Dublin has the most big city life and feel. The streets bustled with tourists and people going in and out of pubs, shops, and work. There was a major college in the middle of the city and the town was sprinkled with parks and attractions. Dublin was like London with a more relaxed edge. The city was big and bustling with a ton to do and see and people were out at all hours of the night (depending on where you were), but there were also areas where you could relax and have a peaceful meal or break. Having the parks and the side of calm was refreshing and made the city more adaptable. I felt safe walking around; the city gave off an aura that it was okay to go out in the streets and walk around with your friends day and night.
Derry was different from Dublin. The city was smaller, with only a few pubs and shops by our hotel. There weren’t may tourist attractions besides the peace bridge and the murals everywhere. The air had a tense vibe to it and I did not feel as comfortable going out into the street to explore. The troubles in Northern Ireland have caused an issue with the lifestyle in Derry. The streets are empty at night, and people always seems to be on edge. Even during our somber morning tour, the tour guide and information we were learning was all gruesome and fresh in her mind. The city was built based on a wall divide between the sides of Derry (Protestant vs. Catholic), and the history was based around that. The building walls are covered in gruesome murals depicting the war, shoving history in everyone’s face.
Belfast was different from both of them, but much more similar to Derry. The eerie vibe continued into the city, as the streets were nearly empty in some places. During the day, the streets bustled with workers, school children, shoppers, and tourists. The shops all closed early in the day, however, so the streets were empty before 9 pm. Once all of the shops and restaurants closed, there was a garage like door placed over the glass windows. Basically, the streets looked like a war ridden barricade. We did a black cab tour into the neighborhoods, and this heightened the feel of unease. There is a wall, the peace wall, that separates the Catholics and Protestants. The gates open and close each morning and evening, so the tension is obviously still high. Each side of the wall had different idols, memorials, and art displaying their hometown heroes. These were large and very unwelcoming to the other religion.
Going from a bright city of great history, happiness, and the aura safety to the smaller ‘war ridden’ towns was surprisingly difficult. Even though I was not scared to be staying in Derry or in Belfast, the cities vibe added an extreme unease. Having the barricaded windows and walls, early closing shops, and empty streets and alleyways made the city seem sketchy and empty. Our group had a much lower desire to go out and explore the city in our free time than at the other places the first day. After the black cab tour in Belfast, morals were especially low.
It was almost a shock going from where we live, which is so safe and war-free, to a place where war ended a mere 20 years ago. The time has not come to heal Belfast and Derry, and it will not for many years. The opened my eyes to what war can do and does to what was once a big city. Even though Belfast is safe and okay for people and tourists to walk through, the unease and feeling of war has stayed. As long as people hold onto the grudges and ways from the war and before there will be no resolution to the unease in the air.
This made me appreciate so greatly where I am from. There is no war or conflict, and Rochester is very safe as a whole. the streets are beautiful and not barricaded by night. the glass is not bullet proof and there are no bars on the windows protecting them. We are lucky to be where we are.