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    Posted April 3, 2014 by
    Knoxville, Tennessee
    This iReport is part of an assignment:
    Travel photo of the day

    Belfast and Around on the Fly

    Often overshadowed by its dark past, Belfast is slowly, but confidently escaping its bloody reputation as western Europe’s darkest travel destination.

    Sitting atop the itinerary of any visitor to Northern Ireland’s capital should be a Black Taxi Tour. Lasting roughly 90 minutes, you’ll be ride in one of the ubiquitous British black cabs through Belfast’s war-torn past.

    The epicenter of Northern Ireland’s unrest of the latter 20th century concentrated along two parallel streets, the Protestant and British loyalist, Shankill Street, and the Catholic, pro-Irish rule, Falls Road. Separated by only a few blocks, they are as polarized as any Baghdad borough. You’ll be whisked through residential areas on both avenues to see some of the most impressive murals this side of the West Bank. These displays of public art depict fallen martyrs from years past and are still maintained by locals – who surprisingly are at ease with tour groups prodding just outside their terraces and gardens. If you’re fortunate enough to score a driver with a direct connection to the violence, you might hear horrific stories of car bombing and the dangers of working as a cabbie along Shankill and Falls during the hard scrabble times of “The Troubles”, as the era is euphemistically called. Outsiders can be forgiven for struggling to grasp how such deep divisions could exist between two ostensibly similar peoples.

    Next it’s off to Northern Ireland’s most visited destination – the Giant’s Causeway. Resting on Northern Ireland’s picturesque Antrim Coast, this UNESCO World Heritage Site is a collection of rare hexagonal-shaped basalt formations which creates a stunning backdrop for any picture-snapping, nature-loving traveler. Administered by the National Trust, entrance to the park is free, but a trip inside the visitors center will require a nominal fee.

    Just a short trip from the park sits the world renowned Old Bushmills Distillery. Home to the world’s oldest legal whiskey distillery, in operation since 1608 (its license having been granted under the hand of King James I), it offers insight in to the production of perhaps the most acclaimed whiskey in the world. Tours and free samples are available.

    Carrickfurgus Castle warrants a stop while en route back to Belfast for a quick look around this Norman piece of real estate which claims a history spanning from the twelfth century to only a mere century ago.

    For a nightcap try a pint of plain at Morrison’s Lounge Bar in downtown Belfast. Located on Bedford Street, it’s a popular spot with locals – many of whom are willing to discuss their first-hand experience of The Troubles and the progress their city has made over the past 20 years. It won’t be uncommon for them to ask you to spread positive word about their proud city and toast to the remarkable leap it’s made within a single generation.

    This isn’t your father’s Belfast, and we’re thankful for that.
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