Archive for the 'travel' Category

Tales from the trains #3

[Notes from my rather epic journey to St Andrews a few weeks ago. It kept me amused]

And that was that.

We came we theologised, we left.

We had a poetry night, which is more awesome than it sounds.

I think I get poetry now. This is always been a personal bug-bear of mine; that I never really got it; that I never really got the significance of it as something more than mere transfer of information.

The key it seems is hearing it spoken. Perhaps in 10 different accents with some Ardbeg on the go.

I remembered some Seamus Heaney. Somewhere back in my memory it was there, unused and untouched but there all the same.

But the week ends as quickly as it begun

I’m at the beginning of my epic return, troy is conquered, I have a dangerous and mystical journey to get back… I’m sure I’ve heard that before…

I’m hoping southbound will be a bit smoother than northbound was: so far so good. I’m on the 1657 from haymarket to Birmingham. I have a whole table to myself. I have a flask full of coffee and a power suppply. Too bad the graphics card finally and conclusively died yesterday. Virgin trains give you free wi-fi? That’ll do nicely. Shame i’m confined to iPhone.

3 hrs of this. I’m a little buzzing with excitement at the prospect. God I love trains…

I have 3 hrs to hang around in Holyhead waiting for a ferry. You can imagine how much fun that will be.

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Tales from the trains #2

[Notes from my rather epic journey to St Andrews a few weeks ago. It kept me amused]

So yeah, I know this wasn’t the most efficient way to get to St Andrews, but it is a kind of transport, travelling adventure.

I spent an hour and half in holyhead train station this morning. What have you ever done?

I was shouted at by a toddler, I was cold and they sneakily stuck us on a train replacement service instead of a train. There were almost fisticuffs for the seats.

It was never made entirely clear that there was actually more than 1 bus coming for the 100 or so passengers. Hence the anxious panic.

Bus is no way to travel. At least for me. I get nauseous when I try to read so i’m limited to headphones and podcasts.

The woman in front of me has a mid-sized dog on her lap. i wonder where the term came from – mid-sized, it makes it sound like a VW Golf, it’s kind of mid-size. It’s a very nice dog, lies there quietly and I don’t notice it piss on the seat once.

After 90 mins on the bus we’re in Ryll. I remember being here on a BB camp a long, long time ago. I may have been 14. Imagine that, i was 14 once.

With an hour to kill I spend my time in a chip shop eating lovely fish, horrible chips and surpisingly appetising mushy peas.

There is a scrum back at the train station as the angry mob (my fellow passengers) attempt to storm the turnstiles, just as the passengers are leaving the train we need to get onto. Hilarity ensues. By which I mean gruimpiness, swearing and angry looks.

The attendants were blissfully unaware of the situatin letting the two masses collide into each other in some amateur hour version of CERN.

We all get a seat somehow, on a 2 carriage train smaller than any even Northern Ireland railways seems to have to offer.

This train goes for 20 mins. We get off (scrum style)

We get on another train heading fro London, and there are no seats and a repeating announcements that those of us with rail sail tickets wil be castrated and fed on our own genitalia if we fail to leave the train at Crew.

So I’m in crewe. Huddled over a pint beside a power socket, recharging, figuratively and literally, for the final assault.

Tales from the trains #1

[Notes from my rather epic journey to St Andrews a few weeks ago. It kept me amused]

8am Dublin-Holyhead

I envy the people who can sleep. Sleep anywhere I mean.

A half-empty ferry on a wet Sunday morning, and people are sprawled out all around me sleepng like babies. Their cheeks elevated on rolled up sweaters to keep their skin off the faux-leather cushions.

The MV Ulysses. Joyce would be chuffes I’m sure.

I forget how much I enjoy travelling. Or perhaps this is just commuting. I’m not sure what the difference is. Maybe the weather.

It’s all about getting a seat, and the train connections. And waiting rooms where I can ge a power point for the lap top. Such an amount of work and entertainment I have to occupy me. If I can just keep the battery charged.

Commuter love – #8

It’s taken me a while together comfortable with sitting on the floor of the train when there’s no seats. Sometimes, if it’s really busy then you can’t sit even if you wanted to. There’s just no room.

But sometimes, you’re the only one on the carriage with eveyone else smuggly seated, deeply engrossed in the new Dan Brown.

The floor was clean(ish) and it hadn’t rained so peoples shoes weren’t sloshing water all over the place. So I did it. Just plonked myself down leaning against the wall.

The next girl to join the carriage saw the taboo had been broken and popped herself down opposite me. She was wearing a skirt though and seemed to be struggling to maintain her dignity a little more than me. I suppose, like most people, she had a little bit more dignity to maintain.

Old old fashioned

Some of the more wonderful people in my life bought us a wee holiday to celebrate our marriage.

This was all planned some time back before the wedding and I knew we were going somewhere but knew none of the details.

We had a little brown envelope with spending money, directions and a USB drive with details and a 2 and a half hour podcast from the gents themselves to keep us entertained on the drive. This was above and beyond the call of duty.

It was so good in fact that I didn’t want to pick up a gun and murder someone when Lady in Red came on.

Our destination was here.

The wonderful Hay-on-Wye.

Despite the misleading advertising above, the town is quite simliar to other towns and has houses made of bricks and mortar as opposed to books. You can tell I was disappointed.

And despite the sign saying welcome to Wales, this is one of the most English-feeling towns I have ever been in. It even had a Conservative Club with a portrait of Winston hanging in the hallway.

The pub we had dinner in had a portrait of someone who just may have been Maggie Thatcher but seen in a good light through beer goggles.

Maybe it’s a fair statement that all the best bits of England are in Wales.

They must get a bit pissed off being lumped in with the English all the time. Every time there’s a national report on the state of whatever it’s always for England and Wales combined and Scotland gets its own report and our esteemed leaders in the North haven’t agreed on anything long enough to even do the report.

Seems a bit of a shame for a country passionately pursuing a Welsh culture and language to be amalgamated at almost every level.

We stayed here which was absolutely bloody lovely and comes highly recommended. Incidentally its Sandy Toksvig’s favourite B&B so we’re in good company.

It’s so authentic as an 18th century house that the floors and the ceilings aren’t entirely level. There’s even a tiny door in the wall that opens into the greenhouse for ventilation which has a little figurine inside it.

The bedroom felt a little like the inn in The fellowship of the ring when the Nazgul come in and stab the pillows in the beds.

Hay-on-Wye is famous for its book festival. So famous in fact that i had no idea till someone told me.

There are 30 second-hand bookshops in a fairly tiny space.

There were even “honesty” book shops which were just shelves under tarpaulins where you could just leave 50p and walk off with such a high quality book such as:

But when you’ve got one you may as well get the sequel:

Second-hand bookshops are wonderful places but you have to realise the sheer staggering amount of trash and nonsense you have to browse through to find a gem like the obsucre Vonnegut you were looking (Goddamnit you gotta be kind…) or the third copy of Gilead that you really need (it was only £1.50…).

The shops themselves are fairly intriguing with lots of old broken down sofas, often with a cat asleep on them.

There were of course other attractions like this:

and this:

But I was mainly excited about getting a go on this:

Which I duly did:

All in all a cracking wee holiday. Cheers muchly lads.

The city, the airport


13-1-10 Omni south park hotel. Austin TX

The drive from the lake house to Austin was fairly uneventful. Most things about scenery in Texas seem to be uneventful. Everything seems to be either dead or dying or covered in tarmac.

Perhaps we only saw the worst bits. I saw no oil wells at all. I though that’s what this place was all about.

Quick note to all that when booking your Omni hotel in Austin check it’s the one in the city and not 5 miles out. 5 miles out is just lovely for business travellers but not so good for us tourists looking forward to walking everywhere.

On a plus point the room had it’s own coffee maker. Better than a kettle and some Nescafe.

Spent the evening floating in and out of bars on 6th street trying to see which ones would let us in as one member or our party (to remain unnamed) forgot their ID for the night…

Austin is cool. Or maybe it’s not cool but just cool in comparison to the cultural wasteland that is most of Texas that I’ve seen so far.

14-1-10 Austin TX

Little City is a pretty funky cafe right beside the Capitol building in the centre of Austin and does exceptionally cheap coffee and food for brekkie. And free Internet which is always a bonus.

That wasted a few hours in the morning till we conducted our own tour of the Capitol building and historic sites of Austin. They were nice. If not very historic. Europeans win hands down against Americans for history. If they hadn’t wiped out all those native Americans then they might have a better history…

We ended up in the Texas history museum all prepared for learning. Instead we found they had an IMAX cinema in the museum that was showing Avatar in 3D. Education be damned I want exploding aliens.

Avatar has a predictable plot and some truly awful dialogue but it is very, very pretty to watch. Even more so in 3D.

So after our extensive Austin cultural experience we retired to another funky coffee house for more of the Grapes of Wrath.

Our last night in Austin was spent watching blues bands and the bizzare texan concept of dueling piano bars.


16-1-10 Connolly railway station 1740

Central station waiting for a train… That kind of vibe.

We left Austin in the rain. As the sky brightened and the interstate packed.

I dreamt of Dad. That we got some kind of slightly dim, confused version of him as a replacement but then he was sick too and we had to work out what to do.

I dreamt of cerebellar tumours and dysdiadochokinesia and kind smiling faces and me bearing my suffering well with smiles and witticisms.

We drove. Aquaplaning the deluge, more nervous, more alert. Conversations held without eye contact, eyes not wanting to leave the road.

It was dry in Dallas. The arched concrete and web of junctions and turnpikes sent us the wrong way, we tried again.

We turned our trusty steeds over to the rental guy in the airport. Hundreds of miles covered effectively without incident. And then We put one of the cars into the front of the car in front actually in the rental car park. Actually as the rental guy looks things over. Actually.

No damage. They make bumpers of this plastic these days – so that it crunches in and crunches out again.

Something like that anyhow.

Our party splits. Some to keep driving, some to fly one place, some to fly another. Goodbyes are weird. I think most are irrelevant. For the folk I know I’ll see in 2 weeks then I don’t see the point. For others who know when you’ll see them again? There’s no plans (we love our plans even if we know they’ll never work out), there’s no fixed date. There’s ones and zeroes thrown across little glass fibres under the ocean but that’s hardly the same.

So we say goodbye. And some feel sad but, we go through our rituals. Mainly I feel awkward. That seems to be my default emotion for a lot of situations.

Maybe that’s what men are better at doing. Substituting a certain unease for lack of genuine engagement.

America seems much happier to be letting us leave than welcoming us into the country. No 2 hour queues. No questions, no invasive DNA tests, no polygraph, no full body cavity searches.

Just when I thought that America and I were entering a new phase in our relationship she goes and ends it like this. The silent treatment. Not even a stamp in the passport.

We flew from London on the way out. We had one of those 3-4-3 formation planes with little TVs in the back of the seat in front. You felt you were going somewhere classy.

Now we’re flying home to Dublin and we’ve got a bod standard Boeing in a 3-3 formation and air con so loud you’d think someone had left one of the windows down.

It’s full of parents and their young kids. And they are excepionally well behaved. Hats off to them.

The sky brightens out the window. As we head full tilt at 450 miles an hour into the approaching sunrise.

Ireland is still white where she makes the effort to throw up a hill or two. The Wicklow hills watch our descent as we turn to land from the ocean. The plane bumps down. Every time we don’t die it amazes me.

Kind housemates picked us up and brought us to maynooth. And made us tea and toast and let me sleep in their bed till I could at least form a cohesive sentence.

I missd my train home. I thught they still let guys run along side trains as they left and climb on the back of them. Instead they quote something about health and safety.

So I sit in Connolly waiting for a train. Watching the corner of Amiens St. and Talbot St. with the spire in O’Connell St in the distance. The endless buses veering as they make the corner.

I shelter behind my guiness. Headphones in. Watching the endless movement of our glorious humanity. All the fears hopes and joys. With my head full of the grapes of wrath and steinbeck’s implicit humanity and dignit of the people he writes about. With all that and all this I still hide behind my guiness and my head phones and my phone.

Still. I’m back at least.

In a big country

11-1-10 Clear Creek Cove, Burnet, TX


Texas is not used to temperatures below freezing. Ireland is used to them but just completely useless at dealing with them as has become apparent.

So Texan houses are made from wood frames and with central heating systems that are more designed for the air conditioning aspect than they are for the heating part.

They work. They do heat the place to a degree but they’re all vents and fans and make an unholy racket while you’re trying to sleep. It’s like a million hair dryers pointing out of the wall.

Being the middle of winter there is no one here, the surrounding houses are quiet and dark’ the speedboats under their awnings and the boat houses empty.

The squirrels and the ducks don’t seem to mind.

We made a brief journey out in the car to see the Buchanan dam (this whole lake and state park is the result of damming the Colorado river to provide electricity – in 1937) and see that while the dam was pretty damn impressive the lake behind it was more like Spelga on bad day.

We went and saw Longhorn cavern. Which from what I gathered from the museum was a big hole in the ground that the army, fresh back from WWII with no one to invade till Korea, decided to make a whole lot bigger.


As holes go it was kind of nice. And I suppose it’s got to be better than WWII. Amongst the many photos I found one on some of the training they received. For what the mind can only boggle…


Back in the house for want of food I devoured a Kurt Vonnegut book of essays and stories on war and found these couple of lines

there can be no doubt that the allows fought on the side of right and the Japanese on the side of wrong. World war II was fought for near-holy motives. But I stand convinced that the brand of justice in which we dealt, wholesale bombings of civilian populations, was blasphemous.
That the enemy did it first has nothing to do with the moral problem. What I saw of our air war, as the European conflict neared an end, had the earmarks of bring an irrational war for wars sake. Soft citizens of the American democracy learned to kick a man below the bel and make the bastard scream.

and

if jesus were alive today we would kill him with lethal injection. I call that progress. We would have killed him for the same reason he was killed the first time. His ideas are just too liberal.

This followed by pizza, beer, lighting of the fire and a quick cigar on the veranda. And who would have thought that there was such a thing as good American whiskey. The world does not begin and end with scotch it seems.

12-1-10 Clear creek cove

Is there anything better for breakfast than cold pizza from the night before. If there is I haven’t found it yet. And even if there is I’m not sure I want any.

Incidentally this is perhaps the longest I have gone without Internet since I got the iPhone. Two whole days. I don’t even notice. Only because I’m right where I want to be. If I was back in my normal context then I’d be getting all twitchy and shaky from the withdrawal.

It got sunny today. Sunny enough to lie on the jetty in a t-shirt.

I found a canoe at the side of the house but it was chained up and even then I couldn’t find any paddles. Would have been nice though.

BBQ for dinner in a Texan style BBQ – seems to be a metal trash can with the coals so far from the grill that it takes an age to cool anything. But it gives everything a great flavour and at least there’s not the “burnt on the outside, bleeding on the inside” you get in Irish BBQs.


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