November 23, 2007: Working in Belfast

Today, we thought, would be almost a holiday as it is the day after Thanksgiving and almost everyone is out of the office. For the most part this was true. We slept in as we were thoroughly exhausted, got breakfast at the hotel right before they closed the buffet and then did some light relaxing and hanging out at the hotel. Breakfast was great. We are staying at the Holiday Inn Express on University Street. The street has construction going on right now so there is no traffic and the hotel isn’t all that busy. Breakfast was the traditional English / Irish with fried tomatoes, baked beans and sautéed mushrooms. I am really liking the baked beans and mushrooms for breakfast thing. That is something that we don’t do right in the states. I will be adding that to my menu whenever possible. Baked beans really adds something to scrambled eggs.

Before leaving the hotel we decided to make plans for tomorrow.  The ferry to Scotland that we were going to take is full and we are not able to go that way.  So we decided to just fly back to Heathrow.  That will give us more time in Belfast tomorrow to actually do a little sight seeing and to relax a little bit more and it will get us to London hours before we had originally planned which will make things much easier tomorrow.  It is too bad that we had to cut Wales, Ireland and Scotland from our agenda but now that we really realize how little sunlight there is it would have been a horrible waste of time to have spent all of that time on trains in the dark.  It really would have been pointless.  We will just have to come back and see those places another time.

After getting ready to face the day we took a long walk uptown to the city hall on Victoria Street and met my friend Owain on his lunch break from the office and we all walked up to a caffe called Roast where we got sandwiches for lunch. The food was quite good and it gave us a chance to take in downtown Belfast a little bit. It is difficult to compare Belfast to an American city because the way that the city is laid out is so completely different from an American city. The layout is very surprising and much “lower” than American cities tend to be with almost no high rises at all. Much like London, Belfast is a continuous sprawl and not a single city with a central downtown.

After lunch we caught a ride with Owain into the office where I thought there would be no work to do but, after getting a tour of the facilities at Belfast’s famous WhiteStar House I ended up settling in to do real work and was actually in the office for quite a long time working until the floor had emptied out and only the night shift support teams were still around. Dominica was, unfortunately, stuck at the office and quite bored. She actually fell asleep for a little while.

Once I wrapped up at the office we rode with Owain back to his flat where we had tea and he changed into more casual attire. We did some investigating into where the best pub around might be – off the beaten path of course and not at all for the tourists – and decided to hit The Dirty Duck in Holywood near where Owain lives. It is funny that we will now have eaten at two pubs called The Dirty Duck within one week of each other while in the UK. In fact it was both of our Saturday evening dinners that were at the two Dirty Ducks!

It took a little driving around to find as the DD was off of the beaten path to be sure but we were very happy that we took the time to seek it out. The pub itself was cozy and comfortable with two fireplaces going. The main area had a wide open window with a view onto Belfast Lough with the twinkling lights of the city of Belfast on the other side. On the hill behind Belfast you could just make out Belfast Castle.

The menu was great and there were lots of items that we wanted to try but all three of us opted for the fish and chips. They also had a good selection of real English cask ale and I was quite happy to discover Old Peculier. Dinner was great. The food was the best that we have had yet in the United Kingdom. Towards the end of our meal a local band got up and played. They were pretty good but we wished that they were playing traditional Irish country music rather than American rock but I suppose that American rock is a bit more authentic in reality.

Again today we didn’t manage to take any pictures.  Being this far north this close to late December there is almost no sunlight at all.  Even at noon the sunlight is low in the southern sky and it sets before you even realize that it came up.  We hadn’t thought previously about how much the latitude was going to affect us in that way.  You don’t really realize just how far north you are until you visually register the significant change in the position of the sun.

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