Worldcon: travel

by , under expeditions, life

I vowed not to fly again unless there’s absolutely no other choice, so I went to Dublin by train and ferry. I might have gone to Dublin by train and ferry regardless, but this was a very nice incentive. It’s almost two days’ travel, every bit of it delightful. (except for one small incident on the way back, see below)

Deventer – Hoek van Holland

almost empty bus station under dramatic clouds

Desolate bus station (Den Haag Leyenburg). Note that you can enlarge any picture to 1200px by clicking it.

There used to be a boat train from Rotterdam to Hook of Holland, but it was discontinued (the empty station with its power-line supports without any power lines looked very despondent) and now you go by tram to some desolate bus station in a distant part of The Hague and take a bus that goes all the way to the ferry port.

I was the only person on that bus going all the way to the ferry port. I admit that I was very early — if I’d known there was a large Japanese restaurant in the Hook of Holland station I would probably have gone even earlier and eaten there instead of having something on the train — but those boat trains used to be PACKED when I used them in my noughts, teens and twenties. Eventually there were a few dozen foot passengers, but most of them apparently came by car and left it in the station parking lot. Isn’t the idea of being a foot passenger that you’re not using a car?

Security here: show my ID to the Koninklijke Marechaussee and tell them the purpose of my visit to the UK. I told them “go all the way to the utter north-west of Wales and take a ferry to Ireland”, which seemed to surprise them a bit.

Hoek van Holland – Harwich

Shameless plug: the overnight ferry is wonderful. I loved my tiny private moving hotel room. The Stena Hollandica seems to be the largest ferry in the world, and yes, it was huge indeed.

receipt for a beer saying Number of items: 0,017

… HOW many beers?

Before sailing I sat in the bar and had … 0,017 beers? Reminds me of the engineer joke.  Much later someone said on Twitter that a pint is about this portion of a 30-liter keg, but for days I boggled every time I came across the receipt.

It was a kind of uneventful crossing — these ferries are so huge that the “slight to moderate swell” the announcer announced didn’t feel much like movement — but I was up very early, which was of course even earlier in the London (and Dublin) timezone. Excellent breakfast. Foot passengers got let off the ferry last of all, so I sat in a lounge watching first lorries, then cars drive away before we were released.

Framed blue poster showing person with text balloon "REPORT UNUSUAL INTEREST IN SECURITY"

See it. Say it. Sorted.

Security here: “immigration” okayish, not that I intend to actually immigrate to the UK right now. When asked why I was going to the UK I said “cross it by train and take the ferry to Ireland to go to Worldcon”. Person looked about as surprised as the Dutch marechaussee. Baggage control: really creepy. Positively Scarfolk. There were several of these posters (similar design, different text) but I didn’t dare take any more pictures because that would probably have been “unusual interest in security”. I tried to ask a security woman for permission but she didn’t react to my “excuse me?” so I just took this one literally behind her back.

The station was a huge anticlimax: no ticket office where I could get my Britrail pass stamped, and a woman who sold tickets said that not only she didn’t have a stamp, but I didn’t need a stamp. This was a little strange because the text on the pass itself insisted that it wouldn’t be valid without a stamp, but I resolved to get that done in London. She did call me “darling”, and I went back to thank her for that because it’s one of the things I realise I’ve been missing.

Harwich – London Liverpool Street

No boat train here either, but a local (as in: stops at every tree) commuter train. I was alone in first class for the first couple of stations, then more people came in and I got a man opposite me who I was sure had voted Leave. (All the English, Welsh and Scottish people I know personally voted Remain.)

Sign saying that first class is for first class ticket holders only.More “see it, say it, sorted” announcements. Apparently the UK government wants its citizens to spy on each other all the time. The individual people I met were all nice and helpful and non-threatening, but if I wrote dystopia I’d so use it. I think I’ll need to read Thursday Next again.

PSA: to travel first class you need a first class ticket.

It was still quite early in the morning, and the train didn’t become full even in second class (I think Greater Anglia, which runs this line, calls it Standard) until the view started to look like London. And then it actually was London, and rush hour at that!

At Liverpool Street I found a Greater Anglia desk where a puzzled person stamped the cover of my rail pass because his stamp was too large to put on the pass itself. Nobody ever asked for that stamp so I could have done without, but it was a restful feeling to have it.

The Tube through London

I braved the tube to Euston against advice to take a taxi — I don’t like taking taxis alone, and public transport is something I’m good at, and while I was doing it I discovered AN ACTUAL SUPERPOWER I didn’t know I had: if I know the language at all I can read and understand signs fast enough to pass for native.

The ticket machine didn’t like either of my bank cards, but it did like the twenty-pound note I got from a cash machine on the ferry.

I hadn’t realised that Liverpool Street Station isn’t on the Circle Line, so I had to do one stop on the Victoria Line which goes literally every minute in the rush hour and is crammed full nevertheless.

London Euston – Holyhead

Train departures sign showing the train to Chester as Not arrivedThe train to Chester was late, so I explored Euston Station (in a state of being renovated), got some more pounds from a cash machine, and bought food for the journey. Which I realised I shouldn’t have done when I saw the splendid station cafe in Chester, where the train arrived at lunchtime. The Ribena infused water was delicious, though.

The train was just over half reserved, and when I made to sit next to someone in a double seat a man stood up to give me his reserved single seat because he wanted to sit next to the person he was travelling with! Reserved at different times and got non-adjacent seats, perhaps.

Virgin Trains gave its first class passengers endless cups of strong tea with real milk. (Or whatever else they liked in the coffee-and-tea category. Also water and juice.) There were several different newspapers but I preferred to read Judge Dee, and look out of the window at a very representative cross-section of England.

train departing from Chester station

“When is your train?” “Right now!” “Catch it!” “How? It’s already moving!”

In Chester I narrowly missed the train to Holyhead — because there weren’t any signs in sight to exercise my newfound superpower on, the first one I saw was when I’d already gone under the underpass. I sat on a bench eating my second inadequate sandwich (because I still prefer eating something edible-but-inadequate to throwing food away) and talked to various people on Mastodon and Twitter and WhatsApp.

Then I squeezed myself into a train full of people with rucksacks, some even looking somewhat fannish, but it turned out that they all got off the train on various stations in North Wales, only a handful going all the way to Holyhead. In Bangor the train emptied so thoroughly that I thought nobody had told me that it ended there, but fortunately a heavily tattooed man sat opposite me and had a very shouty phone conversation in Welsh, of which I could only understand the (English) swear-words. I think I managed to wear my “don’t understand any language” face.

Orange bicycle standing on a station platform under a Welsh/English bilingual signBilingual sign at a station in North Wales! I think it was either Rhyl or Llandudno Junction but I may be mistaken. English: lift. Cymraeg: lifft, because ‘f’ is the English way and ‘ff’ is the Welsh way to spell /f/.

In Holyhead I foolishly followed the “to the town centre” sign, which led me over a huge futuristic footbridge, instead of leaving the station at the back and cutting right through to my B&B. I was using Google Maps and suddenly thought “I oughtn’t to be over water here!” but it turned out to be only a couple of minutes longer.

The B&B turned out to be right on the outskirts of the town, looking out on fields and a cemetery that I’d have loved to explore if it hadn’t been getting darkish yet when I’d put my things away and showered and dressed in something I hadn’t been travelling in for a day and a half, to meet my friends at the Stanley Arms. Half a mile away. I suspect everything in Holyhead is half a mile from anywhere else.

View over fields with a large cemetery in the mid-range

View from Holyhead Lodge

It was strange and magnificent to meet people who have been my friends online for years but who I’d never seen in the flesh before. We were offline friends immediately, too! I didn’t see one of them until much later because his jetlag was so bad that he couldn’t function at the same time as others, but I joined the other two for beer and eventually a (yummy) burger. Then I got back to the Holyhead Lodge while it was still a bit light, but still almost got lost because it looked so different in the gloom. There was a cat, but it was too dark to approach it safely, and it ran away when I came close anyway.

At breakfast I met another Worldcon-goer! My first, apart from the people in the Stanley Arms who were in the same apartment but on a later ferry. He came to sit with me and we talked about books, of course. The B&B man (Mel) was very interested in Worldcon but didn’t know what it was all about: I told him that science fiction was with spaceships and planets, and fantasy with magic and witches and dragons. “Oh! Like Harry Potter!” “Exactly,” I said and gave him a pair of bookmarks. Not that Terms of Service or Gates and Passages have witches or dragons, though they arguably have magic.

Holyhead – Dublin

I’d put my laptop in my suitcase so I wouldn’t have to carry it, but then I got separated from my suitcase! I spent most of the crossing faintly worried, but got it back in one piece eventually. Day crossings are very different from overnight crossings. TV screens everywhere, periodically showing only “Please listen to this safety announcement” instead of the actual text of the safety announcement.

I eventually found the quiet lounge, where there was no TV, but the temperature was too low for comfort. Fortunately, that was right at the end of the voyage when I could already see Ireland from the window.

I’d had a full Welsh breakfast at Holyhead Lodge, so by the time I got hungry all the restaurants on the ferry were closed, and the vending machines were down (not only for me but for everybody, apparently). When the ferry arrived at Dublin I was very hungry, and I didn’t have a protein bar (as I was careful to carry on all subsequent days) so I had to make do with water.

There was a shuttle bus! I bought a return ticket because I could imagine going back the same way, but eventually took a taxi to the ferryport on the way back. Only out 2,50 euros, and I was spending so much money anyway that I hardly noticed.

The shuttle bus stopped in the middle of Dublin in front of an Asian snack bar, where I got a (not very) spicy pulled pork burger but didn’t dare try bubble tea. Then I walked about a mile and a half to St Augustine Street where our apartment was. By that time I was so tired and confused that I’d lost most language, but I managed to put my suitcase in storage and use the staff toilet.

On to Worldcon! By tram! It was easy to find, and fairly easy to get a ticket (though I think I could have got a ticket 10 euros cheaper if I’d remembered how to, or perhaps that wasn’t announced until I already had mine). When I got to the CCD (Convention Centre Dublin) I suddenly had a really bad case of impostor syndrome (“I don’t belong here!”) when I saw all the people already wearing badges when I didn’t have one yet. That cleared up pretty soon when the first person I saw that I knew was Heather Rose Jones, just like in Helsinki but the other way round.

I was the first to have reached the apartment, but the last to actually make it there, because my roommate had spent the first night in Dublin in a hotel and had been at the CCD all of Thursday and the rest came by a later ferry and went straight to St Augustine Street, not to the CCD at all. A wonderful place, not as close to the CCD as the one we had originally that was cancelled from under us at the last moment, but with three real twin rooms rather than some people having to sleep in the living room, and close enough to the tram that we could reach the CCD within half an hour. The person who had done all the reservations, and lives close to Scotland, had brought a little plush Nessie for each of us, and set them to guard our beds.

And now the way back!

Dublin – Holyhead

Another night in a different hotel, because Worldcon decided to have a full programme on the Monday after we booked the first apartment and we could only have the second for the same number of days. Roommate and I — no longer roommates, but still hotel mates: my room was on the first floor and hers all the way at the top — took a taxi because we couldn’t be hedgehogged to search for it.

Small bright hotel room with single bed

Dergvale Hotel

Another tiny hotel room! This one didn’t move me from one country to another in my sleep, but it wasn’t all that much larger. There was one annoying thing: the bed had an almost imperceptible incline, the wall side was about a centimetre higher, so I kept starting awake thinking I was rolling off (there was never any real danger of that).  Someone on Mastodon or Twitter suggested propping it up with a rolled-up blanket, and I could have used the bedspread for that, but by the time I saw that it was 5am and I was going to get up at 6 anyway so I didn’t try. Nevertheless, when I ever go to Dublin again I want to be in this hotel again, and taste their breakfast, which I could smell when we left but had no time to eat because our taxi to the ferryport came exactly at breakfast time.

The first thing we saw at the ferryport was a “queue here” sign, and all the other passengers who hadn’t been at Worldcon must have wondered why that made two grey-haired ladies collapse in giggles. (The next blog post will Explain All.) No queue, possibly because we were too early for that.

Security here: bleh. When I saw an airport-like machine with a walk-through metal detector and trays for laptops and metal objects I started to take the laptop out of my bag, but they waved me past around the scanner and the same for Roommate. I thought they probably thought I looked like someone’s innocent granny, and when I said that to Roommate she thought they probably thought she looked like someone’s innocent auntie. Other fannish-looking people just behind us did get stopped. Because we had suitcases and they had rucksacks and a guitar? There was a hijabi woman too, but I didn’t see if she was actually stopped or was just waiting in the now existing queue. If I’d seen it happen I might have tried to find an email address I could use to complain about racial profiling.

Another uneventful crossing, most of which we spent reading at a restaurant table, then reading at a table in a lounge that had slightly fewer children running around and shouting, probably in the pirate game that someone had announced over the speakers when we were just sailing.

Holyhead – London Euston

A small plush Nessie sitting on a large red suitcase

Nessie on guard

A direct train! All the way to London! Very full though, and I didn’t have a reserved seat while Roommate did (to Crewe, where she was going to change for Birmingham-Oxford). There was someone already in her seat, who told her that there had been a blind man in it earlier but the train staff had moved him somewhere else when they saw the second person’s reservation. So that was a double booking at least. We found seats marked Available a bit further on even with room for my huge suitcase.

green bag labelled Welsh Potato CRISPS, Lamb & Mint flavour

Surprisingly good!

In Crewe I hugged Roommate and moved to first class, where there was a little more room and an actual table! Also, the blind man moved from Roommate’s original seat. No endless cups of tea, though, even though this was another Virgin train. Fortunately I had enough water and the bag of strange crisps I’d bought in the Holyhead station shop. And the Aero peppermint bar, which I liked so much that I bought two large bars in a chocolate promotion on the Harwich-Hook of Holland ferry.

In Milton Keynes, the blind man expected someone to be there to collect him. That person never turned up, so the train went on before he could even get off. Apparently the staff had called ahead to London, because at Euston Station there was an assistance team waiting to help him get on a train back to Milton Keynes.

The Tube

London Tube sign showing route from Kings Cross to Liverpool Street and beyondNorthern Line this time, less crowded than the Victoria Line though that might have been because it was earlier in the rush hour. Someone offered me a seat, but I was getting off at the next stop so it was irrelevant.

London Liverpool Street – Harwich

Theoretically I had three hours in London and could have gone for a proper dinner somewhere, but evening rush hour was beginning and I didn’t want the hassle of checking and retrieving my suitcase and possibly having to hurry back. So I took the first train to Harwich, convinced that there would be a restaurant there. I even remembered the Japanese restaurant (which actually is in Hook of Holland, of course).

Tiny first class compartment: 8 seats, 7 of which occupied, the other 6 by office-type people. Everybody except me got off long before Harwich. This train was too early to be a boat train anyway.


bottle of fruit drink with waiting room as background

Not Ribena.

In Harwich there was only a huge waiting room, almost completely deserted, with a closed cafe and 4 vending machines, 2 empty, 1 out of order, and 1 working. Fortunately it was the drinks machine because I was parched. The most promising-looking drink (apart from water which I got for free from the tap) was not as nice as the Ribena infused water I’d had earlier: too sweet, and the surplus sweetness was from stevia, which doesn’t taste as vile as artificial sweeteners but it does give a weird taste.

Security here: they only wanted to see my ticket and ID. Apparently they aren’t much concerned about people leaving the UK. Not even any “see it, say it, sorted” posters here.

Harwich – Hoek van Holland

I was on the ferry at 8:40 and the restaurant didn’t open until 9, so I hung out near the Guest Service desk (waiting to order breakfast, but it turned out I didn’t need to order breakfast in advance) and saw someone check in their very friendly dog. Dogs go in kennels on the voyage, and from the conversation between the Guest Service person and the dog owner it appeared that there’s a camera in the kennel that’s streamed either to the cabin TV or to some channel you can watch on your phone, like a baby monitor for dogs.

By now the restaurant was open, sort of, people were still bringing in some of the dishes including the one I wanted. Food and beer, neither as good as the Stena Line breakfast but I was so hungry and thirsty that it was all right.

Then a short night: timezone shift the other way. I was in the cabin late enough to hear the wake-up call starting with bird song. I tried to turn it off with the TV remote but all I succeeded in was turning the TV on and getting the safety talk, this time with all the text on the screen! Apparently they assume that everybody will turn on their TV at some point. (Well, I did, just not deliberately.)

Another of those splendid breakfasts! Then I went through the cabin to make sure I hadn’t left anything, all the time standing with my back to my coat so I forgot to take that.

Hoek van Holland – Deventer

Security here: just show my ID to a friendly Marechaussee and walk through the “Nothing to declare” line.

And there’s the Japanese restaurant! Closed, of course, because it was 8 in the morning.

While waiting for the 35 bus I noticed that I didn’t have my coat and decided not to waste a lot of time trying to retrieve it, but to look up what to do on the Stena Line site once I got home. I did find a form there and filled it in, but got an email back almost immediately saying they hadn’t found it. Ah well, I was procrastinating on replacing it anyway.

Getting off the 35 bus I was fighting my backpack and suitcase and trying to figure out the unfamiliar checkout thing, when a young fellow YANKED the transport pass from my hand and checked out for me. I stood on the platform fuming for minutes and missed a tram. No problem, because that only meant I had 10 minutes instead of 20 to catch the direct train for the last lap home, but still a pain. Please, people, grey hair and tiredness and unfamiliarity with that particular machine doesn’t mean someone needs your meddling. If he’d only asked “can I help you” I could have said “no, thanks”; it wasn’t as if there was any hurry, the bus ended there.

Home by noon, showered and unpacked, sorted out all the fannish debris (which I forgot to take a picture of, a pity because it was more than I brought from Helsinki) and had a three-hour nap, unusual but not surprising after all that travel and two short nights in a row.

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