a day in derry

One of the many perks of staying with Steve at the hostel in Derry was the extensive breakfast, which was included in the price of your stay. It was one of the largest selections we had on our travels, and included the norm – toast, jam, tea/coffee and cold cereal – as well as yogurt, fruit, and eggs and oatmeal as long as you cooked and cleaned up yourself.

We had a full day in Derry, one of the major cities affected by the Troubles, and which still bears the scars of violent episodes and tensions. The city itself was originally walled, protected from outsiders by wide stone barriers, upon which tourists like to walk and examine the cannons, which we did (although Rachel was not interested in the cannons, so it was only me with my nose up them).

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As not only budget-conscious travelers, but budget-conscious people, Rachel and I are library-lovers, so one of our first stops in any new place is the local library. Every place in the world does their library up differently, and Derry probably has the best arrangement we’ve seen. Not only is it a multi-storey, open concept space, with low shelves so viewing is not obscured, but it has a kids’ activity room, a computer lab, a section of quick-pick books from the librarians, a huge selection of travel books, tea laid out on tables for readers in need of a mid-morning pick me up (and conveniently for travelers who can’t afford a cup of tea everyday while backpacking), and a cafe serving homemade soups and fresh rolls, for consumption in the library. A must-see library design.

The walls took us around the Guildhall, a major landmark in Derry, and situated on a very attractive, but very crowded square, perfect for people-watching. Oddly enough, although admission to the Guildhall is free, we did not go in. In retrospect, I have no idea why.

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But to make up for it, we ventured into tiny St. Augustine’s Church on the other side of the city. Drawn in by the lush gardens hiding ancient gravestones, and Rachel’s bizarre interest in the non-tourist attractions, we stepped inside, and were enthusiastically greeted by an older couple who were waiting for visitors, but clearly not receiving many. P1060375

They were thrilled we had come in, and gave us far more brochures than two people could ever need. Inside, we took in the miniature organ and the stained glass windows, and the absolute silence that is so hard to find in a city.

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From there, we wandered across various bridges, including the recently constructed Peace Bridge, enjoying the river and different views of the city.

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The city has also placed these lovely veggie boxes all over the walls, with “Pride in our City” signs. Instead of growing just flowers, they contain a variety of fresh fruits and veggies – greens, radishes, tomatoes, and herbs. Another brilliant idea to bring home to our Canadian communities:

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It is quite small compared to Belfast, and by late afternoon we found the area most affected by conflict, commemorated in many murals, much like those in Belfast. Even though there were many children arriving home from school, and the city is very calm now, we did not feel like hanging around as it got dark. Instead, we ventured back to the comfort of the hostel, and enjoyed a quiet night in. On a beautiful day like we had, there were parts of Derry very much worth seeing, and it is teeming with cute cafes and attractive views from the high walls. For history-lovers, there is certainly a great deal to enjoy, and St. Augustine’s was a definite highlight.

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But having only one full day to take in the city was plenty, and we did almost everything there was to do in our two nights there. We definitely recommend visiting Steve though, whether you’re a hostel-user or not – he gave us more information about what to do with the next leg of our trip than we could have learned at a tourist information centre.

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