BrewDogging #85: Dublin Outpost

Surprisingly popular despite only apparently being open for 2 hours 24 minutes a day.It's late August 2023, and it's my first time in Dublin in several years. It's a visit that's been on the cards for quite some time, because among other things it gives The Belated Birthday Girl and I the chance to visit our first overseas BrewDog bar in over a year. More than a BrewDog bar, in fact: it's an Outpost, the name they give to bars that are effectively brewpubs. (See also Tower Hill, Manchester, and possibly Itaewon although still nobody at BrewDog wants to admit that it's been dead since mid-pandemic.)

It's the 85th one of these reports I've had to write, and every time I arrive in a new place I'm always trying to find a different angle. So: we're in Dublin. Are there any other breweries in town that we could compare this one against? Anyone?

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Italia '23 part cinque: Milan

I was going to edit this picture of our Catania-Milan overnight train to have a big red triangle in the top right corner, but decided that was too obscure a callback.[previously: June 14-18, June 18-20, June 21-23, June 24-26]

Tuesday June 27

Just after we go to bed in our train compartment, the aircon in the ceiling starts making a noise like the entire train crew have crawled inside it and are beating their way out with hammers. The BBG wakes up briefly, reassures herself it’s not an alarm, and goes back to sleep for the rest of the night. The amount of sleep I get in the same period can, I think, be measured in minutes. Still, at least things can’t get any worse.

At 7am the train guard knocks on our door, hands us two coffees and says ‘ritardo’. That's a bit rude, I'm just tired. But we eventually realise he's telling us that the service is running late. How late? Opening the window we see we’re parked up in Roma Termini station. But this train doesn’t stop at Rome. By now we should be at least in Florence, several hours further down the line.

Then we spot the large numbers of police outside. Then the guard comes back with a box full of snacks and water.

This is looking ominous.

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Italia '23 part quatro: Catania

To be fair, it's not the first theatre I've fallen asleep inside.[previously: June 14-18, June 18-20, June 21-23]

Saturday June 24

There are two things the guidebooks always tell visitors to Sicily. 1: don’t mention the Mafia (despite every tourist shop we encounter here having Godfather t-shirts on sale). 2: don’t trust the Sicilian train service to get you anywhere on time. Happily, the next leg of our journey has an alternative to the train, as SAIS Trasporti run a regular coach service between Palermo and Catania, only taking two and a half hours or so to get you from Sicily’s first city to its second one. You can even book tickets for it back home via Omio.

So we grab one more breakfast at BB 22, use our final two bus tickets to get us out to the coach station, and by ten o’clock sharp we’re on our way. It's a perfectly acceptable journey, right up to the point where the driver chooses to ignore the stop in Catania that we’ve got tickets to, and takes us straight to the terminus in the centre of town without stopping. Little do we realise at the time that this isn’t going to be the only time here that buses will screw us over. In fact, just one day later, a bus-related cock-up will result in a hundred or so Catanian citizens thinking that we’re racists.

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Italia '23 part tre: Palermo

Oh, great, now we've got to watch every Italian film released in 2024 to see if this restaurant is in it. (Click to embiggen the photo.)[previously: June 14-17, June 17-20]

Wednesday June 21

The BBG and I have stayed in student accommodation in Edinburgh in the past: we have coping mechanisms for sleeping in single beds. Still, it has to be said that sleeping in the double bed we actually paid money for in the first place would have been nice. To jump ahead briefly to the end, all our subsequent communications with GNV regarding any sort of a refund have been completely ignored by them. I mean yes, they got us to our destination, and we didn’t die, but screw those thieves anyway.

Still, I think, at least we had beds. There are people on this ship who haven’t got cabins, which presumably means they’ve had to spend the night sleeping in chairs. Except when we get downstairs to the deck where breakfast is being served, we find that the path through the bar is clogged by several inflatable mattresses that passengers have brought for themselves. The staff on the ship can’t do much about it: they’re too busy being yelled at by angry punters any time they stand still for more than fifteen seconds. Maybe it is going to be like the Orient Express after all, in the sense that lots of the passengers might eventually get together to collectively kill someone. (Spoiler.)

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Italia '23 part due: Genoa

[Previously: June 14-18]

Sunday June 18 (continued)

Good news! The one bit of rain we encounter during the entire fortnight of our honeymoon coincides precisely with the one-hour-40 train journey between Turin and Genoa. Bad news! We’re alerted to this when that rain starts pouring through the roof of what was supposed to be a first class carriage. I know we were travelling on some sort of cheap ticket, but it still seems a bit much.

It’s a twenty-odd minute walk from the station to our hotel – curiously, each one of the four main hotels we’re staying in during this trip requires a twenty-odd minute walk from when we arrive in town – and it gives you time to start thinking about first impressions. Turin, as I’ve already said, felt like a generic Italian city: but within a few minutes of walking the streets of Genoa, I quickly realise there’s a definite character coming through. It’s more aggressively touristy than Turin, but wears that on its sleeve. Turin probably thinks it's too classy to have something like the Bigo panoramic lift, a viewing platform that rises forty metres into the air, spins you round twice and then comes back down again. Genoa has no such scruples, hence the video above.

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Italia '23 part uno: Turin

View from the Megaro Hotel. Those Marshall stacks don't work, sadly.Wednesday June 14

Reader, I civil partnershipped her.

Which leads to an awkward question: if two people who’ve entered into a civil partnership go on holiday immediately afterwards, are they still allowed to call it a honeymoon? I’m saying yes: The Belated Birthday Girl isn’t quite so sure, but shows signs of warming to the idea. Whatever it is, we’re doing it old school, and heading off straight from the ceremony and into a two-week run around five Italian cities, four of which we haven’t visited before.

Of course, it’d be too simple to just fly out there: we’re using a combination of trains, buses and boats to get us around. So our first night as an officially registered couple is spent at The Megaro Hotel in King's Cross, to get us nicely positioned for the first Eurostar out of the country the next morning. It’s a solidly fancy hotel decked out with quirky design choices – graffiti art on the outside, mini bar fridges disguised as Marshall amps on the inside – but the excellent cocktail bar in the basement streamrollers over any of your objections. And the rooms are soundproofed enough to allow you to sleep through the ambient noise of the surrounding area, which is handy when your alarm’s set for 5.30am the next morning.

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Mostly MIF 2023 part 2

Relax, Australians, you appear to be irreplaceable. [photo by The BBG]Let’s start the second part of our MIF 2023 review (part one’s here) with a visit to Festival Square, the public face of the event. For the first decade or more, it was in Albert Square, the huge open space outside the town hall. But in 2021, the town hall was undergoing a massive refurbishment (it's still going on in 2023) and Albert Square was closed. So they moved it out to a space close to the cathedral, which had the benefit of still being relatively on the beaten track. We were doing social distancing back then, which meant there were often queues to get in, and occasional hiccups like the notorious Twat Island Incident. But it still felt like a big social hub where festivalgoers and the general public could mingle.

From now on, it looks like Festival Square is going to be in the space directly underneath Aviva Studios. It has its good points and its bad points: the robot beer dispensing machines that ejaculate pale ale out of the side if you haven’t lined up your glass in there perfectly could potentially fall into either category.

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Mostly MIF 2023 part 1 (a 25th birthday post)

One of the ancient wonders of Manchester. (I mean the gate of the old Roman fort at Castlefield, not Jonathan Schofield.)The Unpleasant Lair Of Spank The Monkey first appeared on the internet 25 years ago today, on July 14th, 1998. Which means that it’s time for the annual anniversary post, which in recent years has meant a quick reference to the anniversary number as depicted in pop culture, followed by a few links to how we celebrated it in previous years. (See the 24th birthday post as an example.)

But to be fair, a silver jubilee deserves better. So how about for a change, we mark this occasion with some actual content rather than a mere bit of self-congratulation? This site’s been there for every Manchester International Festival since they started in 2007, with the exception of 2009 when we had to be somewhere else for an eclipse. The Belated Birthday Girl and I were there for four days over the last weekend: here’s what we did. (Or at least the first half of it: more to follow soon.)

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Circumventing Iceland part 4

[previously: June 5-8, June 9-12, June 13-16]

Friday 17th June 2022, Reykjavik

The restaurant breakfast service closes at 7.00am this morning: our slot for getting off the ship is at 9.15am. That gives us a bit of time – conveniently for the structure of this write-up – to have a few thoughts about the cruise that’s just happened. And I keep thinking back to something that one of the Hurtigruten expedition staff said during the briefing for, I think, Grimsey: "if you only get off the ship once during this cruise, you should get off here." Was that just a rhetorical flourish along the lines of "if you only see one film this year...", or are there people on board who really did that? Treated the Fridtjof Nansen as nothing more than a great big hotel where the view from your window changes every day?

If that’s the case, I’m sorry for either their mobility issues or their fear of small boats, but that's just wrong. Because this has been an absolutely glorious trip. The ship itself has been lovely – the sauna and hot tubs easily being the one bit of decadence I could get used to – but all the activities on and off it have been terrifically well organised. At the start the expedition leader Erin warned us that the schedule we’d been given was potentially just a plan A, and weather conditions could at any point force us into a sudden detour into plan B. But that never happened – maybe we were just lucky, but every place we were told we’d be going to, we got to. We experienced all possible aspects of the Icelandic coast, from bustling cities to microscopic islands. We might do another cruise in the future: we will almost certainly get back to Iceland one day, if only because as I write this (two months after the holiday) I’m getting kind of fed up of people asking "so, did you see the Northern Lights?"

And as you can see from the size of this page, we’re not done just yet. Bang on time at 9.15am, we walk off the Fridtjof Nansen for the last time, and back onto dry land at Reykjavik harbour. We’ve got a couple of days before we fly back to London, and the plan is to chill out in the capital after a very busy week. At least that was the plan, until we realised that we were going to be arriving back in the capital on Icelandic National Day, the anniversary of the founding of the republic in 1944.

Plan B, then.

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Circumlocuting Iceland part 3

no you're not going to get any pictures of me in my swimming trunks STOP ASKING[previously: June 5-8, June 9-12]

Monday 13th June 2022, Akureyri

You’ll notice that I haven’t said much so far about the other 500-odd passengers we’re sharing this cruise with. For the most part, we haven’t really engaged with them. There are two old people I’ve been quietly keeping my eye on who are both independently convinced they’re the leading characters on this cruise, and have something to contribute to every event whether the rest of us want to hear it or not. Them aside, it’s a more age-diverse group than I was expecting generally, but still skewing quite old. (And possibly skewing quite German, given the cruise’s choice of secondary language for announcements.)

The other thing worth pointing out is that there aren’t many opportunities when you find yourselves casually chatting to other people - everyone keeps themselves to themselves during mealtimes in particular, partly down to the erratically-enforced Covid restrictions. The idea is that you turn up at the restaurant in a facemask, give your name, wash your hands, and go to the table you're allocated to so that they can maintain distancing and run contact tracing in emergencies - but as the cruise progresses, more and more steps get missed out of that process. (A couple of months ago, Hurtigruten were insisting everyone should wear N95s when moving round the ship: by the start of this cruise it's been knocked down from 'insisting' to 'politely suggesting', and the masked/unmasked passengers are a 50-50 split.)

In this case, though, we end up chatting to a similarly-aged English couple as we disembark at Akureyri, possibly due to the novelty of being able to walk directly off the boat without the aid of tenders. As we walk away from the Fridtjof Nansen, we share our mutual experiences of having our bookings kicked down the line for a couple of years. Eventually we have to part ways, because they're walking into the centre of town, while we're heading off in a different direction to see if a local brewery is open at 9.30 in the morning, which is very much on brand for us.

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