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November 27, 2018

Belfast

by Rosemary West

The sinking of the Titanic in in 1912 still resonates in Belfast, the city where the ship was built. One of the the city's most popular museums is "Titanic Belfast," a huge complex with exhibits documenting life in Belfast at the turn of the 20th century, the shipbuilding industry, and everything about the Titanic, including design and construction, passenger accommodations, the launch and brief voyage, the people aboard, the sinking, and finally discovery and salvage at the bottom of the ocean.


On the grounds of Belfast City Hall is a memorial garden with five plaques listing all 1,512 victims of the disaster alphabetically.


City Hall.


Steve reads the names.

Bigger than the Titanic is the specter of "The Troubles," three decades of conflict and violence between Unionists/loyalists (who were mostly Protestant) and Irish nationalists/republicans (who were mostly Catholic), involving political activists, paramilitary groups, government security forces, and many others. At least 3,500 people were killed. In 1998, a peace treaty known as the Good Friday Agreement officially ended the conflict, although there have been some incidents of violence since then. Belfast is now considered safe for tourists (as much as any other city), and we felt comfortable walking around there.

The so-called "peace walls" were built to separate Unionist/Protestant and Nationalist/Catholic neighborhoods. Originally intended to be temporary, they were effective in reducing violence and making people feel protected, so they became permanent, and more were added. Over time the walls become longer, stronger, and higher. There is a plan to gradually remove the walls. Some have been taken down, but residents in many areas think they are still needed. The walls, which are often decorated with murals or graffiti, have become tourist attractions.

The peace wall along Cupar Way is one of the tallest, around 25 feet high. I look tiny standing in front of it.



These gates are closed and locked at night.


Another section of wall, sometimes called the Freedom Wall, is covered with murals, mostly conveying political messages. On one side of the gate, the murals support the Nationalist point of view, and on the other side, they are pro-Unionist. Beyond the peace walls, there are also murals throughout the nearby neighborhoods. The murals often commemorate historical events and people who died for the cause. People considered heroes and martyrs in one neighborhood are seen as villains and murderers in the other. The government and various community organizations have tried to encourage non-partisan murals that celebrate shared values and culture; these are still in the minority.





If people's faces are shown in murals depicting paramilitary groups, it means they are dead. Those who are still living are portrayed with masks.


Memory and pride go back a long way.


A few years ago, one of the political murals was replaced by "Conor's Corner," a tribute to local artist William Conor.


Back in the city center is the Europa Hotel, known as the most bombed hotel in Europe (possibly in the world). During the Troubles, it was bombed 36 times. The hotel was targeted mainly because it was the place where journalists from all over the world stayed. No, the bombers weren't trying to kill journalists! (At least, not usually.) They wanted to get the reporters' attention in order to keep the conflict in the news.


The building at this intersection looks like a lot of nothing. That's the idea. It is actually a heavily-fortified police station.


This government building was given a 15-foot-thick wall to make it bomb-proof.


Clearly, people are now optimistic that peace will hold. Across the street from the fortification is a new glass-walled commercial building, and other glass structures have gone up nearby and throughout the city.


"Beacon of Hope" by sculptor Andy Scott was constructed in Thanksgiving Square in 2007.


It's 64 feet high.

Of course, it's not all about politics. Sometimes it's just about art, or fun. The "Salmon of Knowledge" (aka the "Big Fish") is a 33-foot-long ceramic sculpture by John Kindness, constructed in 1999 to celebrate the cleanup of the River Lagan. Its scales are decorated with texts and images about the history of Belfast. Supposedly, it's a tradition that anyone kissing this wise salmon will get an infusion of knowledge, but as our tour guide said, an infusion of bacteria seems more likely.




[Note: We were here in mid-October. The weather was pleasantly cool, and it rained only a little bit.]

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November 17, 2018

Glasgow

by Steve Winogradsky

After a short train ride from Edinburgh, we arrived in Glasgow, Scotland's largest city. Rosemary had a bad cold, so it took us a couple of days to begin exploring the city, which we did by starting with a hop on-hop off bus. We often use these to get a feel for a city, learning what is where, and sometimes using them instead of public transportation to get somewhere on the bus route.

St. Kentigern, better known as St. Mungo, is Glasgow's patron saint and founded the city in the 6th century. According to legend, Queen Languoreth of Strathclyde was suspected of infidelity by her husband. King Riderch demanded to see her ring, which he claimed she had given to her lover. In reality, the King had thrown it into the River Clyde. Faced with execution, she appealed for help to Mungo, who ordered a messenger to catch a fish in the river. On opening the fish, the ring was miraculously found inside, which allowed the Queen to clear her name.

Based on this, many of the depictions of Mungo include a fish and a ring. These are found in churches, stained glass windows, lampposts and other symbols.

The top of a lamppost.

Inside the Glasgow Cathedral, Mungo holding a ring, a boy holding a fish.

The official seal of the city.

Outside the Museum of Modern Art. You can tell he's saint by the halo around his head.
As with many cities in Europe and the UK, the spiritual center of the city is the Glasgow Cathedral, the oldest building in the city. Built in the medieval style, the Cathedral has high ceilings, stained glass windows, and other features reflecting its 12th century origins.

Note the barrel vaulted ceiling.


A view of the back of the Cathedral from the Necropolis.
On a hillside behind the church is the Necropolis, the burial site of Victorian Glasgow's rich and famous. Many cemeteries have large monuments to a few of the people buried there, but the Necropolis has more than I've ever seen. While most of the names are meaningless unless you know the history of Glasgow, there are a few familiar names, including John Knox, a leader of the Scottish Reformation.

Looking uphill to the John Knox memorial.

John Knox




Glasgow also has some excellent museums. One is the Riverside Museum, which features a history of transportation, from (allegedly) the first bicycle to streetcars, automobiles, subway cars, motorcycles and other vehicles.

The 2nd oldest Rolls Royce

The first bicycle?
Behind the Riverside Museum is the Glenlee, one of the tall ships built in Glasgow, a city known for its shipbuilding.


Bet the Titanic wished it had a few more of these.


The Kelvingrove Art Gallery and Museum, built in 1901, has one of Europe's great art collections. Housing traditional European works as well as contemporary pieces, you can spend hours there (as we did) exploring their many galleries.

"Return To Sender", a tribute to St. Elvis

You can tell he's a saint by the halo around his head.
The Kelvingrove also has a painting by Salvador Dali entitled "Christ of St. John of the Cross", with a view of the crucifixion from above.

Hello, Dali!
On the campus of the University of Glasgow is the Huntarian Museum which has, among other things, sections of the ancient wall that the Romans built in Scotland.




The University campus itself is beautiful, with an impressive tower, main gate with names of famous alumni, and a large quad.





Glasgow has its share of statuary and monuments, including David Livingstone, Queen Victoria, and William Gladstone.

Dr. Livingstone, I presume.

"Her Majesty's a pretty nice girl..."

Gladstone



In front of the Museum of Modern Art is a statue of Arthur Wellesley, the first Duke of Wellington, who always seems to have a traffic cone on his head.


There are also many murals created by local artists that, generally, are not marred by graffiti as in many other places.




Another thing Glasgow has in common with other cites we have visited are shopping districts where chain stores are on the ground level of older buildings, offering a unique view of 21st century retail.




Even though we got off to a slow start, we thoroughly enjoyed our time in Glasgow and recommend a visit if you are in Scotland.


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