Wednesday, 21 August 2019

Not somewhere you would come twice

With thanks to Silversea for this cruise
The Breakwater here at Holyhead is, at 2.4km, the longest in Europe and was built between 1846 and 1873. There, I've saved you having to come here now. There really isn't much else to say about this quiet and ordinary little town, with its terraces of rendered houses, its high street full of charity shops, a Spa and the Post Office, and a variety of pubs, naturally. There's an ancient stone church and a Roman fort; and being a port it has some maritime history that I didn't explore - as well as a lighthouse out on the point that I would like to have visited but didn't have the energy (still sick).
I think the main reason we're here is because it's a gateway to things like the Snowdon railway (a train up to the top of a mountain) and Caernarfon with its castle, and people set off early today on those excursions - but we've been there, done that already. So it's a muted kind of day, grey and showery despite its still being officially summer, and a short one - we depart at 3pm, heading back south and east towards London again, a whole day's sail away.

Tuesday, 20 August 2019

Not so much of the fair city today, Dublin

With thanks to Silversea for this cruise
We woke to stacks of Maersk containers this morning, with big cranes trundling up and down sorting them - who invented the container? I do remember the dockers' strikes when they were first introduced, with all their content security, thus depriving the workers of their tips. They really came into their own in Christchurch, post-earthquakes, propping some things up and making a protective barrier for others.
But anyway - Dublin. We're back in the Republic, and this is my third time in the city, I think - so I've done the obvious things, which I enjoyed, back in the glory days when I had health, and energy. Today, with neither, I shuttled into the centre, and was deposited alongside Merrion Square where the Oscar Wilde statue reclines improbably on its rock. 

I plodded through the streets, looking guiltily away as I passed numerous art galleries and museums no doubt full of treasures and interesting stories. There were flower-bedecked pubs, high-end and individual shops, buskers and a bloody-nosed man conversing cheerfully with some bemused policemen as passers-by eavesdropped. I fetched up at the rather lovely wrought-iron elegance of St Stephens Green shopping centre, where I bought paracetamol and decided I didn't feel strong enough to cope with the full-on banter of a HoHo bus commentary. For the same reason, I gave up on the idea of taking a train to the picturesque fishing village of Skerries, which I was sorry about.
So, getting lost innumerable times, literally walking in circles, coughing, sneezing and feeling so, so tired, I eventually found my way back to the shuttle stop, impeccably timing my arrival for the lunchtime break, so I sat there in the rain on some stone steps under my umbrella for over an hour, wishing many things were different.
Not that I was on a different ship, however. Crown Princess was moored nearby and veritably loomed over everything. It was immense - 3,000 passengers - and made little Silver Wind (294 pax) look like a dinghy. A friendly, personable and caring little dinghy.

Saturday, 17 August 2019

Doing Derry

With thanks to Silversea for this cruise
This morning we slid into Derry/Londonderry (our enrichment lecturer insists people also call it Stroke City as a nod towards trying to reconcile those on opposite sides of the Ulster-Eire political divide).

Still struggling with what I am sure now must be the flu, since it is exponentially worse than a simple cold, I took the shuttle into town from our mooring here at an oil tanker jetty - our proper berth won't be available till tomorrow, which is when we were meant to arrive, before the weather hurried us up.
I didn't/couldn't do much - I walked around the four centuries-old city wall, uniquely in the UK still intact, and got good long views over the surrounding countryside and the rows of neat terraced housing outside the walls. Inside there was a cathedral, a church, lots of stately buildings, a war memorial and the commercial centre, none of which I got to.
I did have a look inside the grand Guildhall, walked out onto the Peace Bridge, and found the fairly new Derry Girls mural, which is beautifully done. That's a TV series that it's really worth trying to find: a comedy about teenagers, against the background of the Troubles. Very funny, with a dark thread.
But most of Derry's richness and long and eventful history passed me by today, because everything has been such a struggle. We'll still be here again tomorrow, though, so I hope to get a bit more of a handle on it.

Friday, 16 August 2019

Sigh. Also cough, sneeze, groan, ache and otherwise suffer

With thanks to Silversea for this cruise
I don't know how they measure waves. How do they decide where the bottom is? Anyway, though these ones don't look especially dramatic, they're big and bouncy enough to have prevented us from visiting Galway today, so that city's delights will also remain a closed book to me.

We're scurrying ahead of the weather to Londonderry, so it's an at-sea day during which various extra entertainments have been put on for us, none of which we're taking advantage of because - did I mention we're sick? Still sick. It's horrible, and no fun at all, and we both wish we were at home. Not Silversea's fault, but disappointing none the less.

We're not even going to distract ourselves today with Trivial Pursuit, since all the fun and satisfaction have gone out of that, too. Our as-per-usual randomly-assembled team this time has meant we've dipped out. The others are enthusiastic, noisy, energetic, but... let's just say we have yet to discover their fields of expertise.

So, we're just grimly clinging on, waiting for it all to be over. But there's a whole week yet to go, sigh.

Thursday, 15 August 2019

Teeth and Troubles

With thanks to Silversea for this cruise
Today's port was Bantry, on the southwest coast of Ireland. It's a little town on the edge of a big, deep harbour and, like everywhere in Europe, has seen plenty of action in the past. I took a free guided tour with Teddy, who has lived here for all of his 68 years, and he did his best to summarise the history - but his introduction still took half an hour before we started the actual walk.

The real action in Bantry started happening when the rich English arrived to exploit the pilchard fisheries for their oil, until they eventually petered out - funny, that. There was an abortive attempt by the strikingly-named Wolfe Tone to evict the English from Ireland with the help of the French, just one of a series of events through the centuries to achieve that end, as we all know. There was another sort of oil boom, with a crude oil depot on nearby Whiddy Island, until a tanker exploded. And now there's tourism, with increasing numbers of cruise ships calling - 14 this year. Oh, and mussel farming, using equipment supplied by a NZ company.
We wandered along the narrow and surprisingly busy streets, with Teddy getting greetings and banter from almost every local who passed by. He talked about the history, the churches and courthouse, the pubs and the pound - but, most fun, about his own youth here when, pre-pumpkin (!) they would carve out turnips at Halloween and put them on the wall beside a derelict church, howling from behind it to scare passers-by. And about how the weekly town visits of the dentist were eagerly awaited by the school kids, who would get the whole of Friday off after an extraction. Teddy reckoned that was a fair price to pay, even with a healthy tooth: "We hated school". Not surprisingly - he was once punished "for being a bit of a messer" by being told to stand on his own hands for 20 minutes. He's still bitter about that.
Then I went around the harbour to visit Bantry House, a lived-in stately home with a lovely garden, excellent views over the bay, and some pretty impressive furnishings inside its grand rooms - though the labels were printed too small for me to read these days, which was kind of a release, I admit. 
Then it was back to the ship, anchored in the middle of the bay and looking sparkling white and glamorous, to gird my loins for the predicted 6m swells ahead of us, that will cut short our stay in Galway tomorrow. And Trivial Pursuit was a disgrace today: we scored half marks and came bottom. My contribution was triumphantly remembering Lake Baikal as the world's biggest lake and forgetting that's by volume, not surface area (Lake Superior). Tch.

Wednesday, 14 August 2019

Plodding round Cork

With thanks to Silversea for this cruise

It turned out to be a fairly bouncy crossing of the Irish Sea last night, and I was glad to have my head down. In the morning, we opened the curtains to the uninspiring sight of a pile of Maersk containers under a grey sky - in a bit of a turn-around from the usual state of affairs, Silver Wind is too small to be allowed to moor at the port of Cobh (pronounced Cove), which is only interested in the big ships with lots of money on board. (And where I went in 2011.) So we're stuck in industrial Ringaskiddy, about a 40 minute drive from Cork.

Despite being still sick, full of aches and pains and with no energy whatsoever - probably not helped by eating only a banana all day - I took the shuttle into Cork to do a dutiful walk around. I was impressed by the neatness of the countryside, suburbs and town, which looked prosperous, but the very first encounter I had was on the street with a forceful young man (admittedly pretty skinny) begging for money to buy something to eat "because Oim stearving, stearving!" I watched him for a bit after shaking him off - he was focused on women of a certain age. I couldn't decide if that was because he thought we looked kind, or gullible. Too bad for him I'm neither.

The centre of Cork is on an island in the middle of the River Lee, which is just as well, as it limits your scope for getting lost - because it has a confusing layout and I couldn't get my head round it at all. Still, I found the famous English Market, which is a hall filled with the usual offerings of food, raw and processed, including an impressive range of local cheeses. Then I just wandered, helped not at all by the useless map we were given on the ship. Shops, churches, cathedral, statues, people, traffic, wide avenues and narrow lanes... I thought of going to the butter museum because, well, butter museum, but ran out of energy and headed back to the ship for yet another nap.

We were down on numbers for Trivial Pursuit and the OH carried the day today (Anne Boleyn, 1940, eardrum). I was mostly just the scribe, though I did manage to get Mercury wrong, which was shaming. We came third again.

And tonight I had room service because I simply couldn't face tidying up and going through all the performance of a restaurant dinner. Instead I stood on the veranda and watched as Cobh slid past with its impressive cathedral and stacks of terraced houses. People lined the docks waving and cheering, and it must have been very like when the Titanic departed from there, its last ever port. Fortunately, we're not tackling an Atlantic crossing - just popping along the coast to Bantry.

Tuesday, 13 August 2019

Cream and steam

With thanks to Silversea for this cruise
We woke to Fowey (pronounced Foy) this morning - a little Cornish fishing port that's now more dominated by its marina full of private yachts, and once saw many, many departures including transports to Australia, and forces to the D-Day landings. It's pretty, lots of pastel-painted plastered houses lining narrow lanes where cars look totally out of place and have to be very patient about pedestrians, who rule. 
First we went to do a steam train excursion, on the Bodmin and Wenford Railway. The drive there was pretty, through the summer countryside, and the trip on the train was pleasant, if unremarkable - about 20 minutes along the tracks, and then back again. I think you'd have to be a real steam enthusiast to get excited about that. I did enjoy though that we were in the First Class carriage, with comfortable old armchairs and little lamps, and, best of all, a cream tea laid out waiting - which I was ready for, not having had breakfast (I'm sick!)
Our guide, Peter, was emphatic that the correct technique is to put the jam on first, and then the clotted cream - which is what I've always done, but there is an equally fervid school of thought that it's the other way around. Anyway, it was very welcome, with a cup of tea.
I had a wander around Fowey when we got back, astonished by the sheer numbers of domestic tourists clogging the streets, and also by all their dogs - truly, so many shiny pampered pooches, it was lovely to see. I enjoyed poking round the little lanes and alleyways on the steep hillside, and marvelling at all the souvenir shops - and bakeries - and looking at the variety of boats out in the harbour.
Then it was back to the ship for a nap before Trivial Pursuit, where my team was pleased to have me on board (O neg, Drake Passage, gorilla, ballistics, Fiji) though we got K2 wrong (it's in Pakistan). We came third today.

Later, we glided away under a grey sky, along a mercifully calm sea, heading for Ireland. Apparently, there was a solid border of waving people along the harbour wall in Fowey as the ship drew away, but I was in our suite on the other side and saw only a few observers standing on the rocks below Polruan, on the opposite shore - but they waved too. Dinner was shared with two New Jersey bridge masters and an Australian actor/voiceover artist/playwright who fell satisfyingly instantly into my trap when I mentioned Adelaide and convicts in the same breath.


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