07.04.2011 - 10.04.2011 12 °C
I am back, my dear readers! My, what an amazing country Ireland turned out to be!
I apologize for the delay in writing about my vacation adventures; there has been a backup of homework (of course, no one does any over vacation!) and I spent half of yesterday cleaning for Pesach! Whew...I know most people start Pesach cleaning after Purim, but even half a day of it gets tiring! Danielle and I put our chametz (bread/grain products) into the second bedroom in my apartment and some stuff into my freezer, both of which are now "sold," as is customary, because we are not supposed to have an chametz in our possession. Yesterday, we did the special thing the night before Pesach where we turn off all the lights, light a candle (we lit a Havdallah candle :-) ) and "find" any remaining chametz (little pieces of bread that Danielle wrapped) and throw it out. That was sympa. Anyway, I know I still owe you some adventures from the week before vacation, when Margarita was visiting, but I can't wait to talk about Ireland, so that will have to wait!
All right, what you've all been waiting for...let the adventures begin!
Facebook Belfast photo album: http://www.facebook.com/album.php?fbid=1928949100860&id=1156170130&aid=2107199&l=b1b9141522
Thursday, April 7
Daniela and I took EasyJet from Roissy (Charles de Gualle airport) to Belfast, Northern Ireland (UK). I was super excited to see the Isle of Man out the window! I was looking into ferries from Dublin to the island, but they were super expensive :-( The bus ride from the Belfast airport into the city was so nice…green pastures, sheep everywhere…The bus driver was so nice; he dropped us off right on the corner of the street where our hostel is located. Right off the bat, I discovered that Irish folks are SUPER nice. We two were going to stay at a hostel while Henry, who would be joining us Saturday night, was staying with a Couchsurfer, Damien, whom he was lucky enough to find. (To remind you, the Monday bar night is for Couchsurfers…these are people who put their “couch” (or bed) up on the website to let other stay the night in whatever country they live in. This is especially common in Europe, where people travel and backpack across countries a lot more easily than we Americans. Henry found Damien on this website)
I’ve never stayed at a hostel before; there’s always preconceived notions about staying at hostels…dirty, loud people, bedbugs…throughout all my Ireland trip, the hostels were all quite fine. This first one had 6 bunk beds. There was a really nice half-French, half-Mauritanian guy at the front desk, Nick. He let me call Rebbetzin Brackman to make Shabbat plans. She told me to call two Bed & Breakfasts near her home so that I don’t have to walk two miles from the hostel to her house on Shabbat. I ended up making a reservation at one that’s 10 minutes walking distance. 25 pounds = near $45.
That evening, Daniela and I went out. Henry was going to come Saturday night, so he and Daniela would pick me up from the Bed&Breakfast after Shabbat. We asked Nick for bar recommendations, and he told us to go to Robinson’s. On the way, we saw Crown Bar, the oldest bar n Belfast; Belfast Metropolitan College; and the Opera House. We also went into a mini mart to see what the Irish like to eat and drink. Boy, were there a lot of candy bar options! Many that we don’t have in the States. And some of their sodas were different and even had different packaging. Then, we finally went into Robinson’s. We ended up loving that night! We had Magners cider, a popular drink in Northern Ireland (in Southern Ireland, the equivalent is called Bulmers). Mmm! Cider is good! They had original and pear flavors. There was live music in a room toward the back of the bar. A man and a woman – two voices and his guitar. They sang traditional, sweet Irish songs (not the dancing, fast ones). They were superb! Some of the songs: No Frontiers, Rose of Clare, a song about Chicago (!), and many more. When they took requests, I asked them to sing Carrickfergus, a song which I have loved since I was young (from a CD by Charlotte Church). The woman (Jo-Anne) didn’t know it, but her partner did, so he sang and played it for me. Was it lovely! It was a different rendition, but great all the same. At the end, I asked Jo-Anne if they have a CD. She said she forgot hers at home but would be playing in a bar Saturday night nearby if I could come. I said only around 9:30, because of Shabbat. She would be done by then, but she said she’d leave the CD with the bartender! (10 pounds for it) I was very happy! Unfortunately, it was just her solo, not with her partner, but better than nothing!
Friday, April 8
Daniela and I woke up early in the morning in order to walk around Belfast. We went to St. George’s Market, which operates between 8am and 2pm every Friday. There were fruits, vegetables, meats, clothing, and trinkets for sale. We bought a homemade lemon cupcake. We took that cupcake over the river’s bridge and walked around, trying to find a bench. Apparently, the Irish don’t sit outside much, because we failed miserably. We headed back to the town center, found some Dali-inspired murals and a no-drinking-alcohol sign with a beer mug with a cross on it (haha!). We sat on the grass outside of City Hall and let the sun flood our faces. We found Queen’s University, which is a gorgeous, old university situated in the southern part of the city. Next door are Belfast’s Botanic Gardens; we strolled around and sat on the grass, Daniela sipping a “slush” (slushie) that she obtained from the ice cream man. We went back to Crown Bar for some day-time photos. Then, we headed off to the suburbs – I had asked Rebbetzin Brackman (who told me to call her Ruth) if Daniela could come to Shabbat dinner (I didn’t want to leave her alone; Henry not having arrived yet). The wonderful Ruth said, of course. We took yet another bus to get there; we told the bus driver which street we were supposed to get off for the Bed&Breakfast, where I needed to check in before heading over to Ruth’s. He was such a nice, cute old Irish man! But oh man, was his accent hard to decipher!! Maybe he thought mine was, too! At one point, I just had to nod my head and say “mhm”…I really didn’t know what he was saying! We got to the right street and then told him the number. He wasn’t sure where it was, but some super nice people who were standing behind us told us that we passed it a little bit. We got off there and walked. What a beautiful view there was of green hills in the distance!!
On the door of the B&B was a note with my name on it, apologizing if the owners weren’t in, and giving me the code and directions up to my room, where the key was already in the door! Wow! Only in Ireland…The owners did end up being there; they didn’t know exactly what time I’d be arriving. Daniela and I hurriedly showered (I let her use the shower, figuring it was much nicer than the one at the hostel…little did we both know that the screen door was transparent with no shower curtain in sight!!) Then, we got walking directions to Ruth’s and made it just in time to light candles! Ruth has two cute little boys – Shmulie and Zalmie. We started helping Ruth make salad and set the table. Meanwhile, Rabbi came in, and I asked him if he happened to have a brother or cousin in Chicago, because the Chabad Rabbi of the University of Chicago’s last name is Brackman, too. It turns out that they are brothers!! What a SMALL Jewish world it is! If you remember from my last vacation, in Nice, I met Rabbi Brackman of Chicago’s wife’s sister randomly in the apartment building where I was having dinner by Shoshana’s family! Oh boy…Jewish geography…What will happen next? (Side note – the Brackman’s of Chicago pronounce their name with a long ‘a’ like in the word ‘almost’ while the Brackman’s of Belfast say a short ‘a’ like in ‘apple.’ The Rabbis come from London and Ruth comes from Leads, north of England, I believe. Rabbi and Ruth hadn’t had time to develop Irish accents, but they sure had a cute English one!
Then, I was in for another surprise. Rabbi had turned up with a mixed group of Israelis and Arabs (both Muslim and Christian) who were going to spend Shabbat dinner all together with us! This group is a volunteer group from Daniel Yellin Teacher’s Institute in Betuchon (Jerusalem). 5 Israelis and 4 Arabs, in their 20s and 30s, who got together and formed a discussion group about the conflict going on between the two groups in Israel. They chose to come to Northern Ireland because they saw similarities in the conflict there. I can see that, though, of course, the situations have huge differences. But wow…I never thought in my life that I’d see this kind of thing happen…Muslims and Jews together at a Chabad Rabbi’s home for Shabbat dinner. In the middle of dinner, one of the married Muslim women, wearing a veil and a long traditional dress, toasted the Rabbi in her broken English, thanking him and Ruth for inviting her into their home, saying that it was her first time in a Jewish home and that she was so grateful for such an opportunity. I swear I almost cried. To know that such people as her exist gave me hope in the midst of all the hopelessness that I feel. I went up to her when we were changing courses and thanked her so much for her warm words, telling her how I felt. Her face was all scrunched up, trying to understand my English, but she understood the general feeling I was trying to convey. When the group left (2 stayed, being Shomer Shabbat), she took my hand, and we held hands for 5 seconds, in an amazing connection that, I feel, very rarely happens in the world. May G-d bless her and let her shine her light onto her brothers and sisters and bring us all peace soon in our days!
I didn’t set an alarm beforehand at the B&B, so I prayed that G-d would wake me up on time to check out (10:30am) Wouldn’t want them knocking on my door while I’m still asleep! Thank goodness, I woke up at 9:15am. The lady at reception was nice enough to let me leave my bag of things in the reception area so that I wouldn’t have to carry on Shabbat. I stuck it under a table. Then, I went to the Rabbi’s, because I didn’t know where the synagogue was. Shmulie and Zalmie were acting crazy and didn’t want to get dressed. Finally, Shmulie was persuaded to get ready so that he could show me to shul. He held my hand and took me, only a couple blocks away. What a nice building! I was surprised. I met a woman there, Marion, who told me that 30-40 years ago, when she was a little girl, there were about 1200 Jews in the area! Now, there are some 80 left. No wonder there is a big shul! They even had to sell off a part of it when so many people left, but it’s still big! I’m glad. Lunch was much quieter than dinner; it was me, the two Shomer Shabbat Israelis (Adi and Micha), and another lady. Adi and Micha talked about how they were trying to keep kosher in kosher-less Belfast. Basically, they brought their own pots, Micha brought couscous, and Adi brought a bit more variety: rice, pasta, and a few other things. Both were super happy to be eating normal food, and especially meat, on Shabbos. I was happy about the meat, too :-) But wow, they are super troupers! After lunch, we all took a Shabbos shlufie (spelling?). This means nap. I slept for almost 4 hours! That wasn’t exactly the plan; I wanted to take a walk around. But I guess my body was quite tired. The boys were misbehaving again, but Rabbi and Ruth were SO patient! They are truly role models. I woke up in time for the 3rd meal and found out that there is a castle nearby…darn! Should’ve woken up earlier! All in all, I had a very unique Shabbat experience :-)
Henry and Daniela picked me up from the B&B (where I retrieved my bag) in the car with the driver’s seat on the right and that drives on the left side of the road. Scary! Henry didn’t want to go out, but Daniela and I took the opportunity to go out before we left Belfast the next morning. Daniela and I asked two ladies for directions to the bar where Jo-Anna left her CD for me. They showed us, but by the time we got there, it was midnight, and the bar was closed! The two ladies reached us and asked if we had “rapped” on the door. We hadn’t. So they did. The bartender opens the door and says the bar is closed. I told him Jo-Anna left her CD for me there. He said, “Oh, it’s you! You’re three hours late!” Yeah…I was supposed to come at 9:30pm, but after Shabbat, we had some dinner, and you know how these things are…
Sunday morning, we checked out of the hostel and went to Henry’s Couchsurfer, Damien’s, place. Damien is an archeologist-turned-community center builder (whatever this means) who is from Derry on the west coast. He is so typically Irish! His place was super nice but quite a mess; a total bachelor. Three things I loved: his fireplace, his spacious bathroom, and his kite-skateboard! I didn’t even know such a thing existed. You fly a kite (it gets windy on the Irish coasts) on a skateboard. Sounds like fun! Henry wasn’t the only one staying with Damien; there was also a nice German girl, Franzie. Honestly, it’s pretty bold of Franzie to stay with Damien, not knowing who he was before coming to spend the night. He turned out to be a fantastic guy, but you never know…Anyway, Damien recommended a route along the Irish coast, going west from Belfast and ultimately reaching Dublin. He called places “magic” and “wee.” We went to Tesco (the local supermarket) to stock up on food for the road, and we were off!