Eat Your Way to France

As an island nation, it takes a little more effort to exit (and indeed enter) Ireland. Not too surprisingly, the vast majority of people transit in and out of the country by plane. Since airline travel became affordable, and then cheap, it seemed a clear cut choice and people’s appetite for quick and inexpensive holidays overseas has increased exponentially. According to Failte Ireland statistics, over 90% of visitors to Ireland in 2018 arrived by air.

But. There is the small matter of a climate crisis. And flying is the single most climate-polluting activity an ordinary person can do with even a single flight dramatically increasing your carbon footprint. Unless we see some major technological breakthroughs, people will ultimately have to fly less to reduce carbon emissions.

It’s not always possible to avoid flying but what are the alternatives?

We first dipped our toe into travelling by ferry a couple of years ago, making the short (3 hour) trip from Dublin to Holyhead and onwards to a well known theme park in the UK. It had been quite a number of years since I had last travelled by ferry, and for some reason I expected major differences in the experience. Apart from the quality of the coffee, however, nothing much had changed at all.

• Roll on
• Find somewhere – preferably beside a window – to plonk a swaying self (and family)
• Roll off

(Tip: don’t spend the time queuing to get onto the boat draining the car battery and then having to sheepishly ask port officials for a jump start. Happens to the best of us.)

The food offer? Rather forgettable. Overall though, a really pleasant experience, and a way of travelling that is actually very satisfying. Slow travel, perhaps?

Our second trip by ferry was somewhat further afield as we ventured to the continent on the comfortable Oscar Wilde vessel via Rosslare last year. Now this was fun; exploring the ship, enjoying getting lost and figuring out how our compact cabin worked (took about 5 minutes).

I recalled how way back, a college friend and I had met the late Michael and Jane O’Callaghan of Longueville House, Cork on the same crossing. Sensing our impoverished student status, Michael kindly bought us drinks and told us to visit sometime. A few years later I was able to return the favour when I brought a group of customers from the UK to the southwest and we overnighted and dined in the rather wonderful Longueville.

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WB Yeats ferry

Another year on, and the luxurious WB Yeats ship has finally entered into service, following the debacle of cancelled services and huge traveller frustrations in 2018. Departures ex Dublin port offer up huge convenience (well for us city dwellers, anyway).

This well designed €144 million “cruise ferry” is a treat. The décor is muted and calming. Everything is fresh and new. Quotes from the many wonderful poems of WB Yeats are dotted around the ship – “Poetry in Motion”.

We travelled on the first weekend of the school holidays, on what was probably one of the busiest sailings of the year. But we and our fellow passengers were all handled efficiently and our car was smoothly shepherded into its place within the 3km of car deck.

And so to the all important on-board dining experience.

What is most notable is the changed tiering of the food offer. On the Oscar Wilde this included Casual Dining (Pizza, Self Service), a Mid Market offer (Steak House) and Fine Dining. The WB Yeats has just two tiers however – Casual Dining (Boylans’ Brasserie, Café Lafayette) and Fine Dining (Lady Gregory).

Not everyone is a fan of these changes, as the price for a 3 course meal in the Lady Gregory is a rather eye watering €59 (before drinks & gratuities), putting it beyond many budgets. Breakfast is more affordable at €20 and features some healthy options (I opted for the light omelette). I’m afraid to say that I audibly shuddered when the waiter presented me with a pot of Yoplait yoghurt to accompany a plate of impeccably cut fruit pieces. No offense to Yoplait (we buy it regularly), but fine dining it isn’t.

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Lady Gregory Restaurant, WB Yeats (Irish Ferries website)

Boylans Brasserie serves fairly standard buffet food. The bigger challenge here is managing to queue and pay for your food before it has gone stone cold. Timing is crucial! A staff member shared with me the differences between French and Irish passengers, noting that the Irish tend to favour heavier meat based dishes such as ribs and pies, while the French prefer pasta dishes and fish.

There is also a small ice cream station under the “Glenowen” brand (serving ice cream made in Cork), which is a nice touch and a big hit with the kids.

And, somewhat of a surprise, there is a self service Mexican restaurant tucked away in a less visited corner of the ship. This was actually my favourite option with a hot main and soft drink priced at €15 which is decent enough value.

I left the WB Yeats feeling well fed and thoroughly rested so it’s a win from me. There is something hugely appealing about this slow, considered, method of travel. A welcome change from the frenetic pace of modern airports. And eco-friendly to boot.

Passenger travel by sea has declined by about 20% over the past 20 years particularly between Ireland and the UK but will this now change as people seek travel options that are kinder to the environment? Will the nature of travelling itself change? And our perceptions of holidays? Will restrictions be placed on personal travel?

Only time will tell …

(As a complete aside, since my return from France, I have been prompted to revisit a couple of my favourite poetry books.)

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