Once again my wife and I made plans to attend Worldcon, Loncon 3. In 2014 it was in London, UK, at the ExCel convention center in the Docklands area of the city down-river from the downtown areas best known. This year was more complex because Eurocon, Shamrokon, was in Dublin, Ireland, the following weekend. To further complicate our plans, my wife's 50th high school reunion in West Virginia was the weekend after that. So after much study we opted to drive to the east coast, stay with friends one night and leave our van at their place, fly out of Dulles airport for London by way of Dublin (which was cheaper than going through London first), renting a car, and touring the southern half of England prior to Worldcon. We then attended Loncon 3, played tourist for a day in the city, transferred to an airport hotel and flew back to Dublin to attend Shamrokon, toured Northern Ireland, UK, which we had never seen, then flew back to the east coast. We stayed with friends one more night, then drove to WV for her event, then home. Whew!
We left Phoenix in mid-August and took four days to get to Virginia. We hung out with our friends, whom would later join us in London and then Dublin, then flew United to Dublin. A fan in Pennsylvania had suggested to us to check out options going through Dublin first. I looked into Dulles-London (Heathrow), then London-Dublin, then either forward to Dulles or back to London first. Lo and behold, going through Dublin first and last was indeed cheaper! Since we were departing and returning to Dulles, and not Phoenix, it made sense to do that. The portion between Dublin and London was on Aer Lingus, but affiliated with United. The first leg was good enough, but we had issues with service coming back. Our friends, in the meantime, opted to fly over to London City Airport (very close to Loncon 3) and so had to go through a European airport first to get there. We looked at that option, but I really wanted a two-leg flight for Jean's benefit and the LCA option required at least three legs.
We arrived at Heathrow airport, rented our car and headed to Guildford, southwest of London, where Jean has a long distance cousin. We had arranged to get together after our arrival, but due to traffic and GPS issues we got to the Holiday Inn Hotel there later than planned. Her cousin had left a message at the front desk and when we called to coordinate our schedules they had already gotten back home. So, we ate at the hotel instead for dinner. We had a couple of issues with not getting what we ordered and the hotel apologized, giving us a discount when we checked out the next day which was nice. After checkout we left and headed north towards Preston. The reason for Preston is that it was about a day's drive in the general direction of the Singing Ringing Tree (SRT), a panopticon (sculpture artwork) in north central England, that Jean wanted to visit. I researched where it was and decided since it was in the middle of the island we should stay west the first night. We had a challenging time filling the car as the gas cap wouldn't open and there was no release button. I enlisted the help of the staff inside the fueling station and one ended up looking up the make and model's manual online. Turns out I had to lock the car with the key fob, then unlock it, then push on the door to the filling cap. I am not kidding! So Holiday Inn Express here we came. I had an interesting experience running out for Chinese Take-Away (To-Go), but I managed to find the restaurant and the food was great. The hotel had a comped breakfast in the morning, then we packed up and headed east towards Burnaby a bit closer to the SRT.
The first part of the journey to find the SRT was to take the freeway east, reach the town of Burnaby, then head south towards where Google Maps showed the SRT to be located. Strangely, there were no directions online on how to reach the SRT. All articles said it was south of the town, but there were no highway or road directions. I did print the page with its GPS coordinates which helped tremendously, but we saw lots of countryside back and forth, around and around, until we found the correct road. It didn't help that it had been raining all day either. So by the time we reached the (dirt/mud) parking lot it was mucky. We could see the tree off in the distance, about half a mile away, but there was no way Jean was going to make that journey on foot in that weather. So, we took some photos and left for our next stop in Hull along the eastern side of England. Once again we chose a Holiday Inn Express downtown, but this one was attached to a shopping mall. Parking was in the mall itself and the lobby connected on the second level. After checking in I hit the mall for dinner and discovered the American Burger Company, or some such. Had to try that. While waiting for our burgers and fries I chatted with the workers and learned a bit about the area. Except for having to pay for parking (one of the parameters I tried to use for filtering hotel options was free parking, fail here) it was a good stay. They also had the comp breakfast and we got the get-out-of-parking-at-a-discount ticket from the hotel lobby before leaving. We drove along the eastern coast, which we have never seen previously, until we got to East Rudham in Norwich. Here was another site, a Dragon Hedge, carved by a farmer just outside of town. I had to stop at a pub for directions, but we found it after that and took some pictures. It was a working farm and I took some photos of that, too. Then we left to stay in Norwich itself at yet another Holiday Inn Express. This one was next to a facility that was very busy and just downhill from ASDA, the British Walmart affiliate. We did go out for dinner somewhere nearby that was relatively unremarkable, then returned for the night.
After breakfast we hit the ASDA to stock up on water and munchies, then headed along the southeast coast until we got to Dover. We had visited Dover in 2010, so this would complete our southeast loop. We had a big problem using the GPS to get where we wanted to go as it kept trying to route us into London. Turns out we told the GPS to avoid toll roads and there was one bridge, a toll bridge, that would take us across the waterway to where we did want to go, but to avoid a toll we had to go to London instead. I finally gave up looping around (and avoiding the toll portion of London, think anti-smog fee for the inner ring roads) and paid the darn toll. We reached Dover from the north, then shot up to Ashford just southeast of London's ring freeway. Here we had a Holiday Inn, but again a fail in that they only had us on the second floor (in Europe the first upstairs floor is the first floor, so it was really their first floor) with no elevator. Drat! Jean managed to slowly negotiate the stairs after checking in, then we came downstairs to eat at the hotel restaurant. A server told us to come back in 30 minutes as they were too busy. Since they had empty tables, I asked to speak to the restaurant manager. Turns out he was cooking! So I planted Jean in a chair and went to the front desk. "May I speak to your Manager on Duty?" "Probably not as he's cooking." You see the problem. I had just purchased dinner coupons at the front desk, so I asked for a refund. I escorted Jean back upstairs and I then went out for take away instead. It was not remarkable, but at least Jean could rest in comfort of our room instead of an uncomfortable chair near a restaurant that didn't want our business. So far the Holiday Inns, not the Expresses, had both been challenges on our trip. We did eat breakfast at the hotel restaurant in the morning, then filed a complaint when we checked out. This time we got no compensation for our inconvenience. It seems most of the staff, including the manager and cook, were relatively new.
We headed out for the ExCel area of London next. I got the car as close to the Novotel Hotel as I could, got someone to come downstairs with a luggage cart to help us unload our rental car, then Jean went with the cart and I went to London City Airport to return the car. I lambasted the returns desk for not supplying a manual so I could have figured out the gas cap unlock system and they just stared at me. I accidentally left our handicap hanger in the car, so we had to order a new one when we returned home, but we got everything else out thankfully. I caught a cab back to the hotel and we checked in and settled in. Our VA friends had already arrived, so we did dinner in the hotel restaurant where I had some wonderful lamb dish. We caught up on our trip experiences and we crashed. The next day I walked over to the ExCel to check in for both of us and to retrieve Jean's mobile scooter I had reserved. Thankfully, I got to Registration on the far eastern portion of the convention center (about one kilometer away from our hotel) before the hordes arrived. I checked in and then went to the Accessibility Desk for the scooter. The fellow was just delivering them and was surprised because he had no reservation for us. What? Turns out he had an extra, which I took, but I could not pay the convention; instead I had to pay him and he could only take cash. So, I had to find an ATM and withdraw enough cash to rent it for the con. I insisted on a receipt and he agreed, then I drove it back to the hotel for Jean's use. Thankfully, the con had gotten us into a room with walk-in shower and it was large enough for us to park the scooter next to the bed and still maneuver on foot. The con was still setting things up, so when I went back I wandered around to orient myself. It was on several levels on the east end with the long march through the center itself with lots of restaurants and shops. Many were closed, since Loncon 3 wasn't that large by their standards and it wasn't fully open yet, but they had plenty of food options from American chains to ethnic choices. The Dealers Room / Art Show was on the western side of the con's space along with Exhibits. The eastern side down one level was Reg, Flyer Racks, and the Fan Village. The latter was where the beer, ale and cider was sold along with Convention Operations, fan tables under portable 10'x10' tents here and there, and Gaming. That's also where the parties were to be at night thanks to their food handling laws. Upstairs above the FV was Programming rooms. These were on the north side of the concourse; they used some rooms on the south side, but you had to walk through an empty exhibit hall to the far south wall, then take an elevator (or stairs) up to another level. That part was really isolated from the rest of the convention. On the way back to the hotel Jean and I opted for Indian, but instead of a choice of sit-down vs buffet we discovered it was buffet only. It was ok, but not great. After dinner we met up with our friends to analyze the convention layout and discuss food options.
The first day of the con we met for breakfast, which was buffet and quite good at the hotel, then wandered over to check out the con. Boy were they slammed at Registration! Lines were reminiscent of San Diego Comic Con. Thankfully, we didn't need to visit Reg again. I found the Sasquan fan table (Spokane Worldcon 2015) to help out and when I had a moment I wandered the Fan Village to find out where other cons' fan tables were located. There was no symmetry on how the tents were arranged, so the tables just kind of meandered around. There was a seating area for folks with beers and such. Except for the pricing it worked pretty well. So I helped at the table while Jean and our friends saw the rest of the con. There were issues with scooters and the small elevators, so the con devised a scheme to use cargo elevators for those with accessibility issues. It took a day to get this right and Jean was not allowed to go upstairs one day, so she returned to the hotel instead. I did lunch with some American friends and we chatted about the con's configuration, then back to help at the Sasquan table again. By dinner time the con shut down except for the big events. I watched Opening Ceremonies on the south side with some tiered seating and it went pretty well. Other events would be in that exhibit hall during the weekend. We synced up with friends for dinner after nearby as there were many hotels on the west side of the center near us as well as restaurants, then compared notes for the day.
Con day 2 was more of the same. Fan table, business meeting, some programming, lunch with friends, more table, etc. The parties at night were in the FV and it was strangely working out ok. At an American Worldcon we would have had party suites, but Europe doesn't really do that. The FV was Loncon 3's solution. It was extremely expensive for groups as all food & beverages had to come through the center's caterer. As such there were fewer parties. Day 3 was when Sasquan was hosting its party in the same tent as Kansas City had their fan tables. Voting closed this day, so KC wasn't throwing a party as it was vote count night. They were unopposed, but they still don't do that. They kindly let us use their tent and tables, but Sasquan spent $3000 on f&b! It went well and was a lot of work. We got a number of memberships there, in addition to the fan table throughout the weekend. Day 4 was when KC was announced as the winner for Worldcon 2016, MidAmeriCon II; MAC I was in 1976. Besides the fan table we had to get ready to host the Hugo Losers Party. Some of our staff went out shopping for it and the rest of us helped run it that night. The Hugo Awards Ceremony was in that large southern exhibit hall. Prior was the Hugo Pre-Reception, sponsored by Loncon 3 and I got to attend it for the first time. I was well underdressed :-) Jean and I attended the Hugos, then she returned to the hotel while I followed the crowd around to the designated southern room on a higher floor where the Losers Party was held sponsored by Sasquan. I ended up entertaining the folks waiting down the long corridor to get in, then helped at the serving tables. Folks had tickets for drinks, but food was for all. It went well enough, but the long line was caused by the reg desk system we used and we took some hits over that snafu. But people had a good time and we survived it.
Day 5 was the last day of the con. I had to return Jean's scooter by a certain time and ours was the last one returned. We wrapped up the fan table, said goodbye to our annual friends, and met folks for dinner one last time. We had planned one day of touring London with our VA friends before shifting gears to Dublin, so the day after L3 we took a cab from the hotel to the Tower of London. We walked a lot getting there from our dropoff point and then we walked a lot while there, but it was fun. As we were leaving to snag another cab I saw across the street three businesses side by side: Subway, Starbucks and Baskin Robbins. I spread my arms out wide and yelled "We won!" The locals just looked at me and kept walking. We caught a cab for the National Archives because our friends had worked for them in the US in DC; one still did while the other was retired. Once there three of us hung out in the restaurant to their building while he went off to see what he could. We met an interesting Scottish college student there and chatted with her for awhile until our fourth returned. We then took a cab to the Thames to catch a water taxi back to the ExCel area. The taxi got us close, then we took the sky cars across the river to the ExCel side. Our one friend is afraid of heights, so she kept her eyes closed the entire time. As we walked back towards our hotel we ran into a Lebanese restaurant, so we ate dinner there and it was quite good. Next to us was Dr Gregory Benford of Los Angeles. We chatted with him on and off during dinner, then we returned to the hotel one last time. After checkout the next day our friends left for the city airport to catch a flight to Dublin while we transferred to a Holiday Inn near Heathrow. Heathrow is west of downtown London while city airport is southeast. We decompressed there rather than play tourist again, then flew to Dublin to following day. We synced up with our VA friends at the DoubleTree Hotel Burlington. Strangely, their restaurant was breakfast only. If you want lunch or dinner, you either eat in the lobby in the light or in the large bar/pub in the dark. For our first night we opted for neither. Jean went to the room and I went out walking, finding an interesting pizza place about a quarter mile around the corner. After dinner in our room I wandered around and found a few people I knew from L3, so chatted with them before crashing.
Breakfast was included and it was crowded. We met our VA friends, then got registered for Shamrokon. Sasquan had a fan table there, so I helped on and off with that. We opted to do no party as they had theirs in function space, too, but it wasn't nearly as large. Since Dublin was starting a bid for Worldcon 2019 the Bid Chair arranged for a tour of their new convention center. I went on that on day 2 and it was smaller than ours, but quite nice and modern. However, on day 1, we all took a cab to the Guiness Brewery for a tour. There was a lot of walking through the multiple floors of exhibits, but we survived to reach the top floor for the comp glass of beer. Our one friend got most of them as I don't really like that stuff, just on occasion. The view was quite nice though as it was essentially a 360 degree view of the city from a tall building. We left there to cab over to Trinity College to view the Book of Kells. We had more lines and more walking, but it was worth it and afterwards we entered the library and gift shop. Awesome library! We bought some books in the shop, then returned to the con hotel by cab. Dinner was three of us at a nearby Irish restaurant and I got takeaway for Jean at the hotel. I socialized with fans in the bar/pub after, then called it a night. Day 2 was more of the same, but with the center tour. It looks very doable. I again helped at the table, then did dinner with other friends at the same Irish restaurant as the night before, then experienced Dublin's version of the party plan. It was in a large meeting room and had organizational tables, book tables, food and drink available. I hung out with some fans near the back at a banquet table and had a good time. The final day of the con was shorter. We sold more Sasquan memberships, then helped them shut the con down. We ended up doing dinner with our friends in the hotel pub this time and other American fans joined us throughout the meal. We shut down early so we could pack for the next day.
We did one final breakfast with our VA friends who headed off to the airport to fly home. I took a cab to the airport to rent our car, returned to pick up Jean after checking out and we drove off to Belfast in Northern Ireland! We were surprised to find essentially no border issues when crossing over. There was a sign that said Welcome To Northern Ireland, you are now using miles. The drive was easy and we found our hotel outside of Belfast easily, Hilton Templepatrick. It was located in a suburb and had a huge golf course. We got checked in, then ate dinner in the hotel restaurant. Most hotel restaurants in Europe are only open a few hours; you have to rely on their pubs beyond those hours. We had a nice meal though, again it was lamb for me. The next day we planned to drive past Belfast for the eastern coast, then north along the coast, then west along that coast all the while hitting the National Trust Landmarks. The Irish Sea drive along the east was beautiful! Little towns, roadway right along the water, some of the houses practically at sea level. When we got to the northeast we hit Carrick-a-Reid Rope Bridge landmark. Paid the fee and I parked. Jean didn't want to walk all the way to see it, so I did and took pictures, paying to cross. It is basically a rope and wooden bridge from the main island to a much smaller one. I got talking on the way back with a British couple and we compared notes on our respective federal retirement systems. I reached the car, showed Jean all the photos I took, and we headed off west towards the next landmark, Giant's Causeway. This was a collection of polygon shaped columns of various heights along the coast that are geologically related to some in Iceland and all the way to Newfoundland in Canada. I could have taken a shuttle to some of the sights, but I walked instead. And took photos. I returned to show them to her and we continued our drive west until just outside of Londonderry (northwest Northern Ireland). Looking at the map I was surprised to see that northwest Ireland was just farther west from there, but we didn't have time. Instead we drove back towards our hotel. We decided to look for dinner and using our GPS we found a Chinese Restaurant nearby that was quite excellent. The server was from Romania so we had a great chat about the three countries (Romania, US, UK). We returned to our hotel to unwind.
After breakfast and checkout we drove down the southeast coast and all its peninsulas until we ran out and headed back to Dublin. We planned to stay near the airport, this time in a Premier Inn (the same chain we used in 2010 when we toured the UK and got stuck there for 9 extra days). However, our GPS wouldn't bring it up. No problem, I printed out directions. Yeah right. After a frustrating hour of trying to find it I realized that I could just call for help. They never answered their phone; instead, it threw us into an infinite loop between one option and the operator. I finally realized that I had their GPS coordinates on my printout and I figured out how to get the GPS into coordinate mode. I then just drove until the numbers got closer and closer. Voila! There is was. Turns out they had changed affiliation recently, so the GPS didn't know they were now Premier Inn. I mentioned our problem with reaching them by phone. They apologized, and gave us free dinner discounts. We used those and despite the slow service had a nice meal. The next day after breakfast we returned our car and flew back to Dulles. The flight from London to Dublin hadn't gone well as Aer Lingus left my wife abandoned in a wheelchair and didn't give us time to board before the masses were allowed on. The flight to London wasn't much of a problem though. And we had no issue with United, either. When we landed at Dulles our friends had arranged for a town car to fetch us and we stayed with them one more night. We compared notes post-arrival, then crashed. The next day we packed up, said goodbye, grabbed lunch and hit the road. Getting out of the DC area was a royal pain! Since it was Labor Day Weekend everyone was trying to leave. We were in heavy traffic for many hours and many miles. We drove through Maryland to West Virginia, then stayed along the interstate instead of in town due to the price of hotels where my wife grew up. We had lots of trouble finding it too. Guess what? It had changed affiliation recently as well. Guess what? They put us on the second floor with no elevator. Two fails. The next day we went shopping for some new clothing, then had some trouble finding the site for the reunion. Google Maps showed it here, but it turns out that was the old location. We had no idea where to go from there, so we called the site's phone number. Closed for the weekend. However, their website had an emergency number which turned out to belong to the treasurer who was out of state, but walked us through the directions. We finally found it many miles south of town and pulled up. Then we walked up to the first floor only to find that was another group and the reunion was on the second floor. At last we made it. Jean introduced herself and we got our badges, found a place to sit, and chatted with various folks she went to school with or recognized. Many came up to me and said they didn't remember me; that's because I didn't graduate from your school, my wife did. Some remembered Jean; some did not. Some were rather cliquish and sat together instead of joining us where we sat; a few others did join us. Some that Jean knew never came by to say hi while others did. The food was buffet style after the group photo. Jean did get to reconnect with her cousin and they are now in touch again. Most of the rest of those she wanted to see didn't bother to go to the reunion. Turns out many of them had been snubbed at previous reunions so they blew it off. I had a good time. We returned to our hotel and the next day we left to drive back home. It took us five days to do so, but we made it safely and uneventfully.
Overall this was a great trip. It was complex to plan for, but the plan worked out pretty well. We saw old friends, made new ones, got to play tourist in London, Dublin and Northern Ireland (for the first time). Very memorable. Worldcon and Shamrokon were great events. Food was mostly good. Lots of fond memories :-)