I should really think of this trip as a way to discover crap I wish I had known before I embarked on this journey. It’s nice to know that instead of dialing 9-1-1 like in the US, you have to dial 9-9-9 all around Ireland and the U.K. But, it would have also been nice to know that an international cell phone calling cell phones in the U.S. apparently burn up about twice as many Euro as calling a land line. It would have been helpful to know that before I burned $10 Euro in about as many minutes. Bummer.
But okay, let’s get on with this travelogue.
DAY 1: Departing U.S.A.
I should have known the day was not going to be an easy one when we ran out the door with my baggage and the back tire on the Nissan was flat. We turn around and hop in the ‘Old Man’ Man Car (hubby's Oldsmobile Cutlass Cierra). It’s 2PM and my plane leaves at 5:20. We have stops to make on the way.
I couldn’t find my letter from Fionna (from NUIG) which I was told was essential to get into the country. I really stressed about this. I wound up driving to work on the way to the airport with the intention of printing off an email from her, hoping this would suffice since I couldn’t find that stinking letter that you were NOT under any circumstances supposed to lose. Oh, except it’s Saturday and I forgot my keys! Turn around and go back! And I was already in Fayetteville when I figured this out.
So I finally get to work and print out the letter. Much later, like when I was unpacking in Dublin or Shannon, I found the letter was safely tucked in my travel journal.
And earlier that day, I received a text message about a horrendous $300 phone bill! So, off to Verizon to figure that one out. Apparently the $10/month plan doesn’t include unlimited internet from your phone. Son owes me a bit of money for that! After I went through 2 customer service reps, we got it down to $120 for this month and $60 for next month. Yikes! That was an expensive mistake. Good thing he has a job. Cell phones are another area where you wish you knew things before you run up good sized bills. I know I'm not the only one to experience this kind of treatment. It's all highway robbery, but we're all addicted to a degree.
Then we arrive at XNA (NW Arkansas Regional Airport) and no one is at the United ticket counter. Security tells us we’re WAY too early for my flight. It’s 4PM and the flight leaves at 5:20. A little time passes and hubby sees that the flight that I am on doesn’t exist on Saturdays! Say what? We talk to other airport and airline personnel and call United. Finally we get the number for Student Universe (travel agent) who can’t do anything without a supervisor’s approval. The American Airline ticket agent says she has a flight that can get me to O'Hare, but, “You need to have your ticket purchased by 5:30 to make your connection in Chicago.”
At 5:29, I am still on hold and hubby whips out his credit card and makes the purchase. One way, economy, from XNA to Chicago O’Hare is how much? Try $735 American. Yeah, that’s how much. I hand my cell phone (which won't work in Ireland) over to Steve and run for security to board the flight and he spent almost 3 hours but finally got them to agree to reimburse us the full $735. I only paid less than $1,000 for my entire round trip ticket. I'm amazed that my Pookie got them to reimburse us for that much!
American tried to be helpful but could only check my heavy bag to Heathrow. I said fine. I just needed to get on the plane. I would worry about the luggage later. This snafu would bite me later.
I flew into Chicago without incident. I was looking out the window as we approached O'Hare and checking out the rural countryside outside of Chicago. We flew over a wind farm. Is it Slim Pickens that has one there? Since there is more room, some of the housing developments had fanciful shapes, like weird crop circle patterns as seen from space. Some were more traditional. Some followed the contours of the land.
As you get closer to the city, the developments become more uniform and of course closer together. Lake Michigan is enormous! Wow. It looks like you’re flying to the east coast, but of course if you know your geography and are smarter than a 3rd grader, you know you’re not at the Atlantic yet!
We land at 7:30 and I walk to terminal 1. On the way I see that Chicago has taken great care to make their airport magical and memorable. There are giant dinosaur skeletons and art hanging from the ceiling and art made of neon lights and music. There are people movers, but none of the trains that I saw in the N. Carolina airport. That might have been more practical than the fancy wavy walls (just sayin'). I got to Gate C just in time to grab a yogurt and start boarding the connecting flight to London Heathrow in 20 minutes!
I check in with the airline personnel and she looks incredulous when I tell her that my travel agent booked me on a flight that didn’t exist and so I had to take another airline here at my expense just to make this connecting flight. Then she looks me up and sees that I’m confirmed on the flight and that my luggage is already loaded (second spot of good news I’ve had that day – maybe things are looking up?).
Next, I will catch up on the rest of my flight and experiences that day.