… You want it done a proper way, I need you to stay…
9:35am, when I start writing this post. I’m on board an InterCity train, riding from the wonderful city of Dublin towards Belfast, in Northern Ireland. The Bose QuietComfort headphones eliminate almost all of the noise outside; when you plug those into the BlackBerry to listen to music, you absolutely can’t hear anything of whatever is happening around you. Mark Knopfler’s “Hard Shoulder” is the first one to pop into my random‐ordered Get Lucky playlist; slow, calm song, perfect fit for the scenery around: thousands over thousands of acres of green—be it grass, trees, bush, anything that grows.
We just crossed over some water.
… They had their last supper the day of the beaching; she’s a dead ship sailing, skeleton crew…
How fantastic it is, moving vast distances in high speed without needing to focus on the road. I’m sitting in a second‐class seat, Netbook lies on the table in front of me, and memories of cars seem so distant. The ocean is to my right now, what a perfect view.
It’s been a short, but sweet, introduction to Dublin. My two days here were hardly enough; there’s no question, I will be back.
That being said, something tells me that I need to see more of Ireland in order to get a good grasp of what Ireland is all about. Dublin is a big metro area; but once you ignore the tall apartment buildings (well, “tall” is a relative term; don’t expect to find 50–60 stories condominiums here), the plethora of shops and restaurants, and look at the people, how they talk, how they walk, their body language—I guarantee to you that you will suddenly realize that, hey, something in these people doesn’t quite ring “big metro area”. It seems, to me at least, that the authentic Irish “being” can hardly be found in the big city but much easier to identify at the small towns and villages.
I felt much more “Irish” in Howth than in Dublin… I guess that’s what I’m trying to get at.
Anyway, a coastal trip in Ireland is due to take place sooner or later.
… I’m better with my muscles than I am with my mouth,
I work the fairgrounds in the summer, or go pick fruit down south…
The train ride proceeds through millions of greens; somewhat flat terrain—nowhere near as flat as The Netherlands, where any bump on the road is considered to be a mountain—although you could see traces of nice hills at the horizon. Sky is completely grey, the air seems so misty that you could almost taste it. Get Lucky plays very well with these views.
A wholesome sense of freedom creeps in; my entire world has been shrunk to fit a 70 litres backpack which is conveniently stowed right above me—and for a minute it seems as if you could put me anywhere you want with that backpack and I’ll make myself at home.
… I keep a weather eye on the horizon, and back to the wall
I like to know who’s coming through the door, that’s all…
Train arrived at Belfast Central station right on time. My Hotel, Travelodge Belfast Central, is about 15–20 minutes walk and located right at the city centre. Weather was coolish, cloudy skies which blended perfectly with the altogether greyish atmosphere of the city. After checking in and a quick, fabulously simple lunch at a cafe right in front of the hotel, I went to explore the city for a bit.
2 hours by train from Dublin and the difference is so obvious. Dublin’s bustling and vivid atmosphere is now a distant memory; Belfast appears to be more quiet, reserved. Population here is evidently older, people are quieter.
One of the main attractions in Belfast, and the one I went to first, is Donegall Square, circling around Belfast’s city hall.
Look what I found there:
“Take the Feckin’ Taxi”… Brilliant, isn’t it.
Continued to walk a bit north of Donegall Square. The area offers lots of opportunities for dining and shopping; currently, though, the entire area seems to be under construction. Traffic here seems impossible, and moving from one place to another is hard even for pedestrians.
Entering Carphone Warehouse, I found a solution to my data roaming plan problem. I got a mobile broadband dongle, good for the UK, for about 20 pounds. That should serve me for my time in the UK; later, I’ll find some other solution.
I wasn’t in the mood to explore too much so I spend about an hour or so sitting on a bench facing City Hall, plugging that mobile broadband thing in and catching up with things. The QuietComfort headphones eliminated much of the engines’ roars behind me; so good to carry those around.
James (Morris; the guy who volunteered to prepared the entire train schedule for me) and I agreed to meet at the venue prior to the show for some dinner. Time to return to the hotel, unload unnecessary items (such as my Netbook) and head to the venue.
Fast food chains such as McDonald’s, Burger King and even Starbucks aren’t anywhere near as popular in Ireland as in North America. During the last three days, I’ve seen one McDonald’s, two Burger King’s and no Starbucks whatsoever. On my way, I encountered this:
“You’ll feel like you robbed us”… of course. I presume they refer to the feeling of anxiety, elevated body heat, sweating and mildly‐annoying abdominal pain one gets after performing a robbery. Makes perfect sense.
I followed some ill advice from the hotel’s receptionist who instructed me to cross a bridge that is, as a matter of fact, impossible to reach unless you’re driving (or unless you’re a pretty sophisticated monkey, as it is some good 10 metres above ground level). Scheduled to meet with James on 5:00pm, we were both late so no hard feelings. At around 5:15pm, I arrived at The Odyssey Arena.
The Odyssey Arena (Wikipedia: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Odyssey_%28Belfast%29) hosts both music shows and other entertainment events, primarily sports. It is Ireland’s second biggest indoor arena (the first one being The O₂ in Dublin, where last night’s concert took place), and can contain up to 10,000 seated audience (more than the O₂; bizarre, huh? I guess the space per seat is smaller here).
James and I went to eat at La Tasca, which is a Spanish tapas restaurant located at the Odyssey Pavilion right next door. Some huge vegetarian Paella later and some tea to wash everything done with, all was ready for the concert. Was fun getting together with James, a brilliant conversation partner.
One interesting thing I learned today has to do with currencies used in the UK. You may wish to remember that next time you travel to the UK…
The banknotes in both Scotland and Northern Ireland (both are parts of the UK; Ireland isn’t) are not actually issued by central banks, but rather by retail banks. Therefore, legally speaking, these notes aren’t legal tender, but rather are promissory notes.
What the impact is, you’re asking? Well—
- Neither Scotland nor Northern Ireland has any legal tender, not even within themselves. Yes, you read that right. By the definition of legal tender, both countries lack it. The bills printed by the Bank of England—those British pounds that you and I are used to see when travelling to, say, London—even those aren’t considered legal tender in Scotland / Northern Ireland.
- Bank notes issued in Northern Ireland are generally accepted by merchants in Northern Ireland.
- Bank notes issued in Scotland are generally accepted by merchants in Scotland.
- Often, you would encounter trouble using banknotes, issued by Northern Ireland, anywhere outside of Northern Ireland. Note that the bills themselves do look different; legally speaking, a merchant in England is entitled to not accept bills printed in Northern Ireland as “money”.
- Same goes for banknotes issued in Scotland.
- The only legal tender in
the UKEngland are the bills printed by the Bank of England.
This is so awkward and stupid. So, here’s a tip: if you paid cash in Northern Ireland / Scotland, and got back some bills that weren’t printed by the Bank of England, then try to use that cash at the same country you received it. Don’t count on it being accepted anywhere else.
ANYWAY. Enough about this. Still, I find such information very interesting. Too much time on my hand?
Back at the venue, I went ahead and took some pictures of the interior.
My seat was at the front row, seat 24—one seat right of dead centre. High stage, lots of leg room, not too bad of a view. The band captured the stage at 8:20pm and the show started.
Remember what I wrote above about Belfast’s people appearing to be more reserved and quiet? I wrote that before the concert. Turned out that I was right. That must have been the most polite audience so far: cheers rarely started before a song’s end, and forget about standing ovations—it took forever to get this audience to stand up.
Don’t get me wrong: this had nothing to do with the concert, which actually was a top‐notch concert high up there in my favourites list. It’s just… the people, you know. The audience appeared to be excited (I could tell by looking at their faces) but nothing appeared to make them stand up and be a bit rowdy. The Belfast audience appeared to be content with sitting down, clapping their hands, cheering at the end of each song and… that’s it.
Normally, there’s about one minute break between Romeo and Juliet and Sultans of Swing; tonight, that break took about 15 seconds because, really, that’s how long it took the audience to become quiet.
The most active individual in the entire arena (which, apart of seats at the far ends which simply couldn’t be sold to anyone who isn’t blind, was close to be sold out) was actually Mark Knopfler himself, appearing to be having a good time and moving quite a bit while performing some impressive solos.
Tonight’s works of What It Is and Sailing to Philadelphia were outstanding, especially the low‐intensity part of What It Is. Truth must be told—this has a lot to do with John McCusker’s return. The guy adds something to the band that is very hard to reproduce.
Another marvel tonight was the performance of Marbletown. It started during the band members’ introduction when Richard played some serious guitar (how do you spell that 4‐string guitar’s name?) and ended with John McCusker and Mike McGoldrick working so well together that one had to see (and listen) to believe. I am pretty certain that tonight’s Marbletown jam session was of the best ones I have ever seen, and certainly the best one so far this tour. When the song ended, I couldn’t avoid smiling and yelling the word “Perfect”. It was perfect.
What a happy bunch of musicians. What a delightful concert.
I didn’t really have much expectations for the sound in that venue—basically, a sports arena. However, it was surprisingly fabulous. Don’t know much about how it was heard from the back rows, but at the front row, the sound was well‐balanced and at just the right volume.
Exactly the same setlist as yesterday so no surprises there.
The concert ended at around 10:20pm. It was a beautiful night outside; I bid James farewell and walked back to the hotel.
The path from The Odyssey Arena back to the city centre is beautiful at night.
Was a bit hungry when I arrived at the hotel; a small store offering “Belfast’s Best Pizza” sold 9” pizzas, custom made within 5 minutes, for £3.80. Was it Belfast’s best pizza? I don’t know, but it was pretty good actually.
Even though I’m not a big fan of beer, I felt that it would be most appropriate to have a pint of Guinness before I depart Ireland tomorrow morning. A nearby Irish pub was bustling with people; a quick pint and back to the room.
Lots of cities in North America offer various “Irish Pubs”. Here’s some news: an “Irish Pub” doesn’t get its atmosphere from the crowdedness, not even from the “wooden” look. No, no. The atmosphere comes from the patrons. No “Irish Pub” can be considered a true “Irish Pub” unless it inhabits Irish people… and that’s my opinion as an individual who hardly ever goes to pubs.
Tomorrow is an early one… flight to Glasgow leaves Belfast City Centre in about 7 hours from now. Time for bed.
P.S. Tonight’s show was the 30th show of the “Get Lucky” tour featuring neither “Before Gas & TV” nor “So Far from the Clyde”. This is my blog… and this is my own tiny, meaningless, private protest. :-)