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Ireland Trip Part 1

Posted by julival on August 15, 2004

I begin this saga with some trepidation. This is the longest vacation I’ve ever attempted to describe. It’s going to take a very long time and many entries to get it all out. Major commitment. Expectations. Pressure. Patience will be necessary on the part of the reader.

Day one: The flights.

Traveling is always an adventure. Traveling with children makes the adventure even more interesting. Traveling with other people’s children can make the adventure pure hell. But we were traveling with our own children, right? Our children are veteran travelers. They’ve been making the 10 to 12 hours treks by car to visit our families a couple of times a year since they were born. They’re troopers. They know how to keep themselves occupied and quiet. Oh, and we drug them. That’s right. Drug them. It’s only Dramamine. And they _need_ it. We’ve learned from messy revolting experience that they need it. *nods* So anyway, I was not tooooo worried about the ‘getting there’ part of the trip. The kids have flown before, they’d have plenty of food and movies and opportunities to get up for the bathroom and with the Dramamine in their systems, they’d sleep during the transatlantic portion, right? Right. Riiiiighhhhttt.

We got up around 7 am on the day of our departure. Not because we had a particularly early flight, but because we had little things we needed to accomplish before we left. Last minute packing, taking out all the trash, running the dishwasher, sweeping up. It’s nice to be able to come home to a clean house and only have laundry to worry about after a long trip. And, of course, there was setting the light timers and watering the plants, putting vacation feeders in the aquariums, turning up the AC temp so we didn’t waste electricity, unplugging unnecessary things and checking the dvr to make sure I didn’t miss any soapies and the boys didn’t miss any critical installments of teen titans. The last detail was dropping the dogs off at their own little vacation kennel and then heading for the airport.

Our journey to the emerald isle required only two flights. One from Columbus to Atlanta (only an hour or so in the air) and one from there to Dublin, with a “brief” stopover in Shannon (on the west coast of Ireland). We arrived at the airport in columbus plenty early to get checked in, wade through security (no special searches this time – yay!), and have a lovely airport lunch at wendy’s. oh yeah, and to give jeff time to berate the ticket agent for changing our seats at the last minute. Apparently there was some sort of “equipment change” that required “reassignment” for many (translate: ALL) of the passengers on board the 777 from Atlanta to Dublin. Jeff had just called the day before to confirm our seats and had been very happy with the configuration (he’s at least mildly obsessive about seating configurations on airplanes – just ask the other freaks how he interrogated them about their seating). He was NOT happy with the new seating and went to great lengths to argue with the guy. But to no avail.

The flight to Atlanta was uneventful – just the way I like them. Jeff spent much of it planning to get to the gate in Atlanta as early as possible to get the gate agent there to reassign our seats. (note: originally we had been assigned three seats together on one side plus one aisle seat in the middle row of three seats. The 777 was arranged in three groups of three seats each to a row. Jeff liked that – only one middle seat. The new assignments gave us two seats at middle and aisle and two more across the aisle at middle and aisle. He didn’t like that. Two middle seats.)

We knew that we were going to have a long layover in Atlanta before boarding our flight to cross the ocean. We came prepared with books and gameboys and a good attitude. There was some minor debate as to what to do about dinner (it was going to be served on the flight, but that wasn’t scheduled to depart until 7:30 pm and we had eaten lunch at noon), but thankfully, we opted to have another lovely airport meal before boarding. The ticketing agents weren’t going to be available for jeff to harass them until 5:30, so we had to time our meal so that we could be back to the gate in time for him to be first in line.

It was actually quite interesting to wander about in the Atlanta airport. Jeff and I took turns sitting with the bags while the other went on walkabout to stretch our legs and pass the time. I saw a lot of soldiers on their way to their base in texas and lots and lots of foreign travelers heading home and US travelers heading out on exciting trips to other countries. Obviously, this was my first visit to the international terminal. I was highly amused by the giant box of Camel cigarettes on display in the duty free shop - and all the liquor and perfumes and chocolates. Are these our most desired items? Cigs, booze, candy and scents?

After our fabulous airport dinner, we made our way back to our previously deserted gate and found it beginning to fill with fellow travelers. Jeff got into the still relatively short line just in time to hear the poor woman at the desk announce that she would not be dealing with seat assignments right away. First she had to get the computers up and going and make a few other adjustments. She politely but firmly requested that everyone in line please be seated until she announced that she was ready for them. That was our first sign that something was amiss.

The second sign was when the blue shirts started appearing. I tried to ignore them at first. I tried to tell myself that there weren’t as many of them as it looked like there were. I tried to be optimistic.

It took about 3 minutes for the line to start reforming at the ticketing desk. Jeff wasn’t the only one not happy with his seat re-assignment. Silly jeff. He didn’t know how good he had it. At least our family was still all sitting together. Turns out they had literally reassigned all 300+ seats on this completely full flight. And somewhat randomly, it seemed. By the time we departed, almost every single person at the gate had been to the counter trying to get re-assigned again. Except for the ones in the blue shirts. They had spokespeople to stand in line for them.

Somewhere during the time between 5:30 when the first poor delta employee came to the desk and 6:45 when we finally started boarding, three more attendants joined the fun. there were at LEAST 6 public address announcements to the effect that there would be _no_ seat reassignments due to the large volume of requests, but that didn’t keep people from trying. I guess each person thought his or her particular case might be the exception. HAH. The flight attendants were extremely cranky by the time we all got boarded. Isn’t that nice?

Then there were those ominous blue shirts. All belonging to children between the ages of about 10 and 16. Sixty-two of them. Sixty-two children in bright blue matching sweatshirts. *Whimper* I kept saying maybe they would all be sitting somewhere away from us. I kept saying they were probably exhausted. They’d already flown from Minnesota to Atlanta and would likely crash after the first movie and sleep like babies. Silly me.

We boarded and sat down in the middle of a sea of matching blue sweatshirts. *Sigh* They were NOT tired. They were excited! They were bursting with energy! They were EVIL. And not only that, but their chaperones were BEYOND EVIL. I think there were 9-10 “adults” in charge of the whole group of sixty-two totally out of control children. The passengers were not happy. The flight attendants were not happy. The children did not give a s***. During the approximately 10 hours I spent on that aircraft, I slept roughly 20 minutes. And that was only after we were finally moved to new seats. I did not arrive in Dublin feeling relaxed or peppy.

I’m going to have to just relate the flight as a series of hellish moments punctuated by outbursts of pure rage on my part. I remember it through a red haze of exhaustion and fury. I doubt the children sitting around me will forget “the mean lady” any time soon. Here are some highlights, in no particular order:

Jeff and Rob were sitting in the aisle and middle seats on one window side of the aircraft in about row 55 or so of what I think were about 60 rows. They had a very quiet little woman with them in the window seat who spent most of the flight in a semi-fetal position with her head against the window and her eyes squeezed shut. I think she was trying to will herself away from the situation. I had the aisle seat directly across from Jeff, with Alec beside me in the middle seat. He had one of the blue shirted demons from hell next to him.

Now recall that I was trying to be optimistic in the beginning. The little boy sitting next to Alec was really quite a charming child. He looked to be about 10 years old or so and had a vibrant smile and equally vibrant red hair. He started by asking where “yous’ are from and wanting to know where “yous” were going, etc. We had a lovely little conversation. Turns out his group was from Belfast. They were part of a program that started in the 1970’s when a small group of Irish parents in the city found friends in the US (in Minnesota) who were willing to take their children for a few weeks in the summer and foster them until the worst period of unrest due to The Troubles was past. (for anyone who doesn’t know already, there is a period of time around mid-july each year when things come to a head in northern Ireland regarding the prejudices and bad feelings between the catholics and protestants – read unified Ireland supporters and british loyalists.) There has traditionally been a lot of violence associated with the timeframe and the parents wished to get the children away from that for a while. This program, while not as badly needed now, due to lessening of the tensions in the area, has grown over the years into a sort of summer camp for Belfast lads and lasses. The number of foster families has increased and the number of Irish participants has likewise. We just happened to be traveling on the same day and the same flight as the happy children were returning to their real families. I can understand their energy and enthusiasm. What I can NOT understand is the total disregard the chaperones had for anyone else on the flight.

The children were all over the plane. They roamed the aisles all night. They shouted across the aisles and rows to tell their friends important information about what video was playing on what channel. They climbed over the seats to get to each other. They had their personal music devices turned up so loud that I’m not sure why they even needed to wear the earphones. They sang along to the songs. They laughed joyously throughout the flight. Except when dealing with me.

The flight attendants at first tried to sweetly cajole them to quiet down and keep to their assigned seats. Then they tried to appeal to their (non-existent) sense of courtesy to the other passengers who were “just setting out on their own holidays to your country and hoping to get a bit of sleep so they can enjoy it when they arrive”. Then they got stern. The chaperones found this all very amusing. I heard one remark to another that it was ridiculous that the flight attendants would offer the children juices and soft drinks and then expect them to be quiet. Amazingly enough, my children drank juices and soft drinks and still managed to be quiet. They didn’t make a peep other than to beg us to find a way for them to sleep. I wanted to put Dramamine in all the children’s drinks.

There was a particularly loud group of girls sitting right behind jeff. The flight attendants had several talks with them and I finally reached a point of complete exasperation with them, turned around, stared directly at them with the meanest mom face ever and said very clearly and succinctly “SHUT. UP.” That shocked them into silence for about 30 seconds until I heard one whisper to the other “what did she say??? Did she say “shut up???” she did! She said “shut up!”” then they had to relay this astounding bit of news to all the other children in the vicinity (who hadn’t heard me over all the noise they were making). And I was thus dubbed The Mean Lady.

Subsequently, I told a number of boys and girls to SIT DOWN, GO BACK TO YOUR SEATS RIGHT NOW, TURN IT DOWN, STOP SINGING, etc. etc. I even bodily removed one horrid little boy from the aisle beside my row.

Jeff and I made numerous complaints to both the flight attendants and the chaperones throughout the night. We got empathetic but helpless words from the former and blank stares mainly from the latter. I finally asked one of the chaperones (in a not particularly sweet or jovial tone of voice) if we were going to have the pleasure of their company all the way to Dublin or would be rid of them at last in Shannon and she told me with a large grin, “you’ve got us all the way to Dublin, dearie. It’s a bitch, ain’t it?” to which I replied, “no, you are.”

Amazingly enough, the precious little singing red head in the seat next to Alec (who I’d patiently – seriously, he was too cute to snap at initially – asked a number of times to stop singing aloud) managed to become unconscious for about an hour in the middle of the flight. Total exhaustion must have kicked in. unfortunately, it didn’t for most of them. But when he awoke, he had some confusion about the landing in Shannon. He hadn’t realized that was part of the trip and asked me several questions about it. Finally, he said “It’s a really long flight, isn’t it, then?” and, having reached the end of my sanity, I snapped back “yes! Particularly when you have to make it surrounded by a pack of rude noisy BRATS.” His eyes got very wide and he never said another word for the rest of the time we were sitting with him.

Jeff finally got the sympathy of the head flight attendant and she found us new seats in the front coach cabin, away from most of the children, when we landed in Shannon. So we got the hour layover and about 30 minutes of flying time between Dublin and Shannon with a relatively quiet stretch. The flight attendant had to awaken us for take-off. She was highly apologetic.

I’ve never been so glad to get off a plane in my life.

Then began the next stage of our torture. Actually, going through the immigration check point was fairly painless and didn’t take too long. Gathering the bags was not fun. All the little blue sweatshirts were there, no adults in view, screaming for their luggage, climbing over people to get to it, and generally being a nuisance. I think our bags were almost the last to come off the belt. Then we had to drag them through the ‘nothing to declare’ line (queue) and wait in the hertz rental car queue, only to be told to go outside and wait in the shuttle queue for someone to take us to their site away from the airport.

The shuttle was packed. We were the last group to get bags shoved into the little boot in the back. I was afraid we’d have to wait for another, but the bags just fit. Then there was another queue at the rental place. And a number of people ignored it and jumped to the front, until finally the nice Irishman behind me told them quite firmly that they needed to stop that.

A very nice 14 year old boy took my paperwork and assigned me a car. Jeff and I had gone round and round over the whole business of renting a car. We really needed one for ease of traveling to all the places we wanted to visit, but he was very nervous about getting to the hotel from the airport. Dublin is a huge city and has lots of busy one way streets and we were not familiar with it nor were we at all experienced in driving on the left. But everyone I’d spoken to had assured me that we would have no problems finding the hotel – “it’s easy! You just take the highway into town to O’Connell street, turn left and we’ll be up the Quay on the left.” I got directions from the guidebook map, from a person at the hotel (via phone), and from the hertz guy. But hey, he’s only 14. I should have made sure I got directions from someone who actually drives. Silly me.

Alle can attest to the fact that by the time we found our way to the hotel, I had reached the very last microfibre of my very last nerve. I nearly browbeat the poor girl who tried to give us directions to the parking garage around the corner. She made the mistake of telling me “it’s easy!” Fortunately it was. Unlike the drive to the hotel from the airport. We saw much more of Dublin than we ever expected to see. Including some rather dodgy looking loading dock areas. Apparently, everyone in Dublin has 20/5 vision. They put teeny tiny (wee) font street signs up high on the sides of buildings. Sometimes. Often you just have to guess. The width of the streets is almost as wee as the font size of the signs. And the signs are not in American English, of course. Believe it or not, there is a definite difference, beyond just the accents (some of which are easy to understand, like mark’s – who is not necessarily irish anyway – and some of which are nearly incomprehensible to the untrained ear). Even the theoretically international symbol signs are different. And lots of the signs are in two languages – Irish (Gaelic) and English. That was interesting. It didn’t take too long to figure out that ‘give way’ meant yield and ‘humps’ meant bumps, but we never did get totally clear on all the highway signage.

I’ve never been shy about asking directions when I can’t find something, so half way into town I rolled down the window and asked a young lady at a busstop what street we were on (As we couldn’t find the signs to confirm that we were in fact on the road we needed). I have no idea what she replied to me. But we did eventually find our way after a series of left turns and two trips across the river Liffey (much like our trip to DC!). I HATE one way streets and the maps that fail to identify them!!!

It was such a relief to hear Alle’s voice when I came barreling into the hotel lobby. She was waiting for a room for early check-in. None of us had any luck with that at first, and there was the whole yelling at the desk clerk about directions to the car park, but by the time we’d filled out the necessary paperwork, parked and come back with our bags, Alle had obtained a room and graciously allowed us to follow her up and use her bathroom and change. I was so out of it that I went straight in without even letting her use it first. Heh. Thanks again, alleeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeee. *hugs*

Somewhere in there, Jana called to see where we all were and tell us where to meet her for lunch. I had given out jeff’s cell phone number to everyone in the group to use as a contact point so that we could all find each other. Jana had been hanging out at the Bad Ass Café in the Temple Bar district (historic, yet touristy all at the same time!) on the south side of the river, about a 15 minute walk from our hotel. We told her we’d join her in a half hour or so, and she said no worries, she had a book.

An hour later, we arrived at the café and started looking for her. No jana inside. No knowledge of her from the wait-staff. No jana outside. *Sigh* we figured she got sick of waiting. So we got a table for six (just in case she turned back up) and ordered some lunch. Luckily, it took us a while to make up our minds, the service was slow, and she decided to check for us one more time. (I’d have called her, but she’d called me from a public phone, not a mobile). Turns out she HAD been sitting outside in the little brick plaza area beside the place, but we hadn’t seen her.

Anyway, ducklings of the moment rounded up, we had a fun lunch and drove the nice French waiter insane with our (and by ‘our’ I mean ‘my’) questions. They had this really nifty cord and pulley system suspended from the ceiling that used wee ale casks to carry orders from the tables to the counter. Had to ask about that. And the menu. And the waiter’s obviously not Irish origins.

Somewhere in there, markwcats called to find out where we were and tell us he was on the way to join us. In half an hour. Funny how time bends when you’re on vacation. *g*

An hour or so later (some of them got ice cream while we waited), he called again to tell us he was a bit late due to missing his something (bus maybe?), but he was looking for us and couldn’t find us. I peered around and lo and behold found a cute guy with a mobile phone standing right next to me looking perplexed. So I asked him if he was perhaps talking on the phone right in front of me. And he was! So I hung up to preserve my minutes. Jeff and the boys were right across the street, finishing their icecream. *g* photo1

Another duckling gathered, we headed off in search of Trinity College and The Book of Kells. It became increasingly obvious that markwcats spends way more time on his work than on learning about his city. More than average, I’d say. He had this adorable response to almost everything I asked – “um…hmmm….well…[insert total bs here]” I think he leads a sheltered life. *l*

There was a wedding going on at the grounds of Trinity college when we arrived. I think it was just winding down – in the photos stage, maybe. We took a little moment to take a couple of group photos of our own, after some nuns vacated the photo spot I wanted *g*

Photo 2 and Photo 3

Then we headed into the gift shop to buy tickets to see the Book. Since Jana had already seen it, she browsed the gift shop and bought a bunch of postcards for us to sign and send to people we had addresses for. Meanwhile, Jeff and I purchased a family pass and wandered into the rooms next to the gift shop where they keep The Book of Kells, and a few other books of historical significance and a whole lot of big photos, drawings, and explanations of how the monks made the books and the significance of various symbols in the illustrations. The colors were absolutely gorgeous! It seems that sometimes they have the Book of Armagh on display, as well, but not this time.

After we’d viewed all the stuff there was to view in that section, I started following mwc and alle up the stairs to another section of the building that houses a vast and clearly very old library (I did not know this until I got up the stairs). Half way up the stairs, my cell phone rang. It was another pair of ducklings letting us know where they were, of course. DK and Jani! DK was joyfully screeching in my ear as I was being chastised from the bottom of the stairs by some woman. I don’t know if she was an employee (my assumption) or another visitor. I couldn’t make out what she or the kitty were saying, as they were both talking to me at once – one in an annoyed loud whisper and the other in kitty speak (which involves much squawking about ‘momma J!!!!!!!!’ etc). But I gathered that the woman was highly agitated with me for using the phone (which embarrassed me no end, as I hate breaking The Rules and being discourteous) and I told the cat to call back in five, thinking we were on our way out, somehow. Much to my chagrin, I then found myself in a real library that was being treated more like a church than any library I’ve ever been in. but it made sense, in a way. It was quite the awe inspiring library. At least three floors of bookshelves lining a long vaulted hall (like a cathedral nave). It made me think of Hogwarts. There was no obvious exit and I needed one badly before kitty called back. I didn’t want to turn off the phone and make it so she couldn’t reach us. What momma duck does such a thing?! I finally found it, tucked between glass cases in the center of the hall, and made my escape.

We found Jeff and the boys and Jana out front on the lawn waiting for us and soon after got the follow-up call. Then it was back out into Dublin to walk back to Temple Bar and find Jani and DK’s hotel. It was actually an apartment over a bar (pub). We found the pub, but we couldn’t find the entrance to the accommodations, so we milled around until they found us. We, of course, then had to go up and see the fancy digs and admire the view from the balcony. *g*

Photo 4 (in which the group stands on the balcony. Look carefully to the right of mwc, through the railing bars, and you will see our first elvis sighting of the week… and Photo 5 , the king himself. Oh and here’s the view from the balcony toward Temple Bar: Photo 6

At this point it was maybe 5 pm or so. Jeff and the boys and Alle and I opted to head back to the hotel to get our rooms situated, freshen up, and have a bit of a rest. The walk back was a little longer than I thought it would be and by the time we got in, Jeff and the boys had decided they didn’t really want to go back out again. But Alle and I were game, so we cleaned up and hoofed it back over to the pub/apt to hook back up with the rest of the ducklings. I stopped at a Boots the Chemist (our illustrious groom’s employer) to pick up some nail polish remover (and to be able to say I’d shopped at one of his stores *g*). I think we were a bit later than we’d originally estimated, but not tooooooo much. Then we witnessed a driver slowly following a pigeon through an intersection. The pigeon wouldn’t get out of his way and he didn’t want to squish it. It was pretty funny.

The restaurant hunt was a typical freak out restaurant hunt. Toward the end, I began to have visions of searching for the Thai place, so I was ready to stop anywhere. (my dreams of having a traditional irish boxty at the traditional irish boxty house restaurant having been shattered by a two hour wait.) We tried one pub that didn’t have enough seating. Then while a couple of us were studying the menu at another pub, the kitty wandered off with the bad finn in tow to find something else. Meanwhile we decided to just run up and see if the pub we were in front of could accommodate us with enough seats in a timely manner and when we found they could, we camped out and waited for the rest of the ducklings to come back and find Us.

We only rearranged the tables very slightly to make room for six. *glares at mark* and then we proceeded to study the menu. Yes it was touristy. That’s fine. We were tourists. Poor mwc. I felt bad for the waitress at first because she kept having to run up and down the stairs. I felt even worse for her when she misunderstood that the bunch of freaks was laughing at ME and not her when I misunderstood what she said. Bleh. Garlic bread. It really wasn’t so much the accent as it was that the question was totally unexpected. We’d all ordered and then she looked back and me and asked if we wanted [something]. I didn’t expect the question and it didn’t register. I thought I wasn’t hearing her right, so I turned to mark (The theoretical Irishman of the group) for assistance. I didn’t want to say “WHAT?!” to her. Silly me.

We didn’t order any alcoholic beverages at this pub – I was entirely too punch drunk from lack of sleep to need anything else, but we did drink a LOT of water. That chick (lass) was up and down those stairs all night hauling water. We also discovered the wonderous condiment known as Brown Sauce. That’s right – Brown Sauce. Its chief ingredients include apples and vinegar. MWC was, as usual, no help in explaining its purpose. We tried it on the ubiquitous fries (chips), but it was clearly not made for them. *cringe* luckily no one had a camera handy when I tasted it.

Alle and I staggered back to our hotel after the meal, managing to avoid any serious mishaps at the crosswalks. The crosswalks are scary. They go in many directions and some of them make a very fast sort of bongo drum sound when it’s time to cross. But one time we (possibly only I) got confused about which bongo drum was meant for the direction we were headed and I nearly got run over by a doubledecker bus. I never did get to ride one of those…

End day one.