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Saturday, August 20, 2005

The NY Times Discovers The Real Belfast!!!!

I have given up counting the number of times I have pointed out in posts on this blog just how different Belfast and Northern Ireland is today from the popular images that still seem to dominate in the media. In recent posts I've even had to defend some public comments I made to that effect.

Well, thanks to a nice piece in this week's travel section of the Sunday New York Times (free subscription required), I will at least have some place to point for support. Listen up folks -- here is an excerpt:

Sixteen years later [after the writer's previous visit], Belfast is almost unrecognizable. The city center is now a thriving social hub - with young, well-dressed couples whiling away their weekend afternoons at a series of fashionable cafes. A clutch of boutique hotels and first-class restaurants has opened up in recent years, and there have been sightings of visiting celebrities like Bono, Colin Farrell and Brad Pitt regularly reported by The Belfast Telegraph. Parts of the formerly neglected downtown are now vast construction sites, as developers have moved in to convert decaying mid-19th-century buildings into luxury condos and retail spaces. Striking new public buildings dot the waterfront, itself the recipient of a handsome promenade that rings the city's perimeter.

Most surprising, during a three-day visit in late June, I saw almost no policemen on the streets, I experienced no searches by armed guards as I entered public buildings, and witnessed none of the fear and paranoia that seemed so common in 1989. And all this was still weeks before the announcement by the I.R.A. that it was renouncing all use of violence, the most significant step in the peace process since the 1994 cease-fire - giving even more hope to the locals that the violence of the city's past might one day be a distant memory. (One thing hadn't changed, however: there were still no lockers at the train station.)

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