Derry, United Kingdom
So far on this trip, I’ve stayed in some of the fanciest hotels in the world, luxury apartments, beautiful homes but somethings been missing… that standard of accommodation that let’s you know you’re really traveling… a youth hostel. Today I returned to my backpacking roots after checking out of my hotel in Belfast and getting a bus to Derry for the night. I made my way directly to the hostel to dump my bag and I have to say, there was a little thrill of familiarity that took me back to happy days. Of course, there would’ve been a greater thrill at checking into the Ritz but the redundancy won’t last forever!
With limited time in Derry and having not done any preparatory research, I thought it best to join a walking tour and as it turned out, the walking tour I joined was the best! Our guide, Garvin, would have to be the most charming and charismatic man in all of Northern Ireland. He led us around the ancient walled city regaling us with stories of (London)Derry throughout the ages with such passion and insight that we laughed and cried with him. I think I can safely say, it was the most emotional walking tour I’ve ever done.
Now that I had an overview and the lay of the land, I again made a bee-line for the sites of interest to me – The Free Derry Monument, The Bogside Political Murals and the Bloody Sunday Massacre Memorial – all very moving and worthy of the time spent up close and personal, learning more about the complex and tragic political history of the area.
Feeling somewhat stoic, I made my way back to the city walls of which I decided to do a contemplative lap. Along the way, I bumped into my Birmingham bus buddies from yesterday going in the opposite direction. Having exhausted all polite conversation up and down the Antrim Coast, we simply acknowledged each other, stopped for a brief chat and then kept on our merry ways. For me that was to the cities newest attraction – the Peace Bridge. Somehow, Derry has already been awarded the UK City of Culture for 2013. The construction and subsequent opening of the Peace Bridge just last weekend heralded the official launch of celebrations that will presumably be ongoing for a couple of years yet!
The sun began to set and I was at a bit of a loss for what to do next. The hostel was hosting a pub night to watch UFC so I had to give that a wide berth lest I somehow be sucked into the festivities but I didn’t fancy a night on the town by myself either. That left me with one compelling option – the movies!
I tracked down the cinema and decided on a screening of “Bridesmaids” – ordinarily the exact kind of movie that would make me break out in a diatribe about the evils of society but on closer inspection, starring Kristen Wiig and Maya Rudolph – both very funny ladies who have done right by me in the past. I gave them the benefit of the doubt and was not disappointed. My only hope is that those going along to see it in the hope of it being that most insidious brand of ‘chick flick’ (an evil phrase that should repel, not attract!) were disappointed, disgusted and confused.
It was still light when I came out of the cinema, too early to go sit in an empty dorm so once again, I followed the sounds of live music and found a cute-as-all-get-out bar with a cool, yet traditional 3 piece Irish band playing. I got a pint of Harp, settled in and enjoyed the show and free wifi.
When I deemed it dark enough to be respectable, I toddled back to the hostel to find it absolutely deserted – I guess I miscalculated the respectability of the hour. Still, I wasn’t too far off because I was shortly joined in my 4 bed dorm by my two roomies – German Girl and Czech Boy. We exchanged travel stories, sizing up each others indie-traveler cred before calling it a night. I might have talked up a good game, but as I snuggled up with my laptop and iPhone, in my heart I was glad to know I could still slum it when I needed to but dreamed of a day when I won’t.