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.)

Home Again, Home Again, Jiggity-Jig

Day 24, Thursday, 4 October 12

We were up early so we could do the last of the packing and get all settled. Neither Margaret or I like to be rushed. 🙂

The Radisson has a nice breakfast buffet you can add to the cost of the room for ten euro, and we knew we needed to have a good breakfast to get us through this day, especially since we’d be going back through that nightmare airport (Dulles). The Radisson’s shuttle drivers are very nice, too—ours loaded all our luggage and then waited for us to check out, then unloaded it for us at the airport. So Radisson gets the gold star.

Remember, once you get to the airport there are two things you’ll need to do:

1. Take care of your VAT situation (see #11 in Jamie’s Travel Tips)

2. Shop in the duty-free … maybe.

Currently in Ireland there are three entities that handle VAT refunds—two with old-school paper forms and one electronically (Fexco). Perhaps eventually it will all be electronic; certainly most of my VAT refunds were applied to the card I got from one of the first merchants I visited. In the electronic situation, you are never charged the VAT tax; however, if you leave the country without visiting the Fexco machine, your credit card will be charged the VAT later. So care of it.

There are two companies that handle VAT refunds with paper; it just depends which refund company is used by the merchant you visited. More than likely, you’ll have to visit both. You must remember to ask for the form when you make your purchases, keep your receipt with the form, and then the night before you leave, fill out each and every form. It’s not fun, but you can end up with enough dollars to get out of the parking lot back home (or euros to save for your next trip). So you should make the effort—and then visit the VAT kiosks as soon as you get your luggage checked in.

Then you’ve got time to wander the duty free shops! There are a lot of them in the Dublin Airport—it’s a regular ol’ mall. I’ve become cautious, though, because I’m not convinced I’m always getting a deal. I like to take Irish chocolate home to hand out as thank-yous, but I’ve begun buying it ahead of time in the Butler’s shop, so I can pack it rather than carry it. On this trip I found the Orla Keilly bag I’d fallen in love with at a shop in Dingle, but it was thirty-five euro more in the duty-free shop than in Dingle! Same bag. The best bargains are in perfumes and cosmetics and alcohol, so if you’re looking for a deal, that’s where to go. Just make sure you’ve got room in your carry-on for that big bottle of twelve-year-old whiskey.

We were pretty shopped out, though. As noted, I’d done all my Christmas shopping on this trip, and it was all packed; for myself, I’d bought two paperback books, the Moulton Brown shampoo and conditioner, the scarf I was wearing, and a pretty necklace at the Kilkenny Design Center. Oh, and a rain hat. 🙂

There was a new procedure to follow on this trip: we were assigned a time by which we were supposed to pass the security checkpoint. Naturally we missed it 🙂 but not by much. I can see why they do this, though: you really have to run quite a gauntlet to get out to the gate. We had to show our passports at least half a dozen times once we passed the initial security checkpoint—no joke. Once we arrived at our gate I left my carry-on with Margaret and went to buy a bottle of water—and had to show my passport again. To buy water!

I was much less stressed on this flight, though. I read, watched a movie, and before you know it, we were on the ground in Dulles. A quick check of the departures signage and Margaret and I realized we had to go in opposite directions! We weren’t ready for such an abrupt good-bye after our three-week vacation, but there we were, with a quick hug outside the ladies’ lounge before we each hustled off to catch the next flight.

Naturally, once I got to my gate my connecting flight had been delayed, so I called my friends in Tennessee to let them know I’d be late. And then … I was home. And the felines were glad to see me.

The next morning, I settled down with a cup of tea and the cookies Eoin and Tracy had given us the day before … and began writing this travelogue.

I made those cookies last a long time. :)

I made those cookies last a long time. 🙂

What’s Next?

I hope you’ve enjoyed reading about this trip as much as I’ve enjoyed writing about it. I’ve got another trip planned in May (about two and a half months from now) so I hope you’ll stick around for that. In the meantime, I’ll be posting some other interesting travel-related pieces, and I’ll be continuing to add material from trips I’ve taken in previous years. You may have noticed that there are already a few entries posted from a Christmas trip to England and my first trip to Ireland. There will be lots more; I’ll let you know when the trips are completely chronicled. Thank you so much for visiting with me!

Penultimate Day!

Day 23, Wednesday, 3 October 12

This had been such a big trip! We went a lot of places, shopped a lot (I did almost all of my Christmas shopping on this trip) and on the morning of our last full day, we had to get everything organized. That is, we got started packing and hoped like crazy our bags would stay under weight. I arrived with two suitcases, remember, but Margaret left with an extra one provided by Gerry. (He and I both have extra pieces on both sides of the Atlantic, accumulated since he comes back and forth a lot.) My sis had traveled back home with a Hampson bag too. 🙂

When we were as ready as we could be—we were going to spend our last night in a hotel at the airport, to facilitate turning in the rental car—I picked up Gerry and brought him back to the B&B to help us carry down our suitcases. (Help, ha. He carried them down.)

But we still had a little more sightseeing to do! One of my favorite places in Dublin is the Casino at Marino—which is right in Gerry’s neighborhood. No, no, it’s not a gambling establishment. Casino, in this case, is Italian for little house. And it’s a gem. I was very excited for Margaret to see it.

The Casino was intended as a pleasure house on the estate of James Caulfeild, the first Earl of Charlemont. Born in Dublin in 1728 to parents descended from English nobility who’d been awarded land in Ireland 150 years earlier, young Charlemont spent his youth in Dublin. And then at age eighteen he set off from Dublin on his Grand Tour; it lasted nine long years. The Grand Tour—of Europe—was what upper-class young men of means, primarily British, did for a couple hundred years, from the mid 1600s to mid 1800s. Considered a rite of passage, the tour allowed these boys to study art and culture while they mingled with polite society in the countries they visited and learned languages through immersion. Nice!

Charlemont fell in love with Italy and the classical architecture he saw there; he stayed in Rome an extra four years after his tour. Upon his return, Charlemont’s stepfather offered him a house on a large estate in suburban Dublin, which he promptly christened Marino. (The neighborhood here is still known as Marino.) In 1755 Charlemont began making plans for his casino. He ultimately hired Scottish architect William Chambers; it took about twenty years to finish. (Can you imagine?) It is considered one of the finest eighteenth-century neo-classical buildings in Europe.

The Casino at Marino, Dublin. The little decorative barrier that Gerry is standing in front of hides stairs that go down to the basement, which is where the kitchen and other servants’ rooms were. (Margaret’s photo.)

The Casino at Marino, Dublin. The little decorative barrier that Gerry is standing in front of hides stairs that go down to the basement, which is where the kitchen and other rooms important to the running of the house were. Take a good look at the scale here; compare Gerry to the size of that window, for example. (Margaret’s photo.)

Only fifty feet square—from the outer columns—the house looks small from the outside but is actually much larger than it looks. There are three floors—the basement, the entry-level floor, and a second floor—and on nice days one could hang out on the roof too. That was quite a view. The main house (long gone now) was quite a hike away, and the property stretched unimpeded all the way to the beach.

This is the southern view, with the Wicklow Mountains (see the Great Sugar Loaf?) in the very dim distance. The coast, then would be to the left in this photo, probably about a mile away. (Margaret’s photo.)

This is the southern view, with the Wicklow Mountains (see the Great Sugar Loaf?) in the very dim distance. The coast, then would be to the left in this photo, probably about a mile away. (Margaret’s photo.)

From a distance the house looks simple (and, as noted, small). But draw close and the rich decoration is apparent. The sculptural ornament—the lions, the urns on the roof, the pedestals, and so on—are works of art in their own right. The decorative carving is exquisite.

Oh, it’s just lovely, the Casino at Marino. (Margaret’s photo.)

Oh, it’s just lovely, the Casino at Marino. (Margaret’s photo.)

The underside of the overhang. Yes, that’s an ox skull in the frieze. (Margaret’s photo.)

The underside of the overhang. Yes, that’s an ox skull in the frieze. (Margaret’s photo.)

Still, you might think think there is only one room inside. It’s an illusion, cleverly constructed to fool the eye. The house actually contains sixteen rooms on those three floors, whose plan is a Greek cross (that is, a cross formed by two bars of equal length crossing in the middle at right angles). The panes of the windows are curved; this disguises the fact that one window (on the outside) serves several rooms on the inside.

This window appears to serve three rooms, one on the upper floor. You can see the curved panes. (Margaret’s photo.)

This window appears to serve three rooms, one on the upper floor. You can see the curved panes. (Margaret’s photo.)

There are other tricks: four of the outside columns are hollow and allow rainwater to drain down to be collected in the basement; the Roman funerary urns on the roof are actually chimneys. And the door is the ultimate surprise. It looks massive, but only two panels open at the bottom—a normal-sized pair of doors, actually. Closed, and from a distance, the door fools the eye.

The two tall panels in the center bottom of this door open—about sixty inches. (Margaret’s photo.)

The two tall panels in the center bottom of this door open—about sixty inches. (Margaret’s photo.)

The floors on the middle level are all elaborate parquet. I saw them in toto when I visited in 2003, but they’ve since been covered with carpet runnerss and are only partially visible now. There are few furnishings. Charlemont was deeply in debt at his death and much was sold and disbursed. More’s the pity.

Looking north from the beautiful Casino at Marino. (Margaret’s photo.)

Looking north from the beautiful Casino at Marino. (Margaret’s photo.)

Next we’d planned to get together with Eoin and Tracy—remember the wedding couple? They’d been doing some work on their home and I’d never seen it. A call was put through—they were expecting us—and we learned we needed to give them a few more minutes. So we drove out the Coast Road, north, toward Howth, which is always a lovely drive. But as we passed by what is now St. Anne’s Park, Gerry said, “Pull in here!” and we did.

Again, this is all in Gerry’s neighborhood. As a kid, he and his brothers rode their bikes out here. Back then the demesne—assembled by members of the Guinness family—was still a lot like an estate, even though the mansion had been gutted by fire in the ’40s. The ruins were still there, and the part of the park we visited was, basically, its backyard. It was untrimmed and wild then, and it still is today.

Back in the day, it was fashionable to create a garden to look like a wilderness. That is, the backyard was carefully styled and constructed by the gardener, who brought in interesting bushes and trees. It became an idealized natural landscape. Sometimes follies—a gazebo or pavilion or other edifice—were dotted about, as they are here on the former Guinness estate.

This is the duck pond (obviously!). See the little classical pavilion? (Margaret’s photo.)

This is the duck pond (obviously!). See the little classical pavilion? (Margaret’s photo.) Don’t forget, you can zoom in closer by clicking on the photo.

Another look at the pavilion. (Margaret’s photo.)

Another look at the pavilion. (Margaret’s photo.)

Walking around the duck pond. (Margaret’s photo.)

Walking around the duck pond. (Margaret’s photo.)

Inside the pavilion. Beyond the duck pond is the Coast Road, and on the other side of that, the beach and the sea. (Margaret’s photo.)

Inside the pavilion. Beyond the duck pond is the Coast Road, and on the other side of that, the beach and the sea. (Margaret’s photo.)

Gerry hadn’t been to the park since he was a kid; he said back then it was a creepy, dark, scary wonderland for the boys. He says’s it’s cleaned up now—the famous rose garden has been added in what would have been the front yard—but it was still dark in there and I could see why he’d called it creepy. It still kinda was!

Another folly tucked off in the trees, this one sort of like a bell tower. (Margaret’s photo.)

Another folly tucked off in the trees, this one sort of like a bell tower. In fact, I think it may be an observation tower. (Margaret’s photo.)

The sound of running water was ever present, but I’m certain this little brook was manmade. (Margaret’s photo.)

The sound of running water was ever present, but I’m certain this little brook was manmade. (Margaret’s photo.)

A little bridge across the brook in St. Anne’s Park. (Margaret’s photo.)

A little bridge across the brook in St. Anne’s Park. (Margaret’s photo.)

Yet another folly. We also saw follies meant to look like ruins. Fake ruins! (Margaret’s photo.)

Yet another folly. We also saw follies meant to look like ruins. Fake ruins! (Margaret’s photo.)

You can see why it could be the source of a little boy’s nightmares. (Margaret’s photo.)

You can see why it could be the source of a little boy’s nightmares. (Margaret’s photo.)

We didn’t get around to the more public part of St. Anne’s Park—the park that is one of the most popular recreational facilities in Dublin. Gerry says the rose garden is magnificent. There are also thirty-five soccer fields (not that the Irish call them that!), eighteen tennis courts, a par-3 golf course, and an art center, housed in the original Victorian stables. But there’s always next time. (In fact, I’m already planning an outing to St. Anne’s with Orla—on my next trip!)

Then we went to Tracy and Eoin’s place. They have a lovely house! Had tea and biscuits (cookies) and a nice chat—they’re great fun.

Then we were off to check into the Radisson for our last night in Dublin. By this time it was pouring rain and we had a ton of luggage, which we unloaded in the rain. Oh, it was cold and wet! We shlepped it up to the room, then Gerry and I went off to return the car. There was lots of construction around the airport and the Irish aren’t always good with signage so we missed it the first time (and we had a map!). The Budget car rental shuttle takes you from their place to the airport, so we walked back to the hotel from there. I am a pampered American and wasn’t happy about that, but as you can see, I lived to tell the tale.

The three of us had a meal in the hotel restaurant (just OK, slightly overpriced), and with an Irishman present, we finally figured out the dilemma of service in an Irish restaurant: ask for the check, don’t expect it to be brought.

And then Gerry was off. He had to work in the morning and would not be seeing us off. (So we’d have to wrangle those bags ourselves.) I tried not to cry.

Today’s Image

The tables in the restaurant were very close together, thus facilitating conversation with strangers. There was a gentleman dining alone next to us; he told us he was in the restaurant business (I’m guessing for a large corporation) and traveled quite a bit. He was friendly but a little odd, and though he told us he was Irish, he had the weirdest accent I’ve ever heard. After he left, Gerry identified it as “Irish with American influence.”

Check!

My mind is split evenly between work (work work work work work) and vacation (don’t forget this, must do that). Surely my nervous breakdown will hold off for a few more days … ?

Yes, I have lists. I have lists. I have the itinerary, which has been through several iterations. And there’s the packing list. And the preparations list—an itinerary for the two weeks prior to departure. (The pedicure! I have my priorities.) Setting up this blog was on my list. Check!

This morning I wrote up checks for my city and county business taxes, and my quarterly income taxes. I’ll mail the latter before 15 September for the first time in years.

It’s starting to feel like I might actually … go.