I made my tearful farewell to Derry and Steve’s Backpackers Hostel on the morning of 7 February 1998. Steve and Brett walked me to the door, posed for pictures, and very warmly bid me goodbye. This is definitely not your typical hostel.
I took a long bus ride to Belfast. It was sunny in the green hills approaching the city, but felt gloomy once I got there. For all the evidence of The Troubles in Derry, there was not much of a visible presence of security forces while I was there. This was not true of Belfast. Armored vans patrolled the streets with men in fatigues leaning out the back with very long rifles. I was talking to my Mom on a pay phone when one of these vans passed by and I described it to her and just then the phone cut out. I called her back right away so she wouldn’t freak out. It turned out that I was more freaked out than she was.
At The Ark hostel, people were amicable enough watching a Shirley Bassey special in the tv lounge, but it lacked the warmth of Steve’s. I go to an internet cafe to checkup on my email, look at the schedules for ferries to Scotland, and while I’m at it check up on the Mets. Hey, we got Al Leiter in trade!
I decided this would be a good time to pick up my tickets for the ferry to Scotland. En route, I see one of Belfast’s landmarks, the Albert Clock tower which is kind of like Westminster merged with the Leaning Tower of Pisa in miniature. I also see the Lagan Weir which keeps the waters of the River Lagan under control in an industrially beautiful way. After buying my ticket, I walked down to center city, a large district made pedestrian-only to prevent car bombings, with the unexpected benefit of commercial success. I did some window shopping but most of the stores were closing up already.
Belfast’s oldest pub, White’s Tavern, is in the center city so I pop for the charm and a pint, but it’s pretty much dead. The next stop on my pub crawl Ye Old Eglantine Inn. In direct opposition to White’s, it is too crowded with lots of young college students. I don’t fit in so I take my leave early from there as well. Feeling gloomy, I return to the Ark and to bed.
Steve, Brett and myself in front of the hostel.
The leaning clock tower of Belfast.