Saturday, August 29, 2009

Back To Ireland

My wife and I recently returned from a week's visit to Ireland. It was her second trip and my third. We went to visit a dear old friend that we hadn't seen since 2003.

We weren't planning any big trips this summer. Our youngest daughter is still in the midst of undergraduate studies. The US dollar is weak compared to the euro. I thought our plans would be no more elaborate than perhaps a week in Ogunquit ME.

But if the American economy isn't doing very well, the Irish situation might be worse. Their housing bubble has popped. They still depend on tourism to bring currency into the economy. One night my wife noticed that air fares on Aer Lingus were ridiculously low. Could we consider a trip, just the two of us? Erin was taking two organic chemistry courses this summer, so she couldn't join us. Meg was in New York City, looking for a job. We could leave the dog at home with Erin and take off without children for the first time since we had them. We called our friend to check his plans and booked the flight.

We flew out of Boston instead of New York. There's a shuttle to Logan Airport on the Mass Pike that's simply brilliant. You leave your car in a fenced lot for a week and don't have to fight the traffic in and out of the city.

The flight couldn't have been smoother. We took off at 6 PM on an Airbus A330 and arrived at 5:45 AM the next morning. There was little or no turbulence at 40,000 feet. The plane had individual screens for each passenger built into the back of the seat in front, with a nice choice of movies. The food was even good! I didn't sleep at all, but then I can never sleep on airplanes. When we arrived in Dublin the car rental counter wasn't even open. We had to wait until someone came at 6 AM. We were given a Ford Fiesta with a manual transmission. It's a small car - we couldn't fit two black bags in the rear, so one had to go into the back seat.

Driving on the left side was no problem; neither was shifting with my left hand. The gas, brake, and clutch pedals are arranged exactly as they are in American cars, so I didn't have to adjust too much. But I could never live in Ireland, because driving there all the time would kill me. The roads are too narrow; there are walls on either side; there are twists, turns, hills, and bushes that prevent you from seeing more than a few feet ahead. Every time a truck came at us I was gripping the steering wheel and holding my breath.

It's about a two hour drive south and west of Dublin to get to our friend's house. Thank God we had precise, detailed directions, because his house is in the middle of a bog between two small towns named Mullingar and Delvin. We arrived without mishap at around 7:45 AM. No one was stirring so we sat in the car, resting and reading. We got extra points for arriving without having to resort to rescue call.

It was wonderful to see our friend. It was a quiet, unscheduled visit that alternated quiet days spent hanging around with excursions out. On the quiet days we'd eat breakfast, read the paper or books, go for walks, sit in front of fires, and talk.

We went into Dublin one day and had a wonderful time. We were all dressed to the nines for a night at the Gate Theater. We had lunch and did some shopping in the afternoon. We had high tea at the Merrion Hotel, which is a five-star establishment that lived up to its reputation. The service, food and atmosphere were impeccable. We saw a revival of Noel Coward's "Present Laughter" that was terrific.

Maureen and I went alone to Kilkenny. The 2.5 hour drive was stressful, but we managed. We had lunch, shopped, and toured Butler Castle. The Kilkenny Arts Festival ended the day before, but we were still able to tour one of the galleries.

Our last day out was to a nearby abbey whose first buildings were erected around 650 AD. Houses in America with plaques indicating that they were built in the 1700s appear old, but that's nothing compared to stone houses in Europe.

Our flight back was even smoother than the one that brought us to Ireland. It was another Airbus A330 (sorry, Boeing). Logan Airport is a first-rate operation. We arrived early, got through customs in 20 minutes, waited not more than five minutes for our bags, and got right onto the shuttle to take us back to our car.

This vacation was a lesson in not putting things off forever. We all assume that we'll go "next year" when we think about opportunities like this one, but you never know if the chance will pass you by. I was so happy to reconnect with my friend. Phone calls and e-mail are nice, but there will never be a substitute for face-to-face contact.

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