Waterford presented us with a surprise from the start. On driving in, we saw signs for the Tall Ships Race and discovered that the three day festival was to start the next day. What luck.
We had to fight our way though the city with the most appalling traffic chaos - roads were being blocked off, traffic was being diverted, cars were blocking streets and intersections, all in the process of getting ready for the next three days. So deciding we would clear out of there, we headed to a little town called Tramore on the coast just to the south to a campsite.
The only reason we had for deciding on this particular campsite was that the local bus into Waterford was just a block away. The other campsite was 3 kms out of the town - and that's a long walk to the bus.
It was, without a doubt, the worst campsite we have stayed in. The walls around it were topped with barbed wire and it looked just like a gaol; the area for campers like ours was cramped and we were cheek-by-jowl; the facilities were substandard and not overly clean; the office was unhelpful; we were surrounded by 213 mobile homes of the most dismal type all in dreadful condition and so on. And the worst of all ... it was also the most expensive we have been in.
Tramore itself was also the most dismal and unattractive place with an unkempt and dirty beach and the road lined with Fun Parlours, Penny Arcades and Snooker Halls. A big Fun Fair fronted the beach along with Fish and Chip Shops and Pizza Parlours. Just awful.
However, Waterford itself made up for it. Next day we headed in on the bus which first took us through a tortuous route through the rest of Tramore which we hadn't seen. Away from the beach it seemed to be a perfectly normal little town.
First up we went to the Waterford Crystal Centre. In a flash new building right in town, it houses a big retail shop (of course), but also offers tours of the factory. This part of the factory deals with one-off pieces, trophies, commemorative pieces and so on, so is small compared to the factories which produce the normal range of goods, most of which are now in places like Poland and other parts of Eastern Europe. We saw the furnaces, glass-blowing, moulding, checking, cutting, engraving, etching and so on. Very interesting.
While the city was gearing up for the festivities which were to start in the afternoon, we checked out the Bishop's Palace, a new museum which had only been open for 8 days. It was all a bit of a muddle: their signs had the wrong prices; doors got stuck and wouldn't open. Our tour guide through the house was the chief historian and curator. She was enormously knowledgeable on all aspects of the house, but we were overwhelmed with information and detail which we could not take in, and would have been satisfied with much less. Then we climbed Reginald's Tower, an Anglo-Norman stone tower right on the waterfront which houses Viking relics that have been found in the city. A walk around the town brought us to old churches, priories and city walls, as well everything set up for the Tall Ships: a craft market, a gourmet food market, the food courts, music stages and of course the Tall Ships themselves. Forty five ships lined all the docks on both sides of the River Suir (pronounced 'shore'). Queues to get on for a look were enormous but we joined one queue on the other side of the river and were on in about 10 minutes. That one was the Europa, one of about 6 Dutch ships to be there. After the official opening, a gun salute was fired and then all the ships sounded their horns - this went on for ages with each ship sounding a different pitch, a deafening cacophony of sound! At the conclusion of all the noise, a Hercules swooped down and flew 2 low passes over the river and the ships.
We would have liked to stay for the fireworks but they didn't start till 10.45pm - a consequence of the long light evenings here. So we settled for a night at the clear winner in the 'Worst Campsite in Ireland' awards.