Transportation in Belfast is so convenient! I’m working on learning the bus routes and memorizing the bus numbers that I have to take to get into the city center and other locations. It’s not expensive either. I spent £3 for an all day ticket yesterday and it got me on and off the bus four times! The locals call the city center, the “town”.
The different options for traveling include buses, taxis, trains… or just plain walking. Taxis come in all forms. Unlike the bright yellow cabs in New York City, taxi cabs here are not painted a distinctive color but simply blend in with the rest of the traffic. I’ve seen a lot of taxis that are high end cars, like BMW’s and Mercedes. There are also black taxis which are popular for taking 4-6 passengers and also offer a tour of the sectarian wall murals for tourists. Instead of the red, double-decker buses that they have in London, Belfast has pink double-decker buses. (Yes, pink!)
The most difficult thing to remember is which direction to look when crossing the street. Ever since I was a kid, I’ve been taught to look “left, right, then left again” before crossing the street. Well, factor in that the cars drive on the opposite side of the road here, before crossing the street, you’re supposed to look right first, then left! Of course, the traffic signs offer assistance by flashing up a little green man when it is safe to cross, but I have to fend for myself on the side streets. In addition to remembering to look the correct direction, in the town some streets are one way, so I find myself looking silly when I make a big deal of looking both directions, only to discover that the traffic is only coming one direction.
The one flaw in the bus system that I’ve noticed is that in order to get from one zone outside the city center to anther outer ring zone, you have to take two buses to get there. In order to get from my Uncle’s house in South Belfast, to visit my Granny and other relatives in North Belfast, I have to take a bus into town and then get on another bus to get to my destination.
Even with all the public transportation available, a lot of people in Belfast prefer to drive in their own vehicles. Most cars run on diesel and are stick-shift. There are a lot less SUV’s and “big” cars than in America. Because petrol and diesel is so expensive here, (currently £1.40 per liter, which is about $6.36 per gallon), most people drive smaller cars like VW Golf’s and Peugeot’s. Teenagers can start learning to drive at age 17 when they get a provisional license after they pass the theory test. Then they start driving lessons. It’s easy to spot a learner driver because they have a distinctive plate on their car. “L” is for Learner and once they pass their driving test, they have to flip the plate to “R” for Restricted driver for one year. While a driver has a restricted plate, it means that they can only drive at a maximum of 45 mph, even on the highways. I think it’s a great idea because it lets other drivers around them know that it’s a new driver and doesn’t have as much experience.
It’s now been one week exactly since I arrived in Belfast. The weather has been really sunny and nice almost every day and has allowed me to walk around and explore the city. The locals are loving the sunshine too. I’ve seen many girls walking around in shorts and spaghetti straps, even though it’s only about 62 degrees! The impressive Victoria Square shopping center is a four level experience. There are so many great shops like Topshop, River Island, H&M, restaurants and even a viewing dome at the top to look out over Belfast. To get to the viewing dome, there’s a set of spiral steps or an elevator made of clear glass. I hate heights and going up to the dome makes me nervous because it’s so high up!
In the mean time, as I continue to explore Belfast city and walk the streets, I’ll try not to get run over by a bus like Regina in “Mean Girls”.