Did you know that you can take a multi-hour walking tour of Belfast with a formerly-imprisoned member of the Irish Republican Army (IRA)? I did not have time, but the mention on our bus tour piqued my interest. I will be waiting patiently for some advance cash to make the trek back (whenever you editors are ready).
*~Budget flights, what? I miss out on my landscape-appraising, people-gazing and hell-raising. This is a journey from Belfast to Dublin to Hollyhead to London to another part of London to Bilbao by way of train, ferry, Londerground, metro express, plane and bus, my friends. The time span: get out of Belfast bed, 8 a.m. Wednesday; place my wearied travel bones between Bilbao sheets, 10 p.m. Thursday.~*
With an obligatory hangover from celebrating our last night in Ireland, we reloaded our packs. One of my straps broke, and in my retarded half-drunk stupor, I felt like sitting down and crying. Ashley tied the ineffectual bastard to some other ineffectual strapping, saving the day and our trip in general. I suppose I learned my lesson about $30 ebay backpacks and heavy drinking before big travel days. *
We decided to walk to the train station from the city center so as to scrape up some pence for stale bread crusts. Faulty directions, brogue misunderstandings, drink invitations and cotton brains all slowed our progress. Once onboard, however, I toothpicked my eyes open and found that when you’re not completely passed out for the train trip down to Dublin, you notice that it is beautiful: gliding through inviting fishing towns by green cliff tops overlooking stormy Irish bays. Next time I am renting a car and exploring this island from nape to nuts, wrong side of the road driving be damned.*
In Dublin: conflicting directions, road construction and keg dredge brains made our walk from Connolly train station to the ferry port stretch to a nigh-two-hour backpack endurance test in drizzly rain. It is a damn long walk, but we got to see a coal plant, a lot of industrial and seaport-typical business and, most importantly, the scruffy lads that work in them. For two Alaska cannery girls, the shipping district is not to be missed; for the rest of yous, take a cab to the ferry.
More hours of waiting in uncomfortable seats, and we were back on the ship. I don’t know if I have properly expressed my adoration for ferries (this one in particular), but they are a budget traveler’s cruise ship.*
Once settled, we each got a plate of chips (fries; not crisps) from the cafeteria and settled into our dimly-lit bench seating nest. This is fine time to note that somewhere in the revolting and breaking from the British motherland, the U.S.A. and the U.K. hit a grave condiment disconnect.
+Ranch dressing (my veins flow white and peppercorn-flecked) seems to be uniquely American, and this is arguably the reason for at least half of the greencard applications to the U.S.
+Mayoshuddernaise. Though I have found the Spanish to be more overt and diversified with their mayo lust, the Brits use it more to ruin existing and previously-tasty condiments.
+Ketchup in the U.K. jiggles like Jell-O and is sugary sweet enough to come in lollipop form. This is irrelevant because…
+Brown Sauce is the preferred chip drencher. I don’t really get it, but my gut says Worcestershire, mayo and vinegar.
+Vinegar. I can deal with this, and while I was on my 100% chip diet (balances the budget for maximum pint consumption), salt and vinegar were the least gelatinous choices of chip garnish. <Author Recommended>
+Mustard. My second-favo(u)rite condiment (slightly less worshiped than the holy altar of Hidden Valley Ranch). The English do this shit up right. The default mustard is ofttimes some horseradish deal that will coax more snot drip out of your nose than a bagful o’ wasabi peas. Delicious. <Author Exalted>
Anyhoozle…ferried to Hollyhead, we waited some more and train slept to London, interrupted only by a drama in which a beautiful young woman, born in Belarus and passport from Israel, didn’t have her ticket when the ticket man came around. Precious little English, no credit cards and only Euros for cash, she couldn’t pay the 80-some pounds of the one way train ticket from Hollyhead to London. Purchased in advance, our “Rail and Sail” (train/ferry combo) tickets cost 50-some pounds…round trip. She was pretty much fucked, but some kind dude shelled out. She gave him all her Euro cash, but he still lost out on a chunk of money. She latched onto Ashley and I after our initial concern (which soon turned to a desperate need for sleep), borrowing our socket adapter and asking all sorts of train change/London questions. When we finally arrived in Euston station in London, she beseeched us into helping with a payphone call (with our pounds) after which, we were fiiiinally rid of our leechy little friend. Sleep deprivation makes me much less altruistic than usual.
It was then time for morning commute, so we zombied out drinking terrible and grossly overpriced (I admit, Burger King) coffee and waiting for a time when maneuvering with a backpack would be even fathomable on the Londie Undie (or Underground). We collaborated brains, researching station maps and sifting through the mass of zones and ticket options before we bought our limited day passes for 8 pounds or so. At our station change for the Stansted-bound train, they let us know the other map was a trick, and we had to spend another 12 pounds (one way) on the Stansted Express train. Awesome. About $40 USDollars to get across one town on public transit. I love London.
We arrived many hours early for our flight so cowered back in some bench seating at a restaurant, trying to look upright (and lapsing into upright sleeping spells) in front of our restaurant-logo tea cups, hoping to avoid any watchful eyes that would kick us out for post-drink loitering. A few tables over, a rotund woman with thick makeup and heavy jewelry heaped praise on a straight-backed and attentive waiter boy. She asked to talk to all levels of management (and may have finagled a phone call to the owner). The poor kid began to avoid our section.
Finally in the gates, I slept and slept until we boarded. Our flight on EasyJet was respectable. No surprise fees; a very helpful seatback magazine; comfortable seats and competent workers. In Bilbao, one bus (and some very confusing Basque helper grandparents) took us from the airport to the Termibus station where we could catch the Metro. As a superhero traveling team, Ashley and I combine to form a deft public transit-navigating pack-mule. We are very good.
[The mighty conquistadoras pose for a quick snapshot, having recently defeated the evil Bilbao Metro.]
Once outside our final stop, however, the rain began to sheet all over us. And by the time we hauled our fatigued and sopping frames over the doorstep of Hostal Don Claudio, with the very friendly directional help of some locals, there was little left to do but fall on our beds, back-heavy, with limbs flailing like dying bugs.
In the spirit of Easter, the next installment of travel truffles will speak of backpackers’ resurrection, possible with just one night of bed rest and one bottle of dirt-cheap Spanish wine.
Join me next time, won’t you?
*I’m still perfecting the second half.
*Perhaps members of my law-inclined posse can guide me on the living will process…
*Expect an in-depth ferry propaganda blog soon.