“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

 

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

 

Food And Drink – Chippy

If one watches enough Coronation Street, you understand that a Chippy is the local Fish and Chip joint.  In Ellesmere on the return trip we decided to go truly local. Knowing the local Tesco would be open late after we moored up, we headed instead of to the Black Lion Hotel Pub, we went a few extra blocks to the local chippy, with a warm up stop at a local pub that did not serve food.  

A quick pint and a gab with a couple of locals “Ahh you’re Canadian then, we were worried you would be Yanks…” was not an uncommon comment that we heard more than once.  After our pints, we stepped next door for actual solid food.

What we call French Fries in Canada do not exist by that moniker in the UK:  Chips thanks and they have nothing to do with anything from McCain frozen, or from the Golden Arches drive-thru.  Chips start out as potatoes, cut into lengths then deep fried.

Since nowhere in England is more than 76 miles from the sea, fish is plentiful and almost always wonderfully fresh.  Again, battered then deep fried, a chippy trip is not for those without atorvastatin readily to hand. You can also get things like fried chicken or curry, but there had to be at least one meal of fish and chips from a real chippy.  With mushy peas, if only to keep to the stereotype.

Was it good?  Certainly it was.  We both ordered a small and the portion size would have fed a family of four, but the fish tasted like fish and the chips tasted like potatoes.  The mushy peas were the expected radioactive green and tasted somewhat like garden peas. A perfectly satisfying dinner after a day of hard work fighting the rain.

 

Tour the Lapland Bunting

This is more of a photographic tour of our boat, the Lapland Bunting, so you can appreciate the dimensions and location of the features. Yes, we are messy, no there is not a lot of storage space available.

The Pointy End, or as the more nautical call it, the Bow. There is a small well at the bow and there are two doors that lead to it from the forward berth

 

 

 

The Arse End, or the stern

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Moored up just below a lock at dusk.  Consider it a picture of the side

 

 

 

 

Engine, lights, horn and gauges at the stern in easy reach of the pilot

 

 

 

 

 

 

The little Isuzu diesel lump under the floor at the stern

 

 

 

 

 

Scrim at the tiller, the Isuzu lump and weed box are under his feet along with the engine batteries, blackwater tank and fuel tank

 

 

 

 

 

 

Entrance to the galley from the stern.  Wellies were important during the storm.  The shot of Scrim at the tiller was shot from the top step of the stairs to the stern

 

 

 

Reverse view into the diner area

 

 

 

 

 

We do insist on certain luxuries

 

 

 

 

 

The diner area that converts to Rob’s bed and the flip up and down seat that always provided Rob with amusement.  It was designed specifically to catch your kneecaps or arm with a spring-loaded latch much like a sofa-bed convertible circa 1958 before Health and Safety lawsuits

 

 

 

 

Diner area looking forward. The way forward makes you scuttle sideways like a crab and that piece of bloody trim almost always tried to rip off my right nipple

 

 

 

 

 

Head and lavatory.  There is a blackwater tank on the Lapland Bunting from the head only.  Greywater, meaning shower, galley sink or lavatory water goes out the side

 

 

 

 

 

Shower opposite the lav and head.  It is scaled to allow you to wash and rinse one ball at a time, but nothing else

 

 

 

 

 

 

Forward berth, technically a twin bed if you’re 9 years old

 

 

 

 

 

Reverse of the forward berth, the extra cushion is the second half of Rob’s bed in the diner.  Stowing it ‘correctly’ was a pain in the arse, so we just put it on top of the forward berth.    The doors lead out onto the smallish well on the bow.

 

 

And that’s the tour!

 

 

 

 

A Trip On A Real Rail Line

Our hotel in Holyhead was a masterpiece of adequacy.  Originally booked to enjoy a lovely view of the sea from the hotel, our 0100 (Zero Dark One) arrival in the depths of a cold, rainy night after very little sleep, precluded any possible sightseeing.  The view from the rooms was of a dark, wet night without lights.

The room was clean, warm, indoors and had a shower. Very kindly they allowed us a very late check-in, the capable clerk attempting to inveigle us into committing for the Full English Breakfast the next morning, was met by sleepy grunts from both of us.

Up and out the door by 0700, we taxied to the Holyhead Train Station under a sky leaden enough that it would have depressed Sylvia Plath on downers.  A convenience store awaited, offering coffee in various strengths, as well as our own free copy of The Sun  (Headline – “See Rita Ora’s Big Titties on Pg 3!”) because we had made a purchase. Rita’s pigmented areas were covered as The Sun is a Family Newspaper, but we did appreciate the first hand knowledge of her surgically augmented protuberances and did wonder if she could sleep face down without unduly straining her neck.

As train time approached, we felt obligated to find the actual train.  Virgin it said on the tickets, so we found a sleek, modern sliver Virgin train.  It was easy to find as it was the only train on any of the five tracks and it was pointed away from Holyhead. There was no conductor, or customer service yob as there would be on Via1 guarding the entrance to the car: You find the car number printed on the ticket, press the green button and get on the damn train.  Since we were a dozen minutes early, there was no one to say we could or could not enter, so we did and settled into the finely upholstered seating and leaned back.

Five minutes before departure a pleasant fellow asked for tickets and said that the car attendant would be by shortly to take our orders.  Spot on departure time, the train rolled.

Virgin Business Class is quite plush, with comfortable seats and tables, with room for your luggage.  You do have to mind your own gear, as there are no longer porters to attend to your possessions, but this is 2018 and there is a certain obligation to do some of your own work.

Food commenced shortly after we rolled out of Holyhead.  Choices were generous.  A Full English for Scrim and the first of several Bacon Sarnies for RoadDave.  A Full English, for those who are unfamiliar with the term is Eggs, Sausage, Bacon, Beans, Tomato, Mushrooms and Black Pudding.

A Bacon Sarnie, or as Virgin calls it, Bacon Roll, is no more complex than you might think: Fried bacon on a soft roll.  We were, this being the UK, offered Brown Sauce with our meals.  Brown Sauce is HP Sauce, that peculiar combination of tamarind, spices, vinegar and salt that seems to accompany every meal, at least as an offering.  There were more healthy offerings, a yogurt parfait, herbal teas and other comestibles of that ilk, but we were having none of it.  We did question the wisdom of HP Sauce with a yogurt and fruit parfait, but decided to let others investigate that culinary oddity on their own time.

Rail travel in the UK is different from Canada.  In Canada, Via does not own the tracks or the schedule.  CP and CN own the rails, ties, lights, signals, crossings, and most importantly the schedule.

CP and CN set their priorities on where the money is:  Freight.  Freight doesn’t care about a smooth ride, level crossings, or much else except get this 90 car load of double stack well-cars to where they’re going as fast as you can haul ass with the smallest possible crew, then do it again going the other way with oil cans, auto racks and hoppers of iron ore pulled by honkin’ fast ES44AC’s in notch 8.  Via trains are at the mercy of CN and CP when it comes to schedules, meaning get the hell out of the way of the freight trains.

The UK by contrast, sets the priority on passengers.  The lines are silky smooth, no jerking, rolling or pitching about for the passengers.  Speeds are routinely above 100 kph and we noticed almost exactly four level crossings in our journey and one twenty-car freight, parked off on a siding out of the way.

Two hours later, with only a few stops at intermediary places including one in Wales that seemed to be pronounced “Llanfairpzmrqzlmb” with the accent up at the end, we arrived in Crewe.

 

The Fun of the Irish Ferry

The original plan was to arrive in Dublin overnight, then have some lunch at a pub and show up at the Dublin docks for an Irish Ferry to Holyhead, on a ship called the Swift. As the saying goes, in order to make God laugh, make a plan.

The day we were leaving, we receive an email from Irish Ferries saying due to rough weather tomorrow, the Swift would not be sailing the afternoon of our arrival.  Our options, according to Irish Ferries were twofold: Take the late sailing on the Ulysses, or go fuck yourself. We chose the late sailing (2055 hrs) on the Ulysses. Irish Ferries, to their credit, did upgrade us from Club Class to a free room for the crossing.

The problem became evident when we showed up at the Dublin Dock terminal for Irish Ferries five hours before our sailing, the objective being a little lunch, perhaps a pint, maybe a snooze on a waiting room bench for a little bit with our luggage stowed safely around us.  This was the plan and it was a good one to kill five hours waiting for our ship.

For those of who don’t know, the Dublin Ferry Terminal is set up like a prefabricated air terminal for a city of 2500 people.  Everything is shiny and new, stainless steel and indestructible plastic designed to handle the wear and tear of thousands of ferry passengers every year for the next 75 years.  There are ticketing kiosks and clearance kiosks, with the requisite veal-pen straps to guide the hordes to the right counter at the right time in as seamless a process as can be designed by bureaucrats taking common-sense suppressants.  There are restrooms for the usual genders and levels of ability, clean and aseptic, untouched by vandals, or footy hooligans. The Men’s sported two Dyson hand driers that could blow a 747 off the runway and we suspect the Women’s is the same. Although we did have five hours to burn, we considered investigating the Women’s bathroom as not on.

You will notice that there is no note of foodservice or other creature comforts before the ticketing and clearance kiosks.

This means you are now trapped in an industrial wasteland on the docks, next to the Bitumen plant, across the road from the oil terminal and next to the transport truck ferry with its happy load of placarded hazardous cargo being kept away from any boat that also serves regular citizens.  There was a sign that said “Nowhere At All 2 kms” with the arrow pointing at the Dublin Ferry terminal.

There were staff.  Two as best we could see, one in a high-visibility vest with an impressive ring of keys and one lone damsel behind the Ticketing counter.  We asked if we could check in early for a ship. She bashed the computer for a moment and said “No. Preboarding does not commence until 7 pm”  Is there some place we could get a coffee? More keyboarding and suddenly she burst out, “There’s vending machines over there!” as if it was the first time she had been asked about any customer services.  We rolled out luggage ‘over there’ and discovered that unless you had Euro coinage, you were shit out of luck. The fine damsel could not make change.

The lack of coffee was not that bad, but what was hideous was the actual structure of the furniture.  Humans sitting tend to correspond to a few positions, mostly within a few degrees of each other.

The designer of the chairs and tables was given a specific remit:  Make the position of the back be exactly wrong. Make the seat precisely too small for an average arse.  Make the furniture out of artificial stainless steel, as the real stuff is too expensive, but we still have to be able to pressure-wash everything in the interests of Health and Safety.  Make sure that there is no possible way anyone can stretch out, even slightly, under any circumstances, by positioning he back support exactly where the Irish Chiropractic Association (Eire dir Achinback) says one should never put undue pressure.  Make everyone want to avoid actually using the seating under any circumstances.

This remit was fulfilled in every way.

By the third hour the ostensible Manager of the Terminal allowed us to pass unescorted up past security to the ‘restaurant’ on the second floor, handing over a dog-eared “Unescorted Visitor – Not for Ship Access” pass which allowed us to get a coffee and a bacon sandwich from the sole person on the second floor, complete with hair net and white ‘chef’s’ coat. She ably reheated the sandwich.  Rob had something to eat that was so exciting he has absolutely no recollection of what it might have been except that it wasn’t vegan.

An hour later we descended and awaited the opening of preboarding.  

Precisely ten minutes late the kiosk was opened for preboarding and we were duly cleared through to wait on the second floor.  The number of foot passengers crowding around was astonishing. There were six of us total, penned into more of the ghastly furniture, waiting for someone to come down from the ship and let us in.  About ten minutes before sailing, a ship person beckoned us to ramble through a labyrinth of ramps and stairs to the check-in desk. We will give Irish Ferries their due, as the service was quick and efficient: They live and die by commercial truck traffic and automobiles, so those who want a room get one promptly.  As did we, somewhere on deck 10, a twin bed with a shower and toilet that was clean and serviceable.

However we did require food and drink, which meant a hike back towards the center of the ship where the various food service options reside.  A quick reconnoiter and it was decided that beer was more important than food. Following beer, a quick pass through the Pizza Bistro confirmed that the Irish do not know what a pizza is.  The quick service restaurant at least offered sausage and chips, which were consumed with gusto. Then, back to the room for a couple of hours of blessed sleep, the first horizontal sleep since Montreal, more than 24 hours previous.  Were there astonishing views of the Irish Sea while we were underway? No, it was a dark and rainy night, rain lashing the windows. Plus, it was blacker than a well-diggers arse at midnight, so there was nothing to see, as the Irish Sea does not have streetlights.

Things improved on the Ferry.