Free time should sound like the most liberating concept someone could ask for, but to a former college athlete, whose days were filled with rigorous schedules and every minute of our day consumed by class, practice, lift, eating, studying or sleeping, free time can feel quite confusing. Our time here has been full of free time and while it is exciting to have your day as an oyster, sometimes it feels like what the heck am I supposed to do with all of this unplanned time? In a new country and a new culture, the answer should be easy, EXPLORE! Of course. Most days we walk up to the train station and catch the train into Great Victoria Station which drops us in the center of Belfast. While I’m sure our few days of walking around Belfast’s city center by no means indicates that we know the place down cold, we were desiring something different and new yet again.
So we set out on the train for a different Belfast stop, Botanic. We had heard that the beautiful Queens university and the botanic gardens reside near this train stop, and to our great delight, this information rung true. Upon arriving at Botanic, Raychelle and I were immediately in love with the hipster vibes, smaller streets, cool, quaint shops and friendly, helpful people. After getting lost we approached a construction worker who proceeded to talk to us for about fifteen minutes. While it should maybe be normal by now, the friendliness and desire to help by all the people we randomly walk up to still strikes me as one of the most special and unique things about this place. We found ourselves in the front of Queens university, amongst beautiful buildings that reminded me of Hogwarts. While exploring the campus we stumbled upon the Botanic Gardens where we walked through a beautiful greenhouse, a fragrant rose garden, and generally enjoyed nature’s sweet touch.
We then found ourselves at the FREE Ulster Museum where we were able to just scratch the surface exploring one of their history exhibits on The Troubles. Here we learned more about the conflicts between Catholics and Protestants that took place in Northern Ireland in the 60s and 70s. It was very interesting to get a more in depth look at both sides of the conflict and how it impacted and still impacts so many people in their daily lives. Overall, this random day of exploration turned into something much greater. All of this discovery came simply from getting off at a different train stop. The exciting part is that I have no idea what awaits on the other side of the many other train stops we have yet to explore.