Stacy and I flew to Belfast Northern Ireland so that I could participate in my Fulbright Endcap meeting. I am not exactly sure what Endcap stands for but I imagine it is something to do with the ending of my year abroad and capping the experience off. We planned in advance and arranged for my parents to stay with Carter and Cara, so Stacy and I got a three day vacation without the kids. I know it was tough for Nana and Grandpa to have to take care of those troublesome kids but I don’t think they were too upset about it. We arrived in Belfast on a Wednesday and we met up with several Fulbright teachers that evening before settling in for the night.
Thursday morning for me was full listening to presentations about our year abroad. My fellow teachers shared their highs and lows, things they have learned, and places they have visited. If I am completely honest, I was not looking forward to this, but it turned out to be an enjoyable time. We had loads of PowerPoint’s, several videos, and even a sing-along presentation and none of them felt tedious (except maybe mine).
On Thursday morning I joined some other Fulbright family members for a bike ride through Belfast. I love a little exercise and it’s such a fun way to see a city. In the afternoon we got to join in on the tour with the exchange teachers.
After a lunch break, we all (teachers, spouses, and kids) took a bus tour of Belfast. It was interesting to hear about the “Troubles” and see some of the consequences from it. In the late 60’s, 70’s and 80’s, Belfast was basically a city engulfed in a mini civil war over religion; Protestants vs. Catholics. Much of the city is still split along those lines, and in many places there are a huge walls and fences to protect and separate the people. On many buildings are murals in remembrance of people that died during those troubling times.
|Artwork on one of the walls that still separates the city|
After our bus tour, we went to the Titanic museum and got to see all sorts of things about how the Titanic was built, the people on the ship, and how it went down.
Dinner that evening was at Pizza Express with all of the current Fulbright teachers as well as some Alumni that were going to take us to some schools the next day. We finished the evening by going to the Duke of York pub, drinking a Guinness, and listening to an Irish music jam session. In a corner of the bar were several people playing violins, a harp, banjo, guitar, and other musical instruments. At one time I counted at least 7 musicians. Listening to a jam session was something that I had been dying to see and hear so I am glad that I finally got to do so.
The next day, I went with Fulbrighters Cindy and Stephanie to the Royal Belfast Academy where former Fulbright Exchange teacher Stewart Graham teaches. He had this great program for us to follow, but President Obama messed it up. Seriously this is true. The Royal Belfast Academy was scheduled to have Sports day of Monday but President Obama came to Belfast as part of the G8 Summit. Because of all of the dignitaries travelling about (especially Obama), most of the schools in Belfast were closed due to transportation issues. This cancellation caused the school we were visiting to move their sports day to the day we were visiting. So we really did not get to see the school in operation other than watching some of the kids participating in a few track and field events. We did have a good chat with two Fulbright Alumni so it was not a wasted morning. Lunch followed our school visit and we wrapped up our discussions about how to prepare for our returns to the US.
Friday I headed out to see a food market called St. George’s which had all kinds of fresh seafood and baked goods. I also explored an observation deck inside a mall which gave a great view of some of the highlight buildings in the city. Then I met up with the Sturges family and we walked to the Ulster museum and explored the highlights of Irish and world history.
Our afternoon-evening activity was another pub with more music. There were 5 older gentlemen sitting around drinking beer and playing instruments. It sounded very much like blue grass music and it makes complete sense when you think that much of Appalachia was founded by people of Scotch-Irish descent. We stayed at this pub (McHugh’s) for about 3 hours listening to the music and visiting with my fellow exchange teachers. It was a most enjoyable evening.
|at McHugh's enjoying some music|
Saturday morning, Stacy and I rented a car and drove along the Northern Ireland coastline. It was a very pleasant drive, looking out on the Irish coastline, and listening to a mix tape that Fulbrighter, Nikki Holmes, created. We stopped for lunch at a nice tea shop and then went to the Giant’s Causeway.
We had stopped here on our fall holiday, but we enjoyed it so much that we decided to do it again, and it did not disappoint.
Afterwards we, drove some more, exploring Northern Ireland and then headed for the airport for our return to Scotland.