This tale begins about a month ago. I received a marketing email from my favourite travel company Maritime Travel. It offered a talk about the offerings by Royal Caribbean Cruise Line, lunch, and a tour of the Anthem of the Seas when it was in port on September 13th. I had never received one of these invitations before but was in envy of those who did. I was kind of in an when I showed it to a colleague, her eyes lit up and said: “I’m your plus one right?”
So, I replied back that I was interested and quickly go a reply back that I was on the list.
About a week before the trip, I received an email with the details that basically confirmed the times.
Meet at the “Port of Saint John” by 9:30 am. There were no specifics. Let’s face it, if I can find a ship in San Juan, Saint John would be a walk in the park. I mean how could you miss it on a beautiful sunny day.
When we got to the terminal the commissioner let us into the terminal and gave us directions to go to the furthest door. We passed through the “Fundy Cruise Market”, which carried all the typical local wares. (Including Maple Syrup). Once in the terminal, it was a flutter of activity with people being directed to their excursions or tours to see the city. Once at the far gate as directed we were then pointed to the group of people sitting at the near door. I then proceeded to the guy checking off names from the list.
We waited there for about a half hour before proceeding up to the ship. This was an incredible people-watching opportunity to see the different types of tourist from the ship and to judge them. Especially the “I’m wearing the T-shirt from my last port” guy.
We were then led up in the group to the security gate, after checking ID they gave us a ship pass and then we were directed to the security gate. The first sign this was not an NCL ship was the lack of “Washie Washie Happy Happy” although there were hand sanitizer stations everywhere. The metal detector part went really fast. I am really good at that even at airports.
The ship itself is like I giant beautiful mall and hotel at sea. There are so many things to do and things to see. It is also well suited for winter in New York(ish) as most of the pools have the ability to be glassed in and there are incredible pools on the front solarium where you can get incredible views.
There are also tons of exercise options from basketball, running, soccer, free falling, wall climbing, roller skating dance hall, and gym.
There are also enough bars that you probably never have to use the same one twice. Although there is even a self-serve bar that has a robot make the drinks for you.
After the tour, we were seated for dinner and there was a mini menu of some of the best dishes on the ship. I ordered the Swordfish which I never knew I would love.
The main discount was pretty much just access to the on-ship Next Cruise desk what had some deals. After we wandered the ship a bit more and took some more photos.
If the economics worked out I would like to travel on this ship or another RCL ship sometime. This ship is incredible. The elevators even have a floor pattern that tells you what day of the week it is. The ship speaker music in common areas was really pleasant and diverse.
I departed the Enterprise starving, and in pain a bit from the ridiculous amount of walking in Belfast. I went down the stairs to the tram station and the Google Transit app said there were no more trains but there was a dot-matrix display showing next tram in 7 minutes with a group of at least 15 people waiting for the tram. Then a local said to the group no more trams tonight and the screen was for the next station down the line.
A vocal man with an American accent convinced the group of people that the local was wrong. I looked at the sign and noticed it said “Busáras” and the blank one said “Connolly”. Since I can also read perfect Gaelic I recognized that Busáras means Bus Station and Connolly was the name of the train station. I decided the local was right and since I didn’t know where the Bus Station stop was, I just followed the track and it was not even a block away.
My plan for the night was to go to an Irish Pub and grab dinner there, but once I got off the Luas (what Dublin calls trams/streetcars) near my hotel most I just had a craving to go back to the Burrito place and have a large Fajita. It was so good.
Then I went back to drop off my stuff at the hostel locker and ended up at the bar in the hostel. I was breaking my rule of local beer and ordered a Tuborg. That is some of the best cheap beer money can by in Europe, especially the draft version. I had a great conversation with the bartender and the conversation lead to making TV shows and then he reviled that he worked on Vikings and Game of Thrones. I will refer to him as Viking Bartender.
As I was coming to the end of using up my cash this guy started talking like a beer snob on the intricacies of Guinness and what it is the greatest beer in the world. To which I countered that Guinness is only to its best potential when paired with a fine Irish Whiskey, and then explodes with flavour. That leads to a round or Guinness and Jameson’s Caskmates Stout for the group in that part of the bar.
At some point, a gorgeous Irish lass comes up to the bar to order a round of beers for her friends listening to the acoustic singer-songwriter in the other side of the bar. She orders a couple of Coronas. I didn’t actually she was Irish at this point. I said, “I would make fun of you for drinking Mexican beer in Ireland, but I just had a burrito for dinner.” She smiles and in a strong Irish accent smiling “While I guess you can’t then can you.” This is the point that I kick myself for not having anything further to say. Then she left.
Then later the other bartender started making drinks and as he cleaned the glasses kept spraying me with a little water. The second time I joked that he got me again. After the third time, he joked that if I stayed there I would just have to accept that I would keep getting “a little wet”. The bartender then began making a pair of Jäger-bombs and as he dropped the shot glasses into the larger glass, he shattered one of the glasses and the liquor soaked my shirt, shorts, arm, and leg. He also got some glass lodged in the skin of my arm. I then said, “This is a little wet?”. He then half horrified and half laughing was like “No I’m so sorry, you know the next drink is on me.”
By this point in the night, I’ve had a good 3 times more drinks than I planned on. I was just going to order another beer, but the Viking Bartender came over and said: “I know you been drinking the cheap beer and whiskey all night but since this one is on us let’s go for a special whiskey.”
I ended up with a special edition 200 bottle Jameson’s that was the most amazingly smooth flavour I’ve ever had. After finishing up, I called it a night as the next morning was a travel day back home to Canada.
For a country I was not excited about before going, I was one that I was sad to leave.
The next morning, I got up and shaved, washed, and packed up my stuff and left the hostel. The morning did not start well as I crushed my headphones in the locker door. As I had some time to kill I went to Costa and had my morning coffee and a breakfast sandwich. I caught up on some news, Reddit, and updated my phone to try to use up my remaining data. At this point, I went a block away and got the shuttle bus to the airport. Since I was trying to use up data, I live streamed the video to YouTube from the bus.
Until which point, I needed to conserve battery life since my boarding pass was on the phone. Once I arrived at the airport the Departures section looks amazing and modern and so not the back hallway looks of the Arrivals area. I checked my bag and placed everything in it so I could easily get through security and enter the duty-free shopping area.
I made the first stop at the Guinness store and bought an Irish Flute kit with sheet music, and a hard Guinness Wallet for holding cards. The second shop was an electronics store, there was no way I was going to use cheap headphones for a 7.5 hours transatlantic flight so I bought a good duty-free pair.
On the flight back, the meal was pretty good. There was this cool pickled cucumber salad side, a bottle of wine, I picked the Chicken and pasta dinner. After the meal I listened to music and podcasts as we flew, I liked to keep the entertainment system on the navigation channel to see where we were.
As we flew over Quebec, I had some land data and Facebook Live posted a bit, then took some long time-lapse videos. Coming back to Toronto there was a long line so I didn’t the “cripple limp” and the navigator pointed me to the fast line for disabled and airline staff. Score! After you go through customs, you end up on the outside and there is an out of the way door that most people don’t notice because the signs point them the other way. It is to the far left wall on the Departures floor.
I quickly cleared customs and went to my gate and waited around for about an hour as my flight was running a bit late. The flight was a success, unlike the Titanic, and I arrived home at the Saint John airport to my mother and stepfather waiting for me. It was the first time ever I arrived to people waiting for me.
Shall we continue where we left off, attempting to sleep—
Update at 2:24am #1 stoped snoring and #4 and #6 are sharing #6 and double “bean flicking” #FML
After the above comment to the Facebook post in my last post, I passed out with exhaustion regardless of the hostel situation.
Buzz!!! Buzz!!! Buzz!!!… it’s 5:45am!
That meant it was time to get up. For once I was prepared with my go bag and clothes for what I needed for the day. Went to the shared washroom, brushed my teeth, and ran (hobbled quickly with only one ankle) to the tram stop a few blocks down. It was a brisk and crispy morning as the sun was already rising over the buildings in the square. I arrived several (23) minutes before the first train. (or so I thought) to the train.
After determining that I had time, I went to Costa to get coffee. (Sorry, Closed) The coffee shop across the street. (Sorry, Closed) The literally 15ish coffee shops in this college/young urban district of town. (Sorry, Closed) Needless to say, I was going to get on this tram coffeeless.
The tram arrived and I got on several stops and I was at the train station. Up the escalator and I was in the hall. The station is not the fanciest in Europe but the crowds flow efficiently and you get to get on trains. Although, I ran out of time to get coffee.
It is now time to seek out new life and new civilizations aboard the Starship Enterprise. (err… Seek out new adventures and an old civilization on the train service “Enterprise”.)
Okay, let’s level with you all. The only reason I’m on this train going to this particular city over Waterford, Limerick or Cork is the train was the “Enterprise”.
So I am on the train and my name is on the LCD display above the seat, this is so unlike the paper slips I am used to on Via Rail and Amtrak trains. The train is on its way and I am off to country 34, Northern Ireland to see the city of Belfast. I slept most of the way there.
Now you are probably asking why Belfast, there must be other cool things in Northern Ireland. Which is very true the original plan after taking the Enterprise was that Belfast would be boring and I love the catchy song “Daytrip to Bangor” so I would connect to the train that goes to Bangor for the day and get a picture. As I looked at the train map, I saw the second stop was named Titanic Quarter. Then looking at the map I found that there was a Titanic Museum and that was the death of Bangor.
At the train station, there are signs that it is free to get on a city bus to transfer to City Hall square in downtown where the bus hub, main tourist bureau, and coffee shops are. At the square, the bus stopped in front of the coffee shop so that was stop number one. Then I picked up a day bus pass and got on the bus to the Titanic Museum.
The museum is a huge and beautiful building on the waterfront with lots of crowds
like you would expect to see at any tourist area/trap. One highlight was the Contiki Bus driving by, I think there is a picture from my 2016 tour on the side of the bus.
The museum is quite pricey but there is a lot to see and it is a very interactive experience. It starts with the history of Ireland, then the history of Belfast, the history of shipbuilding, then the Harland & Wolff company, about Ocean-liners, then the White Star Line.
After that multimedia exhibit then it goes into the design and construction of the ships, and more specifically the Titanic. It then leads up to a big window that overlooks the slipway where the Titanic and Olympia where built. Then you enter a room with a virtual experience on all walls flying through the ship. Then a history on how Marconi operated the telegraph system on ships, filled by the Titanic’s sea trials.
this, it was about how people, interacted and stayed on board the ocean liners and the whole class system. Then it was followed by the maiden voyage where for the first time you learn, the ship doesn’t make it and sinks after hitting the iceberg.
Then it goes into more exhibits on the rescue, and how the Titanic is misunderstood by popular culture. The final exhibit is about the underwater drones that found the wreckage of the Titanic. At this point, it was getting later in the afternoon and was disappointed by the gift shop. After I exited, there was a perfect moment, there was a young musician whose parents were recording her playing the Titanic Song on
the Theremin in front of the Titanic sign.
Upon going back to city centre, I just walked around in pain and exhaustion taking as many pictures of things in the Tourist map that I could before running out of time and getting a bus and barely making it back to the train station.
On the way back, I admired the beautiful views
and mainly wrote the first post in this series of post on this trip.
As we now end this I have just arrived back to Dublin for the most memorable night of the trip.
After a well rested night, it is now my birthday. I slept a bit late and left the hostel to wander around Dublin. The most important first stop was the local Costa Coffee shop across the plaza, and to pump up some energy for the day, and to Facebook creep what was going on in the world.
After coffee, I went to the waterfront (river the passed through the city) and walked towards the area that the hostel said was where all the tour tickets could be brought about a 25-minute walk away. I took a lot longer taking photos and resting due to my limitations every couple of blocks.
It was at this point that it hit me that, I was near no one I knew, in a place I knew nothing really about. This got me really sad. The first bridge I came across I thought was the famous (according to my map) Ha’penny Bridge. I Facebook Live posted a video going across it. (Which had no viewers.)
Then as I continued on to the next bridge it had a sign that it was the Ha’penny Bridge. It looked cooler but yet less impressive and had about a half dozen homeless sleeping on it. I decided not to cross it. I then noticed a little shop that sold souvenirs and I dropped in and picked up a little Leprechaun and a t-shirt. This shop also sold passes to the hop on
buses so I picked one up here.
Outside the shop, I was waiting for the bus with two guys who were waiting for
their wives to finish shopping and picking up tickets to a dinner show. The guy warned his wife that they were going to miss their bus. (Which they did.)
Although I wanted to see the ladies reaction when they got back, I got on the bus. It only went one stop and then we were told we had to get off and could get on the bus waiting in front. Now that first bus had a recorded audio tour, the second bus had a live audio tour and the guy was hilarious.
I spent the next 3 hours going around Dublin on that bus not wanting to hop off because I loved that driver. My plan was to get off at the Guinness Brewery
but opted not to, to stay on the bus. I would also point out that the brewery has the strong burnt popcorn smell. As I approached the hostel, I got off the bus and recharged my phone and rested for a half hour.
After the rest
, I went next door to the Jameson’s Distillery. This is one of the best alcohol attractions I have ever seen, on Heineken in Amsterdam was better. It does the typical, here’s the history, here’s how it’s made, here’s how each ingredient and process matters, here’s why we’re best, here’s the gift shop and finally the grand finale, here’s the bar. I still considered going to Guinness but met so cool Belgians and wanted to try more whiskey.
Closing in now on
the late afternoon, I was stumbling out of the distillery. (Let’s pretend it was because of my bad ankle.) I then walked across the bridge and towards the Viking castle area and then was intending to make it to the Temple bar area. However, I needed to drain from the distillery and came across a restaurant/pub with an “Authentic Irish” menu and decided it was a fitting place for my birthday dinner.
After dinner, I was looking for the bus stop that was on the map and only after it was too late that I was on the wrong parallel street. So I walked along the river, crossed at the Ha’penny bridge, and then retired to the hostel, had another Guinness at the bar, and then “called it a night.”
The quotes on that last part are because it was an interesting night. I had an early morning to catch the train to Belfast. I posted this to Facebook at about
Picture this situation, 4 bunk bed sets, two on each wall, numbered 1-8. I’m in #8 and the world record holder for loudest snorer is in #1 (90% sure it is a she). #3 and #5 are taking up the sofas in the lobby. #7 is about to lose his anger management chip.
So even though I have not posted the last post while I am writing this, I’ve decided to split this into a second post. I wrote the last post on the flight to Dublin and it was how I was feeling at the time. I’m presently at 40,000 feet, travelling at 499mph with 377 miles to Toronto. (Note please Air Canada! give us an option of metric flight information.)
On the way to Dublin, I rested well and the new “chicken” meal was quite good. The loaf for breakfast was disappointing. As we deplaned, it was like a Hurd of cattle being shouted at due to very poor signage and renovations. “Europeans Right! Everyone else left and against the wall!”.
It took over an hour to get clear of the customs hall. The customs guard asked me why I was going to Ireland. I answered “Vacation” then he asked me what I planned on seeing. I must have been like “deer in headlights” because I didn’t have any plans and totally blanked on anything that was in Ireland. I eventually responded with Castles and Churches. Then he asked what I did for work, which no one ever gets on the first try, and this guy was particularly dumb. I had to resort to “When the phone company rips you off and you call a guy and yell at him? I’m the guy.” [Even though I do more than that and the phone company doesn’t rip people off… ever 😉 ]
At the airport I picked up a Vodafone SIM card with 5GB of data and a bunch of other things for only 25€, also I got the round trip bus ticket for the 747 service for 12€. I then took the bus to downtown Dublin and to my Hostel at the Generator. I have a soft spot for public art, especially if it is stupid ridiculous. Dublin has this steel needle on the Northside that is stupid tall. It is apparently to represent ambition or something, my first thought was “If you try to step on Ireland/Dublin you are getting a giant nail up your foot.”
I stayed at the Generator Dublin in the Smithfield neighbourhood. It was a great hostel. Nice, clean, safe, and a great bar. The only downside is it is a 25-minute normal person walk to most of the attractions that are grouped and a very small portion of Dublin. After checking in I took a bit of a time to recharge my phone and look over the map of things to see. I then took a walk around Smithfield and see what was around. My feet were sore from the customs hall and walking so I didn’t go too far. I also picked up a burrito for supper. This thing was no ordinary burrito it was a massive roll (super donair size) of awesome goodness.
I had 20€ of cash on hand but didn’t need to use it the entire trip. They take tap everywhere. After the burrito, I went to the bar in the hostel and got the from Ireland Guinness. It does taste different and to me, not in a good way I really didn’t enjoy it.
After hanging around the bar, I called it a night.
As I begin to write this, I’ll have you know I am viewing the beautiful sunset over what I guess is the St. Laurent river on my way to connect flights in Toronto (YYZ) for this trip and the last 2 cruises, the places are not ones that are on my want to go list and I have been travelling just to get new places on the list. In 2 days from now, I will turn 36 and officially age out of the possibility of a 5th Contiki.
So where am I off to? Dublin, Ireland. Why? Because it had a cheap flight and hotel (err hostel). Most of the good places are too cost prohibitive to travel solo and life has as always left me solo. If I were to be asked what is left in Europe that I really want to see, the list would be in order Luxembourg, Romania, San Marino, Ukraine, Norway, Greece, Bulgaria, Portugal, Spain, Malta, Iceland, Andorra, and then Ireland. (Maybe even Moldova and Serbia outshine Ireland.)
I’m, however, still going to attempt to make the best of it and see if I can like it. I had low hopes for Copenhagen in 2016 but that city really won me over. I have a list of places to see, but in reality, I will probably just get lost and see what speaks to me.