When I was in college I had a map of Ireland that I bought from a map store in Washington DC. It was current and fancy and very very detailed, and I used to stare at it as I'd plan my adventures.
On this map, it listed a ferry service from Liverpool to Belfast, indicated that it was an overnight journey, and indicated the route of travel with a helpful dashed line that extended across the blue expanse of the Irish Sea. Since it was on the map, this is the way I had planned to get to Belfast after my visit to Liverpool.
In case you are wondering, I saw Penny Lane, and Matthews Street (Reference: Alarm song 'Spirit of '76, for my husband's benefit), and all of the notable Beatles landmarks. We drove by their boyhood homes, etc. The rest of the visit was spent in my friend's grim church, (I didn't mind the church part, it was the grim part I objected to.) a day jaunt to the Peak District (Ooo look! The house where Brideshead Revisited was filmed! Pause to reflect how much of a PBS watching dork I am, that I've even SEEN that.), a very strange alcohol-free New Years Eve, etc. But now it was time to leave my friend and sally forth to my intended destination.
My friend takes me to the BritRail terminal to book my ferry ticket. The gentleman behind the counter informs me that the ferry service was suspended due to rough seas. Permanently. I asked him what my options were. "By train? Up into Scotland, then you can take a ferry from there." Allrighty! "So when does that train run?" "THAT train? Its four trains, love." Okay, I pick a time to leave, and he prints me a ticket (actually, a stack of tickets) and I'm on my way.
I will say this-- train travel is, in itself, a very pleasant and civilized way to see a place you've never seen. Right up until old ladies start passing out and the fog rolls in.
But I'm getting ahead of myself.
I board the train with the lunch my friend's mother has packed for me(Cheese sandwiches on white bread and 'crisps' and tiny cans of Coke--his mom was some kind of trailertrash vegetarian) , and about 1/3 of the luggage I came to London with; after being coerced into laying all of it out on a bed and then picking ONLY what I needed. Away I go.
The first two trains involved boarding in stations in England. The first change from train #1 to train #2 goes flawlessly. Then we journey northward into that craggy bit of Scotland along the upper left coast. I'm sure that has a name. I shall call it "Endless rolling hills and tons of freaking sheep-land", or Erhtfsl, for short. A loong time after I board train #2, I reach my intended station and disembark.
I'll spare you the Harry Potter imagery because there was no magic platforms or Hogwarts or anything of the kind at this point, but the station definitely looked like something from a movie, probably something involving a lot of talking and opening and closing doors. It was the talking that got me into trouble. I go to the ticket counter and ask, "Excuse me, I need to board the train for (increasingly difficult to pronounce Scottish town)...where should I be?" I get an answer. There are words, and a pleasant facial expression that ends with a flick of the eyebrows that suggests our business is concluded. There is only one problem. I do not understand him.
I thank him, suppress panic, and walk until I am out of his sight line. I find another nattily dressed ScotRail employee and pose the same question. I get an answer, accompanied by a hand gesture that suggests I walk in a particular direction. I thank him and go. I wait for him to round the corner. I approach a lady with a small white dog in a wire cage and ask again. She assures me I am in the right place and I decide she is my new best friend and I don't leave her side until we board the train, at which point I can thank her and disappear.
Or she can sit across from me and grill me about every detail of my life for the next hour and a half.
Why am I no good at politely conveying my desire to not talk anymore? What is it about my face that says 'tell me all your darkest secrets, leave no horrifying detail unshared'? I excuse myself from my seatmate and go to take some pictures of sheep. I come back, and there's a bit of a problem. My seatmate is sweaty and pale. (Now I know that is called 'diaphoretic with poor perfusion'. ) She looks like she might pass out. A train employee tends to her. Her dog stares at me with watery black eyes like its all my fault. Now I have to stay with her. Fair enough. We should be almost there.
Now we enter the part of the trip I call Stopping For No Reason. Every twenty minutes or so, the train would just stop. And sit there ticking. And everyone ignored it. Once I figured it was because of the dense fog, but we started up again in a short time and the fog hadn't dissipated so I am still mystified what could have been holding us up. I can't imagine there is heavy train traffic in Erhtfsl, unless its sheep shearing time, so I'm stumped. But we slowly make our way up the coast and arrive at my intended destination.
Stranraer Harbor. (That's pronounced Strahn-RAAAR, but even with this help it'll still get stuck on the back of your tongue somewhere and induce a faint gaggy feeling. Even if you don't say it out loud. No wonder I don't understand these people.) My ferry awaits me. Only its not my ferry; being paranoid I might get there late, I booked passage on the one that departed about four hours later. Never mind, I think. I'll just sit in the waiting area and read and.....
I peer through the smudgy double doors into the waiting area because a noise not unlike Happy Hour on Super Bowl Sunday is coming from that direction. Seated on virtually all horizontal surfaces in the room are men. Men in 'football jerseys' (not of the Green Bay Packers variety). And they are singing. And they are drunk. I don't know why they aren't getting on the ferry. I'm assuming that security has wisely decided to let them dry out a little first, though apparently no one has noticed that nearly every one of them is clutching a giant can of Tennent's. I consider my options, and decide that the forbidding-looking security guards at the checkpoint are my best bet. "Excuse me, sir? I have a ticket for the next ferry. But if I don't get on this one, I'll have to spend four hours with them," pointing over my shoulder, trying to look as innocent as possible. He weighs my harrassment potential, punches my ticket, and waves me up the ramp. "Thank you, sir," I say.
I'm a little nervous about this trip; though this trip is considerably shorter, this is the same Irish Sea that caused cancellation of the last ferry. And its January. But we cast off and I think, well, this isn't so bad after all. I snap some pictures and settle in to a nice seat. We move through Loch Ryan. Yes, its a Loch. A lake-type thingy. With sides. We aren't in the open sea yet. The ferry is huge, multiple decks, full size restrooms, restaurants, etc. I'm sure it'll be just as nice all the way to Ireland. I don't at all think we'll hit the open sea and this enormous vessel will jam up and down on chop so bad that I will start looking around for the Professor and Mary Ann. Nope. I don't think that at all. Until it happens.
I've never been seasick before. I've been on all sorts of boats. But this ginormous floating restaurant is apparently just the ticket to screw up my equilibrium and send my cheese sandwiches and crisps a-churning. I close my eyes and try to remember where that point on your wrist is that you press on to make the barfy feeling stop. What a perfect time for Chatty Seatmate #212 to park himself next to me.
Now, I have to take a moment to explain here that some of my friends I was going to stay with were politically involved in Ireland, and that there was a certain degree of harassment they had come to expect in day to day life. As such, they took great pains to warn me not to give a lot of detail to strangers about where I was staying or what I was doing there. This is in the back of my mind as this man asks questions, and keeps coming back to where I'm staying. Time to ditch him. I excuse myself, lurch to the ladies' room, and conveniently fail to return to my seat.
We finally get to Larne. I wonder briefly whether the soccer dudes are being deemed seaworthy over on the other side as I find and board my train. I arrive in Belfast, call my friends, and meet them at the hotel bar. Three countries in one day. There would be more adventures of the less humorous variety, someday I'll do a '10 Reasons Why I'll Never Get Invited to the White House' list and tell ya about them.