Catch-up posts from our trip to Ireland. Most of these posts are quite lengthy, with a lot of detail that is important only to us, or close friends and family. Feel free to cruise through at whatever speed suits your fancy. All the additional photos of the trip will be located on my SmugMug site eventually, but not just yet.
Our trip to Ireland was with Go Ahead Tours – Grand Tour of Ireland. We have used Go Ahead in the past, and it is a good value for price and content. The pace is a bit quick, but since we may not get back to Ireland with so many places in the world to visit, we would rather see a lot, even if it means a lot of moving and traveling. Much like a cruise, a tour like this is a good way to see a country for the first time, and then if you return later it is much easier to do on your own if you want, and you know where you want to be.
It is 4 in the morning here in Dublin, 8 pm back at home After an incredibly long and tiring day on airplanes and in airports, we are somehow still awake. Last night after we arrived, we were addled completely from the lack of sleep. After our welcome dinner, we fell into bed exhausted, and then woke up at ten pm. Back to sleep and then awake again at 1am. or 2 am. I don't remember. But we are still awake. Talking, laughing, getting quiet, and one or the other of us breaks the silence with a question. "Which night is the included dinner and where is it". Mo gets up to find the itinerary and we figure it out. Back to darkness and silence.
OK then...a few more minutes pass and one or the other of us says, "Let's read." "OK. Maybe I can write". Without an easy way to blog and no way to process photos, I decided that the best way to track our days was with emails to the daughters and the very short list of friends.
Dublin at the moment feels a lot like taking a trip to New York. They didn't even take our passports at the desk here at the Maldron Parnell Square Hotel. The wait staff last night at dinner was Thai, with several people from several other places, and the accents were less strong than many we hear at home.
Our tour guide, for this two weeks in Ireland, is Italian, with a very strong accent. Italian, not Irish. We will see how that goes, I guess. We arrived after 6pm, with the welcome dinner at the hotel scheduled earlier, they postponed it for our arrival. We hit the room, and had 15 minutes to regroup and get back downstairs.
Couple of things we did learn however. Folks who showed up at the airport early in the day spent up to two hours waiting for the shuttle. Not a good thing. A taxi picked us up and immediately took just the two of us to the hotel. Nice driver, nice drive through a part of Dublin that I recognized from looking at the Google maps obsessively back at home when I couldn't sleep. Other nice thing, the check in process was almost instantaneous. We met our guide, and received our keys. Only thing we had to sign was the order for what we wanted for dinner.
When we left Rocky Point yesterday morning, it was gorgeous. Perfect September weather, with dry, clear air and blue skies. By the time we got to Eugene, it was cloudy and raining. go figure. Both of us were like parents leaving a kid at daycare for the first time. Our friend, Joanne, was excited about taking care of our dog Mattie, and in true Joanne nature had our list of written instructions all printed out with red lined questions and markings to check with us. Mattie seemed just fine, pottying in the yard, barking at Joanne as expected, but deciding that with a hot dog in her hand, Joanne was a pretty cool and interesting person. She took her outside to the back yard while Mo and I disappeared out the front door.
We decided to get gas in Albany...what maybe an hour from Eugene....when I get a frantic text from Joanne, "Mattie won't let me put her leash on. What do I do". Seems as though Mattie would only bark at Joanne when she tried to get close. I told Joanne to let her go in her cage and then try to get the leash on her. Response back was that Mattie went in the cage, but when Joanne approached, she ran out, but still managed to get the hot dog bribe. Panic. Then a few minutes later, another text. "All is well, she let me do it". I immediately called and Joanne said, "You guys are going to drive me crazy if you keep calling every few minutes!" Eventually Mattie just walked up to Joanne, sat down and accepted the leash without a qualm. Whew. Texts later throughout the day, and a couple of emails here to Dublin seem to indicate that all is well, Joanne and Mattie are having a great time, and Mattie could care less about he fact that we are nowhere around. Fine.
Gas was all the way down to $2.13 at the Albany Costco, so getting in and out of that place was still worth it. We made great time, the rain cleared up by the time we got to Portland, and the skies were once again blue and clear. Haven't seen that from the Portland airport very many times. We checked in without a hitch and found the Beaches restaurant for a snack and a drink.
I could foresee that being the best food of the trip if last night's welcome dinner is any indication. I had some kind of amazing Thai crispy breaded pork and sweet hot chili sauce and Mo had perfect taquitos. My drink, some kind of orangey marguerita was rather incredible. We had time to lounge in the bar and decide that by the time we were through our 4 hour layover in Seattle, we could have a light dinner there before boarding the plane. As we were boarding in Portland, waiting in a long line, when the agent saw our pre printed boarding passes, he said, here, go this way and don't take off your shoes or empty anything out of your bags. My boots, purchased especially for wet cobblestone streets in rainy Ireland, still rang, however and I had to take them off, but they are easy and I was ready for it. The flight from Portland to Seattle is something like 22 minutes. Again, perfect clear skies with the volcanoes looming to the east and the Olympics and Puget Sound shining in the west. Once on the ground, we checked the reader board and..wait...what?....our plane was scheduled to begin boarding in half an hour. Somehow I had morphed a 90 minute layover into an imaginary 4 hour layover and dinner was not to happen.
Our flight is operated by Delta and KLM, and the plane was a Delta 767 with our seats almost in the very back.
We like the 767’s because they have side rows of only 2 seats across, so we can share window and aisle space without dealing with someone else next to us. Not all that huge, but at least a lot roomier than some of the flights I have been on lately. We had ten hours to go, and imagine our surprise when the drink cart came along dispensing red and white wine complimentary along with the usual teas and sodas. Yes. We even got refills of wine with our supper, which was not nearly as good as the wine.The little boxes of pasta for me and chicken for Mo were in some kind of awful sauce, and Mo's chicken was served with some mushy overcooked veggies that actually tasted OK. I ate the veggies, and she ate my pasta, tortellini's, which are not a favorite. Dessert was a brownie that was so thick and gummy you could hardly chew it. I was happy for our fresh baked chocolate chip cookies that I had made the day before to fill in the blanks. Finally around ten or so PST, I snuggled into the neck pillow, put my big scarf over my head, and took a sleeping pill. I don't remember sleeping, but neither do I remember being awake that much. By 3am PST, I had jumpy legs and thought I wasn't going to make another two hours.
We arrived in Amsterdam at 1 in the afternoon (5am to us) and it was quite gloomy out, but you could see the water and the huge windmills in the ocean to the west of the city. Amsterdam is just so incredibly clean and manicured. I commented that I doubted that there was any kind of wild country anywhere in the Netherlands. All so pristine and cared for.
The airport is a lovely one, but somehow not quite as enchanting as it was the first time I was there with Melody in 2012. I kept searching for the comfy sofas with plug-ins. We walked a lot, and did finally find the chocolate stores and the tulip kiosks, but they looked kind of drab instead of so bright and fresh as I remembered. Maybe it was because it was raining by then, and there was a lot of construction going on inside the terminals. Still, it was a pleasant wait, and with neither of us hungry after our airplane dinner (and tiny breakfast), we just relaxed after our check in and passport check. Four hours went by in a flash.
The Air Lingus Irish airline to Dublin was a bit different. All shiny new airplane, but no amenities at all, no sound plug ins, no in flight entertainment, and even a cup of coffee was available for 3 Euros. At only an hour and a half, we didn't really care, but the quarters were tighter than the previous plane as well and we were both so tired that we kept falling asleep. Mo dropped her book with a crash, and her elbow kept falling off the armrest with a bang while I would suddenly wake choking because I had been breathing through my mouth and probably snoring.
Wasn't all that much to see anyway. Blue ocean and lots of clouds between us and the water, with an occasional glimpse of England and the edge of Ireland as we approached the airport. What surprised both of us the most was how brown some of the landscape looked in Ireland from the air. Probably fields that were ripe, because other fields that looked like pastures were green enough, but somehow I didn't expect to see Oregon late summer brown anywhere.
On the ground and our baggage appeared very quickly, nothing delayed, nothing lost. Lovely. Once we passed through customs, also very quick and easy, where they checked our passports, we were into the main terminal without a hitch where our Go Ahead taxi driver was waiting with a big sign on his IPad screen with our names. Lots easier than printing something, I would say. Fifteen minutes to the hotel, and as I said before, 15 minutes down to dinner. At first I was horrified, because it seemed that there were at least 80 people in the main dining room where we were to have dinner. Turns out that many of those people were with another tour of German travelers who were arriving as well.
Our group consists of 31 people, but the way that the dining room was set up, and with us arriving a bit late, we were at a table of eight. The four people who were at the other end of the table were conversing with each other, and even when I asked a question I was ignored. The young woman next to me was quite conversational however, and seemed to quite the traveler and quite brilliant. Some kind of contractor for NASA in Houston. She and the other folks had arrived early today and spent the afternoon touring the Guinness Factory, something that is obligatory when visiting Dublin. Something we are going to skip actually, in favor of our own tour of the Neolithic world heritage sites in the Boyne Valley. Ancient history and prehistory, Druids and temples all win out over beer for me!
I was a bit disappointed with the way that Go Ahead handles these welcome dinners, and this one was even worse. Unlike in the past, where there was at least a private banquet room, this was in the main dining room, quite noisy, and not at all conducive to communicating with anyone. Even though she was near us when speaking, we couldn't hear much of what Isabella said, and had no interaction with anyone else from the group. In the past, there has been at least a rudimentary introduction so you have an idea who you are traveling with. While not especially social, I do like to have an idea and a bit of encouragement to interact in the beginning.
Dinner was just OK. We made our choices from two options, and both had a vegetable soup that was probably some kind of squash puree, the main entree of Guinness Beef Stew which was rather flat and flavorless. I make a Guinness stew sometimes for St Patrick's day and I wish this had been half as good as mine! Dessert was excellent, however, an apple crumble pastry pie sorta thingy, that was a bit tart and really good. A couple of glasses of wine were nice along with some excellent coffee with dessert.
By the time we got back to our room, we were a bit more ready to tackle the tight quarters and try to figure out where to put stuff. The room is very nice, but in true European style, very cramped, and there are a couple of chairs, tables, and a desk that makes it impossible for us to pass each other or even get around the suitcases as we tried to unpack. No place really for the cases, so we struggled a bit with the whole thing.
We were very well and tightly packed for the airplane and transfers, but everything changes when we are in a room and getting into things differently than the way we do when flying. It didn't help that the nifty little converter I bought to charge USB devices didn't work on the UK part. I had no problem with the Euro part at the airport, but for some reason it refuses to work here. Sigh. Mo, thank goodness, brought her converter as well so we have one plug to charge the iPad, the iPhone, and two Mophie batteries, and oh yes, the curling iron if I want to use it. Frustrating.
I was so tired I was feeling weepy about losing my Advil baggie, but eventually I found everything, found tight spots for what I needed after realizing that the three tiny drawers are only about 6 inches to the back, and moving the suitcase holder in front of the door. Till we have to get out of it in the morning, then all will be moved around again.
We will be here at the Maldron Parnell Square – Dublin, for three nights. The WiFi in the room seems fast and is free so the phone is on airplane mode for the duration, but I can talk to people via facebook chat and email without a worry. It is now 5:11 AM. We will go down to breakfast at 7 and then leave for our extra tour of Newgrange and the Boyne Valley with Mary Gibbons Tours around 9:30. That involves walking a bit toward the famous O'Connell Street to catch the tour bus in front of the bank. Maybe I can sleep for two hours now that I have all this out of my brain on on paper so to speak.
Next: Dublin and Visiting the Boyne Valley, the Hill of Tara, and Newgrange