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.


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.


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.