I got there at last.

If you have come upon this page other than via the previous entry then I suggest you read my entry for 1st June, 2018 as that explains how I had unexpectedly ended up in a Dublin hostel en route to my family home in Northern Ireland.

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The hostel by early morning light.

I may have dozed for a few minutes during the night but that was it and I was up again by about 0500. Going outside for a smoke, I noticed that security should not be a problem for the hostel as it is right next door to a Gardai (police) station, so yet another plus for what was an excellent venue in a great location. I had planned to get the first train North but a quick e-mail exchange with my brother let me know that it was not necessary as we would not be heading to our planned family reunion until mid-afternoon. I contented myself with doing a bit of internet work and then making the five minute walk back to Connolly Station.

I was going to catch a train about 1000 for the 90 odd minute journey to Portadown which is the nearest railhead to my home. I spoke to yet another helpful chap on the information desk who informed me that my ticket from the previous day was not valid even though it was not my fault I could not use it due to Irish Ferries failure. A new ticket cost me €29 which, added to the €36 I had forked out for my bed the previous night was making for an expensive journey and totally negating any savings on a scheduled flight but the railwayman told me that if I kept all my receipts then the ferry company were obliged to reimburse me. I have not put that to the test yet but I’ll let the reader know how it goes.

A journey on a comfortable train, complete with onboard wifi passed quickly and I was soon back in the country of my birth, crossing the border back into the UK somewhere between Dundalk and Newry. The Enterprise, as it is known, is jointly run by Northern Ireland Railways and what I still refer to as CIE, the rail service of the Republic. Since I have been home I have read in the newspapers that they are looking for a huge investment to update the Enterprise as the service is known but it seemed quite OK to me.

There was quite an interesting episode between Dundalk and Newry where I was joined by a young couple who obviously had slightly special needs and were great fun. The young lady asked me if I would use her ‘phone to take a few images of them which I was happy to attempt but there was a slight problem. I have mentioned that I am completely useless with technology and cannot even manage to take an image with my own ‘phone let alone one I do not even know but she very patiently explained it to me and I duly obliged. I was quite pleased with myself. Alighting at Portadown I was again pressed into service as “duty photographer” but I had the knack of it by now and again produced a couple of images that were pronounced passable.

As I had the luggage I decided to use the lift to cross the footbridge and had a rather ribald laugh and a joke with three elderly women out for a day shopping. Exiting the station I was greeted by another elderly female who I have never been before who engaged me in a conversation about the weather and I was struck again by the differences in Northern Ireland and London. Everyone talks to everyone else here whereas in London people just do not do it. Crossing the carpark I was making a beeline for one particular venue, Bennett’s Bar.

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A truly terrifying sight. Was it really closed?

It is a habit of mine that the first thing I do when getting home is to go into this fine hostelry for a pint. Rounding the corner I was aghast to see that the pub was completely enclosed by scaffolding. Oh no, surely not. I know from the evidence of my own village that pubs are closing down hand over fist but not Bennett’s which is one of the more popular watering holes in town. Hurrying to investigate I noticed a sign indicating the bar was open upstairs and this was confirmed by a burly young builder who came out of the main bar where there was obviously some serious refurbishment going on.

OK, up we go, luggage and all and it was hard going as it was absolutely pitch black, I mean proper coalhole but I was not going to be deterred. Feeling my way to a door I went in to find a completely empty and barely lit bar with a young lady in the corner working at her mobile ‘phone. Not wishing to startle her I gently cleared my throat and enquired if the bar was open. Technically not for another few minutes but she bid me come in and she’d get me a drink. In all the years I had been drinking in Bennett’s I had never been up here before as it is only used as a nightclub at the weekends and even in my younger days I was never much of a one for that kind of thing. The young lady started me off a pint of Guinness and then off to the DJ decks to put on some music which was of the boom boom “dance variety” although thankfully not too loud. The pint came up, well-kept and poured as I would expect here and which prompted another small ritual of mine which is to take a picture of the first drink I have in any country when I (re)visit it. You can see it here.

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First one this trip.

Whilst the barmaid was scurrying about getting ready for what she expected to be a busy lunchtime food service (the food here is very good) we were snatching pieces of conversation and she told me that the pub was still owned by the eponymous Bennett brothers, Niall and Tony, whom I have known for about 35 years. I was telling the young lady about some of the things we used to get up to when, as if on cue, in walked Tony who took one look at me, called me by name and asked if I still lived in London. Bear in mind that he has not seen me for about three years and it was an impressive feat of memory. He was quickly hard at work but we managed a few reminiscences including the pub charity rugby side we used to organise every season. Speaking of rugby I ended up having an impromptu rugby training session with a small boy using a soft toy as a ball. Long story for another time.

The bus service to Tandragee is pretty appalling on weekdays, worse on Saturdays when there are only three in each direction and non-existent on Sunday so it was round the corner to get a taxi the five or six miles to my brother’s house. Greetings duly exchanged and I was somewhat amazed by my 20-year-old nephew who has taken to going to the gym and is about twice as broad as the last time I saw him! To quote the late Sandy Denny / Fairport Convention, “Who knows where the time goes”? My only regret is that he does not play rugby! After that, it was up the road a short distance to my Father’s house where I would be staying, drop my kit and say hello and then off we went to “meet the family”.

We were heading for the little village of Castlederg in County Tyrone which is the area my late Mother came from. Northern Ireland is a relatively small country and I lived there for the first 28 years of my life so I thought I knew it pretty well but I cannot remember ever having stopped there although I know I have driven through it. My Mother was the youngest of a large family which for various reasons, including World War Two ended up dispersed all over the place which means I had uncles and aunts I had never met and even, at the age of 58, first cousins in the same situation. Time to fix all that.

We were foregathering in the Derg Arms, which proved to be an excellent choice as you will find out. It is a big premises which serves as bar, restaurant and hotel and several of my relatives were staying there, all speaking very highly of it.

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There were 13 cousins there and along with husbands, wives and partners there were over 20 of us who sat down for dinner. I chose the chilli beef with noodles and, this being Northern Ireland, had to choose a side dish of potatoes which seems odd but we do like our spuds where I come from. Everyone seemed very pleased with their meals and I did have a chance to compliment the chef when I bumped into her out the back whilst having a smoke later on. She said it had been a busy night and it must have been as they also had a football (soccer) club dinner which seemed to be well attended in addition to the usual Saturday evening diners. Despite all this, service was good and very friendly in that typically Northern Ireland fashion.

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Our private “withdrawing room”.

After the meal we all retired to a lovely room which was actually the private dining room of the owners, which I thought was very decent of them, and which kept us separate from the slightly boisterous football crowd and young locals complete with pumping dance music. I include one image here merely to show how homely it was.

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A highly recommended establishment.

I do not intend to bore the reader with a family occasion but one cousin who serves as the family historian produced a family tree, there were all sorts of old photos including some of my late Mother that I had never seen and plenty of chat. I met cousins I had not seen since the 1960’s which did make me feel rather old. One of the highlights was the attendance of what I believe is a second cousin of mine. I am no expert on these things but he was a first cousin of my late Mother’s and was the ripe old age of 100, he was great.

All too soon it was time to go as we had about a 90 minute drive back to Tandragee so it was pretty late when I turned in and was asleep as soon as my head hit the pillow. It had been a long day and a great evening and I am really glad I went.

Stay tuned and spread the word.

It didn’t start so well.

If you have just stumbled across this entry I would suggest that you read my entry from the 10th June 2018 entitled, “I haven’t really got lost” as it explains exactly what is going on in relation to this particular series of entries which I hope to link sequentially if I ever work out how. They refer to a trip I am currently still on in my home country of Northern Ireland where I have been for jut over a week and may be for an unspecified time for reasons which I shall touch on now.

Obviously I shall not be going into details but my octogenarian Father has not been enjoying the best of health lately and it had been a while since I saw him so that was overdue. Coupled with this my younger brother had told me that there was to be a gathering of cousins from my late Mother’s side of the family so it really was a case of killing two birds with one stone

I really do dislike flying short haul now as it is just so much hassle for such a short time in the air. I do not particularly dislike flying per se but with the exception of London City which is a couple of miles from my home, it takes me a minimum of 90 minutes to get to any one of the other four “London” airports none of which are actually in London! Add to that the requirement to be at the airport two hours before departure and it makes for a long journey. If I am going home I fly into Aldergrove airport which is about an hour bus ride to central Belfast then another hour on a train to get to Portadown and then an irregular bus or a taxi to Tandragee.

 

My preferred mode of travelling back to Northern Ireland is a “railsail” ticket which includes train travel from London to Holyhead, ferry to Dublin and a train to any station in Northern Ireland. Somewhat oddly it does not include the bus from the ferry to Connolly station of the Busaras bus coach station) but even allowing for the €3 single the fare is certainly comparable with flying even on the “cheapo” airlines which I refuse to use anyway having been let down by them far too often.

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It all starts at Euston station.

I had opted for the 1210 train as opposed to the 0910 boat train purely to avoid the rush hour on the Tube which is such a pain. The seldom used alarm function on my ‘phone did it’s thing and I woke in mid-morning feeling absolutely wretched. Whatever had been laying me low previously seemed to have return with a vengeance and I really felt like doing nothing except staying put and going back to sleep but I knew I would regret it if I did not go as planned so I forced myself into the shower, packed a small rollalong in a few minutes and headed out.

At this point I shall utilise a review I wrote for the now sadly demised Virtual Tourist website, suitably edited, which is still relevant as I do not see much point in re-writing something that took me so long in the first place. It actually refers to the journey the other way but the details are the same in reverse.

“When I began travelling in the 1970’s the only realistic way to travel to and from Northern Ireland was by boat as air travel was hideously expensive. Travel to London without driving involved either an overnight boat to Liverpool, a train to Larne and over to Stranraer with an awfully long train / coach trip or the Dublin / Holyhead option going through the Republic of Ireland and train or coach from North Wales. Frankly, none of them were a lot of fun.
As the years went on, air travel became more affordable especially with the advent of low-cost carriers and just about everyone adopted the aeroplane as their default mode of transport. I did the same myself but just recently I am becoming more and more disenchanted with air travel, especially within the British Isles. With the post 9/11 security regulations at airports, cost of travel to out-of-town airports, check-in hassles and now the appalling practice of having to pay through the nose for checked baggage I really am fed up with it. I recently worked out that is just about the same time for me to get door to door from my home in central London to the centre of Edinburgh without ever going near a ‘plane. It is also immeasurably more comfortable and I do not have to produce my passport to travel within my own country which really does annoy me.

I should mention here the excellent Man in Seat 61 website which is literally all the information you need for train travel you anywhere in the world. It really is essential reading if you are going to ride the rails. It was there that I discovered this travel option and I decided to check it out some years ago. I like train travel and time is not a major concern for me.  So what are the details? At time of writing it was £68 each way and you can book online which attracts a small fee but it is possible to purchase them at this price until 1800 the previous day or from any major UK rail station.

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Heading for Chester.

My journey started at London Euston and involved a change at Chester. Some trains involve a further change at Crewe. I settled in my pre-reserved seat still feeling so rough I did not even fancy a coffee much less a drink. I did not even feel like reading which is unlike me and just sat and looked out the window at what was a pretty decent day. Had I wished to use my laptop, there were power points provided although you need to pay for wi-fi if you are not in first class.

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Far more comfortable than cattle class in a cheapo airline ‘plane.

The day had started OK but the weather degenerated the further North and West we went which was a shame. It was sad the weather was so foul as the little I could see indicated that there was some lovely scenery with the journey along the North Wales coast and its numerous holiday destinations and caravan parks, crossing the Menai Straits and then across Anglesey, or Ynys Mon as it is locally called. I do remember reading that this was the last place there were considerable numbers of druids before the advance of Christianity obliterated them.

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Trust me, you won’t get lost.

Here is the drill if you do take this route. The small railway station at Holyhead is actually the same building as the ferry terminal and is well signposted, you really shouldn’t get lost. If you should, for whatever reason, need the left luggage office (it was closed when I was there!), it is on the left at the end of the platforms as you walk towards the ferries. There is a shop and refreshment facilities. The pick up area is to the right as you walk from the station to the ferryport and if you want to walk into town the entrance to the left over the modern new walkway will lead you there.”

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Across the Irish Sea.

I still was not feeling great but this was to prove the least of my worries. The route is jointly operated by Irish Ferries and Stena Line and I was due on the 1715 fast boat which, even allowing for the bus transfer in Dublin would leave me in plenty of time to get the Enterprise train North. I joined the queue and waited, and then we waited some more to the point it was clear we were never going to depart on time. We had our bags screened by security and let in a waiting room which certainly fulfilled its function as we waited, man did we wait! Included in the passenger list was a group of about thirty or so pupils from Bocombra Primary School which could potentially have been a right pain but in fairness to them and their teachers they were very well-behaved if a little noisy. We eventually got the bus for the short transfer to the ferry and it was nearly 1900 before we cast off and got underway. I knew that my 2050 train was looking extremely doubtful. What annoyed me was that at no point did I hear any explanation as to the delay although I am guessing it may have been to do with the very thick fog.

Again, I shall return to my earlier writings to describe the boat.

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So much more comfortable than flying.

“The boat was a huge improvement on the cattleships of my distant memory with a lot of things to keep you amused. There are various eating and drinking options, large screen TV’s, comfortable lounges and even a cinema (extra charge). I have to say that the price of food and drink is pretty high onboard, probably something to do with the captive audience thing. Euros and sterling are both accepted and basically if you buy something in sterling then you get your change in sterling and the same with Euros.”

Comfortable as it was I neither ate, drank nor even read and was content to vaguely watch the news on the large screen TV and try to doze. There was certainly nothing to see out the window but fog.

We arrived in Dublin very late and I went to the bus where I paid my €3, having made sure I had some € on me. Last time I did not and was completely ripped off at the desk who changed € to £ at one for one. At this time of the night, there was nobody even on the desk so I would have been completely stymied. Had the bus left then and there I might have just made the train but the driver sat put until the people who had stowed their baggage had retrieved it from the baggage carousel. He seemed in no hurry with the driving either even though there was no traffic at all. The upshot of all this was that I arrived in Connolly Station 12 minutes after my train had departed. Brilliant!

I was sure it was a forlorn hope but I went to the information desk and, rather more in hope than in expectation enquired if there was another train that night which of course there wasn’t. I was effectively stranded in central Dublin on a Friday night with no accommodation and probably little chance of getting any. The guy on the desk was very helpful and phoned the bus station for me but nothing doing there. When I asked him about somewhere to stay he suggested a hotel just across the road or, failing that another one just around the corner.

The first one was posh, obviously expensive (Dublin is a very pricey city) and full. Ditto the second. The friendly young lady there suggested a nearby street near the bus station where there were several possible options. Her directions took me along a particular street and, lo and behold, what was there but Jacobs Inn, a sizeable looking hostel. At weekends Dublin is a magnet for hen and stag parties and I wasn’t really hopeful but it really was any port in a storm at this point. I wandered up to the desk and enquired to be told that I was in luck and I secured the very last bed in the establishment. The young man on the desk rather apologetically told me it was a 12 bed mixed dorm and it would be €36. “It’s the weekend,I’m afraid”, he said.

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Jacobs Inn, a very welcome sight.

Even at 58 years of age hostels don’t bother me at all and I rather enjoy them in many ways as they are much more sociable than soulless corporate hotels and are great places to meet travellers. Having been in the Forces, communal living does not bother me in the slightest and in matters of accommodation all I really require is a clean bed long enough to fit my 6’5″ frame and a decent amount of hot water (or cold depending on the climate obviously) to shower in.

For some reason, probably operator error from this technophobe) I could not manage to ‘phone or SMS my brother to let him know the situation albeit that he was less than 100 miles away as the crow flies. I suspect it was because I was in another country although I really do not know. I sent him an e-mail from the dorm on the fast internet wifi, then headed for a look round.

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Jacobs is one of the “new” breed of hostels that I made so much use of on my unexpectedly extended wander around Europe last Spring / Summer which will eventually form the basis of yet another travelogue as it is a Hell of a story. They are such a far cry from the places I hostelled in right back to the 1970’s with curfews, chores, lights out and no TV!  I really do rate them as a travel option in the 21st century and I am glad that the 26 years age limit is long gone or I would never get in. Whilst it is not common, neither is it unheard of for me to meet people of my own vintage. Beware you youngsters, the grey travellers are coming! It is a subject I shall return to in future.

A quick exploration showed the hostel to be spotlessly clean and well-kept with all the usual facilities and boasting a fourth floor roof terrace where I went for a smoke and which offers fine views over the city. Those that know me will find my next statement all but unbelievable but I was in Dublin City Centre on a Friday night with some brilliant pubs within about a 400 yard radius and I did not even go out for a single pint of Guinness! I sat drinking bottles of water in the company of three young American girls watching some American TV police drama on the large plasma TV. Normally I wouldn’t even think about watching something like that but I still didn’t feel up to doing much else and it did actually turn out to be reasonably enjoyable, something about a serial killer and FBI criminal profilers, just don’t ask me what it was called. I took my leave of the ladies and turned in a touch before midnight. Dublin will still be there next time.

As I was getting ready to “hit the pit” I had a look round the dorm and saw that most of the bunks were still empty so I was more or less prepared for a night of little sleep as various drunken rowdies returned at all hours of the night. In the event, the young people were impeccably behaved, tiptoeing about and whispering very quietly and still I got not a wink of sleep. I did give it a good go but I have a sleep disorder and am generally fairly nocturnal. Coupled with the fact I had been dozing most of the day, the warm embrace of Morpheus was never going to happen. I have learned not to even bother fighting it and lay there reading my book to pass the time.

I know that technically I am now into the 3rd of June so I shall break this here or it will get untidy.

Technical note.

Due to me feeling so bad I didn’t take any images on my way to Dublin so the images here are all from previous journeys although nothing has really changed and they are here merely to provide an idea.

Stay tuned and spread the word.

A turning point.

22nd of May.

The 22nd of May was somewhat of a turning point in the trip and I do not have a single image to accompany this particular day but I hope it will serve to explain the (many) journal / blog entries that follow this.

I make no secret of the fact that I am here in the undoubtedly forlorn hope of ever creating a decent website as one of the many refugees from the late and much lamented Virtual Tourist which many of my few trusty “followers” were members of.

One of the highlights of the VT calendar was the annual Euromeet which was held in a different town or city every year and was organised entirely by one or more members. Whilst the meets were not officially sanctioned by VT (I suspect for legal reasons more than anything else) they were hugely supportive and used to send the organisers large boxes of “swag” i.e. promotional items to be distributed amongst the attendees. Additionally, one of the members of staff usually attended and I had met and got to know several of them personally over the years. I count the last two CEO’s of VT, Giampiero (G) and Kimberly as personal friends. It really was that kind of site which makes it’s loss, especially the circumstances of that loss, all the greater.

This year’s meet had been in the planning for some time and was scheduled for a town called Kempten in Allgau in Bayern (Bavaria) in Southern Germany. It was being organised by a German member called Christian who had already done an awful lot of legwork and booked coaches, restaurants etc. which must have left him in an awful position when they pulled the rug out from under us.

Needless to say there was much discussion as to whether it would go on or not but the overwhelming consensus was that it should for a number of reasons. Obviously, nobody wanted poor Christian to be out of pocket nor for all his hard work to be wasted. Also, there was an element of defiance that we weren’t going to let the “bar stewards” grind us down and if we wanted to have a meet then we were going to have one, website or no. Perhaps most importantly, a number of very firm personal friendships had been formed over the years and people go to the meets as much for the incredibly sociable atmosphere as for the excellent activities and meals that the organisers consistently arrange.

I had more or less decided that I wasn’t going to go this year although I had initially signed up as I thought it would be something of a wake with everyone sitting around moping over the loss of something we all held so dear. However, as the date drew ever nearer I was increasingly thinking that if I did not attend then I would regret it forever. I will give full details of the meet itself in future journal entries. I have mentioned before that I had made my mind up I didn’t want to fly if I didn’t have to and so I booked an overnight bus (coach) from Lyon to Memmingen which is very close to Kempten. I knew if I headed off the next night I would have a day to spare and so I might as well take in another location.

I “booked passage” with a company called Flixbus on the night bus the following evening and I must have spent the rest of the day toiling over a hot keyboard as I do not have a single image of that daytime as I mentioned at the top of this piece which is unusual for me. Don’t worry, there are plenty more to come.

23rd May.

 

After the supper of the night before it was a miracle I slept at all but I did. The idea of consuming a whole beautifully over-ripe French cheese along with some more Crement d’Alsace (which is really champagne but they cannot call it that due to where it is made) I suspect would not be recommended by a sleep expert, especially for one with my sleep disorders.  I should explain that I deliberately leave cheeses in my fridge at home for a month or two past their sell-by dates just to mature.  They have not killed me yet.

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I love French cheese!

I knew I had to keep myself fairly well in check that day for a couple of reasons. Firstly, I did not want to miss my bus (coach) and secondly, I know that the “facilities” on such vehicles can be a touch unsavoury to say the least so the less need to use them the better. The day, therefore, was spent going round one or two of the local establishments of alcoholic refreshment I had taken to frequenting and drinking small beers which caused some confusion as that is not my normal way. I was bid some very genuine and hearty “Bon voyages” (I am not sure if I should pluralize that or not so apologies if I have it wrong).

Not least of these fond farewells was in the hostel of which, yet again, I cannot speak highly enough. The staff had taken to calling me by my name and would invite me to sit with them when they were having their coffee breaks etc. for a chat. Despite the fact that I was easily old enough to be the Father of anyone there and probably biologically even Grandfather to some, I never felt anything less than most welcome there. I know I was most happy in le Flaneur and it was certainly a far better experience than sitting alone in a room or soulless hotel bar in any place I could afford in the city. I’d never have found a guitar!

I shall publish a little collage of images of the hostel on another page here.

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Au revoir, old friend.

I kept myself fairly straight and, with a final pat on the “head” of R2D2 (does R2D2 have a head?), I was off in plenty of time to get to the station, maybe even slip in a quick beer before the off. Wrong. Once again I relied on technology and once again it failed me. Using the appalling Google maps I walked and I walked and when I had done that I walked some more! Eventually I resorted to tried and trusted tactics, asked a passerby, got proper directions and arrived with about five minutes to spare, sweating like the proverbial pig although I am sure I have read that pigs do not actually sweat as I mentioned before but who knows? What I do know is that I could have wrung out my bandanna and I was very grateful for having worn it. I thoroughly recommend one for travellers of either gender, especially if you have a bit of hair.

I made it to the bus station and not a problem as the baggage loader / conductor seemed in no rush so I joined him for a smoke and a chat. I asked about seats and was told they were not allocated and to sit where I wanted. Great stuff and I knew where I was headed. The bus was about half full and I spied my seat immediately. If i can I always take the middle seat of five in the back row as it offers just about unlimited legroom and I am 6’5″ (194 in metric?, I am not sure) so that was me. Happy days with happier to come as nobody else apparently wanted to sit in the back row. Whether this was due to me being there I cannot say but the upshot was that I had five seats to myself and whilst not the most comfortable bunk in the world at least it was a lie down. I knew it was going to be a long night but a sleeper on the train was going to be ludicrously expensive and take me on a most circuitous route with not a lot of time saved by doing that.

A short time after the appointed hour off we went and I settled down with a decent book, a very interesting military biography of a chap called George Alexander (Sandy) Forsyth who fought for the Union in the American Civil War and then spent years fighting the “Indians” in what was still then very much the “Wild West”. He fought with Custer and “little” Phil Sheridan, whose most trusted lieutenant he was, before organising buffalo hunting parties for Russian nobility and a whole lot more. The book is called “The Hero of Beecher Island” by a very eminent American military historian called David Dixon and I do recommend it.

Night had fallen and there wasn’t much to look at anyway as it was purely motorway (autoroute) driving which is never too exciting at the best of times so I thought I would try for an hour or two of a kip. Boots off and a bit of judicious positioning of the seatbelt anchor points and I made a half-decent “basha” (Army term deriving from the Hindi in the days of the Raj). OK, there was not much chance of a decent sleep as the bus would stop every couple of hours or so at some major settlement to let people on and off. Still, it was a smoke break and there was an interesting interlude at one point when the conductor politely asked me to stand five metres away from the bus whilst smoking. Some stupid regulation from the detested EU. He gave me this instruction standing right at the door chatting to the driver! One law for some and one for the rest as they say.

Being half asleep most of the time I had sort of lost track of what countries I had even travelled through as border controls are just about non-existent on these borders although this was to change during the course of my trip due to the completely insupportable amount of economic migrants from sub-Sharan Africa particularly to Italy and now Spain. These are UN figures and not any sort of xenophobia of mine and were to dominate the newspapers in Italy when I eventually got there (trust me, I shall write about it eventually!) Seven out of ten of the supposed refugees landing or being rescued from the seas by the totally overstretched Italian and Spanish authorities are UN designated as economic migrants and not refugees but as soon as they hit Lampedusa or Sicily or get pulled out of the sea then they have reached the “promised land”. Why else would they risk such a hazardous crossing? I know that I was later to sail through Brenner on the Austrian / Italian border without even having a passport check and yet a couple of weeks later the Austrians had effectively closed that crossing point but more of that later.

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On this journey I think I probably went through about four countries although, as I say, I was half asleep or reading most of the way. I know I was in Geneva just before midnight which was the first time I had ever been in Switzerland (who can afford that place?) but I am never going to “claim” it as a destination I have been to as a jump out the door for ten minutes and a smoke hardly constitutes “visiting” a country. That being said, I can quite honestly say that I have set foot on Swiss soil.

Onward, ever onward and I cannot say it was the most pleasant journey I have ever been on albeit I knew what to expect and wasn’t at all misled by Flixbus. They are a cheap option and you get what you pay for. The “excitement” came at one pickup / drop off / smoke break / leg stretch stop and by this stage I genuinely did not even know what country I was in. There was a police van waiting and I worked out from the plates that I was no longer in France or Switzerland but rather I had somehow ended up in Germany in the delightful town of Lindau which I was to revisit and thoroughly enjoy later.

We stopped at a car park in town to set down, pick up and have a smoke for those of us that did but not so quick Fergy, my lad. I pulled the boots on and down the steps for a smoke only to be ushered quickly back on board by the conductor with the brusque phrase “police check”. OK, fair enough, I have nothing to hide and there then ensued a complete performance by two armed police officers, one male and one female who went through the pantomime of checking everyone’s ID. Again, no problem for me and I was asked a couple of cursory questions but it was so obvious they were acting “on information received” as I believe the cop term is and looking for someone in particular.

There was a youngish female sitting a few rows in front of me and I was privy to the conversation which was conducted in English as the only common language between her and the female officer. It turned out she was Macedonian, had a scant few € on her, no credit cards and apparently little idea where she was going or where she was going to stay.  She was to be picked up at the bus station by someone of whom she had no details.  At a guess I would think she was being trafficked for prostitution.  Last I saw of her she was being put in the back of the police van and I have no idea what happened to her after that but it merely extended an already long and tiresome journey by over an hour. Deep joy!

I have no problem with any country protecting it’s borders and, grateful as I am that we never joined Schengen, I shall be even happier when we finally leave the Federal States of E (aka the EU) and regain proper control of ours.

In due course we reached Memmingen where I alighted in the early(ish) morning and that will have to wait for the next edition of this journal / blog but at least I had got there.

Stay tuned and spread the word and there will be images of Lindau in a future entry I promise.

I get a lovely gift.

The 20th May ran seamlessly into the 21st as days tend to do. Normally I consider a day to be over when I go to sleep and a new one begins when I am awake again but, given my ridiculous sleep patterns, that seems a touch redundant as one day can easily run into three. Yes, I sometimes do not sleep for three days which is ludicrous but that is just the way it is.

If the reader has read my previous journal / blog entry here they will know that the 20th had been an utterly fascinating day hanging round the 3rd arrondissement of Lyon where I was staying and celebrating Cameroon’s national day in a Cameroonian bar amongst other little adventures. Eventually I made my short way back to the hostel without even getting lost despite the rather copious quantities of beer that had been consumed.

 

 

Back in the very comfortable common area / bar and there was time for another beer before bed. Let’s be honest, there is always time for another beer before bed and this is where my world took another sideways turn.

I had been considering turning in but, of course, my world never works quite like that. There was a young lady sitting there playing the house guitar “finger picking” style and with a repertoire of French songs of which I knew neither a word nor a note. I had to sit down and watch, beer in hand. After a few wonderful songs (she was very good) she offered me the guitar as protocol in such circumstances demands. I know that there are many in the world who think that “road bums” like us have no such concepts as protocol and manners but that is far from the truth. From my time in the Forces I know that communal living imposes certain demands on you and sharing is central to a lot of them. It simply does not work otherwise.

The guitar was passed to me and I kicked off into some song or another, although I have no recollection what it was now.  I have been in hostels with guitars before and they are normally things that I would not use as a plant pot and have not been re-strung since the day they were bought but this was not the case here. It was a half-decent box.  Certainly it was no Guild or Martin but it held the tuning well and stood up decently to my hammering of it. Like everything else in the hostel it was in prime condition and I suspect the staff restrung it regularly as the strings were very “bright” as we say and it was a joy to play.

The night wore on, as it does, and it ended up with the young French lady, myself and a young American lad sitting on and playing the plywoood box which does have a proper name which I don’t know but which serves as a percussion instrument. Somehow or another harmonies even made an appearance. I’ve played some reasonably big gigs and in front of some pretty decent crowds (I think about 5,000 is my best so far) but this was up there with all of them, it was truly magical and the reason I learned to play the guitar in the first place.  I was dragging songs out of the locker that I had not played for 30 years and thoroughly enjoying every one. I was constantly waiting for the night receptionist to tell us to shut up and go to bed but not a bit of it, he was positively encouraging it to the point of making requests which I did my best with if I knew them.

It was by no means a “straight ahead” gig and we were stopping between numbers for a drink and a chat and I discovered that the very talented young lady was called Elodie, an actress from Bretagne (a Province in Northwest France with a large Celtic heritage and a place I am very fond of) and was in Lyon for an acting course, that being her profession obviously. She was 29 years old which makes her easily young enough to be my daughter and yet that was not a problem at all.  The drummer was younger still.

I know that I was easily the oldest person staying in that hostel in the fair amount of time I was there and I include in that statement the teachers of the rather boisterous bunch of French schoolchildren that infested the place and created havoc for a couple of nights.

My age didn’t seem to bother anyone and the night wore on and on towards the dawn. Elodie did not speak more than a few words of English and so we were conversing in French but I was frankly running out of intersong conversation by about 0400 in the morning. I just had nothing left to say that I had the vocabulary for and, more as a conversational gambit than anything, I admired a rather unusual ring she was wearing. She did no more than remove it from her finger and offer it to me. Well, I could not accept that and thanked her politely for her kind offer but she insisted, eventually putting it on my little finger which was the only one it would fit on.

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I love this ring.

The attached image here will show that it is a pretty fanciful female piece of jewellery and I have not worn rings for over 30 years when I nearly ripped a finger off catching one in a Land Rover door in the Forces. A look at any of the images of me will show that I am a particularly hairy, tall male and yet I have worn this very effeminate ring every day since and will continue to do so. I am wearing it as I type this. It means so much on so many levels. It is a souvenir (to use a proper French word) of a great trip that did more for me than I might like to admit. It was a gift from a gorgeous young lady, given freely and very generously. I still think it looks effeminate as it looks far too “fancy” for a man but I love it and will continue to wear it and, in truth, the occasional comments I have had about it have all been positive. I know who and what I am and if I choose to wear this wonderful gift, I’ll wear it. I just need to remember to take it off going through airport security!

Update August 2018.

I am posting all this retrospectively in August 2018 and there is a lovely story attached to this ring which will feature in my account of Broadstairs Folk Week, another little project of mine here.

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After waking up pretty late (I think I got to bed about 0600) I went for my usual walk ending up in the La Savane cafe which I mentioned in the last entry and which I shall speak of again in a future entry.

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Yes, that was “parked” and not just waiting for traffic.

I did, however, manage to take an image of the utter carnage that is French driving and, more particularly, parking if it could even be called that.  It is merely a matter of abandoning your car wherever you like and going about your business. Heaven forbid that anyone in a wheelchair or with a pram should try to pass by.

Thus ended another day with a newly beringed Fergy still riding it for all it was worth and with no intention of going home.

Trust me, I really do get out of Lyon eventually so stay tuned and spread the word.

It could only happen to me.

The 20th May was a Saturday and fortunately the extremely fickle weather had taken a turn for the better which was a blessing. I should mention at the outset of this entry that, yet again, there will be nothing in the way of museums, churches, art galleries or whatever and the reader may want to pass quickly on as I do not waste anyone’s time if that is what they are looking for.  Rather this is a personal recollection of a day that represents much of what I love about travelling and some of the strange things that happen to me on the road.

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A typical streetscene in my area.

Given the fact that I had done precious little else but sit around drinking, smoking, chatting and playing the guitar I really thought I should take advantage of the weather and so I resumed my morning rambles.

Nothing serious or touristy mind you, just another wander round the 3rd arrondissement which was the area I was staying in and which I was developing quite an affection for.  It was “edgy” although I never felt in the least threatened, it was just not a sanitised city centre location and it suited me down to the ground. I’d only planned to stay in Lyon a couple of days and it had gone a lot longer than that but this happens to me regularly.

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Ah, the power of advertising. I couldn’t resist a snap.
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A school for croupiers, whatever next?

Off I went and took a couple of images of nothing really important and inevitably it came to “beer o’clock” as it was quite warm and I was thirsty. To be honest, waking up makes me thirsty!  Having decided on a beer I resolved to go into the first bar I saw which happened to be the one you see.

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As you will notice from the image it looks like a typical French cafe and so in I went to find a completely empty bar, devoid of either staff or patrons. I took to watching the large screen TV which was showing some sort of procession of people in African traditional dress and so it did not really surprise me when (after a polite cough or two to alert someone to my presence) an African guy appeared. By now my conversational French was sufficient to order a beer and up it came – Heineken!  No problem and I took a chair to watch what was happening on the TV.

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The guy came over to sit with me and it was quickly clear that English was not on the menu. By now I was absolutely astounding myself on how much of my schoolboy French, which I had not used for 40 years, was coming back and we managed to converse pretty well. What happened then literally “blew my mind” to use an old hippy term. 20th May is Cameroon’s national day and this was the National Parade in the capital Yaoundé and mightily impressive it was too, there were literally tens of thousands parading and it seemed like the whole country was there. This was a Cameroonian establishment and he explained all about the parade to me before excusing himself and going out to the back (kitchen) to return with a plate of some sort of African “nibbles”. I wish I had thought to take an image.

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Now, tell me, what are the chances of that? I am in central France and just happen to wander into a Cameroonian bar to sit and drink Dutch beer and share African snacks whilst watching his national celebration on Cameroonian satellite TV with a Cameroonian guy and conversing in a language I barely speak. It was, shall we say, slightly odd but as several dear friends are never done saying to me, “It could only happen to you, Fergy” (hence the title of this piece) and I am actually beginning to believe it.  I don’t set out to do so but “things” just seem to happen to me. Fortunately, the huge majority of them are overwhelmingly positive and I had a great time. It was just another “road story” and I will never tire of them.

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Well, all that was great and I eventually dragged myself away, a very happy planxty, I just cannot get enough of that kind of situation. All this by itself would have been wonderful but the day was not nearly over yet and plenty more experiences to come.

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By this time I had my serious beer head on (frankly, that does not take much to do) and so I wandered not too far to another obviously hipster bar where I had a quick one as it was a bit trendy and not really Fergy country.

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In the interests of fair reporting, the beer was excellent.

Off again then and I stumbled on La Savane, one street away from the hostel which was a bonus had things got out of hand and at least there was a bit of a clue here in the signage that it was an African establishment (the image was taken much later on).

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Well, I was on that kind of run that afternoon and straight in I went.  Much as I love travelling, for some reason I have never had any desire to visit sub-Saharan Africa, much as that region undoubtedly has to offer but I am always up for new experinces and after my unplanned Cameroonian excursion earlier it seemed like a Hell of a plan.

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A cosy little bar with a charming lady behind the “jump” who looked initially a bit surprised and then beamed a huge smile at me with a cheery, “Bonjour, Monsieur”.  I wasn’t even going to bother trying English at this point, indeed why should I have the arrogance to think that the whole world speaks it, so a beer called for in French and quickly and cheerfully supplied. I took a seat to take in the surroundings. I find it is rarely a good idea to just launch into conversations as a stranger in what is obviously a locals bar as people get suspicious so I kept my own counsel until I sussed the place.

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There was no TV here but the entertainment was what I call “palm wine” music with that wonderful guitar sound that I really wish I could play but never will as I am not good enough. I shall speak more about this place in future entries here as I spent rather a lot of time there, I did rather like it.  From the map as shown in the image and the conversation, I gathered that it was owned and run by people from the Central African Republic.

After perhaps one or two too many beers I wended my merry way home to the hostel which must have taken all of about three minutes and undoubtedly had another couple as I just cannot resist an open bar. Yes, I’m a drunk.

This day was interesting for me although probably not for the reader who does not want to hear about my beer drinking exploits. At no point that day would I have been more than 500 yards from my bed and it reaffirmed to me that you don’t have to move too far to discover things. I learned things that I never knew before like a potted history of Cameroon, a country I knew little of except for their footballing adventures. I was getting happier by the day and that was the plan.  OK, the plan was originally for four days in the Netherlands but who cares?

Stay tuned and spread the word.

Still busy doing nothing.

14th of May.

Of the 14th of May I must confess I can tell you precious little. As I have mentioned in earlier I am relying heavily on my images to remind me of what I did on any particular day, but the sole image I have from this day is the one you can see and was apparently taken at 1808 hours. I cannot, to my eternal shame, even remember what that food was but I do recognise a cocktail sauce when I see one!

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All I can tell the reader with any certainty is that I was still in the excellent Le Flaneur hostel, enjoying it immensely and in great danger of falling foul of the travel inertia I have mentioned before.

I suppose I might as well crack on with another couple of days here.

15th of May.

The 15th May arrived and I had apparently awarded myself a bit of a lie-in as my images don’t start until about lunchtime. My dorm in the hostel was en suite but didn’t have any windows and so it was a matter of showering and getting dressed before you opened the door to see what the weather was going to do to you. I had been heading ever Southwards in the hope of escaping the cold and rain of Northern Europe but it really wasn’t happening and so it was a very happy Fergy that walked out into a glorious Spring day which thankfully looked much more like Summer. Contrast this to the images from earlier in this entry where it was, frankly, miserable. Off and running.

Anyone who knows me or who has randomly stumbled upon this blog will know that I simply adore just bimbling about aimlessly and very often getting myself completely lost. Certainly I love to visit a museum, cathedral or monument as much as the next man but it is completely unscripted meanderings, without aid of a map and the technological ineptitude that precludes me using the one on my ‘phone, that leads to some of the best times. We return to another of my several travel mantras in that there is no right and no wrong way to travel and this is my way. I suspect the only potential wrong way would be to sign up for some form of trip when you know that it is not your preferred style.

I know Lyon is a city with a fantastic history and many fascinating sites / sights to see and yet, in the many days there I saw precisely nothing of huge note and yet I had such a good time, hung out in places that never see a tourist, brushed up my appalling French, ate some great food, met some lovely people and generally had a thoroughly enjoyable time.  Again, I defy anyone to tell me that I wasted my time.

One thing that I did notice was that the traffic was absolutely horrendous, as you can see in one of the images above but I was walking and so, apart from the inevitable fumes, it did not bother me too much.

A walk on a glorious French Spring day revealed some wonderful architecture which I loved and then it was down to the river, I do love being by the water and Lyon served me perfectly. Whilst many major settlements grew up historically along rivers Lyon boasts not one but two major waterways, namely the Rhone and the Saone. I had either bumped into or would bump into both of them on this trip and I do rather love them. On this afternoon I wandered along the Rhone, which is the larger of the two rivers and marvelled at the superb wide embankment where people seemed to congregate after work. Well, it is a beautiful place to do it. They even have the municipal swimming baths located there.

Naturally, a couple of bars featured on my ramble and my images suggest that the Monopol and Ed’s Original featured amongst others.

After having revived myself suitably it was time for a walk a bit further along the river in the gathering dusk and I was rewarded with a lovely looking church which was obviously closed at that hour and yet another charming public space with some unusual modern style sculpture there.

I had decided that another quick beer was in order before I took off to the hostel after what had been a most enjoyable day and my “nose”, of which I have spoken often here, led me to the Monroe Bar named after arguably the world’s greatest sex symbol and themed accordingly.  I stress once more that there was nothing to suggest it was a rough-house as it was clean and tidy, nothing raucous happening but I just knew it was “edgy” and, as so often, the nose was not wrong.

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Monroe Bar, Lyon, scene of a bit of drama.

Not long after I had sat down to enjoy my well-kept beer, in walked a male and a female police officer, both in uniform and armed to the teeth as is the way here although what did surprise me was the length of his hair, he looked a right hippy.  Obviously, I have no idea what French police regulations are on the matter but surely he could at least have put it in a ponytail not only in the interests of tidiness but to make it less easy to get a hold of in a ruck.  I can only guess he did other work undercover but you would never see such a thing in UK.  Anyway, after a bit of a conversation with the barman, the two of them went through a door behind the bar and emerged a few minutes later with a young man in handcuffs who they duly took outside and stuck in the back of a van.  I have no idea what it was all about but it did liven the place up a bit and indicated to me that I had not lost my touch.

16th of May.

The 16th was another decent day, the weather definitely seemed to have cheered itself up somewhat which was a blessed relief.

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Another day walking about and with very little to show in the way of images except my ridiculous breakfast to start with. OK, I am sure the medical profession probably does not recommend a bottle of wine and half a packet of cigarettes as the basis for a healthy diet but I counter with this argument. I am now 58 years of age (57 then) and have not even been registered with a Doctor for over 20 years even with my ludicrous lifestyle. I seem to be doing OK and am not putting a drain on the much over-stretched National Health Service. Suits me.

 

I did go out for my usual perambulation in the afternoon and about the only thing I found was the local allotments which did look to be well used and full of plants, flowers and veggies.  Perhaps this is where some of the excellent produce I had seen in the “farmer’s market” in the hostel garden.

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Open mic night at le Flaneur – great fun.

I got home in good time to catch the music evening that I had seen advertised and which was well attended, as you can see.  The standard of musicianship was very good with several bands on show and the style being a mix of jazz / funk and more world music influenced pieces.  As the image shows (apologies for the quality again but I am always so reticent to use flash) that it was well-attended and with the excellently stocked bar in full swing it was a most enjoyable evening.  I know I have gone on about it quite a bit but this hostel really does have just about everything.  I could happily spend a few months there.

I realise this is not perhaps the most riveting reading but there is plenty more to come that may be of more interest so please stay tuned and spread the word.

Travel inertia sets in.

There is now going to follow, in this lamentably tardy blog, a series of days which are all very much the same and which the reader may wish to skim-read or even skip entirely. Believe me, there are some pretty crazy things to come!

Basically, I eventually fell foul of what I refer to as “travel inertia” insofar as I get to a place I like and just cannot get up the impetus to move on. It is not country or even continent specific, it will happen to me just about anywhere sooner or later on a trip.

As I mentioned in the previous entry I had instantly fallen in love with the Flaneur hostel (although it calls itself a guesthouse) and was to fall similarly in love with the city of Lyon over the following days.  I had only booked two or three nights here but ended up staying a lot longer as you shall see if you follow this blog on.

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There was even a hammock.

 

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My images for this day show that I appear to have spent most of it in the hostel, specifically the lovely back garden area, and went for a bit of a wander in the evening for a few beers and a look round the area which I was to get quite attached to.  I did manage to add a little something to the wonderful blackboard they had in the garden with the title “Before I die I want to…..”  See if you can guess which one I added.

 

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That is my kind of record collection, two of my all-time favourite albums.

Not too much to report therefore but there is more to come so stay tuned and spread the word.