April 29, 2006
28/04/2006 - Ahh the Irish. Once described as the Jews of Western Europe. They're a happy bunch in Dublin, which, from my limited exposure, appears to be a drinking town; or is it just because my hotel is right in the University area.
I landed in Dublin about 3pm ysterday afternoon and got a cab straight to my hotel - the Grafton Guest House. It's a simple and reasonably cheap B&B/Hotel, very close to Trinity College. Up and down the nearby streets are dozens of cafe's, bars, clothing stores etc etc, it feels like an Irish Brunswick St.
After checking in and settling into my room I spent a couple of hours walking the nearby streets and getting oriented. I found the place I'm hiring the car from, located the front of the university and dodged business people and uni students rushing about at peek hour. On my cab driver's advice I went into 'The Bank', which not surprisingly is an old bank converted into a bar/restaurant. I propped up at the bar and ordered a pint of Guinness and Sausages and Mash - my first meal may as well be 'authentic'.
The next morning I went in for my complimentary 'full Irish' breakfast (which appears to be no different from a 'full English' breakfast), and then set out for the morning. Part of my job today, other than seeing stuff, is to find a hotel room for my last night in Ireland. I have a flight leaving at 6:40am on the 7th back to London and then onto Turkey. My problem is that I have to be at Dublin airport at around 4 or 5am in order to checkin. My choices appear to be:
1. Sleep in hire car at airport.
2. Get a hotel in Dublin or at the airport for that last night.
3. Get a hotel outside Dublin and drive in, early morning.
I like option 2 the best, with option 1 being a last resort. So, on my way to see the Book of Kells i've checked out about 6 or 7 hotels (including the one im in) and they are all full on the night of the 6th. At the last one I tried, the French girl behind reception explained to me that there was a Bruce Springsteen concert on that weekend, and that this may be the reason for my trouble. Well, frankly, I'd thought this would be a reason for Dublin to be virtually empty that evening, but apparently The Boss is big here. Go figure.
Luckily I located a hotel just near the airport for that night; its expensive, but i'm desperate and I can cancel if I find something cheaper. So my plan will be to arrive back in Dublin on the 6th May, drop the car off at the airport, then get a cab to my hotel for the night and catch the hotel's shuttle back to the airport at about 4:30am. Phew.
Handy tip, always check the times on your flight bookings.
My uncle and aunt are impressive people. My uncle, in contrast to my father, took a very non academic approach to his education. He joined the merchant navy for about 4 or 5 years, then endured national service in the air force. Eventually he ended up founding a company called Jonesco that creates mudguards for trucks. This company now has offices in at least Germany and France and exports to many more countries.
My uncle has since semi-retired and has handed over the majority of his duties to his two sons Henry and Andrew, my cousins. They also have a sister, Kate. What I was looking forward too most by visiting Preston was the important personal contact that being here has. No longer am I some anonymous twig on their family tree, but now I have a face and conversations and humour and shared experiences. Apart from touching base with my immediate uncle, aunt and cousins, it was really good to finally meet all my second cousins. Andrew, Henry and Kate have been busy having lots and lots of kids. So today I was able to meet Ben, Becky, Sophie, Gregory, Alex and Alistair, who varied in age from 8 to 16. We all went out for dinner at a local Italian restaurant. To be honest I was quite nervous, meeting all these new people at once. But it was fine, they were all such good humoured and easy going people that I needn't have been concerned.
So thanks to all of you for making me feel so welcome, I'm only sorry I wasn't hanging around for longer. And Gregory, just give me the word and Ashes tickets in the Pavillion at the MCG are yours.
April 27, 2006
Onwards, to Preston
25/04/2006 - For some reason I can't really sleep in anymore. I'm pretty much awake at 5am, and my body clock is completely out of whack. Today was no exception and I arose at 6am, watched some TV, checked the internet (hotel has wireless throughout bless them), and read for a bit.
Anyway, today is my last day in London and my plan is to hire a car and drive to my uncle and aunts house in Preston, Lancashire (north of Manchester). Its about a 3 or 4 hour drive and one i've done before. I think driving is a bit exhorbitant, but it is a more forced way of noticing things and the opportunity to stop here and there is great.
I had to pick up my car in Shorditch at 11am and hotel checkout could happen as late as 11am as well, so I had some time to kill. I walked just down the road and had some very nice toasted baguette with jam and coffee for breakfast (3.50 instead of the hotel's 11.00 for a continental breakfast). I then went back to my room and packed, called Dad for his birthday and called my aunt to confirm the time i'd be arriving etc. I checked out around 10am and set off for Shoreditch with a very heavy pack. I was determined not to get a cab; by now I had more confidence in the tube, the task of getting to Liverpool St didnt seem so scary.
After some walking from the station I eventually arrived at a very nondescript Arthur Daly looking door on a busy road, with only a small sign alluding to the fact that this was Thrifty Car Rental's offices in this godforsaken corner of London. I'd expected more to be honest. Things only got worse. Whilst going through the paperwork with the girl at the counter I casually (and almost rhetorically) asked if dropping the car at Manchester Airport would be ok. She replied "oh no, of course not, we dont do one way rental". Fuck.
I explained that I was flying out of Manchester in two days time so one way rental was in fact my only viable option. After some ringing around other Thrifty (or 'Frifty' as the girl pronounced it) offices it was established that none of them did one way rental either. By now the Thrifty office in which I was standing had 3 other Thrifty staff in it, all discussing what I could do: "YOu need a big car rental place mate, give National a shot", "Get a train" etc etc. Actually by this time the train option sounded pretty good.
My new friends and I decided that a train to Preston was a good idea and they started giving me hints on how to buy my ticket without waiting around: "Go to Liverpool St station and get your ticket from the last booth in the ticket area, then tube it to Euston for your train, no queues that way".
He was right, this is exactly what I did. Within 30 minutes I was at Euston station with a 60 pound ticket in my hand waiting for my 12:46 train to Preston. I'll give credit where it's due - from what I saw, the British Rail Service (operated by Virgin no less) was incredibly efficient. I jumped on a 'Quiet Zone' carriage and found a window seat with another spare seat beside me for my bag. Two and half hours later I was pulling into Preston station, relaxed and refreshed. I approached my uncle who was waiting on the station and shook his hand.
London - Part Deux
24/04/2006 - Today was my chance to actually do something in London after a good nights sleep and without the need to rush off somewhere. So I arose early'ish (8am) and headed out to see some carefully selected sights. I should mention that i've been to London a few times before so i've seen the usual postcard sites. I really wanted to see the things I've missed in previous trips.
So, first up - Harrods Food Court. Believe it or not, finding Harrods was hard. I got off at Knightsbridge but I must have taken the wrong exit from the station as I found myself walking through streets of embassy's rather than ailes of cured meats. After missing the boat entirely and ending up at Hyde Park Corner, a kindly fellow tourist shared her map with me and it all became clear - I was a moron.
So I found Harrods eventually and located the truly awesome food court. Apparently celebrities like Kate Moss etc do their grocery shopping here. At the back of the food court I found a section packed with punters - probably as it was the only place they could afford - Krispy Kreme Donuts. Now, I do have a weakness for KK (and was horrified recently to hear that KK has been downsizing in face of lesser profits of late); so two glazed KK donuts later im sugar'ed up and ready to move onto my next destination - the 20th Anniversay Pixar Animation Exhibition; and yes I did know this was on before I came to London, so I knew to go searching for it. As it turns out it is held at the Science Mueseum which is less than a mile from my hotel in South Kensington.
9 pounds later and I'm in. Interestingly there were signs everywhere proclamining that absolutely no bags were allowed inside the exhibition; but I was told that my handbag sized camera case was fine. Apprently explosives are larger.
Anyway the exhibition was part 'historic' early conception drawings of characters from all the pixar films; part 'promotional' stuff showcasing the animation and considerable development talents of their staff and part 'art' show. But besides all that, it was small; and for 9 / 0.43 = $20.93 i wanted more. I felt so ripped off I even resisted buying the very cool Mr Incredible t-shirt from the gift shop strategically placed at the end of the exhibition. Such is life.
It was now mid morning and the guaranteed positive payback of free entry to the Imperial War Museum called. That is of course before 300 bored London teenagers on school excursions decided that this was also a good idea. I dont know what I looked like to them, but I guess they think I was pretty weird, intently reading almost every factoid in the place. I think they were more interested in finding small isolated areas within the museum away from their teachers. I found one group chatting in the 'trench experience' exhibit. I always find it intimidating hearing teenagers speak with an accent, especially American and British accents; I dont know why, too much TV i guess.
Eventually tiring of the museum I headed off to Buckingham Palace, along with 2 billion other tourists. This was really a "tick, seen that" visit - I was slightly interested to see the guards out the front, but was amused to find them as little more than boys carrying rifles that looked like they outweighed them considerably. It was then that I decided I was really tired; this looked like a good opportunity to get some sleep before dinner tonight with friends.
Later on we found dinner at a slighly funky restaurant called 'Hush'. The 'Hush' thing even extended to b-list celebrities having their photo's on the wall with their finger over their lips in a "shh" expression. Get it? Food was good but expensive and true to form I started to crash at about 10pm. My friends had an unprepared presentation at 8am the next morning so they were happy to move on fairly quickly. I collapsed into bed at 11pm.
April 24, 2006
When I was 16 my father took me on a european trip, which of course included London. One of my lasting memories of that trip was the taxi ride from Heathrow to our hotel in central London. I remember peering out the window at miles and miles of relentless english drab. There was a thick grey cover of cloud, combined with the latitude of the place which made it look like dusk at 3pm in the afternoon. Added to this was the drizzle, further greying out the colour of buildings, and sending the masses of concrete to a deeper shade of grey. I must have looked like the landscape, because my father kept reasuring me that it would get better. And of course it did.
Upon landing today the captain had rather embarrasingly annouced that London was 16c and wet. In my cab ride to my hotel, London had once again put on its 'wet-concrete-nightmare' welcome for me.
I arrived at the hotel (expensive, boutique, small room, South Kensington) at around 3pm and crashed for a bit in front of the TV. A shower helped me feel human again. I had people to meet at 7pm for dinner, but I knew if I fell asleep, it would be the end of me for about 14 hours.
I left a little early for dinner (still raining) knowing that re-familiarization with the Tube would take some time. But I'm happy to report I dealt with a rather complicated circle to district line crossing in light of some rail works at another station. After arriving at Bank station and making my way to a glorious hotel called 'Threadneedles' we had a nice glass of wine at the hotel bar and set off for Covent Garden for dinner. It was Sunday so our choices were limited, but we found a rather good and mercifully cheap Italian place anyway that was completely packed with Italians (always a good sign, unless their related to the owner).
After dinner I made my way (still raining) back to my hotel and collapsed into bed.
April 21, 2006
And so it begins..
Well, i've finished work, my bags arn't packed, I havn't said goodbye to all my friends and relatives yet. But this time tommorow I'll be on the way to the airport.
A friend at work, Aiden Rogers, an Irishman, has tweeked my interest enough to potentially change my Irish leg to incorporate the north, rather than the south. Unfortunately he and his wife had to go back to Belfast for family reasons and we failed to make up a new schedule for me. I've mailed him in the hope that he will be able to contact me in London or Dublin and we can get it sorted. But, no matter, I'll just embark on the southern route should we miss eachother.