“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.

 

Teeling in Dublin

For our second tasting we taxied across town to Teeling Distillery, the one that actually produces and distills in Dublin.  Yes aging is done outside Dublin, but the making of the product is done in town. Aging is expensive as it consists of hundreds of barrels sitting in warehouses doing nothing more than gathering flavours and tannins from the wood over extended periods of time.  

One can argue that the real magic of whiskey is in the aging and the place where the product is aged, the terroir, to go all wine-maker on you and there may be some truth in that. Jack Daniel’s tastes like water from their spring and the countryside around Lynchburg TN, where that particular product is aged.  Scottish Whiskey aficionados claim that Islay tastes like Islay, while those along the River Livet say the highlands flavour comes through. Wine snobs are certain they can tell if the vintner was left-handed or right-handed from various characteristics they claim to taste from a swig of ski-doo pack wine from Hamilton.  

We call bullshit across the board.  We test for three things in total. Our palates test for two;  1) Does it taste good? 2) Do I want some more? The third characteristic is more a physical reaction  3) Why are my ankles not working any more? (See point 2) A simple formula that has never led us astray in +20 years of skilled-professional/gifted-amateur level drinking.

The Teeling Distillery also has a long history as well, but has risen essentially from a closed distillery in the family, with inventory, to a fully working shop that triple-distills their products in pot stills.  Do watch the video on their website for a nice appreciation of their craft. The tour was ideal, the guide being well-schooled and knowledgeable about the process and the craft. Being in a working distillery, it’s noisy and hot but well worth the trip.  The tasting flight was different from Jameson’s, as all of Teeling product is pot-still made, the three stills being named after the daughters of the founding brothers.

Tasting notes: Does it taste good?  Hell yeah. Do I want more? Hell yeah.  Are my ankles still working? Yep, fine, as with any tasting flight, there isn’t enough actual product to cause ankle impairment. Between the two, Jameson’s and Teeling, which would I prefer?  The answer is yes.

 

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.