Sunday, June 8, 2014

Ferrying our way to London

Kilronan breakfast
After the all-night flight and all-day romp around Dublin, I just couldn’t fall asleep – even at midnight Dublin time. I read a few chapters and began to doze, though infrequent street noise and a few late revelers stirred me. I knew I was in deep when the alarm rang at 6:45 am and I couldn’t rouse myself from whatever it was in my dream. But I knew we had precious little time until the taxi came in an hour and we were trying to squeeze in breakfast. I hadn’t realized the full Irish breakfast was cooked to order, so we settled on easier things and I indulged in some Irish oatmeal, a great start for a long day. We were served in the quaint dining room at the front of the inn: fresh flowers, lots of yellow, white and very European.
Stephen, ace Dublin cab driver
Stephen, our driver, was quite punctual and played tour guide as he dodged Friday morning traffic. His most popular route is the airport, so he made the most of this drive, regaling us with the time he drove a few jolly buddies to catch the boat for a soccer playoff in England. They were in such high spirits (literally) that Stephan decided to join them. Two days later, he called his wife, mustering the courage after a day in the pub, to inform her … the same guy who took her to NYC and proposed on top of the Rockefeller Center.
We loved that Dublin has no high rises, contributing to its ancient ambiance, and following the River Liffey toward the port. This drive is definitely not on the tourist map.
Club view of Irish ferry
We sailed into the Irish Ferries entrance, where our sail-rail tickets (49 euros each and a little less for those under 15) were waiting, deposited our heavier bags on the conveyor and joined the small crowd gathering. Upon admittance, we learned too late to grab seat and a table by the windows. They filled immediately, however, we secured a nice table and comfortable seats somewhere in the the middle and still with a view.
And then the crowds swelled. Friday morning and everyone was heading out. I opted not to pay extra for club level or a private cabin. The two-hour speed crossing on the Jonathan Swift seemed nice enough. Touring the Greek Islands in 2007, I learned that ferries can be a lot nicer than the rusted-out versions I’ve taken across Lake Champlain, to Canada’s Pelee Island and Vinylhaven in Maine. European versions are smaller cruise ships. This one included a bar, movie theater, game room, food service and duty-free shop. What more could you ask?
We arrived in Holyhead, Wales, 1 hour and 50 minutes later after a smooth crossing, were shuttled to a small building to collect luggage and pass through a simple customs checkpoint. The rail station waited on the other side. About a 15 minute wait for the Wales Arriva, one transfer and then we were aboard Virgin Rails. It was simple, except that no one’s luggage, save a paper bag, would fit overhead. I loved that a gaggle of 20-something woman boarded and, very quickly, uncorked a bottle of champagne into pink, plastic glasses to the cheers of the rest of the coach. They know how to travel in style. Very soon afterward, a conductor began placing “reserved” tickets all over the place. “We have 25 children boarding soon and they request to be together.”
Children, what did that mean, exactly? We’d sat through a crying babe on the overhaul flight and I wasn’t keen on doing that again for three hours.
English countryside, though it could be Welsh
Soon it was if Hogwarts students were boarding platform 9 ¾. It was such a tussle as they entered and stowed their bags. A well-toned woman about my age remarked, after forcing two bags into the narrow overheard racks, that teaching duties such as this were more than she imagined. I found the kids, especially the four boys beside me, charming. I discovered they were years 1 through 6 and the ones closes, ages 10 and 11. Perfect, I thought, exactly the ages of my Artsy Fartsy boys! We discussed their five days at the youth hostel, kind of like camp, the toys they purchased at the pier and joke shop and how much they missed home. They all had a variety of siblings waiting for them. I was very smitten with their magnet pals: troll-like skull-faces in neon colors with long hair that attached to their shorts or wherever they paced them without moving. Soon, they delved into a tough game of “Go Fish” with candy as the reward.  “How long do we have?” the slight boy across from me called. “The ride is an hour and five minutes,” his teacher responded. “So that would be an hour and five minutes.” Even my 13-year-old snickered.
They were such great energy; like talking to a handful of young Harry Potters. So polite. “Good-bye and have a nice trip,” about six of them echoed.
Aside from the adolescent entertainment, we had snacked on almonds, apples, cheese, water, celery and bread we picked up in Dublin. Later, I entered the snack car and picked up soft drink for the girls and a Grolsch to split with my husband.
Arriving at Euston
After the kids departed, another group of 20-somethings embarked and chatted the entire way into London. Apparently, they worked for a school district in business and HR and needed to debrief the entire next hour. I did not have the same patience for them as I had the middle schoolers. Go figure!
Aside from the company, the landscape – and reason for this trip – was gorgeous. Morphing from seagulls and coastline to lush farms and sheep, canals with wildy decorated boats and, suddenly, into London. We had arrived.

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