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Tuesday, June 22, 2010

On to London Heathrow and beyond

The flight to Heathrow from Chicago is more than 7 hours. First class looks spacious and sort of like the Captain's seat on the bridge of the USS Enterprise. Business class looked comfy as well. As you would expect, economy class looked a bit tight. Immediately upon taking off, the clown, I mean passenger, in front of me flipped his seat back and was practically in my lap.

For the rest of the flight, we were packed like sardines, or perhaps tinned kippers! And there wasn't just one screaming infant, but two. Oh, the joys.

I was in the very last row. Do you know how the last car on a roller coaster experiences the bumpiest ride? Well, the same applies to an airplane ride that encounters turbulence. Thank goodness no one got sick.

The Jordanian-American man next to me was tall and husky. He couldn't get comfortable at any point in the flight with his knees jambed into the seat in front of him. None of the three of us in the last row were petite, but we did our best not to overflow into each other's space.

My neighbor let me use his cell phone before take-off to call my husband at home. That's when I found out that the airlines had agreed to refund the price of the ticket for the flight from XNA to Chicago. That made a rest of the trip so much more enjoyable and relaxing!

We made small talk and he told me that his parents were celebrating their 48th wedding anniversary which was why all 7 kids were flying to Jordan to their house. He said his parents never actually stayed there because they spent 2 weeks in each kid's house and just rotated from one to another. This way, they didn't stay long enough to have major fights and no one had to worry about how they were doing or if they were being taken care of. Being single, he always looked forward to them staying with him because he could get lonely.

To my surprise, we were served pretzels and a beverage at around 9:40 PM and then it was immediately followed by supper.

When I watched the little movie screen in front of me, it first showed the flight and where we were along that flight. Interesting. Way out over the Atlantic Ocean with no land in sight. Splendid. Then I watched a little tv and movies. I viewed most of Valentine's Day before falling asleep for about 2 1/2 or 3 hours.

WARDROBE CHOICE for travel: capri sweat pants, sports bra and t-shirt. Crocs can be kicked off and put back on easily going through security.

We finally arrive in London Heathrow Airport. Because my baggage coudn't be checked all the way through for some unknown reason, I had to go into the long "E ticket Disney ride" line to go through customs instead of going straight through to my flight to Ireland. You know what that means? I had to go through customes in Heathrow and then get my baggage, then go through security all over again! Good thing I had a really long layover, I guess.

The customs people were efficient and helpful. He even remarked that I was very organized, which is probably high praise from and Englishman. 1st Passport stamp: London Heathrow.

I must say, Heathrow is kind of dumpy when it comes to airports, at least terminal one. There are not many services once you get away from the center part and it's just old and dirty looking. I bet the newer Terminal five is much more modern and nice.

As I was walking through the airport, I saw a series of posters on a wall. It had a classic car, like a GTO, and the first poster had a tagline that said, "Freedom." The same poster was next, with the tagline "Status Symbol." Same poster next, with the tag line, "Polluter." The next poster admonished about reducing our carbon footprint. I do think that it's good to be conservative, but your carbon footprint is affected if you keep trashing throw-away cards and replacing them every few years, too.

My husband and I own several old cars which mostly serve us well. We have a '99 Nissan Sentra that gets almost 40 m.p.g., a '93 Ford Explorer, a '93 Oldsmobile Cutlass Cierra, a '55 Chevy Pickup, a '72 MG convertible, a '53 Pontiac Cheiftain, a '94 Plymouth Voyager and a '79 El Camino. The first 5 cars are driveable. We have no car payments and low insurance. These cars are old enough where my husband can do almost all of the repairs. The classic cars are all a piece of our history and we like to try to restore them, so shoot us.

Anyway, back to my travels. I'm getting extremely uncomfortable and hungry but I can't find an ATM machine and don't have any Euro. A granola bar will have to suffice. I'm bone tired, but afraid to fall asleep and miss my flight. It's 1:10 PM and my flight doesn't leave until 4.

There are so many flights to Ireland that they don't tell you what gate you'll be leaving at until the plane lands. So, you have to hang out by the monitor until just before your plane starts boarding to know where you need to be. Finally, I lay down on the bench and succumb to an hour's nap.

While I'm awake, I watch the BBC news provided by Samsung. Tuesday temps are predicted to be in the 20's. That must be centigrade. Fabulous. I sit here with no cell phone, no internet, no Euros and no Fahrenheit to Centigrade conversion table. It's weird to be in a foreign country where people look and speak very much the same, yet everything is so different. I have 15 minutes more to wait.

And while I was waiting for my flight to Dublin, I saw a lot of the same fashion faux pas that I see in the U.S., including the unfortunate scary jeggings. I mean they could have been jeans, but I've never seen jeans stretch quite that way.

I helped an elderly Irish gent find his gate. He said he was sent to the wrong gate by someone who didn't bloody know what they were doing (in an adorable Irish accent). I smiled and bid him well. My flight will be boarding next, in about 10 minutes. Next I help two young men who can barely speak English find our flight before someone steered them to the wrong gate. Even the Irish find the whole thing in Heathrow confusing. I had the young men follow me since we were going to the same place.

The flight was good and mercifully short. I was sitting next to a cherubic toddler who spent most of the flight sleeping on her dad. England and Ireland look so cozy on the maps, but you actually fly over quite a bit of water to get from one to another. Her dad explained to me that it was easy to convert centigrade to Fahrenheit. If it's 20 degrees in London, you double it and add 32. So, 20 degrees C is 72 degrees F. Cool!

We arrive in Dublin and that airport is much nicer, with polished wooden handrails, wooden doors, etc. It looked like it was kept up well. The signs are in English and the sometimes long Gaelic translation. I go through customs quickly (second passport stamp in a day: Dublin!), get my baggage, hit up an ATM for Euro (finally!!) and buy an international cell phone. I took a $25 Euro taxi ride to the Ardmore Hotel in Dublin where I had pre-paid $47 to stay via Expedia. Perhaps a Clarion with their shuttle may have been a better deal? Something to consider. Price isn't everything. You have to consider what's included in that.

The taxi driver was jovial and we talked about several things, like raising kids. It's pretty much the same all over with us probably providing too much for our kids which would have constituted "spoiling" by the standards we grew up with. He said, "You get out of the dog what you put into the pup." Well said, my friend. Well said.

I get to the Ardmore and smile when the desk clerk says, "If you would sign here, that would be splendid." I was told that the English and Irish tend to request things rather than demand it. It sounds more like you'd be doing them a favor than it being a requirement. There is free Wifi, which makes me happy. My mood is lifting considerably. I'm in Dublin!

Here is a new thing to get used to. Your door key powers everything in the Ardmore from the "lift," to the door, to all of the electricity to your room. And you must leave the key in the whole time you're in the room because it is timed to go off in about 2 or 3 minutes. And the Irish hotels might not provide washcloths like the American ones do. They expect you to use a handtowel instead.

My co-worker Brian warned me that the Irish tend to eat earlier than Americans, so I quickly washed up and went down tot he hotel bar. Apparently the pubs serve meals and they are opened late, so no worries at least in the major cities, though it's apparently true that most restaurants will close around 9 or maybe "half nine" which is 9:30. Anyway, I sat in the bar for 20 minutes without being greeted, so I had to ask the bartender if I could be served sometime soon, which he arranged for me. This will not be the first restaurant where I will feel it is busy and understaffed according to American standards. Service is not bad, but not as quick as most of us would expect, so be prepared. If you're in a hurry, better grab a bag of fish and chips instead. If you're sitting down, it could be a while.

Since I was waiting, I put my international cell phone together, a Motorola W156. I can't remember, but I think the phone and sim card were about $60 or $70 Euro? Anyway, I do feel a sense of accomplishment for putting it together on my own and having it actually work.

The guests are watching the World Cup. These folks really love their sports. You will see it on practically everywhere there's a television set. Also, there are a lot of smokers. The laws and customs are completely different here. Not that the bars are choked with smoke, but there will be at least some.

Meal: home made vegetable soup (pureed, not chunky) with crispy roll and butter ($4.50 Euro), 8 oz. sirloin steak medium with sauteed mushrooms and onion and garlic butter ($16.50 Euro). The garlic butter came in a gravy boat--I kid you not! A big pot of tea - $2.30 Euro. I had to ask for sugar and was pleasantly suprised to get brown sugar! Finally, some real food. It's definitely been a long and expensive day.

Just about every dish will come with one or two kinds of potatoes. I've eaten more potatoes so far over here than I have in years. With this dish I got grilled baby potatoes and fried potatoes, too.

When I return to my room, the "free wi-fi" signal is too weak to take advantage of on the 3rd floor. Apparently it's the strongest on the first floor. I took a warm bath and dozed several times so decided I had better pour myself into bed. The weather is so pleasant that I sleep with the window open, and no screen. It's not buggy there at all. I was comfortable crashing on top of the covers.

In the morning I check the view from the hotel which was the back end of it. There was still noise from a busy street where you can see double-decker buses drive by. It is a mostly middle class residential neighborhood. I see the back end of a row of semi-attached houses with their satellite dishes and clothes lines. I see someone's bike leaned up against a wall, no chain. I can see a parking lot and an overgrown grassy area and ivy spilling over a wall.

The hotel is utilitarian but adequate. If I didn't have all of my stuff in tow for Galway, the stuff I had planned on shipping ahead, then I would explore, but as it is, I had better start packing and head for Shannon to meet the rest of the group.

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