I have officially arrived in Northern Ireland. After a lengthy delay in Newark, I finally took off over a brilliant Saturday night in New York City. Six hours and well over 3,000 miles later, I landed in Belfast at just after 9am local time. Compared to my gargantuan 18 hour flight two weeks earlier, this one seemed remarkably easy. It was an enjoyable flight, as my two seat mates were two girls from Millersville University who were embarking on a study abroad class (much similar to what I was involved with in 2011 to Northern Ireland). It’s impressive how quickly one can form a friendship when confined to a plane seat at 39,000 feet. Amanda and Riley were both traveling overseas for the first time and their excitement was certainly contagious. Their group will be in Derry on Saturday, we exchanged contact information in hopes that our paths may cross while I’m still in Derry. Though airports and flights generally have a poor reputation, when you can be open and receptive to conversation, you can quickly find yourself in quite the enjoyable situation. Whether our paths cross again or not, the three individuals sitting in seats 35 D, E and F on United 77 will always share a unique bond and friendship. Being able to embrace the unique nature of a trans-atlantic flight (or any flight for that matter) can result in a wonderfully rare and enjoyable interpersonal connection.
The security surrounding the G8 Summit was absolutely fascinating to see. After I picked up my bag and was headed to the bus station I was stopped three times to be questioned, searched, and questioned further. The police easily outnumbered citizens, regardless of where you looked. Along the roads just outside of Belfast International Airport, countless police checkpoints were set up with guards armed with assault rifles. Certainly it’s a display of force to deter anyone from any rouge ideas, rather than a response to an actual threat, yet it’s still quite alarming to see such a heavy military-esque presence. Obviously with such high level dignitaries arriving for the Summit, you’d hope to see a security presence, but what you see certainly brings up images of Northern Ireland during the Troubles. It’s a sobering reminder of not only how far Northern Ireland has come along the road to peace, but also what’s still required to maintain order in the face of immense responsibility.
During my bus ride from Belfast to Derry, I was struck again with the overwhelming beauty of Northern Ireland. It’s impossible to explain and no picture could ever do the beauty justice. Northern Ireland has an ability to suck you in and make you fall completely in love. Even when you’re simply watching the grassy fields and flocks of sheep pass by through the window of a bus, you can’t help but feel this place pulling you in. In all of my travels throughout the world, no where has ever been able to captivate me quite like the brilliant landscape of Northern Ireland.
Being back in Derry is quite exciting. Once I was settled in at the University, I set off on a walk about the city. Here I am, entirely on my own, in a country nearly 4,000 miles from Manhattan, and I feel completely at home. Already knowing Derry, having walked her streets everyday during my time here, has been such a wonderful advantage. I already know exactly which pub I need to hit first (Sandino’s, by the way) and exactly how to get there. I truly love Derry. I did when I was here the first time and that’s certainly been reinforced whenever I’m back. Despite it’s somewhat troubled past, it’s a beautiful city full of welcoming people. Simply sit down at a pub for a pint of Guinness (or whatever you fancy) and the local patrons will be striking up a conversation with you in no time. It’s a fantastic mix of historical reverence and modern flare. Whether you’re along the riverside or deep in Bogside, stunning scenery is readily available whichever way you turn. I couldn’t imagine a better place to begin my six week stay in Northern Ireland.