“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

 

Getting Home

There are joys to flying on bonus points, but routing is never one of them.  We were fortunate that at least for this trip, it was Montreal-Dublin, then return Dublin to Montreal.  Except that we had to go back home through Toronto, then Montreal and train it back to the loved ones.  One of our original routings saw us going Ottawa – Toronto – Frankfurt – Heathrow. Given a choice between having a Brazilian ballwaxing by Ilsa She-Wolf of the SS who has hooks for hands or flying into Heathrow, I’d have hairless balls.  Heathrow is a complete and utter shitshow of the first order on almost any level you care to measure, as well as being an eight to twelve hour time suck to get anywhere near out of the joint.

Dublin was easier getting in and getting out.  Looking at our itinerary we did see if we could change our flights.  Rather than flying to Toronto, then flying over Ottawa, landing in Montreal and taking a train back to Ottawa, we figured why not ask if we could just go Toronto to Ottawa, even if it cost us a few bucks.  Air Canada doesn’t actually have ticket folks in Dublin, Swissport handles those things for Air Canada, as is the nominal practice worldwide. We eventually found the guy, who was amazingly adept at spinning his pen in his non-typing hand, but wasn’t entirely sure where Ottawa was, or if there were flights from Toronto to Ottawa.  He stared at his screen for a good 6 minutes, spinning his pen, then said sorry, we don’t have that information. Oh well, through the veal pen lines for Security, then on the aircraft.

We were fortunate the aircraft was an Airbus 330-300 which actually has a seat pitch that almost fits humans.  According to SeatGuru.com the pitch and recline on the 737-MAX Hate is 30” with a 3” recline, while the A330-300 is 31” pitch and 4” recline.  Trust us, that one inch in pitch and recline makes all the difference in the world. We could actually sleep on the plane home, so we did. Meal?  There was some chicken thing that ate like food.

We disembarked in Toronto and had to hot foot it through Customs to catch our flight to Montreal. The Montreal flight was uneventful, part of the usual rotation and it landed successfully in Montreal.  Where the wheels fell off was in Baggage. Ten minutes, then twenty staring fitfully at the belt with about 100 other people. I approach the ‘Service” counter, tugging my forelock. The baggage guy gets on the radio “We’re missing a can from that Toronto flight, where the hell it is?” is the radioed question.  

The reply is unintelligible and I do make out “Tabernac!” but they assured us it won’t take long. Another 20 minutes and bags start falling out the belt. We grab ours and go in search for the Via Rail Shuttle Bus. Eventually, having been misdirected by a paramedic to the wrong level, we find the right place and nearing the last possible moment, the shuttle appears.  We’re going to be tight making our connection, even though the Dorval Via stop is not that far, getting into and out of the airport is never quick.

The Dorval Via waiting room is utilitarian, with employees hiding behind their desks for fear they make eye contact with customers.  We roll out to the actual platform and consult the signage as to where we should stand to come approximately near where our car is supposed to stop.  A bright light in the distance, ostensibly down the rail line gets bigger and bigger, then becomes a train that grinds to a halt. Boarding commences and we settle into our seats for the last leg, a last beer and avoid the food offerings.

The measure of a trip might include Planes, Trains and Automobiles and we exceed that measure. Planes, Trains, Automobiles, Ferries, Narrowboat and Bus, not to mention Walking.  We did miss Funicular, Cog Railway, Hot Air Balloon, Street Car, Sedan Chair, Horseback, Rickshaw, TukTuk, Scooter, Jeepney and Zip Line, but we can live with that.

 

The 737 Max-8

Boeing’s much vaunted 737-800 Max is a delightful aircraft.  Air Canada touts it as the most efficient, most comfortable, most delightful, yadda, yadda, yadda.  We’re certain the airlines love it, because it’s good on gas, the major expense for airlines.

We were on one for our flight to Dublin, out of Montreal and discovered something Air Canada doesn’t mention in the brochures:  You must be only 5’ 8” and a max of 120 pounds to actually fit on the damn aircraft. Anything larger or taller and you don’t fit.  Scrim is 6’ 2” and I’m a 6-footer, which means our thigh bones are more than 30 inches long. The seat pitch on the aircraft? 30 inches.  Exactly long enough to wedge your legs into place and cut off the circulation on a ten minute flight. For a five and half hour flight you are risking permanent paralysis, pulverized kneecaps and/or the lower four vertebrae in your back compressing up into your kidneys to make room for your skeleton.

You try using the lavatory with two vertebrae pressing a kidney up into your liver.

Seat width is 18”  Scrim width is 24” For the math-impaired that is 6 inches less than is required for Scrim-width.  Fortunately there were only two of us in a row of 3. Had there been one other person seated in the row, there could have been charges of adultery brought.

Seat recline?  It does. About as much as an old-school Voyageur Colonial Intercity Bus, which is exactly not enough to either be comfortable, or bolt-upright.  Just enough to strain your neck and cause you to wriggle around to find that extra 1/8” recline that would actually feel acceptable. But you can’t wriggle around because your thighs are locked into place and you can’t feel your feet anymore.

The party line is the passengers love it because the screen on the in-flight entertainment is so big, the aircraft smells new and it has a ceiling like a 787 Dreamliner.  If we’re playing “mine’s bigger” sure, the screen is big. Yes, the aircraft smells newish. Ceiling like a Dreamliner? Who gives a dancing damn as long as it doesn’t have a ceiling like my parent’s recreation room from 1971 and the ceiling keeps the pressure in the cabin at flight level 34.  We don’t want to be trying to suck air through the combination aquarium hose and empty margarine container that is supposed to drop down in front of your face.

We checked with those who are truly in the know, crew.  The general consensus is the aircraft was not designed by anyone with any flight attendant experience.  You get a counter about big enough to set down one (not two or more) boxes of in flight service orange juice.  There isn’t enough room for cabin crew to sit and the lavatories (two at the back) are exactly wide enough for nobody.  Much like the Concorde, you decide if it’s a standing or sitting performance and move into the lav pointing the right way.  You can’t change your mind once the door is locked.

There are benefits to the aircraft.  The Thwates seat-back entertainment unit has a remarkable air route display that you can shrink or change perspective on so you can see a cartoon icon of your flight going over Sodomy Bay in Newfoundland.  There are musical choices, movie choices and even an entire channel devoted to “Hinterland Who’s Who” documentaries from 1965 (“The loon is a native bird to Canada…”) but all this falls to the wayside because your entire body from the nipples down has been so compressed by the shitty seats that you can’t even tell if you’ve soiled yourself until you stand up.  Then you fall over because your knees are suffering from hypoxia.

Five hours later we descend into Dublin