May 19 – The one with the Friends

There was another one of those delightful early starts today – up around 5 to leave nothing to chance. Checking out of the hotel was super-fast, not even as much as a “was everything ok”. The experience had been slightly less than stellar, so maybe it would have been good to ask. There were no disasters, just that on the last day – the first time we’d put the ‘please make up my room’ note on the door, they didn’t. Like I’ve mentioned a few times it’s only a new place, so hopefully over time they sort their stuff out and they become as fancy as they look.

We only had a short walk to the bus stop. The big effort was before that – trying to squish everything back into the bags. I bought a sum total of two tiny espresso-size coffee cups – that’s it. Not sure how this has felt like an expansion of luggage by a few square metres 🙂

And that was about it for Dublin – at least we got to see a little bit of it, and learn a little of its history. Hopefully there’s lots of peaceful time ahead.

We caught a Stena Line ferry over to Dublin, so for the heck of it I booked the other one, Irish Ferries, for the trip back to Wales. The check in process was super simply, just ‘yeah throw your bags over there on the belt and go up the escalator’. Too easy. Just had time to smash a coffee at a little cafe in the terminal and next thing you know it was time to get on another bus to be taken over to the ferry. This time, the bus didn’t dump us inside the ferry itself, just near the front, so we walked in. Their signage was on point, before we knew it we were at the door to the Club Class lounge, where we paid a few extra bucks for some free snacks and drinks. We found seats, settled in, I grabbed a free glass of Apple juice, and … next minute it was already time to disembark!

This ride, on the ‘Swift’ did indeed live up to its name as it was all over in a little over two hours, and I slept through pretty much the whole way, too easy! The only trouble was I missed out on free snacks coz i was too busy snoozing. Still, what can I say, I had a really good sleep and woke up feeling pretty refreshed and ready to go.

When it was time to leave, this time it was a bit more of the ‘Greek approach’ where we were all corralled to the back of the ship while the crew rushed around tidying and vacuuming and getting things ready for the next load of passengers. It didn’t take long at all before we stepped off the board into to the fresh Wales air, and straight on to the bus for a crazy hellride to the station 🙂 OK that’s overstating it, I’d say the drivers was bored of doing to the same little rip over and over and chose to have a bit of fun with it. Arrivals couldn’t have been easier – in the door, the luggage was already going around on the conveyer belt, there were no customs, no border control, just straight on through and seconds later, here we are in Holyhead Wales.

The wonderful thing about Holyhead is that the port and the train station are directly connected, one right behind the other, so it was again no trouble getting to the station. We had an hour to wait, so time for a snack in the little cafe there.

Bang on time, the train arrived, a little two-carriage thing, ready to take us all the way to Birmingham. Time to relax and watch the fields and head grows and lovely little cottages whiz by. And despite being only two carriages, there was still a drinks and snacks trolley on board, so I had myself a lovely cup of tea.

Sure enough, a little more nap time ensued during the journey, but by about the time we hit Chester, things got busy. I think they’re enough passengers for a 4 carriage train, certainly enough suitcases! The last half hour or so became particularly cramped and crowded. Finally, only about 30 minutes after we were scheduled to, we arrived in Birmingham New Street, and were delighted to be reunited with a dear friend we’d not seen in nearly two years. We’re staying with these friends in their lovely home just outside of Birmingham, which is very kind of them.

We even enjoyed our first home cooked meal since the start of May, so that was a wonderful change as well. But now, it’s late, sure there are exciting things planned for tomorrow so I’ll leave it there, and see you all tomorrow.

May 18 – go north, life is (at last) peaceful there

It was a big (I guess, the big) tour day today so up and at ‘em before 6 for a quick brekky and to rendezvous with all the other people that would soon collectively make up a bus load of tourists. As luck would have it, the other critical ingredient soon arrived – the bus! On we piled for a big adventure.

Today we were heading north. Very north, up to Northern Ireland, Belfast to be a bit more exact, to visit the Titanic museum. There are no border controls, no passports, just a sign welcoming us as we cross from the republic to Northern Ireland.

Our guide gives us a potted history of Ireland and Northern Ireland along the way, a pivotal moment being Henry VIII’s formation of the Church of England so he could get himself a divorce. It’s as if those adhering to the new religion and those adhering to the old have been at loggerheads ever since. Animosity, hatred, conflicts, wars, so many lives pointlessly lost, all due to religion. As an outsider, it’s just so fucking tragic that it’s all about, well … Nothing.

The Titanic museum was all about one of the world’s more famous failures. Housed in a big impressive building, it was completed about 10 years ago.

It does a wonderful job of setting the context, talking about Belfast and the way it became a superpower in the linen trade and steel and shipbuilding. Harland and Wolff was the most efficient shipbuilder, with an excellent reputation, no wonder it had the ambition to take on the building of the unimaginably large ships like the Olympic and the Titanic. Surprisingly, the museum took a turn when it came to explaining parts of the building process – we turned a corner and were ushered into a sort of amusement park ride, most unexpected. It took us on a five minute trip, twisting and turning to show little vignettes on details of the process, such as the hardships faced by those responsible for setting the many many rivets that held the whole things together. Lucky things were working for “only” 54 hours a week.

The ride came to an end and we learned more about the launch – cleverly positioned so this room looked out over the actual slipway used by Olympic and Titanic as they moved from shipyard to waterway.

Next up we’re some mock-ups of the luxurious, and less luxurious cabins on board, first class still looks fancy, even with one of those new tangled electric lamps. But for third class, I believe there were only two. At brooms for the lot of them so that cannot have been pleasant. One thing I found interesting was that the ship had to have enough linen on board to last from port to port, as there were no facilities on board to wash it. So that’s a lot of sheets and tablecloths and serviettes and the like!

Then the bit we all know about – hey what’s that, oops too late, crunch, ow, splish, splash, blub blub blub, no you can’t share my door. There were bits of this I never knew about – like the nearest ship didn’t know titanic was calling for help because it’s radio person had clocked off for the day so nobody was listening to the radio. Unimaginable these days – indeed, one of the outcomes of this disaster was a requirement for ships to have a radio person available at all times to listen to incoming signals. I also didn’t know that there should have been a pair of binoculars up in Titanic’s crows nest but they were missing – so there was no chance to see any icebergs until they were quite close by. At least out of so much bad came some good, with the changing of rules and regulations to help prevent some of worst of the problems that befell titanic.

The next section was dedicated to its rediscovery – I’d actually forgotten it had laid there in peace and quiet until 1985. I keep taking “that’s so recent” – but that’s just me showing my age, with a reality check that it’s nearly 40 years ago.

The final room was a sort of large, artistic, multi-media representation of titanic’s lifecycle – quite effectively done. The room also had a few items recovered from a few people who didn’t make it. A pocket watch, somewhat eerliy (but understandably) stopped at 1:37, the same moment it (and its owner) hit the icy waters.

To its the credit, there was no “exit through the gift shop”, but rest assured there was one just a few steps away. It was a fascinating way to spend two hours, well worth a visit.

It’s another one of those interesting things that had it been successful, we’d never had heard of Titanic, it would have been just another boat like so many before or since. But since disaster befell people, and more to the point, rich people, it has been recorded in great detail and fussed over for more than a hundred years since. Just like the Vasa ship in Sweden, it’s the failure that gives it a certain immortality. It’s a good note to yourself should you fail at something – just look how important and useful failure can actually be 🙂

Back on the bus we all then piled, for our next destination – Dunluce Castle, or rather the remains thereof. I don’t know much about the castle’s history (yes let’s all just Google it later) but it was a lovely old crumbling thing, ripe for the crawling-over by bus loads of happy-snappers like myself. Here are probably too many photos.

Too soon it was bus time again for a quick trip to our next major stop, the Giant’s Causewqy. And more importantly, lunch! We decided on eating first as the rain which we have pretty much avoided for our whole trip was starting to catch up with us. Of course several other bus loads of people had the same idea, but we managed to get a table in “The Nook”, a nice old pub, and got our hands on a ridiculously good lunch – I swear my smoked salmon sandwich had salmon an inch thick in parts, and Perry’s steak and Guinness pie looked delicious. This was accompanied with garlic chips, which by the time we got through them, were literally swimming in garlic butter at the bottom of their dish. Very good!

We waited a good bit of time for a bus down to the causeway, to the point where our best option was to line back up immediately for the bus going back up to the top. But we were able to tag team and still go for a little wander to get some pictures. It was raining so I wasn’t at all keen to try clambering around, knowing I’d be the first to be going arse-over-tit at a moment’s notice. Interestingly they had a few staff positioned at points on the causeway, there to try and reduce the number of dumb people doing dumb things – discouraging them from the more dangerous bits.

Our bus back to the top got us there in time to get back to our other bus, the one that would ultimately take us back home (with a brief comfort stop on the way, peppered with additional drama that only one loo was available!).

Lasting some 14 hours, it’s a big day for the tour operators and tourists alike, mind you I managed a few good naps, a nice luxury not afforded our driver 🙂 We were returned to Dublin and left the coach, feeling richer (though not financially!) for the experience.

We thought we’d just opt for a quick dinner in the hotel to end the night early. Except I think it’s been at least an hour waiting for the food – guess they’re having a no good very bad kind of day, poor things. But it’s kinda been fun listening to other tables threaten to walk because of all the time it’s taking. This place has only been open a few weeks, I guess kitchen staffing or service still hasn’t settled in yet. Still, it gives me time to write a paragraph about someone else having a shit day, and it’s not us, so that’s a thing? Hmm if I put my mind to it I may yet finish a novel, the way things are going 🙂

And so, our time in Ireland is at an end. Of course most of it was spent in a hotel room feeling poorly, but at least it was a comfortable place to recover. It’s a shame we didn’t get to see as much of Dublin as we might have liked, but for these kind of things you just have to roll with it and be grateful for the things that we did get a chance to see and experience. After all, as we learned today, worse things happen at sea!

May 17 – Aaaand we’re kinda back.

Another slow start to the day, but Perry was well enough to be up and about, so we did get to see a little bit of Dublin today. After a quick breakfast it was over to our good old tourist staple, the hop-on-hop-off bus, for a breezy trip around Dublin on a beautiful spring day (reaching the dizzingly scorching heights of 18 degrees).

I didn’t even take a billion photos. Perhaps unsurprisingly we drove past about 1000 churches give or take, plus some interesting things as well, like the Guinness factory, and a number of other old buildings around the place.

We grabbed some lunch at a place caller SuperMac’s – no it wasn’t full of Apple computers, instead of was a McDonaldKFCsubwayPizzaHut kind of place, trying to be all things to all people. Sure made a nice chicken burger though. We also saw a department store called Arnott’s – at first I had my hopes up that it was just five floors of biscuits, but alas no.

While we were in the neighbourhood we booked in to see The Long Room in trinity college. Just google that and you’ll get 1000 photographs better than mine :). To get in to the see The Long Room you also need to pay for an exhibit about the Book of Kells. There was no Book of Kath though. I guess the remarkable thing about the Book of Kells is that it was being put together in around the year 900 or so, and the pigments on the pages are still fairly vibrant – so it’s a wonder of archiving if nothing else. It’s interesting to see how people tried to draw things 1,000 years ago but the book itself is just some bits from the bible so to be honest that doesn’t hold a lot of interest. But still kinda cool to see an actual page from a 1,000 year old book. For some reason they had it open and one page and wouldn’t let you just pick it up and flick through to your heart’s content 🙂

After that, the Long Room itself. Just me, Perry, and a hundred other people, and staff who are currently in the process of removing all of the books so that they can be digitised and repaired if necessary. So perhaps it doesn’t give the full effect with a great many of the shelves empty, but it’s still a super-impressive space, 64 metres long, a beautiful vaulted ceiling, and room for a great many books. There were no ghosts whizzing about like in Harry Potter, no creepy atmosphere whatsoever, but it sure was beautiful, and old enough to have a filing system older than the letters J and U for example.

That was enough adventure for one day so back to the hotel to chill and regain some energy. We ventured as far as the ground floor for dinner, time to rest for a big day tomorrow.

May 16 – Yep, it’s the ‘rona

A quieter morning – quieter in the best way, with less coughing and a slightly more restful sleep for all.

But as the title would suggest, Perry tested positive for Covid 😦 That means I probably have it too, but I’ll save the remaining tests for him for now.

We’ve moved a tour we had planned over to Thursday, in the hope we’ll be OK to travel by then – at the vaguely extortionate price of 70 euro to change a date in a system somewhere – but that’s much better than not being able to attend at all.

I went for a bit of a wander outdoors, to go to the shops for some food, and to get a little closer to one of the pretty bridges over the River Liffey that runs through Dublin, that’s about all to report today. There were some cool sculptures including a harrowing one depicting the great famine. I am guessing the area we’re staying is going through its gentrification phase, there’s a bit of local colour very close by including some cool street art.

Other than that, just lots of rest and not mixing with people. Let’s hope things are going a bit better tomorrow.

May 15 – Tea for One

After a looong sleep, unfortunately Perry’s still feeling unwell, so it was up to me to take on this morning’s tour solo. As a precaution, I wore a mask, just in case I was coming down with anything, in order to protect my fellow passengers and crew.

Today’s little tour was the Vintage Dublin Afternoon Tea. In the morning. Makes perfect sense. On board, already waiting was a selection of little cakes and sandwiches, lovely! And just to ad to the quaint factor the bus was decorated with little garlands of flowers. We were introduced to our bus, her name is Pauline, and she was born in 1961 as a London Routemaster bus, now living her best life here in Dublin.

Of course tea was on the menu, and I had to choose Irish Breakfast. The journey got off to very slow start due to someone parking right on the very edge of a corner meaning there was no chance the bus would be able to turn left. Eventually, they moved and we were able to proceed. I have to give full credit to all the bus drivers we’ve encountered so far – manoeuvring these big lumps of metal through the tiniest gaps, threading through bollards and traffic lights, it really is impressive. We drove past some lovely old buildings, past the massive Guinness factory – and this is where I learnt something I didn’t know. Which country drinks the most Guinness? It’s not Ireland, Australia, USA or even the UK. Nope, it’s actually Nigeria!

We drove into Phoenix Gardens, a massive park, any by massive I mean twice the size of Central Park in New York. It’s also home to the president, and to the United States Ambassador to Ireland.

It was soon time to enjoy a freshly heated scone that was delivered to my table, accompanied with clotted cream and jam, as we trundled through Georgian Dublin, which was of course quite beautiful with its Georgian terraces and their massive windows – if you’d like to live in one of those terraces, to going rate is around 5 or 6 million euro. We learnt a little about the rich-suburb trait of everybody trying hard just to out-do everyone else – even the number of steps leading up to your front door was a status symbol as more steps meant more cost. Go figure. As with Volendam, Vaucluse, and every other posh place in the world, always to see the super-rich making such sensible use of their extra dollars :-/

Having finished my scone, the tour concluded and I was able to get a few more pictures on the way back to the hotel. Also, they gave me the leftovers to take back to Perry which was nice.

Much of the afternoon was spent quietly in the hotel, doing a bit of admin like moving tomorrow’s tour to Thursday just in case, and booking a bus to get us from Dublin to Dublin Port when we leave on Friday. I picked up some snacks and painkillers, and also took a few pictures of the surrounding area including a pub Oscar Wilde worked at when he was young.

There are interesting bits of Victorian-era infrastructure popping up all over the place. I guess back then it was more “I don’t care how it will look, it has to go here, and here is where it will go”. Nowadays can you imagine the outcry? Some of these things I guess were a massive blot on the landscape, but over time are now more often though of as ‘charming’. I wonder who’s more right?

Anyway, I stopped pondering infrastructure for long enough to have a good laugh at this ad I saw on Facebook, which managed to use “scorcher’ and “21 degrees” in the same sentence 🙂

On that slightly hilarious note, it’s time to call it a day. No plans set for tomorrow, so it can be another day of recovery if needed.

May 14 – No more Eurovision, now what?

After the Grand Final, we got back to hotel maybe around 12:30 in the morning. That left us tons of time (heh) to finish packing up and be ready around 7AM to hopefully find a car that could take us to the train station.

That translated to roughly 5 hours of bad sleep, like, waking up every half hour wondering “did I sleep through an alarm?” sleep. Suffice to say the day started very much in Zombie mode. At the hotel reception I tried to check out of a room that didn’t exist, but we got that cleared up pretty quickly. As everybody would be trying to gat out of the city all at once, I was bit concerned we’d have trouble finding an Uber, but I think it was only about 15 minutes before we were able to get one. We built in a lot of extra time just in case (worst case scenario would have been walking 2 km to the station with out luggage, eek!) – but in the end we got there with a bit over and hour to spare. Beats stressing about it though.

Happily there was somewhere to get coffee and somewhere to sit while we waited, and found our way down to ‘Platform A’ from where we’d catch our train. And here’s platform A just because.

First leg was from Liverpool Lime Street to Chester, the train wasn’t crowded so it was not much bother with us and the luggage. At Chester we had about a 25 minute changeover time, so that was just enough time to lug the bags up some stairs (always such a joy) and over to the correct platform. Again we found somewhere for the luggage, and saw some beautiful countryside roll by, including a stop at THAT train station in Wales:

This train, despite being only 3 carriages, still had someone going up and down with a refreshments cart, which was kinda cool – I guess this leg was a little over 2 hours so it makes sense. After all the scenery (and much that was missed due to snoozing), we arrived at Holyhead, Wales. Happily, the start of the Ferry terminal is directed connected to the end of the train platform, so that couldn’t get much easier if we tried. Again to be on the safe side we allowed a ton of time in case trains were late etc, but they weren’t, so we had about 2 hours to kill at Holyhead. They had a comfy cafe/shop area with some lounges so we baggsed one of those and settled in for the wait, had some machine coffee and refreshingly cheap bags of chips (crisps).

Boarding was fine, we booked a spot in the “Hygge lounge” on the ferry, not so much for its “luxury seating” but more for the “children under 8 are not permitted”. It was indeed quiet, still some dick decided watching videos on his phone at full volume was totally ok. Super glad of the earplugs I had in my pocket, originally for Eurovision but now to make the quiet room actually quiet. Bliss.

The Irish Sea ferry crossing has a bit of a reputation for being pretty rough, so I did the right thing and bought some travel sickness medication just in case. But to cut a long story short, the whole thing was about as smooth as glass, at least the small bits I remembered, as happily I slept for at least two of the three hours it took to get to Dublin. I remember back in the day when we caught these super big ferries to Mykonos and Santorini we were all herded up like cattle with all the cars in order to get us out of there as quick as possible. Stena Line was a bit more refined -calling truck drives, then car drivers, and lastly foot passengers. WE ended up kinda herded into a stairwell for quite some time, but that was OK. So, down the stairs, into a bus (which is on the ferry), which then drives off the ferry and deposits us at the port, where we pick up our luggage (so glad we were able to check that in and not manhandle it up and down the ferry!), then onto another bus to get us in to the middle of town.

It was then just a short walk to the Hotel, which is really quite nice because it wasn’t even open when we booked it – so everything is super super fresh. It looks like an area that is undergoing a bit of gentrification because among the brand new hotel and graffiti-ridden smashed-window old warehouses, but hey at least it creates some contrast.

We were both so totally chock full of energy we just went down to the hotel restaurant, which was pretty nice, and all that’s left to do is finish this blog and have a bit of an early night to hopefully help make up for last night.

Dublin, we have arrived!

May 13 – Grand Final Day!

It’s grand final day! And indeed it’s also our final grand day here in Liverpool. Awww.

The day got off to a simple start, brekky downstairs at the hotel. Perry’s still feeling a little bit blah so he went back to room for a bit more rest. I figured it was as good a time as any to get another batch of washing done. It would’ve been great if I hadn’t missed the bus by a few minutes (to save maybe 20% of the journey) but slow and steady wins the race, and walked all the way to the laundrette.

On the way there was a big choir singing ABBA tunes so that was a lovely diversion. The city is laying so many cultural events and bits and bibs for Eurovision, it’s fantastic.

Washing on and it’s time to wander down to Costa a coffee for a cold drink. It’s only 14 degrees but it was warm in the sun! I had a a still (ie America style) lemonade, dunno why I was so amused that good part is drink is good old natural council pop – ie after the ice and flavouring he filled the rest with tap water. 🙂 Still tasted good though, and nice to sit down while the washing was busy getting itself all dizzy going around and around.

On the plus side, I was able to use the app to reserve a washer at the laundrette ahead of time – and when I got there I didn’t even need it, two of the three machines were free – nice!

Returning to laundrette I found all the machines in use, so yay for turning up when I did. The excitement of washing day, am I right 🙂

While that was doing its thing I took a stroll around on a gorgeous spring day and took photos of some nice old buildings.

The only downside was that the dryer didn’t do much of a job of drying so i had to lay everything out around the hotel and hope for the best (spoiler alert, it’s still kinda damp)

On one the quick rests I took on the way back, a gentleman asked if I was expecting anyone else on the bench and could his wife sit down – so I ended up having a conversation with a wonderful older couple, locals, well local enough. Back in the day he was an apprentice working on the ferry ‘cross the Mersey, so it was great to hear some of his stories from back in the day. Every local person I’ve run in to has been nothing but lovely , even our Uber guy ti the train station was all “thanks so much, you take care, and safe travels ok gents” – but, I think he actually meant it. There just seems to be this very deep seated sense of care that running through the heart of Liverpool. Sure some of the Aussies we’ve met who are staying out of town have some different stories, and maybe we’ve just been lucky, but everyone has been so ridiculously nice. More please!

Back at the hotel I packed as much as I could, knowing that we’d have to leave after way too little sleep. (It’s self inflicted bad travel planning). Perry has already headed off the arena nice and early to hopefully get a great spot to stand. Once packed I had myself a little disco nap to try and prepare for what was to come. Then I got ready (I even more something shiny), smashed down a Big Mac and then on to the show!

I was queueing with some lovely people from Huddersfield and Manchester that were great fun to hang around, it helped the time pass quickly, and soon it was in to the nownfsmilar routine of queue, wait, queue again, wait, and into the Arena. Pretty much everyone has stepped up their costume game – it was lovely to see everybody really going all-out for such a huge event. And one legend with a Hannah Waddingham mask 🙂

I found Perry pretty quick, right at the back of the room near the “Green room” area, and more importantly, at a barricade we could lean on for the next 6 or so hours. It was great to again see some the other Aussies we’d met up with on other days. (Hey Paul!)

Eurovision Grand Finals are definitely a marathon, not a sprint, a test of endurance where you have to plan rehydration, food, all that important stuff. I was really flagging about three hours in til I went off and grabbed myself a big drink of sugary lemonade. Energy restored, and trying to ignore my aching feet, it was on with enjoying the show.

Is it weird to say it was, in a way, slightly anti- climactic? At least at the start, seeing all the acts that we’d seen before, though of course was a treat to be again able enjoy songs from Croatia (bonkers), Austria (Poe Poe Poe Poe Poe Poe), Belgium (very catchy), Finland (CHA CHA CHA!!!), and of course Australia.

The mid-show entertainment was nice, though to be honest it was marred a bit by fans of one country that had no interest in any of the goings on that didn’t strictly involve them. We were right near their green room so they spent a lot of time shouting and trying to get the attention of their act. It just seemed a little disrespectful to me to be doing that during a particularly heartfelt rendition of Liverpool’s unofficial (or official, who knows?) anthem, You’ll Never Walk Alone. Nearly everyone in the arena was having A Bit Of A Moment, but, not all. I admit was a little bit happy when this country’s act did not win.

It was great to see so many previous participants returning for one of the interval acts – Netta, Sonia (UK 1993), and a joy that Dadi Freyer finally got to the stage after covid derailed them two years in a row. They didn’t disappoint. And of course Ukraine’s Vera Seduchka with her banger ‘Dancing Lasha Tumbai’, and I’m totally sure she didn’t intentionally mean for it to sound like ‘Russia Goodbye’. Surely not.

Also great was seeing the incredible camaraderie in the green room – countries visiting other countries, Kaarija from Finland serving drinks to the Australians, it was hilarious, and showed there was a lot of love in the room. Here’s some bits and pieces from the night.

Inevitably it was then time for the most important/stressful part – the scoring. Actually it wasn’t that stressful because we know Australian won’t win. But as always there were some big surprises along the way.

(Spoiler alert just in case you’ve been living under a rock)

It was a real thrill when I think two countries gave their 12 points to Australia, and I’m glad that we’d chosen to give our 12 points to Belgium. The atmosphere in the room was electric, perhaps the biggest shock of all was when Greece didn’t give 12 points to Cyprus. Eurovision will never be the same again.

To cut a long story short it ended up as a bit of a race between Finland and Sweden for first place. But when the jury vote was combined with the “televote” (ie votes from all the punters at home), there was one clear winner, and that was the favourite all along: Sweden. I would’ve like Finland to win, but Sweden deserved it.

Other happy things: nobody received the dreaded ‘nul points’, though Germany came pretty close with I think 3 points. This also means the UK didn’t come last, though they didn’t do very well at all this year.

After a somewhat gruelling but incredible 6 hours in the arena it was finally time to head home, knowing we’d only get about 5 hours sleep — we didn’t want to take any chances so we left tons of time to get to the station the next day knowing things might still be a bit random after todays train strike.

But, that’s it – Eurovision done and dusted! What an incredible experience to be a part of, hard to describe and definitely hard to beat. I’m so incredibly glad it finally came to be.

May 12 – Grand Final Eve

It was another slow start to the day after last nights incredible semi final. Did I mention that Australia qualified for the Grand Final? Australia qualified for the Grand Final!! There are still a ton of very happy Australians here in town – as we should be!

We had nothing particular on the agenda, probably a good thing we weren’t in a rush as breakfast at Albert Dock was more like brunch by the time it arrived, but it was delicious so all good there, and the delay also gave me time to FaceTime my Dad to say hello. There was also a nice bit of art/protest near the Tate gallery which I really liked.

We had received really glowing reviews about the British Music Experience in the Cunard building, however since it didn’t open ‘til Midday we walked up to the Mersey Ferries terminal, to see if could, indeed, get a Ferry ‘cross the Mersey. And indeed, we could! They had a one hour tour that goes up and down and has a bit of info along the way, which sounded perfect. After arguing with a recalcitrant ticket machine (it gave us one ticket for the 12th, and one stuck in there from the 9th!), we had some human intervention – the staff member opened the machine and pulled out a wedge about 20 tickets that become stuck in there – I wonder how many people just paid their £12, didn’t get a ticket, shrugged and walked away? Anyway we had our tickets so that the main thing, and the member of staff that helped us assured us that this particular matching was due to be replaced very soon, hopefully by a ticket dispensing matching that actually, you know, dispensed tickets 🙂 Walking up here was of course also an excuse to get another photo of two of the Three Graces, this time with a bonus Superlambanana.

There was a short wait for the ferry so I entertained myself by watching all the seagulls down in the water arguing over the remains of docks past, there seemed to be a hierarchy of who gets to sit on what rotted log and at what time, in a way it was reminiscent of the sealions squabbling at San Francisco all those years ago.

The Ferry, playing its eponymous theme tune, arrived and before long we were on board (affording yet another shot of the Royal Liver building). The ferry is quite a pretty looking thing, in its own way.

We saw a few sights, learned a few things. One of the most striking additions to the riverside would have to be, of all things, a ventilation tunnel for the road and rail tunnels that run under the river. To me it has a super-eastern-Europe kinda cold-war-era industrial aesthetic – so not exactly pretty, but certainly makes it mark.

We also saw the arena where Eurovision is being held.

As we took the stairs down to the lower level to exit the Ferry ‘cross the Mersey, it was super helpful to see a poster in the stairwell advising that you could actually book a trip on a Ferry ‘cross the Mersey. Who knew?! 🙂

What a helpful thing to see, just as you exit the Ferry you just enjoyed your River Explorer Cruise on.

The British Music Experience is in the Cunard building (the middle of the Three Graces). This puts it very much within the roped-off EuroVillage. So we joined the queue for the village, and within a few minutes we were in. The cafe was a lovely room with a very cool and quite literal take on pop music. There was a quite of queue of people wanting to take photos with the Beatles sculptures outside, so I only about to sneak one pic in between people – almost completely chopping off Ringo in the process. Sorry Ringo!

Into the Experience we went, and … well the people absolutely raving about it might just have been over-egging the pudding a little bit. It was kinda interesting, not that big, but sure did have some interesting artefacts on display like Sam Ryders jumpsuit from his massive Eurovision performance last year. Everything else was behind glass so there are plenty of reflections in the photos that I did manage to take.

Just before we left they did have a fun 10 minute video about a bit of Eurovision history. Overall, though, the British Music Experience gets a solid “well, it’s ok” from me.

At this point Perry opted to go home for a nap to conserve energy for the Grand Final tomorrow. I wandered into town, had some more of the legendary Greggs sausage rolls for lunch, and sat outdoors to eat them. Literally 2 second after sitting down, some one came up trying to sell me (fake no doubt) Apple AirPods out of his pocket. Two seconds. I politely declined, and instead focussed my time on the delicious flaky pastry and tasty hot meat (let’s assume it’s meat, you just never know with any sausage roll) filling. It was then back to the hotel for a bit of downtime, knowing that the Grand Final is tomorrow, and it goes about twice as long as the other shows we’ve been to. That’s a lot of standing. While wandering back to the hotel, saw this very cool Lennon-sequel Rolls Royce that I think they use for super-expensive Beatles tours. Pretty!

I also saw this lovely picture.

United by music, divided by a telegraph pole 😀

A little later on, I headed out for dinner. Perry is feeling a little under the weather, so decided to stay in. I wandered down to party town – not as far as the EuroVillage, but part of the way where there’s plenty of people and food trucks, around the Albert Dock and the other ones. Bought a very traditional English hotdog, and some mildly underwhelming haloumi fries from a Greek food truck. They took about twenty minutes, but I should be grateful, some people had been waiting around an hour to get their meal. I think there was a bit of a “when a team doesn’t get along” vibe, so nobody seemed to be having a great time. Still, I was having a great time, coz after that I had ice-cream – and the real joy came from the fact that even though they love to drizzle entire soft server with raspberry sauce here, somehow, I didn’t wear it! (Unlike every other time I’ve had ice cream here lol)

Along the way I also encountered a yellow submarine pumping out dance music, because of course that’s perfectly normal. It was fun!

As I finally turned around to head back to to hotel, I of course had to take a pic of Liverpool by sunset. Lovely.

That’s about it for the day. Tomorrow, good things and meh things. The Grand Final (OMG OMG OMG!!!!) and packing to get ready for an early exit the day after that. But more to the point, the Grand Final!!

May 11 Part 2 – Semi-Final 2

It’s been great watching the story unfold between ‘our own’ Beto (one of the Aussie fan club members) and Kaarija from Finland. They look uncannily alike, to the extent where a BBC reports actually mistook our Beto for the real Kaarija , and interviews him on the telly. Some of that saga is here :

I’m delighted to say that yes, they finally did get to meet, which was just awesome. I think that’s one of th lovely community things about the Eurovision crowd – the stars aren’t always holding themselves high above the crowd, most are happy to mix and get amongst it, which is really nice. And dare I say for many, outside Eurovision, perhaps they’re not all such famous stars in the outside world so they don’t have a big staff of minders and security marking their every step.

Anyway. Liverpool put on its best weather – it was raining. But luckily it cleared up just in time to walk to the Arena. It was the usual hurry-up-and-wait, but it felt like for many people if was their first show so a lot of excitement in the air. Thought I must admit it was funny, after seeing them get through the security check so any of them went sprinting off, thinking they were going to get a great standing position in the arena, only to realise a bit later on that no, they had successfully sprinted only to the next place where everybody to wait together, not in a queue, so rushing gave them basically no advantage at all. They’d not read the Tortoise and the Hare, obviously. 🙂

Eventually the stadium doors themselves opened, and with cautionary shouts of “DO! NOT! RUN!” from the staff, all the bring young things ran as fast as they could into the stadium .. again to find that through the doors everyone gets lumped together again ready to take the stairs down to the actual stadium floor. I took my time and, pretty much by luck I think, manage to get one of those very rare spots that only had someone short-ish like me in front, somehow I managed to be one person from the front, at the side of the pointy-outy bit of the stage, I couldn’t have been much happier with that.

Perry chose to hang out at the back of the arena again like last night, it is a great way to soak up the whole atmosphere of the place and to get a wide view of the performances.

This time around, the stakes are higher as all us Aussie Eurovision fans are now quite emotionally invested in the success of our entry, “Promise” from Perth band Voyager. The song is a banger, the presentation last night at the preview was brilliant, so all we can hope is that it will give us enough votes to drag us over the line into the Grand Final. It’s always a challenge for Australia because I’m sure there’s a big “They’re not European so I’ll never vote for them” contingent in Europe (I mean, can you blame them, really?), and we don’t have any other countries to depend on for some good old fashioned bloc voting (Hi there, Greece & Cyprus!). So despite having the odds stacked against us, I know they’ll give it their all, and hopefully turn out triumphant. (See – that’s exactly the same thing you can say about your favourite team on Grand Final day – it’s the same thing, only with a few more sequins.)

As for the performances – just like last night, the bad ones were bad and the good ones were even a little bit more epic, due to every performer knowing this was their last chance, to give it their all, in the hope of making it to the grand final. Unlike last night, this time the votes very much mattered. All the people out there in television land have the futures of these musicians held in their little voting fingertips. There was no jury of professionals taking part in who moves to the grand final, it was to be decided purely on the popular vote. This doesn’t usually do us any favours.

The last act to perform was Australia, and it was a thrill to see the whole crowd get very much into it singing along, and giving them an enormous cheer at the end, which was a really good sign. Then it was time for the voting to open and for the interval acts to start. They were the same as last night so I took this as my chance to get some water (I was parched as!), and then make my way to the back of the room where Perry was, hanging out right next to the Australian delegation’s Green Room area, to lend out support.. There were tons of aussies there this time including the bit of the Aussie Eurovision family we’d met before, which was great. The band appreciated us all being there too, stepping forward and saying hi to let us know they knew the fan base was there 🙂

Man, when it came to reading out the results it was kinda nerve-wracking – because you just never know if it’s gonna work out or not. To try and do a bit of a fake-out, there were always two camera crews in front of two different countries before each announcement, so you wouldn’t instantly know which one was going to be announced as the winner. Australia had the camera crew in front once but then another country was announced … and then again other countries would be announced, and we’re all getting in to a bit of a nail biter.

Next minute…Australia! There it is! It was like winning the Olympic bid or something – our little corner just lost it, so did the band, there was this explosions of Eurovision joy, and all the people around in the crowd being super gracious and giving us their congratulations as well, it was just the happiest, most joyous thing ever. The band were quite clearly over the moon, as were we, and really could there have been a better way to end the night. Talk about leaving on a high. And then getting roped in to be typical raucous Aussies for some British TV programme – all good fun.

Even after we’d grabbed a bit to eat and returned to to the hotel room, you could still hear people walking past singing the Australian Eurovision song. The key lyric of the song is – “Promise me it’s gonna be alright”. They did, and, it was. Much more than just alright.