Moving to Norn Iron

Hi everyone! My name is Javier Lou Franco and I’m from Zaragoza, a rather big city (yet, quite unknown) in northeast Spain. I had lived there since I was born, but some months ago my life took an unexpected turn. I applied for an Early Stage Researcher position within the FoodSmartphone Project and, before having considered the implications it would have in my quiet and comfortable life, I was offered the post. I didn´t have second thoughts, the research line was pretty similar to what I was doing in Spain and I saw it as a good opportunity to improve my English and get to know a different culture. This is how I ended up here, in Belfast, writing this blog to tell you about my first months’ experiences.

I arrived in Northern Ireland by the end of May after a night trip. There were two things that I had been told before moving here by my family and friends: “it can be hard sometimes to understand the English spoken by local people” and “get ready for the weather”.

It didn’t take me much time to understand the first warning. As soon as I sat in the plane and heard the people sitting next to me speak, I knew it wasn’t going to be the same as the English I had learnt at high school. It might sound a bit frightening, especially when you arrive in Belfast thinking that you have a good command of the language. However, after some time living here it all becomes much more understandable. Now I wonder if I’ll have troubles to understand other accents after living here. Probably I’ll find out next time I see Vincent and Gina.

As for the second warning, coming from Zaragoza I was used to a dry climate: suffocating heat in summer up to 40 degrees and temperatures dropping to 0 degrees in winter. Not the best weather during these seasons to be honest, but I used to enjoy several hours of sun in daily bases. Against all odds, I found an amazing weather the day I arrived, surprisingly sunny and rounding 25 degrees. I had come ready, with a new umbrella almost out of my bag and a waterproof jacket just in case. So it wasn’t what I was expecting, but for sure I didn’t complain about it. I thought it wouldn’t be so bad after all, perhaps people had exaggerated. I lived tricked my first 4 days in Belfast, then I realized that those 4 days were the exception rather than the rule. For sure my fifth day in Belfast rained, and I had a clearer idea of what weather I should expect during the following months. Anyway, I must admit that the summer I’m living with temperatures ranging 15-25 degrees is far much better than the 40 degrees “I was used to”.  

Beyond these first impressions, I quickly realized Belfast was a quite interesting city with plenty of things to do. Not a really big city, but big enough. I spent my first days wandering around the city until I could do it without getting lost. I joined some city tours as well, visited the Ulster Museum, Botanic Gardens…, basically I behaved as a tourist in the city where I’m living for the next 3 years. During these first days I also realized that most people here is very nice, helpful and polite.

The Big Fish, Botanic Gardens and the Lanyon Building (Belfast)


But my holidays in Belfast lasted a week, after that I had to start working at Queen’s University, an amazing University with impressive buildings surrounding a medieval castle looking building. I wasn’t difficult to find the Institute for Global Food Security, where I met my supervisor (Dr Cuong Cao) and the rest of the people working in my group. However, I soon realized that there was a huge amount of people working in the Institute, so the annual barbeque held in June was an excellent opportunity to start getting to know the rest of PhD students and Staff working there. I found nice the fact of being such a multicultural group, with people not only from UK and Ireland, but from all over the world.

As the rest of my colleagues in previous blogs, I’ll wait to future blogs to tell you more about my work in the lab. Even though my holiday week was over by that time, I still could find some moments during the weekends to explore more around Ireland and I think it’s worth to share that with you.

The first trip I did was to Dublin. It was completely unpredicted, but it was something I had in my mind before coming to Belfast. Not everywhere you have the chance to arrive in the neighbour country capital in less than 2 hours by car. So there we were, in a single day trip visiting everything as fast as possible. The Trinity College and Temple Bar was in our list (as could not be otherwise). Both places were amazing, a must see if you ever go there. But, of course Dublin is also well known for another reason: Guinness Beer. It was great to visit the Guinness Factory, where the guides explained us everything, from the fermentation process to the beer distribution worldwide, a story full of anecdotes. Did you know that Arthur Guinness signed a 9,000 years lease when he started producing his beer? That’s really long-term vision for business!!

Trinity College, Guinness Factory and Temple Bar (Dublin)


But living in Belfast, there is another place as important as Dublin (if not more) that must be visited: the Giant’s Causeway. Luckily, Jordi was already in Belfast by the time I decided to go there, so we took a bus to go there and visit it. It truly deserves the “Eight Wonder of the World” title! Or at least it’s an amazing natural place to be in the top 10. Even if it was absolutely crowded, it was big enough to find remote quiet places. To be honest, walking close to the cliffs was the best part of it. We enjoyed amazing views from there!

Giant’s Causeway


And the list of places to visit gets bigger and bigger, I hope my PhD leaves me some time to visit the entire island.

As for the rest of my daily life here, everything is getting better. I start to get used to some lifestyles different from my country, but some of them are frankly a challenge (having lunch at 12.30 and dinner at 7.00? that’s not for me, I think Klaudia was facing similar problems).

Hopefully Jack will join us at QUB shortly, while I’ll probably meet some of you at the RAFA symposium that Aris mentioned in his blog.

So that’s pretty much it for my first blog. Hope you enjoyed it!

Hasta la próxima!!


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