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UK 2012: The Scenic Route

I lived in London from September 2007 to April 2008. I could spend many words on what a great city it is (and I have), but one of its features which I never really took much advantage of was its convenience as a hub to the rest of Europe. Living in the US, any trip to Ireland, or France, or Spain (and more) is a massive undertaking of both logistics and funds. When you're already in Europe, however? It's a heck of a lot simpler, and massively less expensive. I seem to recall that when I visited Dublin in 2007, the round trip from London was about seventeen pounds. So, like $30.

The attendant problem, however, was twofold. Partly was the fact that actually living somewhere - as opposed to just visiting for a couple of weeks - tends to dilute one's sense of urgency with regards to visiting the sites a place has to offer. (Hence why I didn't get around to visiting Greenwich Park until my last month in London - and then ended up, through pure chance, getting back there twice more before I left.) Similarly, I meant to visit more out-of-London and out-of-Britain places during my stay, but - aside from a few days in Dublin, a few days in Rome, and day trips to Canterbury and Cambridge - I never got out of the city during my 7.5 months there.

But that was partly due to the other problem: Namely, that I loved living in London, and adored the city like none other, and if I were to take a couple weeks off to go somewhere else...? Well, that's a couple of weeks I wasn't living in the city of my heart. In other words, this wasn't exactly a problem, per se, or else it's the good kind of "problem" to have. But I did realize after I'd left its shores that it did mean, for instance, I'd never really gotten to experience much of the famed English countryside.

So in making my 2012 travel plans, I aimed to resolve that oversight. After my two days visiting Cork with my dad and his friend, I would not hop a flight directly back to Heathrow - as would have been simplest, and obvious - but would rather take the most meandering scenic route I could possibly imagine over the course of a couple days.

To wit:

After checking out Blarney Castle that morning, and meeting up with Dad & Steve again, I hopped a bus to Dublin. I'd massively dug Dublin when I visited in 2007 - and I figured, why not have another drive through the Irish countryside while I'm making my journey? Dublin is on the eastern coast of the island, with Cork on the southern coast, so it took a number of hours. Europe once again blew my mind by offering Wi-Fi on the friggin' bus, and the scenery through the window was in fact gorgeous.

I think the journey took about 5 or 6 hours, so I got to to Dublin in very late afternoon or early evening - where the weather was looking dark and grumbly. I had planned on hiking from the bus station to the bed & breakfast I'd booked for the night, but between the walk being longer than it had looked on the map, my bags being heavier than I'd taken into account, and me getting a bit turned around, it ended up taking much longer than expected. At which point the skies opened up and a torrential rain started pouring down. I and my luggage huddled for shelter in front of some official government building (closed on a Sunday, of course), until I gleaned a taxicab pull onto the street from down the block, and managed to flag him down.

Upon reaching the B&B (a tiny collection of rooms amidst a block-wide building), I checked in, went upstairs, and had some tea while I waited for the storm to finish itself off. By this time it was night, so I headed downstairs, wandered into downtown Dublin, and found myself again breathless with just how gorgeous everything, everbody, every place really was. I found a snazzy looking restaurant, went in, and splurged on a fancy dinner for myself. It was a wonderful evening - until I finished my meal, and instead of being able to order another drink and some dessert, was instead ignored by the waitress for the next 40 minutes. I eventually got fed up and went to the front to pay, then walked back to the B&B and composed a ranty email to the management. I was impressed to actually get a reply a couple of days later apologizing for the poor service, and offering me a €10 gift card to make up for it. Needless to say, I wasn't able to take them up on the offer!

In the morning, I got up around 6am, then took a taxi down to the docks - the driver who had picked me up the afternoon before had given me a promo card for some new taxi app called "Hailo" - and then proceeded to hop on a ferry crossing the Irish Sea. I had remembered discovering the existence of a ferry between Ireland and Britain when I'd been planning the 2007 Dublin trip, but had discarded it for the increased logistics it would require, as well as the increased cost. (I'd still had several thousand dollars of credit card debt when I'd moved to London in the first place, so every non-essential expense was scrutinized.) This time though? It was exactly what I was looking for!

And, man, that was great. And gorgeous. And a bit surreal. The ferry was kind of a massive ship; not quite the size of a cruise ship, but also not exactly out of the ballpark. (I seem to recall that this ferry also had the space to cart around large cargo, such as cars?) So I had the rather odd experience of being on this enormous boat, with fancy carpeted floors and gold railings and the like, with almost nobody else on board! Relatively, I mean; I'd estimate I saw probably a hundred other people or less. I hung out on the equally massive lounge area, with a bartender and kitchen staff, and ordered some lovely breakfast. I recollect about maybe forty other people spread out in clumps around the lounge, which would have been nice and serene and peaceful ... if a couple of families hadn't brought ten year old boys, who then spent much of the voyage running around the enormous space being loud and terrible and unsupervised. Which, I know: That's how ten year old boys are. That's how I was when I was a wee lad, zipping back and forth with too much energy, being obnoxious and annoying my elders. Except that now I was the elder, and was in turn suitably annoyed! And the wheel of life turns on.

A few hours later, the ferry docked in Holyhead, a port town in Anglesey - itself a tiny island off the northwest coast of Wales. And from there I immediately boarded a train line to London, first crossing the breadth of Wales before then traversing the length of Britain.  I could spend so much time in trying to describe the immensely beautiful countryside as we passed through it - but I hear pictures are worth a thousand of my words, so I really should get around to putting my travel photos online sometime.

Some six hours hours later, I disembarked at King's Cross Station, then took the Tube and the Overground to Leyton (near Walthamstow), on to a house in Brewster Road where I was staying for this trip. I arrived in early evening, a day and a half after I'd left my Dad & Steve in Cork, and nearly four days after my plane had first touched down on British shores. I met one of my several flatmates - a Jo Fowler, which sounded very EastEnders to me - then unpacked, walked down the street later that night for a curry, and began my 2012 London trip proper.

Funny thing: On Friday morning, having just arrived and waiting for the plane to take me to Cork, I got to talking to a couple of British locals in the airport (one a fellow male traveller, one a female aiport worker). Both of them inquired as to my continuing journey, and when I outlined my plan, they were each agog. "You're mad!" I recall the woman laughing. "You must be saving a lot of money, taking that roundabout a trip!" the man exclaimed. Actually no, I explained, this convoluted scenic route actually added up to a few hundred more than if I'd just hopped a quick flight back....



( 1 comment — Leave a comment )
Apr. 26th, 2015 03:37 am (UTC)
We found waitstaff in Ireland to be thoroughly inattentive. It appears that it wasn't mentioned in our "Culture Shock!" book, but somehow we knew to expect that we would have to be VERY proactive whenever we needed anything. There was a continuum, of course, but it was still pretty universally passive compared to here where servers are expected to look after patrons every few minutes. Even so, we found it hard to adjust to.
( 1 comment — Leave a comment )

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