So after taking the long and winding flights, and not being Raptured along the way (I was in the air between O'Hare and Newark at the time), I arrived to a lovely morning in Belfast. The weather had said it would be rainy, but it was breaking up. Ireland is such a green and pretty place. Lush gentle hills, cows and sheep everywhere, red brick houses and farms.
Belfast International Airport is a tiny affair. The sheep and cow pastures go right up to the runway, and the animals placidly grazed as the planes roared overhead. We were the only international flight to arrive, and were a mere 757 at that, so there were no snaking hoards for UK Immigration like at Heathrow. I grabbed a cab for a scenic 20-minute ride to Belfast city center, my cabbie Dixie giving me a running commentary on the sights and geography of Northern Ireland. I'm usually pretty good with accents, but sometimes Dixie lost me. Maybe I was just tired from not sleeping two nights in a row.
Dixie deposited me at my hotel, the Radisson Blu, where I was delighted to find that I could get into my room right away. I guess that's the advantage of arriving in a business hotel on a weekend morning. Belfast is very quiet on Sundays, shops and restaurants open up after lunch at 1pm, so I took a very long nap and then headed out for a walk in the warm sunshine.
My first impression of Belfast is that it's very compact, clean, and pretty. I grew up hearing about all the bombings and protests and fighting here, but that's been gone for a good long time now. Now it's a lovely small city with a compact walkable center, with branches of all my favorite shopping stops: Vodaphone, Monsoon, Boots, Marks & Spencer. I think there's even a Primark (affectionately called "Primani"), which means there's an adventure in fighting crowds for cheap underwear and t-shirts in my future.
Tomorrow my sight-seeing starts in earnest. Dixie-the-cabbie told me that the best things to do are to take a tour of City Hall, ride the double-deck tourist bus around the city, go out to Giant's Causeway, and in general just walk around and have a pint of beer or a glass of whisky every now and then. I aim to heed his advice!