Once Was Lost, But Now …

And there it was, in all its glory. What a day!

Speaking of Paris, I’ve slowly been working on filling in my archives on that trip we made back in 2006. (Work—and life—seems to get in the way of this project, as much as I love it.) And when I posted this one—about our initial little difficulty finding our way out of Terminal 1—on Facebook, a friend of mine remarked that she’d had a similar experience.

I sail into … a mass of unhappy people trying to understand how to take the train into the center of Paris. North American credit cards don’t read in the ticket kiosks and the change machine is not working. And the ticket kiosk takes cash but only exact change. One pauvre l’homme mans a solitary window for two hundred people.

Is this like child birth, the sweaty, grubby, peevish part of a trip that you always forget upon arriving home? Finally I’m on the RER train, surrounded not by urbane French citoyens but equally sweaty Canadian and British tourists who look too large and open-faced for their surroundings.

Yes! She had the same experience as we did! I couldn’t use my credit card either! What a relief to know it wasn’t just us.

You can read my friend’s article here. She’s a wonderful writer and has many travel tales to tell at her blog Solo Travel.

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Gratefulness Is a Habit. Kindness Too. And Love—Don’t Forget Love.

This is a great travel story—a great airport story. I’m one of those people who love the opening credits in the film Love, Actually. I, too, find airports to have a special energy, a festiveness you find nowhere else. The anticipatory excitement about the arrival—both the arrivors and those awaiting the arrivors—adds an undeniable frisson to the airport experience.

Not that I find air travel particularly fun, mind you. But even the we’re-all-in-this-slog-together atmosphere is a thing that unifies travelers, yes? That’s the nature of this lovely travel story from 2007, which was reprinted on the website of A Network for Grateful Living a couple years ago. As they noted then, it seemed decidedly relevant.

A woman, Naomi Shihab Nye, a writer (she is a year older than me), is in the Albuquerque airport (I’ve been there), having just learned that her flight has been delayed, and hears on the loudspeaker a plea for an Arabic speaker. There is an older Palestinian woman in distress, and she speaks no English. Nye speaks Arabic, though she is rusty; she learns the woman is simply worried, and is able to comfort her. By the time their flight arrives,

[the woman] had pulled a sack of homemade mamool cookies—little powdered sugar crumbly mounds stuffed with dates and nuts—out of her bag—and was offering them to all the women at the gate. To my amazement, not a single woman declined one. It was like a sacrament. The traveler from Argentina, the mom from California, the lovely woman from Laredo—we were all covered with the same powdered sugar.

I have had those cookies myself, offered to me when I was visiting the local Middle Eastern grocery, baked by the shop proprietor’s wife. (I must stop back in to see him; I haven’t been in a while.)

This is a beautiful story. Nye is a poet, and it shows in these words.

Not everything is lost, y’all.

Those Long, Long Security Lines

Everybody in the travel industry’s talking about the long lines to get through airport security these days. It’s not really a new phenomenon, as far as I’m concerned—I flew across the Atlantic and back twice last year (June and September 2015), and it was a slog going and coming.

But apparently it’s gotten bad all over the United States … even for domestic flights. People are missing flights. Fingers are being pointed. Blame is being totted up.

This CNN article offers a concise list of reasons security lines are long:

  • There aren’t enough screeners
  • Passenger volume is up (15 percent from 2013)
  • People are filling up their carry-ons

That last one is a doozy. Since many of the carriers charge to check bags, lots of passengers load up on carry-on luggage … which all has to go through the security line. People with multiple pieces of carry-on—as many and as large as they think they can get away with—have long been a pet peeve of mine. It slows down boarding, it hogs more than their fair share in the overhead bins, and it slows down the security line.

So we can blame the TSA, we can blame Congress (which funds it), we can blame the airlines and travelers. But I also think travelers’ expectations are to blame.

Folks who travel a lot—business travelers, yes, but pleasure travelers too—get to the point of thinking they “know the drill.” I know Gerry and I did over those long twelve years of back-and-forth. It’s exactly 35.8 miles from our driveway to the loading/unloading zone at the Nashville International Airport, and I can tell you, based on what day of the week and what time of day it is, how long it’s going to take me to get there with pinpoint accuracy.

People who travel a lot also get to dread the airport, frankly. It’s noisy, it’s uncomfortable. So … they want to get it all timed and spend as little time in the airport before boarding as possible. They want to slide in at the last moment.

But you just can’t do that anymore. You can’t count on breezing through security at any time of the day or night, no matter how well you know the drill. You’ve simply got to set aside more time. Grin and bear it.

Or read this article from the New York Times: “How to Zip Through Airport Security,” which includes:

  • Sign up for TSA Precheck
  • Pick the less busy security area
  • By-pass the fumblers crowded around the beginning of the line
  • Depart in the middle of the day, rather than early or late
  • Pay the airlines for premium boarding procedures

The issue is not going to resolve itself fast, y’all. There is no “good” solution. Do what you can to not be a part of the problem, put on a happy face, and allow plenty of time.

Bon voyage!

Dealing With Jet-Lag

I originally had titled this collection of notes “How to avoid jet-lag” but I’m not sure it can be completely avoided, especially as we age. Couple that with the fact that airports and planes are crowded, flights are late or canceled, everyone’s rushed and stressed … the travel—the getting there—itself is not a pleasant experience.

And then you’re hopping across all those time zones. Heck, I have trouble with the change from standard to daylight savings and back, and that’s just an hour.

So let’s talk about what you can do to minimize the effects of the trip as well as the time change. These are just my personal experiences, nothing scientific.

  • Don’t wear yourself to a frazzle before the trip, getting ready for it. Start fresh and rested. If you live a long way from the airport, travel in to the city the day before and stay in an airport hotel so you don’t have to rush.
  • Drink plenty of water to avoid the effects of dehydration (headache, etc.). I also carry Body Shop hydrating spray, which I spray on face and arms and anything else. Drink water as soon as you hit the ground too—lots.
  • If you’re the sort who can, grab some shut-eye on the plane. Bring and use noise-canceling headphones and remember that blue-spectrum light—from your phone, laptop, iPad, the seat-back movie screen—keeps you awake. Make yourself a little cocoon of quiet, as much as possible. Sleep is usually iffy for me; I read until I get tired and then doze, maybe. Again, it’s that little cocoon of quiet.
  • Bring your own pillow; it helps on the plane and once you arrive too.
  • I stay away from pills; no melatonin, no OTC sleeping pills. I’ve tried both—melatonin didn’t have much effect and sleeping pills didn’t help enough. But that’s just me.
  • Alcohol on the plane is not your friend. Rule of thumb on booze is 1 in air = 2 or 3 on ground. So take a pass unless you want to add a hangover to your jet-lag.
  • Also, stay away from junk food and processed food as much as possible. Eat the good stuff. I know it’s more expensive, but you just don’t want all those preservatives and additives in your system, especially if, like me, you’ve made a concious effort to “eat clean” in your daily life. It’s like taking poison.
  • Wear compression socks if you have trouble with foot swelling on long flights, as I do. It will help. Don’t worry about looking good; stay focused on feeling good.
  • Don’t collapse as soon as you arrive. Stay up and as much as possible go to bed when the locals do. When I go from Middle Tennessee to Dublin, I arrive in the early morning and just stay up all day. Maybe go to bed a little early.
  • Do get some sunlight when you land—a walk outside is not just getting some fresh air, it’s resetting your body clock to local time.
  • Schedule a massage for the day you arrive (or the next day). It will make a world of difference to the way you feel. Do this, obviously, before you leave home.
  • Soak in a hot bathtub before you go to bed. At the very least, soak your feet in Epsom salts.
  • Give yourself time. Don’t jump into a vigorous schedule right away, and don’t expect to recover in one night. If you ease into things, you’ll feel better faster.

You can find all sorts of advice online, some of it contradictory, so use caution with unsolicited advice. The best thing is to use your head, be kind to yourself, and take it easy.

Did You Miss That Flight? Here’s What to Do About It.

These days it is not uncommon to miss a flight or a connection. Airports are bigger, flights routinely run late, and the minimum recommended connection time between flights seems to get shorter and shorter. Add travel in winter, and, well, it’s possible you could miss a flight. And gone are the days when the airlines will put you up in a hotel if you’re grounded for bad weather or because their own flight ran late.

If you miss your flight, do you know what to do?

Other than cry, that is. Or curse. 🙂

I recently happened upon this longish article from a travel blogger, read it (the whole thing), and decided to pass it on. Yes, this woman, Snigdha, flies out of Asia, and yes, this is based on her experience only. It still seems to be very thorough and wise.

Here’s just a little snippet:

>As far as possible try to book direct flights. If that is not possible, then keep at least a 2-hour difference between connecting flights. No matter what the airlines or travel agents say, never book a flight with less than a 2-hour lay-over. Also keep in mind that in some countries you may have to commute between different domestic and international terminals and airports (such as in India) so please be sure to consult someone before booking in that case.

>Add another 30–45 minutes if you are transiting through ultra-busy airports such as London Heathrow, JFK New York.

>In case you are traveling with a possibility of bad weather conditions, such as fog, snow, then do plan for a longer transit time (anywhere between 4–6 hours).

My husband likes to have the shortest possible connection time, but I can’t take the stress. I’m with Snigdha on this one. Give yourself some time.

And take some time to read and bookmark this article. You may need it.

A Long Day at the Airport

20 October 2015, Monday
We were up at 5:30 with no time to do anything but shower. No breakfast, because we had to leave before the dininng room opened. But the cab driver was great, right on time, loaded it all up and unloaded it at the airport—and he and Gerry had a great chat on the way.

We both know Gerry’s not leaving Ireland forever—that’s such a dramatic word!—we can come back any time we want, for heaven’s sake. But he won’t be living in Ireland anymore, and that’s pretty momentuous. A lot to process. And I don’t think Gerry would disagree that he was addled, kept forgetting where he’d put things and doublechecking and just generally was a wreck. At one point thought he’d left his phone in the cab but there it was in his breast pocket. 🙂 It wasn’t so much the leaving as it was nerves that somehow something would go wrong and he wouldn’t end up on the plane with me.

The first test was at check-in. There was a long line to check the luggage, and the woman operating the computer check-in for the airlines—the fast-moving line—said, “I can’t seat you together.” I said, “Well, that’s interesting, because we paid extra to sit in the bulkhead together and to board in group 1.” (In my opinion—and I know the airlines don’t care what I think—all this group number stuff is bullsh*t; they should just load the plane from the back forward and be done with it. Yes, that means the first class folks would board last. But I for one hate having to sidle past people trying desperately not to bump them even though they’re hanging their arms out into the aisle like it’s their godgiven right to hang their arms into the aisle. Boarding would go a lot faster if we loaded from back to front, IMHO.)

The clerk’s response was, “You’ll have to get the guy at the counter to fix it for you.” OK, that’s fine, we had time, but Gerry was grumbling. He paid for those tickets, dagnabbit!

And I get that. But usually the airlines can sort these things out if you keep pushing … with a smile. I said, “Put on a happy face, honey, because if there’s any problem, the clerk is more likely to want to fix it for us if we’re nice. In particular, we have heavy bags; we’d like him to see those borderline bags as underweight rather than overweight.”

This makes sense, of course; it’s the whole you-catch-more-flies-with-honey-than-you-do-with-vinegar thing, but in the heat of the moment—we paid good money for special tickets, after all—it’s easy to get distracted from the end goal. So we were at the window for quite a while—we were checking four bags, plus the clerk had to fix the ticket problem—but we used our happy faces and there was never a problem, never a doubt that we’d be sitting together. In fact, we chatted and chuckled. At one point I made some remark and the guy laughed, and I said, “Thank you for laughing” and he said, “No, thank you for laughing.” So this is my theory about the airlines: you can be an asshole and let a moderately stressful situation escalate—and think about it, there are probably all sorts of ways an airline clerk can make things difficult for you and you’d never know—or you can be not-an-asshole and keep your travel experience in the moderately stressful zone. Air travel isn’t fun unless you can afford to fly first class. (And I’m not sure it is even then … but I wouldn’t know.)

It’s also exhausting. Our flying/changing planes/flying time alone was twelve hours, and we were at the airport three-plus hours before flying, and up an hour before that—so sixteen hours. At least we left the line happy, right?

So here’s what it was like to leave Dublin on this day, the culmination of a year’s worth of correspondence with the Department of Homeland Security:

1. Check bags, obtain boarding pass; show passport the first time (but not the last).

1a. Put on a happy face for the clerk who will weigh your bags (let them be underweight, ohplease ohpleaseohplease) and also help you find that expensive bulkhead seat the first clerk couldn’t find (it’s there, just couldn’t be accessed through the automated system); the happy face assures this happy outcome. Clerk even laughs. Mission accomplished.

2. Go through security, show passport again, take off shoes, and etc ad nauseam.

3. Go to US Preclearance; to get there, go through a second, more thorough security (remove shoes, show passport for third time).

4. Wait in line to see the customs agent; Americans to the right, “all others” to the left. Americans may go to the left with their spouses if desired (say yes; it’s a shorter line, though in this case I had no intention of missing the Gerry Hampson Emigration Show).

5. Talk to the customs agent; show passport for fourth time, identify your luggage online.

5a. Americans traveling alone (i.e., me, usually) have passport stamped, identify their bags, and are told, “Welcome to the United States of America” (or, alternately, “Welcome home”).

5b. Irish folk traveling alone (i.e., Gerry, usually) must place four fingers and then the thumb, both left and right, on the electronic fingerprint reader and identify their bags; occasionally they have to answer questions, which, if answered correctly, means their passport is stamped and they are passed through.

At this point in the past you entered the concourse and gates; it is not a retail / culinary paradise (at the Dublin airport you need to do that before you go through security, so allow extra time if you want to shop). However, if you are emigrating

6. You get out your sealed papers from the US embassy; you might (or might not) have already noticed that they doctored your well-used passport, creating and pasting in a whole new photo page with your new address and new passport photo and new temporary permanent residency visa number to replace your old Irish passport number.

7. The customs agent escorts you to the office—the Admissibility Review Area—where you wait (see photo) for the next available agent (there’s only one). Your passport and sealed papers are put in the waiting area (see also photo) for the next available agent.

IMG_1589

8. When your name is called, you and your spouse hustle up to the window; you haven’t had breakfast yet (breakfast room wasn’t due to open for another 30 minutes when you left the hotel fully 3.5 hours before your scheduled flight for the 5-minute cab ride to the airport) and you would really, really like to get something to eat before they start boarding the plane. Flight time is about an hour from now.

8a. The agent reviews the papers, sees that all is in order, has a pleasant chat with you, stamps your passport, and says, “Welcome home, Mr. Hampson.”

At that point we had thirty minutes before they would begin boarding, so we ran and got sandwiches. In the Nashville and Chicago airports, it’s like a fast- and not-so-fast-food heaven on the other side of security, full of restaurants, but once you enter the US preclearance in Dublin, there is precious little food. We wolfed our sandwiches and then went to wait, and lo and behold, Richie showed up to wish us a safe journey.

And then we got on the plane.

Hark, now, hear the sailors cry
Smell the sea and feel the sky
Let your soul and spirit fly into the mystic

We only had an hour in between flights in Chicago, which would have been difficult for me, stressful, but it’s a lot easier traveling with two. And that flight from Chicago is a short one, so you have the anticipation of being almost home.

When we got to Nashville, we had a welcoming committee, with homemade signs and ringing little tinkly bells when they saw us! We are so blessed!

Debo (friend), Teresa (sister-in-law), Jon (brother), Gerry, Gwen( friend), Amy (friend).

Debo (friend), Teresa (sister-in-law), Jon (brother), Gerry, Gwen( friend), Amy (friend).

Our friends helped us carry luggage out to the pick-up zone, where more friends, the Byrums, were waiting to take us home.

 Jon, Teresa, Amy, Gerry, Jenny, Kerry.

Jon, Teresa, Amy, Gerry, Jenny, Kerry.

Home!

It had been a year since Bean had seen Gerry, but she just couldn’t get enough of him.

It had been a year since Bean had seen Gerry, but she just couldn’t get enough of him.

Winding Down, At Last

19 October 2015 Monday

We had a final breakfast at the Celbridge Manor, then loaded up the car and went to Gerry’s house to grab things (gifts, dress clothes) we’d left there. Visited with Bridie for a couple hours. Then we took all that stuff to the airport hotel—the former Bewley’s Hotel, now the Clayton Hotel Dublin Airport.

One of Gerry’s best ideas ever is staying in an airport hotel the night before we fly home. At that point we’re tired and we want as little hassle—and rushing—as possible. I’ve done that thing of dropping the car off and then rushing back to the airport, and I swear, it’s hazardous to my health! So the day before we fly, we check in, unload the luggage, then take the rental car back, shuttle back to the hotel, have an early night, and shuttle or cab to the airport in the morning. It’s just so much easier to wind down this way than rush rush rush.

For this trip, we splurged on a suite—only €20 more!—so we could sort out all our luggage with plenty of room. It was a brilliant idea, this splurge. For one thing, it was just a few steps from the elevator. But it was also a huge room—and we could well remember the size of the regular rooms here.

I’m standing behind a couch and in front of a desk. There was plenty of room to spread out four suitcases.

I’m standing behind a couch and in front of a desk. There was plenty of room to spread out four suitcases.

Nice touch. :)

Nice touch. 🙂

We were delighted with the room.

It was a deluxe bathroom too—this is only one feature of it.

It was a deluxe bathroom too—this is only one feature of it.

They’ve done a lot of work on this hotel and the airport area in the last couple years. The access to the airport is vastly improved, and the construction is finally finished, so a tourist like myself can drive to and from with minimal confusion. At least one more gas station has been added to the mix, which is handy for those of us turning in rentals—and the best part is it’s right across the street from the hotel!

This photo, taken from the elevator tower, shows the new gas station. I have a photo—can’t find it now—taken from this same spot and the field has several horses grazing in it. I’m sorry they’re not still there.

This photo, taken from the elevator tower, shows the new gas station. I have a photo—can’t find it now—taken from this same spot and the field has several horses grazing in it. I’m sorry they’re not still there.

So we gassed up, returned the car … and then spent at least an hour, probably more, working out the packing, getting it so each suitcase weighed less than 50 pounds—or less than 23.0 kilos, which is just slightly more than 50 pounds. (And as it turns out, when we got to the window the next day, the heaviest bag was 22.0. Yay! Of course, we put everything heavy that wasn’t liquid into the rolling carryon bag we’d bought at Samsonite.)

We ate in the bar of the hotel, then grabbed two apple tarts (pie) to take up to the room with us to enjoy with a cup of tea; I shut down the computer and we were just going to relax in our jammies when Gerry’s brother Richie called. Then Gerry’s nephew Eoin called. Both were dropping by to see us—no plan, just each had decded to do that. So we got dressed, and they arrived within seconds of each other. What a great visit to see us off!

Richie, Gerry, me, Eoin.

Richie, Gerry, me, Eoin.

That was nice. Gerry also called his older brother, William, before we went to bed—and he called his preferred cab company to arrange an early pick-up. With so much luggage—he also requested a van—we don’t want to hassle with the hotel’s shuttle bus, which will drop us a block or more away from the terminal. The cab company will put us out right in front.

We’ll be home tomorrow! It’s interesting how the time zones make this westward trip seem so much shorter. Seem being the operative term. 🙂