12.04.2006 10 °C
Up early to grab a quick bit of toast and farewell to Iris who has been so kind to us, helping me to look after Miriam who is now starting to feel a little better but still not breathing as freely as one would like. Iris dropped us at the Daventry bus station in time to catch the local double decker bus back to Northampton. Again, having organised tickets for the next leg of National Express travel by SMS, only needed to flash my I-mate handheld at the driver to gain admittance to the Northampton to Birmingham leg.
At Birmingham, site of the dark satanic mills of the industrial revolution, the mood of hopelessness in the people’s faces lives on even as they stuff their faces with more chips. Even the Halal food shops at the Bullring (Birmingham’s market area) serve up every dish with an ample lashing of chips. England must take a goodly portion of the world’s potato crops as a constant thing. Guards in the shopping centres move people on who stand still for more than a minute – making window shopping a more on the go affair than in Australia.
After a couple of hours exploring around the market area – where medieval cathedral, sculpture of crusading knight up on high., jostles space age design shopping centre- we returned to the grimy bus station and boarded the coach for a lengthy leg down and to the west, into south Wales. This trip allowed us a lengthy and leisurely view of the varied and wondrous Welsh scenery, starting with the rolling Malvern Hills, glimpses of strong flowing rivers such as the Wye that accompanied the road part of the way, ancient castles intact and ruined, coal mining machinery perched atop green hills, and finally bringing us into Pembroke, past Pembroke castle’s high and imposing walls. I asked the bus driver if he went as far as the ferry terminal, and confusingly he said no. For as he called out “Pembroke” nobody much wanted to get out of the bus, and it then appeared there was another stop to go. So, at last we were dropped in the darkness outside the compulsory Tesco supermarket. Grabbing a yoghurt or two against the possibility the hotel kitchen would be closed, we froze on the streets until after a couple of phone calls to local cabbies we were able to get one and the taciturn driver charged us only 2.40 pound to go about a half mile up the hill. At least he knew where he was going, and with M’s breathing it would have been a difficult task to find the hotel.
The hotel itself was overrun with drunken Welsh Guards (retired long, long ago by the looks of them) , and they brought with them a faint smell of old urine. The décor was not so much retro 1960s as still actual 1960s, with Chartreuse walls in the stuffy hallways, and curtain and bedspread patterns that have surely not been updated since around 1970. However, clean enough, and the staff friendly and helpful enough and at a fair price.
Consulted the PC and suddenly noticed that the ferry booking confirmation indicated NEXT Sunday, not today….. problem! Resolved to get down to the ferry terminal as early as possible to try to sort it out. Very cold walk through a Dylan Thomas Welsh village scene, with shop windows full of old ratty knick knacks one can’t imagine anyone buying. Light lunch at the Maypole Diner, taking up the offer of the only options without chips, baked beans or spaghetti on toast.
Thence to the ferry terminal, a wait until 11am when the ticket office opened, and fired up the computer to show the woman the details I had, explaining that the guy who took the booking over the phone had stuffed it up. After a few minutes exploring her computer system she was willing to understand the position and wrote up a paper ticket (the printer being down) and we were allowed to take up places on the Irish Ferry.
The Ferry large and not at all crowded, so we were able to catch a quick nap lying on the lounges. Passengers feeding constantly, like chip powered sharks, and the shipping company gouging them with prices almost double those on shore. Memo to travellers: buy up a sandwich or two and a drink before you board. The crossing smooth and untroubled from Pembroke Dock to Rosslare harbour taking about four hours and only 42 pounds one way for the both of us.
Once ashore, found there was still one local bus heading towards the hotel I had booked a room at for the night. Bought tickets from the bus counter and hung around bored for almost an hour. As the appointed hour approached, we went outside and a drunk staggered up and asked a nonsensical question, and after finding we were from Oz , just had to tell us all about his relations in Cronulla and the text messages he had received about it and so on. Before we realised, the bus that had been sitting in the car park area suddenly slammed its door and took off – just as the penny dropped that that was our bus. Despite dashing after it, it sailed off into the distance. Immediately a cold Irish rainstorm burst around us, and we toiled up a steep hill dragging our bags behind us, not in the best of moods.
Seeking a way to move on, tried thumbing a ride – ludicrous for our age group of course, with bags atow. Then tried to ring a cab with a number supplied by the petrol station girl – no answer, leave a voice mail. Eventually ducked into a hotel and asked for another taxi number at reception, who explained “ Oh that number, I know for a fact he’s not working today.” Got an answer on the alternative number and within 15 mins a large van , no taxi light atop, rolled up, and we bundled our dampened selves within. “You’re not in a hurry, are you?” says the driver, and so he stopped off and waited for fifteen minutes while some dart players finished their drinks having been plaything in some local darts championship. Then we rushed through darkened rural lanes to what appeared to be the next stage of the dart players’ pub-crawl.
That done, and having had the whole lifestory of his kids and his Australian connections, we were dropped at the Quality Hotel 20 minutes after the kitchen had shut, so unable to get any supper. A packet of cheese and onion crisps for Miriam and a pint of guiness for me. Dog tired by this stage, the air cold and wet, into a comfortable bed but terribly overheated room making sleep elusive for a while.
Next morning in a dining room over run by children managed a giant Irish breakfast in preparation for our first day of seeing the land of some of our forefathers. Decided to organise a hire car as public transport thin and rare in this land. Thanks to the mobile able to line up an Opal Corsa in the town of Wexford, which reception told me was “exactly two miles, straight up the hill and keep going”. What I didn’t know was that the car hire firm, the local Opal distributor was actually on the far side of town, so it took more like and hour or more of walking, plus half an hour of form filling and waiting for the car to be cleaned from the last hirer, before I could take it. Rang the Quality Hotel, who put ;me through to Miriam so I could get her to pack up and await my return with the car without infringing the required check out time.
At last we were away and spent a pleasant day motoring around the south east, pausing in Dungraven for a very pleasant meal at a Pakistani restaurant of all things, overlooking an inlet that was remarkably reminiscent of Port Fairy. By then, darkness was beginning to fall and the need for finding a roof for the night was upon us. Figured we would try a B & B of which the roads hold an endless number. Without much forethought I saw one called “Maple Leaf” and though that sounded OK. Rang the doorbell, was greeted by an elderly lady who asked 65 euros for the night for a room with ensuite. Sounded OK to me. Once inside though, the décor was somewhat scary, filled with knick knacks , old crystal, china bulls, a glass table held up by four rearing brass horses, and various other items calculated to give you the willys. Beautiful view from the bedroom window of the shore arcing away in the distance, and the lights of Dungraven spread out below like fallen stars. Insufficient compensation, however, for we had made our bed….. and it was a worn out and somewhat smelly one at that, with a heavy old eiderdown that may or may not have been laundered in the last century.
Worse, I was now going down hard with the same respiratory bug that had attacked Miriam and spent the night in a hot and cold sweat. The shower eccentric – triggered by pulling a string switch in the roof – and the whole arrangement cramped and lacking in privacy. Lesson: don’t say yes till you’ve had a look at the room.
After a fitful night of troubled dreams, tossing and turning, we rose and found that our host had done her best to make a good breakfast, with little bowls of freshly cut fruit, more eggs than we could possibly eat, and looked hurt when we couldn’t finish it. We got the hell out of there as soon as we could, and drove to
Cork in search of some warmer clothes as both of definitely feeling under equipped for the very changeable weather, warm and sunny one moment, freezing rain finding its way down your neck the next. Miriam found a cardigan she liked in one shop, and the shop lady explained how to find Marks & Spencer, where we found another couple of garments that would keep us warm enough.
Continuing on out of Cork to the west, without the benefit of a map I found the way to Killarney, as the terrain became more hilly, the peaks barren of vegetation and more scenic by the mile. This time we selected accommodation with care, rejecting the first place we looked at, that wanted 140 euros for the night, and that I afterwards noticed had started its life as a Presentation Monastery, no wonder it had an unfriendly feel. Almost next door, Murphy’s Hotel offered us a room at 90 euros the night with breakfast, and after viewing the room and confirming its cleanliness, accepted it. Both of us feel in need of a peaceful night’s sleep without having to deal with people.
Dined at the bar forming part of the hotel, standard pub grub but quite acceptable. TV mostly in Irish in the hotel rooms but who cares, the bed is huge and comfortable and reception turned on the heating in the room remotely when I asked how it worked..
Plan for tomorrow is to drive the Ring of Kerry which is reputed to be the most scenic in Ireland and full of a rich array of archaeological sites.
I’ll try and upload the details of these last few days to the blog but not much Net access this way, quite pricy compared to say London. This will have to wait till morning when the Internet cafes open again.