“Would You Do It Again?” – David

The title of this post is a chance to sum up the trip and answer the question that you are always asked by people who have heard of the trip.  It can’t be a one-word answer as no trip is ever perfect in every way, all the time, in every context.

Would we fly Business Class both directions?  Hell yeah, if only to avoid being on a 737-MAX H8te ever again. That aircraft is just horrid in Economy.  Even SeatGuru.com says the “Premium Economy” seats are as bad as seeing  Death Himself walking backwards out of an outhouse reading MAD Magazine with his pants down and shit on his shoes.  

Boat.  The Lapland Bunting was a fine boat, perfect for two blokes, but converting Rob’s bed each night was an annoyance.  Perhaps a slightly longer one, that has two berths that we could leave as berths and a sit down ‘salon’ as the Brits call it.  Maybe even the womenfolk would come along for at least part of the trip. We know them well enough that the day and half going through the Mere district wildlife reserve might bore them a bit, but then there is always wine to be consumed before it goes bad.  One does not want wine to spoil and we know the womenfolk would attack that task with their usual devotion and dedication. We did ask them about participation in another adventure of this ilk and their consideration is that going two days without a shower is not going to happen. There would have to be hotel rooms on the route and a ‘wider fucking boat’ to quote one of the spouses.

We’d probably skip the Irish Whiskey Museum tour in Dublin  And skip a hotel in Temple Bar. There were a couple of hotels we eyed near Grafton Street in Dublin that looked appropriately plush, yet modest in price and near all kinds of things like pubs.

Taxis.  No walking from Wrenbury to the Marina.  Book a taxi at Crewe to Wrenbury with a stop at the local provisioners before reaching the marina, so one can take the training, sign the papers, load up and get motoring to Wileymoore Lock for opening time and a pint of real ale.

Weather.  I think we chose the right time to go.  We both opined that in the high summer season that traffic on the canal would be near-oppressive and unpleasant.  Off-season was just right, with exception of Storm Callum.

Storm Callum.  Yes, it was windy and rainy for two days or so.  We did get soaked to the eyelids, but it was a challenge, not a bad thing.

Provisions.  We would know more about our consumables habits and provision appropriately with an emphasis on things that can be consumed with one hand whilst piloting.

Bacon Sarnie and Chips with a Salad – Ellesmere Pub

Bacon Sarnies:  Yes, yes, yes, ohgawd yes!

Oscar in the pub at Wileymoore.

Dogs in Pubs.  Eminently Civilized.  We ate well, especially the Sunday Roasts, but also Gammon and Chips, Yorkshire Puddings the size of a cat’s head covered in lovely gravy and steak at the Tomahawk Restaurant finished over a wood fire on our last night in Dublin.  

People.  To a person they were polite, friendly and  often curious why two blokes from Canada would make the effort to come this far to drive around in a narrowboat in October.  A common theme we did hear was “Ahh, Canadians, so you’re not Americans then.  What do you think of the Yanks down south?”  Our answer was usually, “The neighbours?  Oh well…”

One trick we learned many years ago from work travel to foreign climes was that a very modest Canadian Flag pin on your collar opens a lot of doors when they recognize you’re not American.  I always has a half-dozen in my pocket and would give them to folks who engaged with us, especially if they said they had family or friends in Canada. You can get them, free, from your Member of Parliament and they are only available from Parliament.

One little girl of perhaps six was with her grandpa at Wileymoore and she had never seen a narrowboat, or a lock.  Grandpa was explaining how it all worked and she was fascinated.  It turned out that Grandpa was in the Royal Engineers as a sapper, as was Rob, in the Canadian reserves, so the doors of welcome were opened and Grace got to see the boat with her Grandpa.  Both walked away with a tiny Canadian flag pin as a memento of their impromptu visit.

Walkie-Talkies.  If you have two, testing the flotation abilities of one of them makes the other one of no use, when you discover that a walkie talkie does not float.  That and a tea cup were the only victims of our adventure.  The broken tea cup was kept as a place to put tea bags when the brew reached the correct potency.

River Liffey in Dublin

Dublin.  Probably an extra day there, mayhaps even a bus trip down to Cork, if only to see the place.  Trinity College, housing the Book of Kells is a tourist spot that we semi-wanted to see, but then again, we also wanted to hit other places, so it was left off the list.  

 

Rob contentedly piloting a narrowboat

Company.  I couldn’t imagine doing this trip with anyone else but Rob.  We both mesh in attitudes and tasks, getting things done and enjoying each other’s company.  Adding the spousal units would be the only thing that would have made it better.  Trip of a Lifetime?  No trip, except the last one to the hereafter is a Trip of a Lifetime, but this was most certainly in the top five.

And not flying on at 737-MAX H8te ever again

 

Jameson’s in Dublin

Scrim and I like whiskey.  Scottish or Irish, no matter.  We have also tried the Japanese offerings, but have stopped short of tipples from places like Cyprus or Madagascar.  We’re certain the offerings are tasty, but it is much like looking for real Southern Fried Chicken in Taiwan or Egypt:  If you find it, it won’t hit the mark.

Jameson’s has been distilling whiskey since shortly after the earth cooled and matures the product for a minimum of three years plus a day to be called Irish Whiskey. There are literally thousands of stories about the golden nectar, both Scottish and Irish and we won’t be retelling them here. Suffice to say Jameson’s is the purveyor of a lot of Irish Whiskey.  

The Jameson’s distillery in Dublin is not an actual working distillery any more. Being in the city, land is expensive and to age Irish Whiskey you need a lot of land for the warehousing and aging of the product.  However, the tour is in the former location, where a reasonable percentage of the original works are preserved and presented to the visitors.

There is a tour, telling the story of the company.  Scrim got to sit in the recreation of Jameson’s office as part of the tour.  There is also a tasting of various kinds of Jameson’s products led by someone who has at least memorized the spiel.  Yes, you are presented with a flight of column still and pot still products, but the quantity for a tasting is never much more than a tablespoon or so of each.

You would have to take fifteen tours in a row to get shit-faced and frankly, getting shit-faced isn’t the objective. The objective is to appreciate the history and savor some of the product, nothing the differences between them and developing an appreciation for the art of the distiller.  We did. 

Tasting notes from the tour?  Jeez but they make good hooch!  The slightly longer tasting notes comes back to how the original liquor is made, before it hits the barrel.  A column still is very much a continuous process of distilling the mash to create the first strike.  This is almost exactly how vodka is made, as the objective is quantity of production.  Pot stills are batch processes, in that the still is loaded with mash then heated and run until all the mash is boiled off, less the lees that always remain.  Clean the pot, load it up, do it again. 

There is a difference in the product that you can really only discover tasting different types back to back.  The pot still product, after aging is a more complex flavour to my mouth.  Jameson’s has kept one of their original pot stills around on display in the courtyard, so you can see the scale of the thing. 

Which is better?  It depends on your taste and what you like.  Any of the Jameson’s products are eminently drinkable.     

Dublin Again

The Paramount Hotel, our digs for two nights, is in the Temple Bar section of Dublin, meaning it is a tourist destination.  To quote our taxi driver on the outbound trip “Temple Bar is full of damned tourists and is shiite if you want to see the real Dublin”  Oh well, we already had reservations, so we stuck with our plan. The taxi driver was right, it was shiite. The hotel was originally either a whorehouse or was fifteen different slums bashed together and called a hotel.  There was nothing wrong with it, except getting to your room meant walking in ever changing directions up and down tiny flights of stairs at odd angles in strange directions in some kind of triangle pattern.  Temple Bar is the neighbourhood and it is somewhat famous from books and movies, which also means it attracts tourists looking for something memorable.  By comparison, the Byward Market in Ottawa, or the Distillery district in Toronto would be equivalents, meaning lots of shops, restaurants and bars interspersed with historical structures.

We dined that first night at the Porterhouse Pub, simple fare, as we were tired from our trip across the Irish Sea and retired comparatively early, still on boat time mentally.  This was disturbed at 0600 by the sounds of kegs. Bars, of which Temple Bar has hundreds, require beer. Beer is transported in steel kegs. Empties must be removed and full ones delivered each morning to keep the thirsty patrons at bay.  We lay there, half dozing and hoping the sound would cease, allowing us to nod back off on a Monday morning. No. It would seem that Monday is the prime delivery day and 0600 the prime delivery time, for at least a friggin hour. Bang, clank, rumble, Bang, clank, rumble.  Repeat until you wish to do someone harm.

If we’re going to be up, then at least we can eat, so we adjourned to a joint just across the street that said it had breakfast.  Pinocchio’s was the name and yes, they did have breakfast. You could have toast and coffee. Groggily we agreed to toast and coffee, then noticing a large fiberglass Pinocchio head over in the corner, glaring at us the whole time.  Why an Italian pasta joint would have a fiberglass Pinocchio head, football mascot sized is the first puzzle. The second puzzle was why do you advertise breakfast if all you have is toast?

Our first stop was luggage.  Rob’s rolling bag decided after the miles of travel to blow a handle.  The telescoping handle wouldn’t retract any more, so rather than sacrifice his bag to Air Canada in a couple of days, we found a luggage store and obtained a new bag.  Since my contribution at this point was to stand around and look handsome, I figured I would help the staff load in a shipment of a couple of pallets of bags that were kindly dropped off in the road in front of the store. 

Across the street from the hotel was a place we both noted in our brains for sensible reasons.  If we returned home without some kind of treasures for our beloved partners in life, from an epic trip to the UK and Ireland, then we might as well just chain concrete blocks to our necks and drown in the River Liffey now and skip the flight home.

Being practical men we recognize that art is always appreciated.  We adjourned to Fab Cow and perused their wares.  Francis Leavey is the artist and one of the pieces of his that I had seen before was his single line drawings. They’re stunning pieces and getting to meet the artist is something you should always try to do, because then you understand the nuance and inspiration behind the work.  We bought modestly, because of luggage room, but we bought direct from the artist, which is always better.

Francis Leavey is a fascinating artist with a background in Chinese medicine and longish stays in China, as well as study of his art at a very deep level.  We compared notes, Francis speaking from how art reflects culture and me speaking how culture is reflected in food.  Eclectic and kind is the kind of mix one likes to be near.

Liquor was next on our list, Dublin being home to two magical distilleries, one that actually produces in Dublin and the other that has converted their old digs into an excellent display of the history of distilling in Ireland.

First stop, Jameson’s.

 

Return to Dublin

After returning the Lapland Bunting in Wrenbury, we did the wise thing and hired a taxi to get us and our luggage to Crewe.  We overnighted at a hotel near the train station in Crewe and did enjoy at least one hot, all over, plentiful showers to soap away nine days of boating.  Yes we had our own rooms. Then a longish walk to a pub for Sunday Roast and a chance to sleep in a real bed, with reliable electricity.

Overnight, the Irish Ferries did not disappoint us.  Our ferry, the Ulysses, was running with no issues. We would be getting to Ireland, without a five hour layover in a hateful holding pen in Holyhead, unlike our outgoing trip.  Skies were clear, winds were pleasant and the local news was filled with reporting of the damage caused by Storm Callum two days before. We did not avail ourselves of the complimentary copy of The Sun to see who’s titties would be featured on Pg. 3.

Again to a Virgin train, with their talking toilets and fine service, we train to Holyhead, then stroll the 90 meters to the Ferry Terminal to embark, stopping for a coffee at the same place as our outbound trip.  This time, instead of the insane, we were merely accompanied by someone who needed a major adjustment to their prescription medications.  Either the UK is filled with crazies, or we just seem to attract them.  Perhaps we look too Canadian?  Or, they behave that way because they are trying to speak in Welsh.  For those who can, congratulations, but for the rest of it, trying to pronounce the words correctly hurts your mouth.

  

A shuttle bus boards the ferry and we seek out the Club Class forward.

The Ulysses was at one time the largest car ferry in the world and plies the Holyhead to Dublin route for Irish Ferries.  On our outbound journey we saw not much more than a quick tour with our objective being sleep after a hellish flight over to Dublin.  Plus, it was a dark and stormy night and nothing much to see of the Irish Sea. This time was different.

Club Class is reasonably plush, with free food and not free beer, but the particular joys of wide windows at the bow of the ship to allow you to see where you’re going.  Food and beverage obtained, we settle in to see the Irish Sea.

We followed another ferry from Holyhead, also transiting to Dublin, the Stena something or other, which launched a few minutes before us.  The safety briefing was conducted by the ostensible Captain of the ship, who near as we could discern was the Irish equivalent of The Simpsons’ Sideshow Bob, with the same sonorous voice and deliberate intonation.  Perhaps he was hired for his public speaking traits, not his seamanship, as his comment regarding muster stations included “If we are sinking, you unwashed proletarians had best get the hell out of my way, or I will kill you with my bare hands”

One thing we have noticed on this trip is that the majority of positions of the ‘service’ industry are occupied predominantly by members of former Soviet Union countries, working away from home in more prosperous environments than their home countries.  All pleasant and polite of course, with a willingness to serve well.

Captain Sideshow Bob kept the Ulysses well-aimed at the green stripe on the horizon and eventually we hit land, fortunately at the actual Irish Ferry Terminal in Dublin.  This made unloading much easier, but the signage was now in Celtic as well as English.

Taxi to the hotel, the Paramount, near Temple Bar and we unpacked for two nights

 

A Pipe, a Fall and a Whiskey Tasting

Being in Dublin there are certain things that must be accomplished, especially when one is only slightly strapped for time.  Rob Scrimger is a pipe smoker and he enjoys a good pipe.  Peterson’s of Dublin makes good pipes, world renown pipes if truth be told, and we would be remiss if we didn’t go to the source of all goodness.  Just off Grafton Street, their shops stock a stunning array of samples of a pipe-makers arts.  Scrim knew what he wanted and in less than a handful of minutes, a Model 999 was obtained from the manufacturers.  A few moments later a bowl of tobacco was ignited and was duly enjoyed by Rob.

The Fall is not just a season, it is also an action.  The two of us, looking lost and confused on Grafton Street after sampling the wares of McDaiid’s Pubic House (Have a Guinness in Dublin they said, you’ll enjoy it they said) we were walking along when the ground suddenly leapt up and bit one of this party.  There were no injuries aside from a momentary feeling of stupidity, but many offers of assistance and concerns for our well-being from the nearby inhabitants.

There was another retail requirement:  A black wool turtleneck sweater from Marks & Spencer to join others in my drawer.  An M&S was duly located and after a route march to the Men’s department, two examples were obtained with only a moment’s hesitation.

In order to get over trans-meridian circadian disarrhythmia, it is important to get your body on to local time, meaning eat the meal that the local time says to eat.  It being close to noon local time (but still 0700 for our bodies) we had to attend the Porterhouse Pub in order to have lunch, a chicken thing and some IPA.  The photo mural in the Gentlemen’s was worthy of the visit, as well as a sensible selection of beers.

We then availed ourselves of the Whiskey Museum, an hour long tour of the history of Irish Whiskey history and manufacturer, followed by a tasting of four types of Irish Whiskey with an almost-learned tutor guiding us through the nuance and subtleties of Irish Whiskey.  For the uninitiated, or the uncaring, you can always use the term ‘notes of vanilla and caramel’ in tasting as you stare off into middle distance, pausing thoughtfully, perhaps swirling your glass to examine the whiskey-equivalent of legs (called the ‘tears’) in a nuanced manner.

If you are served a glass of Pumpkin-spice intimate wash, you can still use the thoughtful pause and the hesitant “I get notes of…hmmm..vanilla.  And a hint of caramel flavours..with spice, and warm notes…”

 

A Different Interrogation

Landing in Dublin we are feeling a little shite, covered in shite, deep fried in more shite and then stuffed with shite. The upthrust: the 787MAX8 is shite.

I know this well as the flight attendants have played video games on the back of my seat for several hours. But we land none the same and after thinking about and preparing for the Customs and Immigration we are ready for their questions. A small bonus, the plane will empty from both ends and since we are flying “‘rewards” points we are at the far end and get to exit early.

Into the airport of a foreign land we wander looking for the Baggage and Customs. We are Canadian. We are braced for what comes in Customs; a questioning practice started by the Nazis and continued by the supremacy movement in the US. As we exit there is a sign that points to Customs and Exits and we start the march to the exit. Will our brothers from the same mother let us in?  Is there something we forgot? I think, got the prescriptions in the bottles, no large amount of money, no drugs I must declare.

I think on this as we march from where we land to Custom and Exit. Legs barely working from the wonderful Air Canada flight on the 737 MAX HATE. As we continue I curse more though silently, this was my plan and at this point I hate it, thanks to our number one airline. After what seems like a forced march for the entrants into the Airborne we reach the Customs agents.  The questions;

  • Why are you here?
  • How long are you staying?
  • Isn’t that 737 Max 800 just shite?
  • Why haven’t you visited before?

The last with the most force, a wonderful example of the people we will meet. After assuring the young lady will we be spending some time in Dublin we are left to look for an exit and our bags. The bags are easily located, Air Canada being deprived the ability to lose them by being a direct flight. And for Customs, the first lady being only the Immigrations. We find the doors to custom guarded by a couple of lads that should be playing rugby. There are two sets of doors, one blue and one green – inquiring as Dave is a smoker with more than 200 smokes as to the path –  we are sent through the green doors. Where we  merge with the folks through the blue doors. Why?

I can only hope that it is for the sheer fun of it, I am hoping the Irish are a fun and wonderful bunch and if this is an indication I won’t be disappointed.