Iceberg Dead Ahead!

My original feelings for Northern Ireland changed the moment I stepped off the train.

Like most travelers, I suppose my ideas of Belfast were from the movies and television. I really didn’t know what to expect as my train crossed the border from Ireland to Northern Ireland. This article isn’t about politics, religion, or other troubles that may be woven through the soil from history, but of the great people and food, I found while on my short trip.

On a train from Dublin, Ireland to Belfast, Northern Ireland, United Kingdom.

What I did know before my arrival in Belfast was that I had made reservations at the most bombed hotel in the world! Yeah, you read that correctly. The Europa Hotel in Belfast, Northern Ireland, is said to be the most bombed hotel in the world, and I had a room facing the street.
As I walked through the front door, the elegance of the grand room surprised me. I’m not sure what’s in the water there, but every single person in that city was attractive. However, I do know what was in the water there many years ago.

The Europa Belfast Hotel.


The RMS Titanic was built here for the famous White Star Line Company. We all know how this luxurious British passenger ship allegedly met her doom in the North Atlantic, Iceberg 1 – Titanic 0.
Still partly hungover from my stay in Dublin, I asked the knockout who checked me in where I could find dinner and a pub afterward. She directed me to the Flame restaurant. There I murdered a three-course meal like it was my last supper.

First of a three-course dinner at Flame Restaurant.


At that time of year, the sun sets late in the evening and gave me plenty of time to walk to a Pub named Kelly’s Cellars.
A person never knows when they are going to make friends. Before my first pint arrived, I was asked to join strangers at their table. Aisling and her husband told me stories of their beautiful city and what it was like growing up in Northern Ireland. One pint led to another, and more friends were made and joined the table. I couldn’t have planned a better night. We kept the bartenders busy at Kelly’s that night, up until they closed and ran us out.

New friends in Belfast. We drank enough to float RMS Titanic back to the surface.


The next day brought rain and a slightly uneasy feeling seeing military-style vehicles in the city gathering. The locals said not to worry and to stay away from places I shouldn’t go. Wait… what? I opted for a Black Cab tour of the city. It seems safe, right?
The hotel arranged the tour. As the registered Famous Black Cab arrived, the hotel doorman wished me a good day. In the cab, the driver took me around the city, showing me points of historical interest. He seemed neutral and didn’t tell story’s favoring one side or the other. I noticed a huge pile of fresh wood built into what would be a public bonfire. Asking the driver, he told the reason, and I quickly understood why the military-style enforcements were gathering. None of my business I told myself.
All in all, it was a great trip. I didn’t see Senad O’conner or the sets for Game of Thrones, not even Liam Neeson. But it was still a place that I will cherish memories from.

Dublin, Ireland

The plane landed in Ireland. It was the first time flying with Aer Lingus, and I was impressed with the efficiency. This plane was the fastest thing that I had been on in quite some time. If you can imagine moving non-stop for two weeks, but only advancing less than 10 miles per hour, that’s what it like to cross an ocean via sailing yacht.

At the Dublin Customs and Immigration checkpoint, I spotted a short line with an attractive female officer behind the Plexiglass. I figured that I would give a smile, shoot her the brown steel while handing her my passport, and I would be on my merry way. Wrong!
My passport is kept in the same pocket as I carry my Captian’s License. They are both the same shape and size, just different colors. Her keen eye saw the backside of my Merchant Mariners Credentials and quickly asked if I had an additional nationality. Not to deny her question, I informed her that I had just delivered a yacht to Europe and that I was on holiday. Her second question was more stern than her first, ” so you are working in Europe?” I realized the gravity with which answer I could give. “No,” I said, and as if queued by a director, a massive gaggle of passengers from another plane started lining up behind me.
She stamped my passport and smiled while saying that I should visit Temple Bar that night, then added that she might see me there.

The Spencer Hotel

The taxi driver dropped me outside of the Spencer Hotel, which would be my quarters for the next two nights. It is a modern hotel overlooking the Samuel Beckett Bridge, the Harp shaped bridge on the River Liffey. The Hotel had everything a person should need, attentive concierge, restaurant, and vending machines with beer! Wasting little time, I dropped my bags off in the room and hurried downstairs.

First on my list was to visit the Guinness Storehouse Factory. On-Location, you can see the how’s and why’s of making the world-famous brand. The tour takes you up floor by floor as you see a massive indoor waterfall, listen to live music and get a little bit of Irish history. The best part for me was walking into the Gravity Bar at the very top of the building. It marked the end of the tour where you can order a pint of “the black stuff” and enjoy it while taking in an impressive 360-degree view of Dublin.

The second stop on my list was Brazen Head, Dublin’s oldest pub. The distinguished list of patrons who have dined at this establishment is in regard, royalty to say the least. I feasted on the Corned Beef and Cabbage. The waiter suggested that I visit a local pub nearby if I wanted to see more Irish history. Walking in, I realize they must send all the tourists there.

I can not remember the name of the pub, but the two friends I made that night were well worth the trip. These two Canadian girls were on holiday also. We teamed up, and after a few shots of Jameson Whiskey, named our gang “The North American Hooligans.” From that pub, we took a taxi to Temple Bar Street, all the way curious if the driver was drunk.

Temple Bar is more than a place; it is an atmosphere. The party continued. Erin Go Bragh!

Two days in Dublin went by in a snap. On the third morning, I was at the train station partially subdued from a hangover as I watch a Bachelorette Party head my way. Next stop, Belfast, Northern Ireland, and the world’s most bombed Hotel!

Bom Dia- Lisbon, Portugal

The bus sighed as the transmission geared into neutral and the brakes set. Fellow travelers waited their turn before standing, grabbing overhead bags, and waddled to the door. Each one of us left the bus and immediately started stretching as we waited for the driver to unload the luggage.
I had been sailing on a relatively small sailing yacht for the last five weeks. The guys on the boat, for the most part, had become a functioning unit. To rest in the middle of the ocean, you must hand over your safety to a stranger. Trust builds. Respect earns respect.

Welcome to Lisbon. I was alone in a new country, and desperately in need of a haircut. A Tuk Tuk took me to my hotel, The Lisbon Heritage. Once I was in my chamber, I noticed the nothingness. The silence of the void of my crew was deafening. I needed a walk.
Armed with sunglasses, a map of the city, and a few Portuguese words jotted down on a folded piece of notebook paper, I headed off to the main square.
The city was active. My head was on a swivel looking at the architecture. Noticeably anyone could tell that a massive party involved the entire city and not been long past. Portugal had won the FIFA World Cup less than 24 hours prior. The country was hungover.

A few hours were spent combing the main square and waterfront before returning to the hotel to prepare for dinner. Lisbon is known the world over for the quality of fish served in restaurants. The decision on where to dine took time, and the reservations made.
Sacramento do Chiado is a respectable restaurant that is now in what was once the palace stables in the 18th-century — hidden up a stone street and a block away from most eyes. When I say up a street, I mean up a street. The city is vertical, not far from the water.

Once I was seated inside, the room seemed to breathe. Large red curtains draped the walls. An open-air staircase was the artery delivering the dishes from the “cozinha” to the tables, upstairs. Eating solo is not uncomfortable for me. Lots of time, the experience allows me to enjoy the presentation of the meal, the flavors, and the atmosphere.
The meal ordered in three courses arrived separately after I slowly enjoyed bread and wine.
The first plate was Goat Cheese lightly breaded, and Strawberry Jam.
The Main plate was Tuna with local wine.
Followed by Pears seared in vino.

Stop right there. At this point, I must say that this meal was absolutely worth the 10 minutes walk in the wrong direction before realizing I needed to turn around to retrace my steps.
With a full belly, I returned to the hotel and collapsed on what seemed to be the most generous bed(s) ever for the night. The next day I would grab a cab to the airport for another flight to a new country.

What is your fondest memory of Spanish Meatballs?

Dolphins playing tag while we sail across the Atlantic Ocean.
Dolphins playing tag while we sail across the Atlantic Ocean

Seriously? A guy was sitting behind me on a bus to Lisbon, Portugal, and this pickup line was his final attempt to pick up a girl across the aisle. 

But this isn’t where the story begins. Let us go back five weeks and 3600 nautical miles to Jacksonville, Florida, USA. We were loading stores onto a private yacht that would soon be making way across the Atlantic Ocean. The owner had asked a friend, who in return asked me to join in the trans-Atlantic crossing, four of us in all would be on the 47-foot sailboat during the voyage.

Every journey has its pulse. I have commented before that long-distance sailing is 90% boredom and 10% panic, but this trip was of note to be different.

The First Leg

Bermuda, Isle of Devils

After finally leaving the mainland and out of the sight of land, we had the perfect sail to Bermuda. Along the way, dolphins rode our bow waves, Gin and Tonics let us know before dinner was ready each evening, and the stars, the night sky while at sea, always impresses.

Sailors enjoying a cookout in Bermuda
sailors enjoying a cookout in Bermuda

The first leg took five days. We planned to stop long enough to replenish the fresh galley necessities. However, the weather had us cautious due to a hurricane possibly crossing our path.

The storm came and went while we made friends at places like the Swizzle Inn listening to Bil Krauss’s talents, and enjoying Dark and Stormy’s at The White Horse. This was the last time we would see land for the next thirteen and a half days. Next stop, Azore Islands.

Horta

Cold drinks, Whalebones, and more Friends

Horta, Faial, is a port city on the western part of the Archipelago of the Azores, and a rite of passage of sailors making a West to East trans-Atlantic crossing. The first mission was to find a historic pub named Peter’s. The pub was serendipitous with burgees lining the walls and ceiling, live music wafting out the front door, and beer flowing to yachtmen from around the world. We smiled, laughed, made more friends, took turns buying rounds of drinks, but most importantly knew the accomplishment that we achieved. 

Sadly it was time for a crew change with my close friend Dave flying back to the states for business. Dave is a sailors’ sailor; he is a racer. One who is always watching the wind and tweaking the sails to squeak out another fraction of a kt. I learn from Dave every time I sail with him.

“Uncle” Rick, Owner Tony, and I welcomed the new Brit on board for the final reach to Lagos, Portugal.

Land Ho!

Mainland Europe, Dryland

We arrived in Lagos during daylight hours and tied up to a dock at a marina downtown. That night Portugal won the World Cup. Horns blasted through the city after the win. I joined in the festivities and helped the locals celebrate in a proper sailors manor. The next morning with a sizable hangover, I said my goodbyes to the crew and boarded a passenger bus heading to Lisbon. Sitting around me were travelers from different points of the compass. During the two hour trip, I listened to a guy behind me try over and over to start a flirty conversation with a girl across the aisle. During the last fifteen minutes, he asked her the question that still makes me smile, “What is your fondest memory of Spanish meatballs?’