Euro Love Train part 1 13th July 2018: Dublin to London

So here we are then. After months and months of meticulous planning, coaxing and cajoling, there's five of us in Dublin. I wake up a few minutes prior to 6am, moderately refreshed and before anyone's alarm goes off. Ed gets up, we shake hands, it's years since we've seen each other. He asks what time I got in, since he was so fast asleep he didn't notice. Yeah, just gone midnight. "And you're going back home in London tonight? Wasn't really worth you coming, was it?".

Awful showers are had, I don my appropriate clothing – Guinness underwear and a Friday the 13th (film) themed t-shirt – bags are packed, a cup of green tea made via a pot of water on the stove because what kind of AirBnB doesn't provide a fucking kettle? I struggle with the awful android set-top-box and fail to get anything to appear on the TV. John is the last to emerge, we shake hands, it's years since we've seen each other. He asks what time I got in, since he was so fast asleep he didn't notice. Yeah, just gone midnight. "And you're going back home in London tonight? Wasn't really worth you coming, was it?".

Things are left moderately tidy and we bugger off to our waiting cab, a tight squeeze through murderous pre-7am Dublin traffic to the deceptively distant Stena Line terminal at Dublin Port. On the map it looks hardly any distance at all, yet it takes 25 minutes or so along lots of busy roads next to monstrous amounts of industry. This must be where all the oil, gas, and cargo for the whole of Ireland arrives, not to mention all the passenger ferries. Eventually we're at the foot passenger entrance and checking in, just the four of us since Andrei has yet to arrive from his hotel. We drop off one bag and go to the departure lounge bit, standing outside to admire the view.

It is bleak as fuck. It's grey and slightly cold and threatening rain. All we can see is cargo being loaded and a ton of vehicles waiting to get onboard our huge boat. Inside there is nowhere to sit because the lounge is full of American girls all wearing jumpers with DUBLIN written on the front. Caffeine is bought, Andrei arrives and we are quorate for this leg of the journey. Piers Morgan is on TV interviewing Steve Bannon about Donald Trump and I can't imagine a worse triple-cuntfest to start the day. Jesus.

Eventually the buses start their engines and the orderly queue from the loungey bit files onto them. We're split between two buses and they're all desperately crowded, but luckily we're last on ours so Ed and Andrei get to pretend they're driving as we head into the ship on deck 5. Except for checking in the bag, no-one has yet looked at our tickets or any form of ID. The "you're sailing soon!" pre-departure email I got a couple of days ago mentioned that British and Irish citizens didn't need a passport to cross the Irish sea as just a utility bill would suffice(!). But we're not all British or Irish here. When will immigration happen?

Well, not when you get on the boat. Two flights up we all congregate at guest services and are given 4 keys to cabin 9424, a further two flights up and inside with no windows. It doesn't seem like there are any window cabins, at least not 4-berth ones, and besides the view from the windows on the stairwell wasn't exactly inspiring.

John and Mark opt to chill in the cabin for a bit while Ed, Andrei and myself go off to explore and find an open deck. It's slippery and bleak.

All we see is industry. So so many crates. I kinda want to listen to the podcast or read the book which Ed was recommending about this stuff, and will have to chase him up to tell me the names.

I'm starving but we all want to stay outside until we've set off, so we hang around for a bit.

Actually we hang around for longer than "a bit", because it takes bloody ages for us to get going. It's an 0810 sailing but there's no hint of movement until after 0830, though none of us know if that's actually late or whether it's just how things work.

As we reverse into the Liffey we can see the bit where our AirBnB was, just up the way. It really looks very close, way nearer than the cab ride made it out to be. It's just up by that bridge, ffhs.

I have promised to send Helen a series of photos of me doing the Bobby Roode GLORIOUS pose throughout the holiday. Ed doesn't even blink when I ask him to be my photographer.

It takes so very very long to get out of the river mouth.

Come on driver, put your damn foot down. Some of us are hungry!

Actually, all of us are hungry. I had it in my head that by waiting outside so long we'd done the smart thing and avoided the "we're onboard and want to eat immediately" crowd. I could not have been more wrong. The queues are enormous. We descend to 7 and join a queue as slow as the ship to buy full English breakfast buffet, impressed by the man in front of us who manages to carry 4 full plates on one tray in an Oktoberfest-waitress-esque feat of balance and strength.

Once we have food, and Andrei and I a Guinness – I can still see Ireland, so this counts as a Guinness in Ireland so far as I'm concerned – we seek somewhere to sit. It is a fruitless endeavour. The whole place is fucking rammed, and anything that looks like an empty table or booth is revealed on closer inspection to be sleeping quarters. It's a fucking zoo, and we end up eating standing up at the end of an aisle, trays on the top by the bins. God damn it. Tell you what though, it was a very nice breakfast and the pint weren't bad either.

Back out on deck we bump into John, who then disappears and inside we run into Mark. There's a border crossing about to happen and we want to toast it. The idea had been to buy some touristy version of the local moonshine, poitín, but no-one had managed to source any. There's a duty free shop onboard though and they sell booze; we're on the verge of getting a bottle of Jamesons or Bushmills when a much worse/better alternative leaps off the shelf and into my hands.

Didn't manage to gamble at all :-(

Yes, it's "Shamrock Irish cream", a knock-off version of Baileys for less than £7. By now we've lost Ed, but the 4 of us back in 9424 crack out the shot glasses and ice and toast the threshold between Ireland and the UK with this laughably poor drink. Sláinte!

The cabin has a TV and BBC News is just showing rolling coverage of Trump visiting the UK. Everything about it just makes us more angry or dismayed or any other unpleasant emotion. His recorded comments to the Sun are mental. Who answers "are you nervous about meeting the Queen?" with "My mum was Scottish and she loved watching the Queen on TV".

It's a long crossing with lots more time to kill. The ferry has tons of facilities with enticing names like "Truckers Lounge" and "Teen Town". Though not enticing enough that we go to either. But Trumpfest is doing our head in so Andrei and I venture back out.

There's space to sit and have another Guinness, this time much worse and served in plastic, up on deck 8. And then, what do you know, there's land out of the window. That'll be Wales, right?

Back in the cabin to pack everything up, there are regular announcements that foot passengers must stay in their accommodation while all the cargo and wheeled passengers disembark first, in order for there to be space for buses. But then there's a knock, and the cleaners want to come in and make the bed. Fair enough, we're ready anyway, and with magnificent timing Lester picks his coat up upside down and spills a metric ton of peanuts all over the floor.

After hurriedly sweeping them all into the bin we somehow manage to split into two groups, everyone wandering down to deck 5 despite explicit instruction not to. Returning to a now empty 7, I have time to see what this "movie lounge" is all about; they were showing Jumanji and Paddington, including a showing of the former at 0300. Really? Yes.

Eventually we're allowed down and onto a much emptier bus than on the Irish side. It takes a while to get us to the terminal, and then the doors don't open. Three other buses flanking us are all fine and the people are streaming out, but no reason is given for our delay. When we are finally allowed off, three hi-viz UK Border Force staff are wielding some strange device as we walk past them but still no-one has actually checked any ID or tickets since forever. Tell you what though, I do love me a welcome sign.

The baggage carousels are a crazier affair than at most airports but we've taken so long to get here that everything is already out. The ferry terminal at Holyhead is connected to the train station, and there's a train. Not our train, of course, but a train.

There's also left luggage, where we leave luggage, and walk through the door marked "town centre".

The route is directly across this weird bridge thing that is of a shape which seems to convey the message "we had an excess of metal, and had to do something with it".

The "something" is "build a spiral ramp, and have some structurally unnecessary chrome jutting out". Halfway across there's a sign to platform 1 which seems preposterous, it must just be some disused old platform.

At the end we go through an arch and hey presto, we're on the high street. No pubs are visible. Lester has had a bee in his bonnet all along about getting some amazing fish and chips, and when I query what gave him this impression he swears blind it was me that said so. It bloody wasn't! I know fuck all about Holyhead, and the first research I'd done about the place was only the day prior when I searched for "craft beer Holyhead" and only got results relating to streets in other towns like "Holyhead Road" and that.

Ed's phone said there were pubs in both directions. We go downhill, and there's nothing. So we go uphill and there are several, eventually we go in the Stanley Arms. I don't care how bad it is, I want a pint of some Welsh brew, but I'm out of luck. Craft beer, or any kind of real ale, has yet to reach this bit of Holyhead and our choices are Fosters, Heineken, Carling, Strongbow, Coors Light, or John Smiths. Bloody hell. OK then, lager it is. We sit outside in the beer "garden" and it is, ahem, GLORIOUS.

Mark's cheeseburger and chips is not wonderful but fills a hole. Time is kinda short though so we bugger off, popping into Booze Buster for train provisions. "Where you off to?" asks the girl behind the counter, who gets a bit terrified when Lester is unable to be circumspect. "We're off to Luxembourg via Brussels, Amsterdam, ... " he reels off, to ever widening eyes. I chime in at the end with "Yeah but today we're getting a train to London" which seems to snap her back to reality.

Back at the station we're shocked to discover that platform 1 is actually a real thing and our train is going from there, which is annoying since left luggage was at platform 3. We've lost our bag receipt but the lass is fine with that, since we're the only customers she's had all day. With around 5 or 6 minutes to spare we are then ensconced in coach E of this Virgin Trains service from Holyhead to London Euston. Our train trip is finally about to involve a train!

Barely have we pulled out of Holyhead and one of the attendants turns up with 5 glasses of Pimm's and lemonade. Wait, what? Is this in honour of Wimbledon, somehow? Apparently so. Our tables – we're in first class – have been laid out with cups and menus and I'm like, hang on, since when did Virgin first class dish out free food and booze? Is this a thing now?

It totally is a thing. We are plied with cookies and fruit and tea and coffee and more Pimm's and strawberries and cream and a burrito and a deli box. This is fantastic! I settle down to blogging, disseminating my second hand knowledge of North Wales and the things we're about to see out of the window courtesy of a series of texts I received from Nige throughout the last hour. Also Silky has popped up, checking on our progress and telling us he'll be there as a welcoming party in Euston.

It's a nice ride along the North Wales shoreline and I finally get to see Conwy and Deganwy and all the other places Nige and Mark have told me about during the 20+ years I've known them. (Hey, Mark – not you, Lester, I'm talking to Welsh Mark here – are you reading this?). We haven't managed to find any Welsh booze at all so just cheers one another with our Booze Buster beers somewhere along the line - we don't stop at any frontier points like Shotton, so it's a bit of a guess.

Mark and John have had enough. Especially John, who wants to sleep off the horrid memory of an inadvisably gluten-free sandwich he bought in Holyhead Co-Op.

There are fewer stops in England than Wales; Chester, Crewe, Milton Keynes, and then London Euston. En route we mostly talk about language, getting Andrei to confirm or deny my poorly expressed inaccurate memories of Russian having specific words for "a hangover brought about by drinking too much at a wedding" and suchlike. A trolley comes along and I'm thinking, right, surely now we'll have to pay – but no, even the beer is free here. This is great, especially for the price we paid. Big thumbs up to Virgin on this service.

Also thumbs up to God, as the weather gets better the further south we go and then it's hello, London, capital city number 2.

Euston is heaving. London is heaving. It's just before 6pm on a sunny summer Friday. Silky met us on the platform, and we have a bonus Alex, hurrah!, who via WhatsApp – on which he spent the last hour goading me into revealing the stupidity of my forthcoming week to an unsuspecting separate circle of friends – had also arranged to pop in for a drink with his ex-colleagues, i.e. most of us.

The Euston Tap is serving one of my favourite beers ever, that up to this point I'd only ever had in a can, on tap: Tailgate peanut butter milk stout. Holy shit! This even makes up for having to ascend perilous spiral staircase to visit the sweltering loos. More beer is bought but I'm opting out, much to everyone's dismay and attempts to cajol me into another. We're doing a recount and it seems that by now I've had at least 9 "drinks", maybe even 10, depending on how much validity one wants to grant the Shamrock and the Pimm's. However many it is, it's too many, I don't want to risk any more and besides I have to go meet Helen, fresh from rallying.

By now John has already left in fact, and Ed wasn't far in front of me. There's still Mark, Alex, Mike, and Andrei on the new drinks so it's not like I'm leaving anyone in the lurch. My final job for this trip on the day is to react loudly in the negative when I hear Mark tell someone that I've agreed to cart the giant bag full of collapsed cooler bags all the way to Surbiton in back. I had in no way done any such thing, in fact I said we should just wander up to bloody King's Cross and leave it overnight in left luggage. But in the end Andrei agrees to take it to his nearby hotel, and I make my escape.

There are two escalators heading down to Euston underground station and many Trump protesters are descending, using only the left hand side and making a point of "we ain't standing on the right wing", which is kinda cute and funny. I get to Waterloo and meet Helen who is drinking with Grace, and she demands I buy them a drink. Fuck it then, I'll have one more 'n all. As the balance of liquids shifts, rain starting to pour when we near the end of our drinks, it's time to wander back to Waterloo.

Fast train to Surbiton on which I order Domino's pizza. Slobbing on the sofa with the cat, Helen tries to insist I have one last beer but the weakest of mine in the fridge is 7% and I don't want one of her Red Stripes. And you know what sweetheart, it's gone 10pm, I've had a lot and it's been an exhausting 36 hours and I've got to get the 9am Eurostar tomorrow...

I should probably pack.

Created By
Darren Foreman

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