Sunday, December 6, 2009

25 Hours

I am struggling against the will of my eyes to shut, I am struggling against the will of my ass to fall asleep under me, because I have been making a sizeable imprint in the same airplane seat for, oh, about 12 hours so far. This doesn't count my hour and a half on the London Underground, two hours in Heathrow Airport, seven hour flight to Dubai, and half an hour in Singapore. It's incredible how far you can travel in one full 24 hour period. It's even more incredible that I have managed only two hours of sleep.

That makes this whole situation a bit like a middle school sleep over, doesn't it? Except at this sleepover, you have lovely pinstriped flight attendants that like to stuff you full of food and drinks (I've managed to go light on the free booze, maintaining my three week red wine abstinence and my four day coffee quit). It's also like a sleepover except that the seatback in front of me has a screen from which I can choose...oh, about 50 movies, about 30 television shows, and about 100 music mixes. Right now, it's UK Hits of 1984.

Technology is fantastic.

Oops, now its Motown.

I'm not going to lie. Everyone and their mother (including my mother, and my mother's mother) is aware of how scared I was to take these flights to OZ. Curious, isn't it, for a girl who spent so much of her life humming Over The Rainbow to herself, to be landing on a continent with such a cute name.

And speaking of continents, let's talk about global travelers. I'd like to state for the record that by the end of the day, I will have set foot on three separate continents: Europe, Asia, and Australia. And that all depends of what you count Dubai as (Middle East, Africa, Asia, or Where The Hell Is Dubai). No wonder my hair is flat and my face is broken out. It's a complete mindfuck.

Quick apology to my father, who always told me that profanity is for people without a developed vocabulary. I realize that I have turned into somewhat of a typing sailor. For this I am sorry. I also use big words, to balance things out.

My last days is Europe: how did those go? was cold. I have successfully gone through Europe's summer, autumn, and now winter. Nowhere was this more obvious than Belfast.

(Wait, dance break to the Beatles' I Saw Her Standing There.)

Belfast is one of the most confused cities I have visited. It wasn't obvious when I crossed the border between Northern Ireland and Ireland, there was no sign, there was no border. But I somehow knew I wasn't there anymore, and I missed the Emerald Isle, even though I was technically still there. Away go the thatched roofs, many of the beautiful colors. It is more industrial. It looks more like the suburbs of London that I only know through the windows of the Tube. It is neither here nor there.

Belfast is a city like Dublin in that it is a city, and the buildings aren't terribly tall. But it is a city's city. Loud, a bit dirty, obviously a bit haggard under the “Crisis” that everyone talks so openly about in Europe – many boarded up shop windows and rent signs.

I made a personal whoopsies that I am not so proud of while in Belfast. I spent a day exploring the city with the intention of walking in West Belfast to find the Peace Murals that I had heard so much about. For those who live in a hole, Belfast is still one of the most turbulent and trouble-ridden cities in Western Europe. A few days before I arrived, there had been several (thankfully) diffused bombing attempts. Not very big news, since nothing went off, but enough to make me steer pretty clear of government buildings.

So off I go, its about 3 degrees Celcius (VERY VERY COLD) and the sun is doing its December in the UK thing, where the sun only rises to about half sky and casts afternoon shadows all day long, giving everything a sleepy look. I head West. West involves crossing a freeway overpass. Then it involves walking about 1km or so along a fairly dodgy wall by the freeway, until you happen upon it: an amazing wall of murals. They are political. They call for an end to the US embargo on Cuba, Israeli/Palestinian conflict, and of course, for Ireland to be reunited.

I am stunned by this enormous wall, but I dare not take out my camera. It was spooky. I wanted to find more, so I cross the street to find that this wall is actually a square of walls. It isn't until I sent out along the square that I realize the area is dark, mostly vacated, covered in barbed wire, sidewalks coated in dog shit, and I am suddenly filled with an urge to get the hell out. The problem: I am lost. the next problem: I have crossed to the British side of Shankhill (the tip off – flags). The only people on the streets seem to be men that look like Billy Elliot's dad. I am not happy about this.

I wish I had a better twist to this story, like I beat up an attempted mugger or something. It's not true. I eventually found my way out. And as I was walking, I felt bad. I felt bad because I was afraid. I felt bad that I had gone on my own. And I felt bad that people lived like that. Walled dogshit barbed wire in a city still dreading some retroactive bomb, in a city that is in Ireland, was Irish, is not Irish, is not in Ireland, and lost. It was -5 C that night.

But I did it. The best of Ireland in 12 days. One and a half days in London. I made it through and here I am, of the coolest airport arrivals of my life. What do I do now? Embrace the hell out of it. One great adventure Down Under awaits.

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