Belfast – Visas, Strangers, and Markets

Autumn, 2011

Belfast's kind strangers

We've all had those days where everyone seems to be out to get you. It happens when you travel too. When I lived in Oxford, England I was on my lunch break and popped over to the train station across from work to use the passport photo booth. On my way there I was crossing from one side of the parking lot (called a car park in Britain) to the other and this woman nearly ran me over. She stuck her head out her window and hollered at me, "Watch where the fuck you're going! Daft cunt." In the middle of pristine Oxford, a posh English lass screamed at me and called me a cunt, for walking through a car park. No one milling about outside the train station was bothered by it and seemed to think it perfectly normal. I was so taken aback that I yelled back, "Hey! I'm just crossing the street, chill out!" She didn't stop freaking out at me and actually stopped her car, stepped out of it, and kept yelling at me with even more vigor than before having heard my American accent. I gave her the British bird by flipping her the V sign and telling her to piss off. Safe to say, my previously chipper mood tanked after that. There are a lot of people out there who are having bad days and take it out on unsuspecting strangers, but I've found there are even more people out there who want to spread the love.

Sometimes, we all need a reminder of how good people can be:
Belfast is beautiful.
It wasn't long after that incident that I went to Belfast. I needed an appointment to get my visa and the only available appointment, in all of the United Kingdom, was in Northern Ireland. I had to leave Oxford at 4am to get to my flight in London and would be returning that same night. I had to work the next day so I was short on funds and time.
Got some better leggings here.

It was the first of December, a bitterly cold wind whipped through the city and cut through my thin leggings. Luckily I did not have to wait long for the Airport Express bus which takes passengers from the Belfast City Airport to Europa Bus Centre in the city centre. From touchdown to take off, I had thirteen hours in Belfast. I woke up so early that I didn't get hungry until I began walking around. I popped into a little Irish cafe and pulled out a map of the city I had grabbed at the airport. I already knew how I was going to get to the visa appointment, having previously written down the directions and proper bus routes. I enjoyed a sausage sandwich with HP sauce and a hot cup of tea.

I wandered more around Belfast, but didn't stray too far because I had to make that visa appointment. Even though getting lost in a new city is one of my favorite things to do, I couldn't afford the risk. When the time came to catch a bus to my appointment, I immediately spoke to the driver to let him know where I needed to get off. He promised to let me know when we were there and I went and took a seat near the front. When we were approaching the stop a kind elderly woman who was sitting near me got my attention and told me that the next stop was what I wanted. She had overheard my conversation with the bus driver and directed me to my destination. I skipped away pleased with the random kindness and proceeded with my day.

After my visa appointment I was free to wander Belfast and enjoy the afternoon. If you are in Belfast near Christmas time, be sure to go to the Belfast Christmas Market. Located in the City Hall gardens, the Belfast Continental Christmas Market has been held yearly since 2004. Construction of the City Hall was completed in 1906. The site splits the business and commercial sections of Belfast city centre. It is one of my favorite Christmas markets that I have ever visited.

Delicious food and drink at the Belfast Christmas Market.

I meandered around the little wooden buildings that comprised the market. I ate a delicious bratwurst, tried mulled wine, and enjoyed a hot cider. When it came time for me to make my way to the airport I went to the bus station. 

City Hall lit up with Christmas lights.

My plan was to catch the last shuttle bus to the airport, I was waiting for the bus to load. I was there in time and the bus driver wouldn't let us on yet. That's when a friendly couple from Wales began chatting with me. I got caught up in our friendly banter and in that five minutes I was not looking at the bus, the driver pulled the bus away. I ran towards the bus and hollered at the driver, he wouldn't stop the bus. I even hit the back of the bus, because he had to turn around and take a right out of the station. Even then, with me chasing it down, he didn't stop for me. He knew I was waiting for the bus, he had told me to wait, and then he wouldn't let me on.

Belfast is cold in November.

It was the last bus, and I was going to miss my flight. I didn't have money to stay the night or to buy another flight. I began to panic and was in hysterics. I tried to find a cash machine and I couldn't find one nearby. I had no options. That's when a woman who was standing with a couple taxi drivers stopped me and asked me what was wrong. I was crying and told her what was happening and how I could not miss my flight.

One of the taxi drivers insisted on me getting in his taxi so he could rush me to the airport. I was crying that I didn't have any money but he didn't mind and just wanted to help. He wove through traffic and tried to make some small talk with me to cheer me up. When we arrived at the airport I pulled out the only money I had, it was all in coins and couldn't have added up to more than four quid. He graciously accepted it and told me to hurry to my flight.

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