Ireland, Day 2


When I first started writing up the trip, I was hoping to keep up the pace of submitting something new each day until I was finished. But that’s starting to become a challenge as I begin to resume the regular day-to-day schedule of my routine. In the week since I returned, there has been a lot of ‘catch-up’ work involved with my day job and some other activities that have conspired to prevent me from finishing the write up. It’s not that I’m on a tight schedule to finish this trip report; I just want to get it committed to writing before I forget the details of the trip. My purpose in writing the report is to have a record of it for the future so that it will be easier to remember. I also wanted to put it in a weblog format to give some others who may stumble across it some incentive to embark on similar adventures.

I have a book entitled Trout Fishing written by Charley Dickey and Fred Moses and the preface has the best reasoning I’ve ever read to engage in one’s hobbies, interests, and traveling adventures. It centers around the concept of a Memory Bank.

“…everyone should open a Memory Bank account. As quickly as you open the account, you should begin making deposits. Every hunting or fishing trip is a deposit. The more trips you make, if only for an hour or two, the richer you become.

You may withdraw any of the memories at any time, mull them over, relive them, and dream about them. There is no penalty for withdrawal because the memories go right back into the bank. There is no way you can lose on a Memory Bank account. It’s fully insured and guaranteed for life. Each memory deposit makes you richer!

The Memory Bank account is also a savings for your old age. When you’re too old to get out of the rocking chair on the front porch, you rock gently and let the memories drift through your mind as softly as sand grains in an hourglass. When you don’t have enough strength to push the cat off your lap, you ease back and smile because you were farsighted enough to make a bonanza of deposits. It’s an open account, always ready to be drawn upon.

Of course, there’s a catch, No one can make deposits for you. No rich uncle can leave them to you. No one else can transfer his memory account to you. All of the deposits must be made by you. There will always be urgent family or job affairs trying to prevent you from making deposits. Many obstacles will spring up to block you, but if you make the effort you can become as rich as you want.”

Now, I’ll get back to the trip. We awoke on Friday after a pleasant night’s sleep with the hope that we’d get a call that our luggage had arrived. After calling the lost baggage counter, we found that no planes had made it into Shannon that morning due to bad weather the previous evening on the east coast of the U.S. So we went to breakfast and stopped by the front desk to ask for a late checkout. If our luggage didn’t make it that day, the lost baggage counter assured us they could deliver it to Nenagh the next day. But no sooner did we finish breakfast that we got a call letting us know that our luggage was at the airport and we could come out to get it. That was quite a relief.

After picking up the luggage, we made arrangements to meet with my cousin, John Hayes, at whose house we’d be staying the first few days.

Ten of my first cousins on my mom’s side of the family were born in Ireland and six of them decided to emigrate to the U.S. to seek their fortunes. John was among the first of them to emigrate. Since he was the eldest son in his family, he could have stayed in Ireland and inherited the farm, but farm work didn’t appeal to him and so he decided to come to the U.S. and find work that was more to his liking. He ended up in Alaska working on the pipeline. He’s been quite successful and he has places now in both New York and Ireland and lives between both countries. He wasn’t scheduled to be in Ireland when we arrived but had generously offered to let us to stay at his house. In the meantime he’d embarked on a new project to build and even grander house there and so had many associated errands that required meeting with the builder, architect, engineer, and various contractors. Thus he needed to make an impromptu visit to Ireland that overlapped with ours.

To say John is obsessed with houses and construction would be an understatement. He’s so passionate about it that it rubs off on you after talking to him for just a short while. So it was quite fortunate that our schedules overlapped, because John took the time to give us the grand tour of County Tipperary, something I’d later refer to as ‘John’s Parade of Homes’, which was simply amazing. Houses are being built all over the place, many of them large and expensive, and John was able to provide details about nearly all of them.

John seems to know everyone. Despite being away from Ireland for most of the past 40 years, John was continually greeted by friends on the street, in the stores, and even at stoplights as we traveled around. All the while he was lamenting about how he barely knew anyone in Nenagh anymore. Yet I’d be hard pressed to find anyone better connected than John.

In addition to visiting with John, we got to spend time with his brothers, Tom and Pat and their families who live close by. We saw the original Hayes family farm and other housing projects underway by family members and relatives. We even visited some authentic Irish pubs in out-of-the way places and had a great time experiencing the Irish culture and catching up with everyone. As a special bonus for us, my cousin Kathleen, John’s sister, who lives in Seattle, had also made last minute plans to visit to Ireland while accompanying her husband on a trip to the UK and Sicily. Thus, we’d later be able to spend a pleasant afternoon with her and a few other relatives when she caught up with us in Kilkenny.

It’s hard to pinpoint the source of economic prosperity that has swept through Ireland in the past 20 years. For more than 100 years, the primary export from Ireland was its people, some of whom were so desperate to escape that they took jobs as domestics and low wage laborers in other countries. My mother was one of them. Then, about 20 years ago, I started hearing stories how that had all changed and the economy was booming with so much work available that it was no longer necessary to emigrate to seek one’s fortune. For the first time in history, people were actually returning to Ireland after living abroad. I’d asked lots of people while I was there about their opinions of the cause of this new-found prosperity, but have yet to get a consistent answer. Much of it appears to stem from the housing construction industry, yet housing construction seems like it’s an effect, not a primary cause, of prosperity. Some say it’s the inclusion in the EU which, due to an educated but underemployed work force, has allowed Ireland to take jobs from other European nations. A few mentioned something the government did with the tax laws to attract multinational corporations, all whom now seem to be represented in and around Dublin.

I’m sure it’s a combination of all of these effects, but perhaps it’s also related to the attitude of the Irish people who are open and welcoming to others from around the world. This attitude helps to attract corporations and jobs where some historically better-positioned countries have engaged in behaviors that favor their own citizens and local companies at the expense of ideas, people, and companies from the ‘outside’…

Arriving in Ireland


So after what felt like an eternity, the man at the check-in handed me back the passports and told me everything was OK. I ran back through the gangway to make sure I got on the plane before it departed. After I got reseated, they continued to wait for other connecting flights so that they could fill the plane’s seats and thus depart with a completely full aircraft. I hoped that it would allow more time for our luggage to catch up with us.

Pretty soon, we taxied out on to the runway and were underway to the Emerald Isle. I was still tired despite having slept through most of the previous legs of the trip, I don’t remember much the flight over the ocean. As I mentioned on a previous entry, the last time I made the flight from the U.S. to Shannon was nearly 40 years ago, in 1967, and I recall having to wear a sport coat and tie, since everyone dressed up to fly in those days. I also remember conducting an experiment on that flight. I had some conversations with some of my friends where we speculated that if you jumped up on a flight that was moving at approximately 500 mph, you’d end up moving back in the aisle a few feet, maybe even more. One of them speculated that you’d get slammed up against the back wall of the plane. I performed this experiment and was surprised to find that I landed precisely where I jumped up. That was my first recollection of consciously performing a physics experiment. I didn’t understand it at the time, but later when I learned of Newton’s first law of motion, it immediately made sense. That is, “A body in motion tends to stay in motion unless acted upon by an outside force.” Even though I was moving at 500 mph, so was the plane, so jumping up had no effect since both the plane an my body were moving at the same speed.

Our plan was to land in Shannon in the morning and spend the check into the Bunratty Shramrock Hotel, right next to the Bunratty Castle and Folk Park. We thought we might also a visit Limerick which was only about 15 km away. When we visited in 1967, we were met at the airport by my Aunt Bridie and were taken to the Bunratty castle which is very near the Shannon airport. I was totally fascinated. There was a REAL castle with suits of armour, swords, and all the accouterments necessary to give me the impression that I’d just been transported back to medieval times. I couldn’t believe my eyes at what I was witnessing. And I had only been in the country for less than 30 minutes! So the Bunratty Castle was the first stop on our list of places to visit on this trip.

Unfortunately, we found that the luggage didn’t make it so we there with just the clothes on our backs. We hadn’t even packed a toothbrush in our carry-on bags. We hoped for they’d have some items we needed at the hotel which was only about 10 km away and that our luggage would arrive the next morning. We went to the Budget car rental location looking forward to having a car for the week for only € 160, but instead we got the ‘shakedown’ from Budget. They said that unless we paid and extra € 35 a day, essentially tripling the rental charges, they’d have to have a hold put on our credit card of € 4000 and strongly advised us that we needed this insurance. My credit card could endure the € 4000 hold, but then I remembered I was driving a stick shift car (with my left hand) on the left side of the road and thought maybe it was worth the extra cost for the peace of mind. I had to waive several other insurance charges that could have easily quadrupled the rental bill. So here’s your warning: When you rent in Europe, ask about hidden insurance charges and how you might avoid them. I learned that if I had carried a Gold Mastercard or Diner’s Club card, I could have avoided these usurious insurance charges.

It was still pretty early in the day when we arrived at the hotel and they told us it would be about an hour before our room would be available. We decided to wander over to the local convenience store to pick up a few items and then stopped at a pub called Durty Nelly’s to get something to eat.

After eating some fish and chips, I was in great spirits, eager to re-explore the Bunratty castle that had so mesmerized me as a youth. I found that instead of just a castle, there had been a whole village added called a ‘folk park’ that showed what Ireland was like perhaps 100 years ago. It was complete with cottages, mechant buildings, a schoolhouse, a pub, etc. When I come to think of it, the folk park may have represented several hundred years of Irish history since the country had not changed significantly for several centuries. When I visited in 1967, there were many places that still had no indoor plumbing, which to the American way of thinking was quite unusual, although they all had electricity by then. Many of the houses were built with stone and had thatched roofs. A lot has happened in 40 years and I was amazed to find that the houses were now better built and as modern as anything you’ll find in the U.S., as well as much more expensive. Ireland has gone from subsistence farming, skipped the industrial age, and right to a high tech bustling economy.

After exploring the folk park and castle, Terri was exhausted and we were ready to take a nap back at the hotel. We awoke early in the evening and headed over to a nearby restaurant to get some dinner. However, we weren’t hungry enough for a big meal, so we decided to go back to Durty Nelly’s and have some pub food with apple pie and ice cream for dessert that was outstanding. Despite the name and appearance of being a pub, the food at Durty Nelly’s is excellent.

We were hoping that our luggage would arrive the next morning so we wouldn’t have to meet up with our relatives in Nenagh with the unkempt appearance one acquires when wearing the same clothes for three days…

Europe, Day 1


It should come as no surprise to those of you who have used frequent flyer miles that the number of seats allocated for frequent flyer programs on each flight is very limited. So trying to get 2 seats from Denver to Ireland isn’t as easy as it is when booking regular tickets where there’s some money involved. The number of frequent flyer miles for two round-trip tickets to Europe is substantial. It took 100,000 miles for a pair of tickets and I had earned most of those miles the hard way, by flying to Taiwan on 5 separate occasions last year, which is a grueling way to accumulate miles. Those trips included 10 separate 12+ hour legs of travel, all in economy class.

The flight from Denver left at 6:00 a.m. and stopped in Chicago…for 6 hours…and then continued to Philadelphia before heading out to Shannon Airport in Ireland. This is not an itinerary that would be offered to a paying customer, but for frequent flyer miles, they assured us it was the best they could do.

United suggests being at the airport at least 2 hours before your flight leaves and since it takes about 1.5 hours to drive to the airport, park the car and get the shuttle to the airport, it means we’d have to leave our house about 2:30 a.m., which means we’d need to get up around 2:00 a.m. That’s not the most auspicious way to start a vacation, but we weren’t in a good bargaining position. Terri figured we should get a hotel in Chicago just to catch up on sleep because we knew we’d only be getting about 3 hours of sleep the night before we left. It reminded me of the ‘mandatory rest period’ that is mentioned on the show The Amazing Race, the show that inspired us to structure the trip the way we did.

Whether you book a hotel for an hour or a day, the rate is the same. However, it’s hard to put a price for the pain and suffering for a cranky spouse but it can exceed that of a night’s stay in a hotel near the airport, so it was an easy decision…and I won’t mention who might have been the cranky spouse. Thus, a “mandatory rest period” was scheduled in the windy city. We hoped that we wouldn’t oversleep.

We managed to get to the airport on time despite the early hours, caught the flight to Chicago and even slept at a hotel for a few hours after we got there. The hotel relied on a taxi service to take guests to and from the airport and despite having scheduled it for our return, a taxi was not available. Fortunately, one of the hotel’s desk clerks came to the rescue and took us back to the Chicago airport. Once we arrived at our gate, they announced that our flight was going to be delayed. We had only a two hour layover in Philadelphia so having any more than an hour delay was going to be a problem. Around the time our flight was scheduled to depart, they called us to the desk and told us that because the plane had not yet arrived, we needed to go get our luggage at the baggage claim. I asked them what we should do after that and they said we’d have to check in again and get an alternate routing. It felt we’d been issued an infamous “road block” on The Amazing Race where another team issues you a setback and you are forced to wait while others can go on their way.

So we went down the baggage claim area, found our bags, and searched for a line at the US Air counter. The line was very long and slow with only a few counter people there and lots of angry-looking travelers, one who became so loud and rude that a counter person threatened to call the police. Since our connection was International, we got into a shorter line, but each customer was taking an eternity to get re-routed and we feared we were not going to make it on a plane to Ireland that night. By the time we got to the counter, they couldn’t find a single flight that day to Ireland and were offering routing us through Paris, Dublin, and then to Shannon. That didn’t sound like much fun so we inquired about our original flight. The counter person said that the plane had arrived and was ready for boarding. If we were to run, we could make it back on our original flight and possibly make our connection in Philadelphia. Our bags were already tagged for that flight, so we put them on the conveyor and ran for the gate. Of course, we had to go through security yet again, but made it to the gate on time. The plane hadn’t started boarding and we felt that we might just make it to Ireland as we had planned. We only hoped that our luggage would make it too.

By the time we got to Philadelphia, we had only about 15 minutes to get to the gate since our connecting flight was already boarding. So we ran again and made it to the plane and heaved a sigh of relief as we sat down in our seats. But the adventure wasn’t quite over yet because a man came on the plane and asked me to follow him with our passports. I figured that I’d just need to go to the front of the plane where someone would check the passports and that would be it. However, when he got off the plane and asked me to follow him, the flight attendant objected, telling him the plane would be leaving in a few minutes. He assured her it was OK and that it wouldn’t take much time. I followed him to the check-in area and he proceeded to swipe our passports through the scanner again and again and with a disapproving look like he couldn’t quite figure out the problem. Then he began entering things manually with the keyboard. He was assisted by a few others as I waited nervously at the gate, hoping they didn’t seal up the aircraft with Terri (now without her passport) already on board…

Europe, the plan


Terri and I have been to Europe on vacation previously 4 times. Three of those visits were to Italy and one was to Scotland and Ireland. We had also been there for business on multiple occasions, particularly Terri who traveled to Germany in her previous job at least twice a year. My first trip to Europe was way back in 1967 to visit relatives in Ireland. We spent 6 weeks there and although I was only 7 years old at the time, I still have many fond memories of it.

The trips we took to Italy were self-planned where we decided to visit particular cities. We made arrangements for moving from place to place on our own. We have friends in Monza, Silvio and Louisa, who we always stop to see as well. The Scotland-Ireland trip in 2003 was a bus tour organized by a Brendan Travel and one where the whole itinerary was planned in advance for us. This was an interesting way to travel and it reduced the stress of wondering where we were going next and how to get there, but it was a rather full schedule that required getting up early each day to pack up and move to a new location. Terri and I had taken to exploring the pubs in Scotland and Ireland during the evenings and had some late nights followed by early wake up calls so some of the bus travel remains a blur. But it’s a great way to see a lot in a short time and still affords some freedom to do things on your own. If you get a good tour guide, it can be very entertaining as well.

After watching several seasons of The Amazing Race, we got the bug to do some international travel again and so we began planning for a trip to Europe. I had accumulated enough frequent flyer miles on United to qualify for two round trip tickets to Europe, but after playing around on the United website for a while, it appeared that there were absolutely no frequent flyer seats available to any European city any time in 2006, so I called to talk to a real person at United. After searching around for about 30 minutes, we found that we could get into Ireland, but not out of it. However, we could get out of Amsterdam and back to the U.S. via Canada. Since we had planned to visit Ireland and Italy already, the challenge then was how to get from Ireland to Italy and then from Italy to Amsterdam. I had never been to Amsterdam before and so it seemed like a good place to visit as well.

I got on the Internet and started looking at Ryan Air and Aerlingus and was pleasantly surprised to find that one-way fares are very reasonable in Europe, something that you won’t find in the U.S., where they often cost more than a round trip fare. If you’re willing to fly out of cities that may be off the beaten path, Ryan Air has € .01 one-way fares! The € .01 fare is a little misleading because there are airport fees and taxes, but even so, the tickets come out to be around € 30 per ticket which is incredibly inexpensive. Our tickets from Dublin to Milan on Aerlingus were around €45 each. Ryan Air had similar prices.

We couldn’t get flights from Milan to Amsterdam at a reasonable price, but if we flew to Charleroi Airport outside of Brussels from Bergamo (about an hour east of Milan), we could get a Ryan Air € .01 fare! Then we just needed to figure out how to get from Brussels to Amsterdam, which would be a relatively easy train ride. This would give us a chance to see two new European countries and add some adventure to the trip.

Then next challenge was to find accommodations and plan the itinerary… more on that next time.