I Like Having a Plan

My experiences on this trip gave me some food for thought:

  • As soon as I got home, I purchased a plug with multiple USB slots to facilitate charging in airports.
  • I also purchased multiple adapters—one each for camera battery, laptop, Kindle, and CPAP. No one has to share.
  • I also gave a lot of thought to the swelling ankles/painful feet problem: I diagnosed the pain (tendonitis) and learned exercises to prevent; discussed it with healthcare professionals; purchased compression socks; and have realized that a full massage is something I need to have within twenty-four hours of landing.

I like having a plan.

I’m ready for the next trip.

I’m ready for the next trip.

I also learned something about overbooking on the airlines. (When you travel alone, as I mostly do, you end up as an observer, a listener, a lot.) Sitting in Nashville waiting for my outbound flight to JFK, the gate announced they were overbooked and looking for three volunteers to step off (before they started bumping people involuntarily). (I’m not sure why they overbook in the first place—perhaps because people don’t always show for a flight they’ve booked?)

Anyway, in this case, the offer to a volunteer was they’d put you on the next flight to NY (although it would land in LaGuardia, not JFK, which was where my next flight would depart), and they would give you a $300 voucher as a thank-you. I’ve done that LGA to JFK thing and know what it involves. You have to retrieve your luggage, schlep it out to the curb, and catch a shuttle (at a cost of $15 last time I checked) to JFK. The shuttles come by every fifteen minutes and it’s a forty-five–minute ride. Then you check your luggage back in and wait for your flight.

Five minutes later the gate attendant asked again, only this time the offer was $400. Five minutes later it was $500. And they got takers. But I’d never been aware of—never listened attentively enough to—the escalating offer. So if you’re so inclined, you gamble on the reward getting more lucrative … or people taking the offer ahead of you.

I had the time to participate—a five-hour layover—but really didn’t want to spend it humping luggage across New York City by myself. Not to mention the fact that something could go wrong—a storm delay here, a traffic jam there—and I sure didn’t want to miss my overnight flight to Dublin. I decided then and there that I’m too old to switch itineraries in the middle of the stream … and let someone else grab that five hundred dollars.

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I’m Going on a Trip and I’m Taking …

My friend, author Laura L. Smith, likes to travel as much as I do, and when I saw this piece she wrote on packing for an international trip, I knew I wanted to share it with you. Laura has a whole alphabet of things you shouldn’t forget to pack. I particularly loved these:

N You’ll see smell and experience so many amazing things on your travels. You’ll want a place to jot them down. It also comes in handy to play tic tac toe if your flight/train/bus is delayed.

Open mind. Things will be different. You might have your meal served to you on a leaf instead of a plate. You may order chips and get fries. There may not be air-conditioning. You might not be able to drink the water. But life is an adventure. Be open to the people, culture and experience God has in store for you.

Yes. Yes, you would like to try the fried plantains. Yes, you would like to try jumping in the lake. Yes, you would like to hear the local’s explanation of the plants growing at the side of the road or why there’s a parade on a random Tuesday. You will learn so much if you’re willing to try. Never agree to something that makes you feel uncomfortable like going off with strangers, taking a ride somewhere you hadn’t prearranged or drinking the water in Central America, but be ready to say yes to something new.

Laura’s attitude and mine are the same—I tell people all the time they must be prepared to be out of their comfort zone when they travel to another country. It always astonishes me when people whine about some little thing that is “different.” I say so what? I’ll be home soon enough. 🙂

(If you’d like a for-real packing checklist, here’s Mike Hyatt’s, another friend of mine. I’m especially impressed that he includes a corkscrew for opening wine.)

Wrapping Up: Margaret’s Last Comment

I really enjoyed having my friend Margaret with me on this trip. She is endlessly patient and I am the opposite of that, so we were a good fit. (At least from my point of view!) 🙂

Here are a few of her final thoughts about our trip:

• The VAT was more time-consuming/confusing than I had anticipated, but worth the time and effort to collect.

• You make an excellent point about the cost of duty-free shopping: it’s best to know the product and its pricing before indulging.

• Irish chocolate measures up to Swiss, Belgian, French, etc. and is more reasonably priced.

• Security was more time consuming and thorough than any other trip I have ever taken. Allow lots of extra time for it.

• Take your electronic adapters with you.

• Don’t count on doing laundry.

• And … don’t rush. Go at a comfortable pace; you won’t see or do everything anyway, so enjoy what you do.

Margaret wrote me a note recently: “Thank you for the anticipation and planning, the trip, the recollections of it—a wonderful experience of nearly a year.” That’s exactly how I feel: the planning, the anticipation, the doing, the recounting (and in my case, the blogging) … all these things are what get us through the daily grind until we get to the next trip, the next out-of-grind experience. 🙂

I’m so glad you’re my friend, Margaret!

If It’s Wednesday, This Must Be Dublin

Day 2 / Wednesday, 12 September 2012

Air travel is … well, not fun. Prices are fairly reasonable but now most airlines make us pay to check even one bag and bringing a second* runs anywhere from sixty to a hundred dollars more. This forces us to carry things we’d rather not (I actually packed my Canon EOS—something I would never normally do—because it’s pretty heavy and I couldn’t bear the thought of carrying it). Which is why the airport looks like a refugee camp, and the overhead luggage racks are scenes of intense territorial warfare. From the full body scans to the shrinking leg room and the recycled but unfiltered air that simply assures every germ on the plane is shared with every person on the plane, it’s no wonder we’re all cranky about flying.

So I’d like to propose a few rules of conduct:

1. Be polite, for heaven’s sake. Be friendly. Make eye contact. Smile. We’re all in this miserable experience together.

2. Don’t be so stinkin’ demanding. This means you, middle-aged Irish lady, moving back into the plane against outbound traffic trying to retrieve a carryon stowed a dozen rows behind your seat, loudly demanding we move out of your way. Just wait until the aisle has cleared; it’s the polite thing to do.

3. Be kind. We’d all like to get where we’re going, so don’t think your rush is more important than my rush.

4. Be humble. You may be a Master of the Universe in your Wall Street world but to me you just look like an arrogant jerk in a suit if you’re not polite, kind, and humble. And would you mind obeying the rules about the amount of carryon? You’re not that special.

5. Must you recline your seat during “dinner”? You are tempting me to spill mayonnaise on the top of your head.

6. Be considerate. No matter how slim you are, if you’re in the window seat, you’re going to make two people get up and stand in the aisle when you decide to go to the loo. We will do this more cheerfully if you’ve been nice to us (as opposed to grumpy and resentful) and if you do it, say, right after dinner and before they’ve turned the lights out. You know you’re going to have to go, right? Don’t wait until we’ve finally managed to doze off a couple hours after lights out; that only makes us despise you. I, for one, will not be held accountable for the look on my face.

Thanks for letting me get that off my chest. 🙂

And yes* I brought a second bag, because I now travel with a CPAP machine, which is both bulky and heavy. Additionally, I would be attending a wedding, so I had to bring clothing and shoes I’d only wear once. Not to mention the things I’d be bringing for my Irish family. (I’m not legally a member of the fam yet—that’s a US Immigration issue—but Gerry and I have been together for more than ten years, and as far as I’m concerned, these delightful people are all my in-laws. What a happy, happy day it was that brought me to them!)

We landed at 9:40am. Ireland at last! We got our passports stamped, walked unimpeded through customs (on my previous two visits, that station was actually manned, but it wasn’t this time—although I’m told we were, in fact, being watched), and found Gerry waiting for us.

Caught a shuttle to the rental car location, where we learned our car wasn’t ready for us yet. (“You said it would be noon when you picked it up.” What? You had my flight number and arrival time. You’re located at the airport. What business are you in again?) We were dealing with a woman who was probably from somewhere in Eastern Europe but who’d been living in Ireland for some years—strangest accent ever, with a nasal voice like Fran Drescher. I kept saying, “I’m sorry—what?” and eventually she was a little put out with me. She offered me a different car (a Volkswagen Passat station wagon) than we’d ordered (a Ford Mondeo) but when we got in it and I started driving, it was so uncomfortable that I simply drove it around the block and returned it.

Needless to say, we were at the Budget Car office a lot longer than we wanted. This ended up being the Trip of the Ever-Changing Itinerary, and this day was only the beginning. Traditionally we drive back to Gerry’s for a fry-up (part of the Big Irish Breakfast), but that became brunch instead. Don’t know what a Big Irish Breakfast is? Oh, let me explain. 🙂

There’s a thriving B&B industry in Ireland, and it’s lifted the humble breakfast to state of the art. I know a lot of folks who don’t eat much (or any) breakfast, but that’s a mistake, in my opinion. How could you resist, anyway, when you wander in to a cheerful dining room whose central table is groaning with … two or three fruit juices and milk in pitchers, fresh fruit, canned fruit in bowls, a variety of yogurts, at least three cereals, often freshly baked scones, Irish brown bread … and are greeted with, “Tea or coffee?” You stroll over and spoon some muesli into a bowl, pour yogurt over it, and call it good. Pears are in season, so you pick one up for dessert. Tea arrives. And then your hostess asks, “Would you like a fry up?”

There’s more?

Oh yes. An Irish fry up typically has two rashers (very lean bacon; more like a slice of ham than what we Americans call bacon), two sausage links (also leaner), two eggs, a grilled tomato half, and a piece each of black and white pudding. Don’t be misled by that pudding—these are pieces of sausage whose secret ingredient is oatmeal. And don’t turn your nose up at black pudding, either; it’s delicious. As in the States, there are various mass-made brands of sausages and puddings (I particularly enjoy the Clonakilty brand), but most butchers make their own blends. And I’ll just say Gerry’s butcher is skilled in this capacity.

Now that we’d eaten and relaxed and gifts had been presented and the luggage divested of things I was asked to bring from the States (just call me www-dot-Jamie-dot-com), we were ready to see where we’d be staying for the next few days. One of Gerry’s nephews, Neil, and his fiancée, Maureen, had generously offered to let Margaret and I stay at their home in Laytown, in County Meath (pronounce this MEED). I’d met Neil on previous trips, and spoken to him on Skype in between. I know him to be smart and funny. I’d been Facebook friends with Maureen, but hadn’t met her yet. Margaret and I were extremely grateful for this kindness.

About twenty-six miles north of Dublin, the village of Laytown sits right on a beautiful beach; Neil and Maureen live in a lovely subdivision called Inse Bay. And we only drove around lost a little bit. 🙂 After we were settled in the guest rooms and had the instructions on how to turn on the hot water and the radiator, we all went out to dinner in Drogheda (pronounce this DRAH-hedda), a good-sized town just ten minutes north of Laytown.

Neil recommended the Black Bull Inn, and we were in time for the early bird special (we would find this all over Ireland): a special price for two or three courses, usually for diners arriving between 5 and 7pm.

The Black Bull Inn: no shirt no shoes no service. (Margaret took this photo.)

The place was cozy—and busy. And the food was wonderful. (This was no surprise to me; I’ve had wonderful meals in Ireland. If you enjoy good food, you can find it here.) I had a steak. And apple tart (that is, pie) for dessert.

Back in Laytown we lingered, talking with Neil and Maureen, until late (for two gals who’d been up for thirty-six hours). Once Gerry and I got upstairs, though, another disaster: I got out my adapter and we realized it was the one we keep at home in Tennessee for Gerry’s Irish things; the adapter I’ve used in Ireland in the past now lives at Gerry’s house so he can plug in electronics purchased in the States. Like his iPad. Ha. So … the CPAP machine was looking like a dim hope and I was close to tears, because I love that thing (I should say: I love the quality of the sleep I get with it). But while my mind was mush at this point, Gerry remembered he’d brought Neil a Kindle from the US. They were still up, thank goodness, and the adapter was procured posthaste. By then it was 11pm and I was completely worn out. Tomorrow, though, would be a better day.

Today’s Image

While we were waiting for our car at Budget, we watched people arriving to pick up their rentals. This was one: a woman, bleached blonde hair down to her rear end, dressed in a schoolgirl getup. No joke. It was all whites: a white/black plaid pleated skirt  that barely covered her important bits, a long-sleeved blouse and little shortie vest. Plus thigh-high boots with sky-high heels and white stockings. Heavily made up. I would say she was forty-two to forty-five, but trying to look ten years younger. It was … an eyeful.