Well , and now for something completely different, or at least for me. A Rugby Trip!
Rob’s been to Ireland, more specifically to Bray a seaside resort in the south of the country.
The reason for the trip was to see Wales play Ireland in the 6 Nations Rugby tournament. We didn’t have tickets, so it was a case of head over, drink too much, eat too much and to use an Irish phrase “enjoy the craic” (as in laugh, entertainment, good times)
The trip was by coach and ferry, the former something I don’t chose to do as I don’t do it well, the latter something I had never done! So at sparrow fart (6:30am) I get up, shower and drive to collect my brother, then we head to Llantwit Fadre where we meet our travel mates at the coach depot.
We get on the coach, very nice, very modern: toilet, tv’s etc. and at the start we are the only passengers. Now it was at this point the alarm bells should have started ringing, as they certainly weren’t going to lay on a full size coach for the 6 of us.
So our journey began by zig zagging across an area of south Wales for about 2+ hours picking up other passengers, until we eventually start our journey for the Ferry Terminal at Fishguard.Oh and another thing, “terminal” please, for a nervous 1st timer couldn’t they have come up with a better name, doesn’t exactly instil confidence for a weak swimmer like moi! ;o)
We head straight into the ferry, disembark from the toast rack ... toast rack?? Our affectionate name for the back seat of the bus, as at any one time at least one of us had to lean forward to allow the others to sit back, mental note to self, when you have 6 large gentlemen on a bus DON’T BOOK THE BACK SEAT! There is nowhere for you to go.
Once we got out of the bus we headed up about 3 floors to the “communal” decks, where
you had a shop, cafe, bar, TV lounge, coffee shop, some cabins and some shared seating
areas. Also from where you could (one floor up) head out to “take the sea air” read
“Freeze your n*ts off” on the open deck, as it was bitter out there. But hey wadda
you expect it is FEBRUARY after all, not really thinking pool parties, deck quoits
We headed to the cafe and had a nice meal and a few pints, well come on it is a Rugby trip! and at this point, 30 mins into our sailing, I knew I wasn’t about to turn into Elphaba (check out Wicked the Musical to understand the joke! ... okay ... she’s the wicked witch of the west in The Wizard of Oz so ... bright green ... green ... at sea ... get it?? ) and the longest part of the coach journey was over.
The only off putting part of the trip was opening the door of the gents, luckily managing to avoid going base over apex over the raised panel at its base, and seeing a rather large gentleman stripped to the waist washing his feet in the sink!
Oh, isn’t technology a wonderful thing, there was I in the middle of the Irish Sea
tweeting like a good un and checking my facebook page, I know I know I’m a geek,
the point I’m getting at is the ferry had free Wi-
I really enjoyed the sailing, and with the crossing categorized as “moderate” meaning there was an even calmer possibility, it’s something I would be quite happy to do again. After about 3 ½ hours it was back to the toast rack and another 2 ½ hours on the coach as we headed to the Royal Hotel at Bray.
Now Bray is a seaside resort about 12 miles outside Dublin. It has in some reviews I’ve read been referred to as the “Blackpool of Ireland”. Well in so much as it’s a seaside resort and has a beach, the sea, pubs and restaurants, and other entertainment venues, 10 pin bowling, cinema, amusement arcades etc. then yea, but could just as easily be the Bournemouth or Brighton of Ireland, especially if there was an intended negative undertone in the initial description. Personally I LOVED the place and would have no qualms about returning.
The Royal Hotel is in the centre of Bray about a 5 minute walk from the seafront where the majority of the larger bars are. We pulled up outside, the driver went in, the manager came out to welcome us, we disembarked and by the time we got the cases and entered reception we were handed our keys and could head straight to our rooms.
In fact my ONLY negative comment relating to this hotel was illustrated on the last day, we checked out at 12pm (checkout time) and were leaving Bray at 3:30pm so had a few hours to kill. So we went for a walk then returned to the hotel to sit, chat and wait for the coach. Well I suffer with my stomach and with a long coach journey facing me headed to the toilet, and found the door locked. It was at this point I realised that the ONLY WAY you can use a public toilet in this hotel is to either use your room key (already been handed in) or ask at Reception to be “buzzed in”. Now come on this is a large hotel in the centre of a big town, there is a public bar and a restaurant open to the public and the only way to use a toilet is to ask at reception, fail in my book I’m afraid.
Other than this one aspect I would as I mentioned have no problems in recommending this hotel to anyone and am already looking forward to returning in 2 years, when Wales v Ireland is in Dublin again.
So it is Friday evening, we’ve been on a coach for 12 hours with only a 3.5 hour ferry journey to break it up, so what’s a guy to do, that’s right HEAD FOR THE PUB!
We wander towards the sea front and end up in The Martello Hotel, a really nice venue
right on the sea front, with a semi-
Now finding food about 10pm on a Friday night was not quite as easy as we first imagined, as we didn’t want to go and sit somewhere for a meal, the KFC shuts at 9pm, sacrilege in my opinion, so we wandered like a pack of ravenous Dragons (see what I did there, I don’t just throw this together you know.) Passing the Bray Bowl, a 10 pin bowling centre, and the young lady adjusting her garments after apparently entertaining her partner in the alley at the side, (who says live street entertainment is dead! !) and came across this little gem...
Minor heart failure when we noticed the closed sign on the main door ensued and it took all our combined brain power to spot the “open” sign on the smaller takeaway door. Doh! We entered, perused the menu and settled for Breakfast rolls x 6 and chips x 6, who says I don’t know fine dining. Tell you what though the repast was prepared fresh and was DELICIOUS! Reasonably priced and quick, all in all the perfect late night “snack”.
To the hotel, to our beds and to Day 2.
Saturday morning at 7am, no you didn’t read that wrong, 7am! and it was to the Merrill Leisure club which is attached to the hotel, so there you have it, 6 hung over dragons in a swimming pool and sauna at 7am on a Saturday! This was a new experience for me, no not the swimming pool, although I don’t swim (much) I have been in one of these a few times before. The steam room or sauna, a good way to purge to toxins from the night before, just in time to make room for the ones we were about to imbibe ;o)
After a shower it was to the restaurant for the inclusive breakfast: toast, coffee, tea and a “buffet style” help yourself to sausages, eggs (2 types), beans, bacon, black pudding , cereals etc. and fruit juice, a very nicely prepared and served start to the day.
We had decided, as two of our number (me being one of them) had never been to Ireland before to head into Dublin for a wander round, being ticketless (queue Max Boyce song here) we thought we would do this on Saturday rather than Match Day (Sunday).
We caught the Dart, an electrified train service to Dublin, costing a very reasonable 5 Euro return. The carriages were clean, the service punctual and efficient.
We decamped at Lansdowne Road home of the Aviva (Formally Lansdowne Road) Stadium, took a couple of photos
Even sticking our heads round the door to see if they happened to have half a dozen tickets lying around that had maybe had fallen down behind the sofa or something, no such luck!
We took a leisurely stroll into Dublin centre, and then felt in need of a drink or six and we came across this establishment, M.J. O’Neill’s
Main point of interest was this (excuse quality of pic) a “painting” that is actually a screen, the figure sitting perfectly still for minutes on end, and then reacting to an imaginary fly or nodding off, simple but surprisingly addictive as you try and catch when he “goes”.
We had a few here, and then continued our tour of Dublin. Passing some sights, crossing the Liffey, and getting an elocution lesson on the hoof. As we were crossing the Liffey we spot a promising looking hostelry and one of our number says “let’s go to the (just realised how difficult this is gonna be to explain in writing, but here goes) Half Penny..” at which point a local crossing the bridge in the opposite direction, without missing a beat, or step shouts “hA’ Penny”.
Great place and without a doubt THE friendliest people I have ever met ANYWHERE!
We settle into the Ha’ Penny Bridge Inn, what can best be described as a “local” in the middle of a bustling city. The beer was good, the welcome heartfelt and genuine, even to the extent of some impromptu flower arranging on the window above us to make us feel more at home!
We spent a few hours here watching the first match of the 6 nations France v Italy. We then head to the Dart station at Tara Street, and after Rob showing off by managing to work out the ticket machine before any of the other of my esteemed colleagues, had to put that in.
We headed up to the platform, at which point I saw one of the funniest occurrences of the trip, as we step on the escalator a group in front of us are remonstrating with one of their number for not being cheerful, to which he throws back without turning round “remember statistically 6 out of the 7 dwarfs aren’t happy”, okay in itself a mildly funny response, except as they alight the escalator and turn they are greeted in the middle of their number by a ... how do I put this politely ... a vertically challenged stranger who did not appear too happy with their conversation! ;o)
We arrive back in Bray and head to our home from home, the Martello, and watch the
end of the England Scotland Match, partaking at the same time of a lovely meal. This
venue has table service, an excellent selection of food, a small nightclub, together
with: a function room, self catering apartments and en-
We call on our journey home to The Hibernia Inn, an imposing building with a nice atmosphere, quiet on the night we went there, although I believe as we left they were about to start the evening’s entertainment, so it may have got busier then.
After briefly catching the entertainment in our hotel bar, a good singer/guitarist who was happily informing us of the“tings” in one of the songs he performed, I LOVE the Irish accent :o)
Day 3 – Match Day, we start with: Pool, Sauna & Jacuzzi (not running the previous morning, but another tick off my list of new experiences today), breakfast, then one of our group, recently swelled to 7 with the addition of a genuine Irish man, a friend of one of our number who travelled down for a concert which happened to be in our hotel, while we were staying there, and joined us for the day. A genuine treat to meet you Sir! Anyway I digress, an innocuous question of “what about a little walk along the sea front to blow away to cobwebs before the match” is raised ... Well all I can say is see this ... Well I walked UP THIS... “a gentle walk” my a*se!
I nearly needed oxygen and I do believe a passerby venturing upon this scene, was heard to comment “I thought that they’d finished making Last of the Summer Wine” the cheek I tell you we’re in our prime ... okay okay ... but we can distinctly REMEMBER our prime! ... sometimes ;o)
So after nearly walking ourselves to Leprechaun size we arrived at The Martello, now we had been clever, some might even say Machiavellian, the night before as we attempted to drink the place dry and eat our own combined bodyweights, we asked if it would be possible to reserve two tables for the match the next day, the lovely young lady serving us checked and confirmed this would be possible.
So we arrive to our reserved tables to be greeted with a minor problem, the TV right by our seats had a little sign (not there the evening before) stating “only football on this TV” Oh £$£%^” we said in union, and immediately decamped to the other end of the balcony area where the screen informed us that it would indeed be showing the game played by men with odd shaped balls!
I must admit the next few hours are somewhat of a blur, suffice to say I have recollections
of ... Mrs Brown (of Mrs. Browns Boys fame), well actually many Mrs. Browns ... screaming
like a banshee on a number of occasions ... questioning the parentage of what was
probably a very nice man when he wasn’t wearing a White Ref’s Shirt ... wondering
why if he was SO interested in the TV, he was ON THE FECKIN FIELD ...an absolutely
gorgeous Sunday roast ... The best most welcoming atmosphere I have ever encountered
anywhere, even when we won, in the last minute, of an excellent game... on one of
my visits to the facilities hearing the cry behind me (from a somewhat more desperate
man than myself) of “Gents he who hesitates is lost and remember never cross the
streams!”as he walked from the knees down passed us ... the rather unkind comment
from a Welsh gentleman when, as wife turns around to show the back of her rugby shirt
with CYMRU on it to their Irish host, that it meant “Wide Load” ... hearing when
passing the facilities someone inside humming ... the Old Rugged Cross ... a barperson
coming along to ask if we wanted another drink, and upon being told yes listing to
us what we wanted, to the amazement of one of our number until we gently pointed
out his surprise should be somewhat tempered by the fact it was written on the glasses!
... A definitely un-
We left the Martello, an hour or so after the match, and wandered to “Katies”, another Bar on the seafront, and although the venue was quiet we were again given a wonderful welcome. To the extent that an older gent came onto us and congratulated us on the win, despite the fact he was Irish, and then insisted on buying (all 7 of) us a drink, which when they duly arrived and we tried to return the favour, met with the instructions that “Mr Duggan would not accept one back”. We later confirmed the reason the bar staff took Mr Duggan’s instructions over ours, was that he owned the place as well as the Martello.
Thanks Mr Duggan you’re a true gent! We did manage to get him to accept a Welsh scarf and Dragon badge. :o)
Next we headed to The Hibernia, and had a few pints there with the locals again being magnanimous and welcoming in equal measure, this of course did not mean they didn’t at the same time take the Mickey out of us something unmercifully.
One funny moment here, occurred when after noticing my brother had been “missing” for a while I ventured out and found him standing by the front door chatting to a few locals, not wishing to interrupt I merely stood behind our hosts waiting for a lull in the conversation, at which point one gent turned round looking straight ahead into my chest then up until he made eye contact with me at this point crying “Well no wonder we feckin lost!” ;o)
A brief stop at Stack’s Sports Bar, again quite quiet, well in numbers, although the disco in the corner made up for this in volume, and we decided to call it a day just as Monday arrived.
So with a quick stop for the now traditional nocturnal Breakfast & Chips we headed to the hotel, arriving late enough to confirm by our footwear that none of us were relatives of Cinderella! Come on think about it.
Monday and the day I wasn’t looking forward to, the end of a wonderful trip and a
VERY long homeward journey. As mentioned earlier we had breakfast, crashed in our
rooms for a bit, checked out then hung around basically, well I hung my esteemed
I met the guys in Molloys for a cake and drink (coffee for them, Sprite for me, as I never drink anything hot).
We got on the bus, drove for about 2 and a bit hours and were dropped off in Wexford for a chance to stretch our legs and get a meal.
Here it was we discovered a few things, Discovery 1: a very nice pub called the Thomas Moore Tavern, excellently decorated and designed, deceptively big and offering the now traditional warm Irish welcome.
Discovery 2, most places don’t serve food on a Monday in Wexford, a consideration one thinks if coach tours are planning to stop off here regularly, and finally a nice bar called “Chocolate”, more modern in design it offered: excellent food at a reasonable price, 5 Euro starters and 10 Euro main courses, a waiter from Port Talbot, don’t ask we don’t know either, maybe a very strong swimmer, who knows.
The meals were great I had Chicken Strips and Chips the others Meat Sizzlers, which lived up to their names as we could hear them arriving when they left the kitchen, and the one next to me kept spitting at me for a good few minutes AFTER it was served, oh and the chips were served in individual metal buckets, a new but nice touch for me. The only thing that let this place down was the toilets, which definitely needed some attention.
Back to the bus, onto the ferry, where unfortunately we were last on, literally. They closed the bulk head behind us! So when we got to the upper decks most of the seats, and all the comfortable ones were gone, which left us trying for the Olympic sport of contortionism i.e. trying to fit a number of 6ft plus men onto very narrow curved seats with permanent arm rests to try and lie down for a bit. Eventually we admitted defeat wandered up a deck and found an area of surprisingly comfortable floor where we laid down using coats as pillows. After a noisy (passengers not Ferry) journey it was back to the toast Rack and nearly 4 hours of winding roads and pain at the back of the bus, eventually getting back to the depot at 4:20am.
All in all one of my favourite trips ever. The cliché of the warm welcome in Ireland was proved time and time again, by everyone we came into contact with. I am definitely planning another trip, as discussions on the bus during the return journey had already turned to Italy 2013, oh and a final thanks to all my brother’s mates who made this “outsider” feel so welcome. To next year gentlemen!