I’m not sure about you, but for me the last three years have kind of merged into one big blob – a seamless period of time where it’s been hard to distinguish one season from the next. Usually, I associate past years with trips I have taken: Vietnam 2018; USA/Mexico 2019 etc – but the last few years stripped all that away. In fact, the last time I was on an airplane was back in October 2019, taking a short trip to Hanoi just a few months before COVID hit.
The various lockdowns and restrictions around the world affected everyone in different ways. Since I lead a pretty quiet life anyway, I didn’t notice much difference. But it had been three years since we had been back to Northern Ireland, and so we were due a visit. With things slowly easing up in Europe, now seemed like the right time to go – and so off we went!
I’m from a small seaside town called Bangor in Northern Ireland. I’ve written a little bit about it before on this blog, and while the town itself is getting progressively run down, it still affords a beautiful coastline – rugged when the skies are grey, and picturesque when the sun is out. In Tokyo, I count myself lucky that I have a beautiful beach about an hour away by train. But there’s something different about just being able to leave the house, and walk ten minutes to the coast. Any time we are back, it’s the first thing we do the morning after we land.
One thing that I was happy to see in my home town was that they seem to be promoting the growth of wild areas – trimming the grass as usual in places, but then leaving huge chunks to be strategically overrun with wild flowers and other plants. It was nice to see bees and other insects flying about, enjoying the environment.
Despite staying in Northern Ireland for the duration of this trip, we did dip our toes south of the border, driving through Carlingford and Omeath in County Louth where the Cooley Mountains sweep down to the sea. An area of spectacular scenery, The Cooley Peninsula is a diverse landscape filled with mountain ranges, flat fertile plains, wide valleys, forests and long beaches.
While Bangor hasn’t changed much and is seemingly just being left to the elements, we found Belfast to be much more lively this time around. Granted, the last time we were there was a cold afternoon in December about five years ago, but a Saturday trip on this visit showed a bustling city – particularly around Ann Street and Victoria Square. We walked around St. George’s Market for the first time, and were surprised by the amount of stalls and international visitors alike.
Of course, things in Northern Ireland look normal and commonplace to me, but for Mrs IKIMASHO – brought up in both America and Japan – it’s all very different. She particularly enjoyed Mount Stewart – a 19th-century house and garden situated on the east shore of Strangford Lough, and just outside Greyabbey where we got married in 2019.
Like I said at the start of this post, simply being by the coast is what Bangor means to me. Time seems to stand still in this little seaside town – but when it comes to the coastline, this lack of change is a good thing. I still remember certain trees standing in the same place from 30 years ago, and rock formations that bring me back to my youth, cycling around. On a clear sunny day, we swam in the sea with one of my best friends and created good memories. And after all, that’s what trips like this are all about.
In order to be allowed back into Japan we had to jump through a number of hoops – downloading the various apps, filling out information, and then also providing a negative PCR test. The latter was the one thing I was worried about, having heard horror stories of people who have left Japan, tested positive during their trip, then have been trapped, unable to get home. Thankfully, our PCR tests were hunky-dory and we also had no problems at Dublin Airport, which had been a bit chaotic in recent months. Before we knew it we were once again in Abu Dhabi, waiting on our connecting flight back to Tokyo. It proved to be a half-empty flight, so we were able to stretch out.