Day Three
Belfast, Northern Ireland

Thursday, October 14, 2010

With a bit of rest under our belts (well, kind of – I actually woke up at around 3 AM with a killer headache – probably the result of a different alcohol content in Irish beer, as well as lots of travel – which was finally abated after five advil, two naproxyn, and one of Jill’s Maxalts), we woke up, got ready, and went over to the restaurant in the castle. It was nice and quiet in there as well, as there were only two others couples besides Jill and I in there. There was a ‘buffet’ set up, which had juices, as well as cereals, fruits, and assorted cheeses and meat. After we grabbed a couple things from there, the waitress came over and took our order as well.

I wish I had caught her name, because she was very nice. She was probably in her later forties, and when she asked us where we were from she told us that she lived in the Bronx in the 60’s. She took very good care of Jill and I whilst we were there, and I really wish I had caught her name.

For breakfast, Jill had pancakes and coffee, and I had the full Irish breakfast and tea. We had a basket of toast as well, and some very good Irish butter to put on that toast!

After we were through eating, the waitress took us over to the ballroom which they were just setting up for a wedding later that night. She said that in the fall and winter they do around four weddings a week, and in the summer there is usually one a day! The room looked beautiful!

With a good meal in us, we grabbed our stuff in the room and headed out for the day/evening. Today’s destination would be Belfast, Northern Ireland. The eventual activity of the day would be a Belfast Giants game at the Odyssey Arena, but before that we planned on wandering around and exploring Belfast. Our route north snaked us through the Republic and then into Northern Ireland, although you wouldn’t know it by a formal ‘Welcome to the UK’ sign or anything like that. Subtle changes in the signage (kph to mph), as well as a dramatic increase in the number of license plates from the UK versus the Republic were our clues that we had crossed the border. We did pass a couple of telephone poles that had large letters “I R A” on them, so we knew we weren’t in Kansas anymore!

We stopped quick in Newry on our way up north so we could grab some British pound sterling (since the money changed when the border did), and then finished the drive into Belfast. We actually parked at the Odyssey Arena, a short walk from downtown Belfast, so that we didn’t have to search out somewhere downtown, only to have to move the car later. After a stop at the ticket office to get our hockey tickets for later, we walked downtown.

The area we concentrated on downtown was actually a pedestrian area – all narrow ‘streets’ that had been converted for pedestrians only. We hit a bunch of the shops there, including the Celtic Football Clubs team shop where we found Mike a pair of shorts. We also stopped in at another sporting goods store that had an entire wall full of field hockey sticks! Michael had recently tried to convince Jill and I that field hockey was the second most popular men’s sport in the world – and we didn’t believe him. Yep, you told us so bud!

We weren’t sure of our prospects for dinner at the arena, so we perused through the eateries at Victoria Square, finally settling on La Tasca, a Spanish tapas restaurant. After dinner we walked back over to the rink.

The Odyssey Arena seats around 7,000 or so for hockey, and in makeup is a lot like some of the newer junior rinks we’ve been to over the last couple of seasons. The concourses are wide with concession stands at good intervals throughout. One end of seating is actually folded up and under a tarp, but you can walk all the way around including across the top of the retracted seating. The main entrance brings you in a level below the concourse, and there are sets of stairs on either side of the entrance to take you upstairs.

Jill and I first stopped at the souvenir stand downstairs to look for a jersey and pin. There we were helped by one of the nicest people we had met so far, although I didn’t get her name either! She went out of her way to help us get the jersey we were looking for, and when we went back later to inquire about a game program or lineup listing, she apologized that they had a problem with the printer and there weren’t any available at that game. (after we found our seats, she actually searched us out though and gave us a copy of the program from the exhibition game the Boston Bruins had played there earlier this month). The game itself was good, although there was an obvious difference in ‘level’ of play. Not sure what I would put it ‘on par’ with here in North America, but it was hockey and we were in Northern Ireland, and that just made it cool!

There was actually a Giants fan that was sitting behind us that struck up a conversation with us during the second period – always good to talk to the ‘locals’ and all! The game went to overtime, and then the shootout, with the Giants eventually winning on penalty shots. A couple of ‘end of the game’ differences – the teams met at center ice and shook hands, and each team had a ‘man of the match’ chosen, who appeared to receive a case of beer! Bonus!

We made the drive back to Cabra right after the game, winding our way in the dark through the North and then the Republic. It was during this drive that we realized not being able to charge the Garmin was going to be a bit of a problem – when the ‘low battery’ warning came on whilst traversing one of the backroads! Jill wrote down the directions quick and we held our collective breaths that between that and some power management we would be okay getting back to Cabra. And then, as we were driving one of these backroads, a Garda car appeared in the distance. Then they turned on their lights. Then they got out of the car and made us stop. Great. Just like a typical roadblock in the States though, they asked the usual questions, and when the officer realized 1) we weren’t from Ireland, and 2)we were on holiday he let us go, wishing us good luck with our ‘sat nav’ along the way! We did make it back okay to the castle, and, exhausted, crashed for the night!

An injury stricken Aer Lingus Belfast Giants were held to a 1-1 tie after 60 minutes of play as the Dundee Stars earned their first point of the season. In an end to end first period the Giants who already have 4 players sidelines through injury suffered another setback as defenceman Rich Seeley left for the dressing room and did not play any further part in the game.

With the period coming to a close Craig Peacock put the puck in the net for the Giants, however referee Tom Darnell ruled that the puck had been kicked on the way to the net and the goal was waved off.

The second period started much the same as the first. Both Stephen Murphy and Stars netminder Jerad Kaufmann were forced into making key saves and maintaining the deadlock. It was however the Stars who got on the board first following some sloppy play in the Giants zone. An aggressive Dundee forecheck forced a turnover from the Giants defence and Gary Wishart beat Murphy to put the visitors up 1-0 going into the second intermission.

In the third the Giants piled on the offensive pressure and tested the Stars defence which for a time held strong, however at 41:08 Giants top scorer Brett Hemingway brought the home team back level when he netted his 10th of the season smashing the puck into a wide open net as he latched on to a rebounded shot off Kaufmann.

A 4on4 overtime period still could not separate the sides and penalty shots were required to decide an outcome as this game was a league / challenge cup double header.

It was Dundee who were to shoot first and Stephen Murphy turned away Brent Hughes’ effort as he went to his backhand and tried to go high over Murphy’s blocker. Colin Shields netted for the Giants as he beat Kaufmann with a wrister to put the Giants ahead for the first time in the game, however it was the Dundee native Murphy who turned away the Stars remaining two shooters and gave the Giants the much needed extra point keeping them in top spot in the Elite League standings.

The venue for our first sporting event outside of North America!

The Bruins played an exhibition game against the Giants a couple of weeks prior to our visit

Jill with the Albert Memorial Clock in the background

Proving to Mike that there are GameStop's everywhere!

Couldn't make an entire trip without a fire truck picture!

Yes, Mike, you were right.....

Belfast City Hall

Jill with the Belfast Giants mascot

Mike, take note - for your P2P trip next year

Jill and I at the Giants game; the guy over her should eventually came down and talked with us through about half of the game

Yep, that's a giant sub on his shoulder - and they're shooting subs into the stands!

Opening faceoff, second period

Perfect name for a goalie playing for an Irish team, don't ya think?

That's Sean McMorrow behind the Dundee bench

Former Binghamton Ranger and Senator Brad "Shooter" Smyth

We're goin to overtime!

Teams shaking hands at the end of the game

The Giants win!!

Beautiful shot of Cabra Castle at night

Total Miles Travelled:
187,788 Miles!

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