When I first arrived here in Belfast, I swore to myself that I was going to get out to explore and not sequester myself in my room like I tend to do once homework starts to pile up. After all, I’m in Ireland! So, I’ve set a goal for myself: every Saturday I leave the house and go on a small adventure. I go for a long walk in a nearby park, explore local grocery stores, or bus into Belfast’s city center.
There’re always things to see in city center: the street performers who are always playing music or singing on weekends, the various malls with foreign goods, the seeming dozens of coffee shops and eateries, and a great view from the top of the Victoria Square Shopping Center. Victoria Square is one of my favorite places to walk around. The open air mall has lots of great shops and restaurants, is close to the docks, and tends to be where street performers concentrate. Another of my favorite places to go is St. George’s Market–a farmers’ market in a large, open building where you can buy just about everything, from fresh fish to handcrafted goods to homemade fudge. If you ever get the chance, I highly recommend the crepe stall–their sweet crepes are to die for!
But, if I don’t want to spend all day in city center, there are other options. Queen’s University is close by and attracts a lot of good restaurants and coffee shops. The botanical gardens there are absolutely lovely, and Sir Thomas and Lady Dixon park is only ten minutes walk from Lakeside Manor.
And while I tell myself it’s important to get out and see the sights just for fun while I’m here in Northern Ireland, on a more serious level, it’s important to get out for health too. As amazing as it may be to study abroad, homesickness and depression still exist, and even just living in close quarters with sixteen other people takes its toll. There have been several times when I’ve realized that for my own sake–and for the sake of those around me–I need to get out of the house. Sometimes that means going with a group into the city, sometimes that means popping in my earbuds and listening to my favorite new podcast series while walking through the rose gardens or the woods in the park. Or perhaps just walking through the neighborhood and enjoying the sun while it’s out.
So far, I’ve kept up with my goal and I’ve seen the benefits. I’m happier after getting the exercise, and I’m slowly accumulating photos of all the different locations so I can remember them when I go back to the States. It can be hard to get some alone time here, so there’s nothing better than setting aside part of one day a week to go explore–but beware! For the newly initiated adventurer there are many perils to overcome, such as Irish public transportation, estimating currency exchange rates and sticking within a budget, and the overwhelming impulse to buy far more homemade fudge than is needed! I am still working on that last one…