Tuesday, October 13, 2009

Monday 12th- Lost in Ireland

It was meant to be pretty much straight forward. Check out of the apartment, tube to Victoria, catch the express train to Gatwick. Fly an hour’s fight to Shannon in County Clare, Ireland. Drive one hour to Doolin and our B&B Seems reasonable enough. It was instead a day I wouldn't like to repeat again in a hurry.

I repacked the bags as we were only allowed 15kg each on our checked luggage with RyanAir. We sent one of our bigger bags with clothes that we weren’t going to need and other bits and pieces back with Pete to Wales. Of course I had no way of knowing if our the bag we were taking weighed 15kg or not until I got to the airport.

We checked out of the apartment by 12pm and caught the tube to Victoria. We purchased the tickets for the express train to Gatwick and were all boarded and settled with 10 minutes to spare before departure. It was all looking good……so far.

At Gatwick we found our way to RyanAir’s check-in counter. As a budget airline RyanAir require you to check in on line and print your boarding pass before departure which I had done back in NZ. I don’t have an EU passport so I also need to visit passport control(EU residents with cabin bags only can head straight to and through the security check) It was here that we had our checked bags weighed too. This was the first problem we were to encounter today, one bag weighed 20kgs, 5 kgs overweight, darn! It was going to cost us £100 for the excess weight. It didn’t matter that our other checked bag weighed only 12kgs, you can’t combine weight even though it's all the same once you're on the plane. There was no way I was going to pay 100 quid so I had to race off to the shops upstairs and find a “cheap” cabin bag to transfer some of the clothes into. Luckily we only had one cabin bag between us but were allowed two. And of course the shops know that there’ll be another hapless traveller come rushing through looking for an extra bag sometime soon. £30 later and I have another black zip-up cabin bag to add to the 5 or 6 others we’ve purchased over the years when we’ve run out of room in our suitcases!

Back down to check-in and time running out, we transfer a pile of heavy clothes(mainly David’s trousers & jersey) into the new cabin bag. The big bag is weighed again and now is 15kg, safe to go through. We get our priority boarding passes too. When you board RyanAir it’s a "free-for-all" rush to the plane to get the best seats, you aren’t allocated seats as is usual in a plane. The priority passes cost £3 each and I’d have to say are worth their weight in gold especially on the flights this time. And while you might say why bother with all the hassle of a cheap flight, I think it usually works very well. The flight itself cost only £5 one way, last year I flew back to the UK from France for £1! With the checked luggage cost of £10 per bag, a handling fee of £5 per person, the priority pass at £3 and all up it was only £23 each, one way. Ask me if I still think the same when you get to the end of this blog!

By now there was a huge queue to get through security but luckily just as we joined it they opened another entrance way and we were soon moving through the process. I have to say that Gatwick would have to be one of the friendliest security checks we’ve been through before, it seemed we were lining up for a British holiday camp, both sides of the fence were smiling, talking and cheerful, most of our fellow travellers looked like they were off to the beach somewhere for a break. It’s the first time too that we’ve had our photo taken at security(standing side by side which was kind of weird, David wanted to put his arm around me. I said it wasn’t a holiday snap!)

We managed to grab a quick bite to eat on the other side but once our gate number appeared on the overhead board there was a mad rush of people heading for it. Of course they were rushing so they could get a seat close to exit to board the plane so they would have a good choice of seats. We leisurely strolled to the gate because of our priority boarding pass. Another check before we were allowed into the gate holding area and this is where the photo that had been taken previously popped up on the screen when our boarding pass was scanned to confirm that it was really us that had our passes. I haven’t seen that happen before.

We took our priority pew with 2 others and where called first to board. There was a mad scramble and a bit of queue jumping going on behind us. It was a bit weird but I felt like a VIP as we lead the procession out to the plane. Flying RyanAir is all a bit weird, the cabin attendants spend all their time selling scratchies, raffle tickets, food and drinks etc up and down the aisles.

The flight was only 1hr15 and before long we had crossed the Irish Sea and I could see Ireland spread out below us.

What do you reckon, 40 shades of green?

Cool eh?

We landed in Shannon, a small airport where we had to wait in line for security to man the desks, again first on the plane means first off and in the queue. Although I then held up the proceedings with my Kiwi passport, the guy had to find the date stamp, David gets waved on through. This is the second time that’s happened, I get the impression they’re usually only expecting people with EU passports and have nothing prepared for us "foreigners". We made our way to the baggage carousel and very soon 20 or so bags popped out onto the belt. Obviously most people travel with just cabin bags which makes sense for short trips. We retrieved our smaller bag and watched as all the rest were quickly collected and the people departed. Suddenly the airport was empty. But where was our big bag? We waited just in case it miraculously appeared. It didn’t. They only had a couple of dozen bags to keep a track of and they still lost one! Welcome to Ireland.

And then there was no one around to check or ask questions so we made our way through to arrivals. Unfortunately once you pass through the door you can’t return so after a long wait and a very friendly airport policeman who paged the person in charge of baggage claim. After an hour of questions and filling in forms and still no bag we had to head off. They were hoping to locate the bag and send it over later that night or first thing in the morning. The only problem we could see was that they'd only deliver 30kms from the airport and we were at least 60kms away and heading north the next day. I guess we were due for something like this to happen. In all our travels we have never had a lost bag and I also religiously keep spare underwear, clothes and toiletries in our cabin bags just in case. This time I didn’t even think about it, after all it was only a one hour flight, what could go wrong. Yeah right.

In no mood for any more hassle we gave the Budget rental lady a very hard time when she tried to palm off to us a bucket of bolts they called a car! Eventually they relented(I think she wanted to go home) and gave us another vehicle which had at least 120,000kms less on the clock. And although this one still had a few scrapes and marks over it and a hubcap missing it was a lot better than the first one. With his perfectionist nature the missing hubcap annoyed the hell out of David for the entire trip.

Two hours behind schedule and approaching 6pm we were finally on the road to Doolin and our B&B a. Unfortunately with the missing luggage and the crappy car we were both now a little distracted and we missed the turnoff to Doolin. It also didn’t help that our old faithful Maggie, the GPS, only had a few main roads in her memory and threw a hissy fit right when we needed her. One thing we hadn’t learnt yet was that Ireland roads are few and far between, once you’re on them there’s only one way forward. Travel and travel and travel some more until you get to the next town or you do a U turn. We didn’t do a U turn. One hour later when we finally had our bearings we realised we were way too far north and the only way back was either a two hour trip around the coast road or a one hour trip across the middle of the Burren, a huge expanse of limestone rocks, hundreds of thousands of rocks and on an isolated road a quarter of the width of NZ country roads. We chose the Burren.

 The grey you see is solid rock. I took this the next day out on the coast road. It is flatter inland.

It was now approaching darkness and David, tired and grumpy, was driving like a man possessed. Unfortunately this beautiful, wild and remote area was seen through the dipped beams of our headlights (we found out too late that the lights weren’t adjusted for full beam either) It felt like I was on one very long roller coaster ride, the road was so rugged. We did get to see some of the Burren the next day but it would have been nice to report on it from the “interior”

We had called ahead to the B&B to let them know of our problems and that we would be there……..sometime tonight. Susan was a typical Irish lady, loud, bubbly and lovely, full of sympathy and encouragement in giving us directions to her place. Unfortunately I couldn’t understand a word she was saying, so thick was her accent, and it took four calls before we finally made it down a bumpy dirt track out in the middle of nowhere to our B&B. We were buggered.

DaleysHouse B&B- this was where we stayed, they also had another house located behind me.

Luckily our one bag had the toiletries in it and David had clean trousers so we freshened up and put our dirty undies back on(inside out ;) and Susan sent us down the road to O'Connor's Pub for dinner and some Traditional Music (Trad Music). The highlight of our Ireland trip as it’s turned out. Doolin is very famous for Trad Music even though it’s just a tiny fishing village with 3 pubs. Iit’s also where the ferries arrive and depart for the isolated islands nearby. Many great Irish musicians have made their name playing in the Doolin pubs.

We had a lovely dinner, met a few people and then the music guys slowly trickled in for their session. The table right beside us had a sign above it saying it had to be free by 9:30pm ready for the session. We had a table right beside this and with only about 30 people in the pub it was very cosy.

Out came a range of instruments and off they went, singing, dancing and playing beautiful music. We had to pull ourselves away in the end; I could have stayed all night. A local guy from the bar joined them at one stage and sung and then the barman came over and sung. All spontaneous and with so much emotion.

On the table are 6 or 7 different types of flutes.

Below is a selection of the music I videoed, I couldn’t choose which to upload so I did the lot, they aren’t that long but well worth listening too;
Trad Music in Doolin, County Clare, Ireland-


Dad, just for you- can this guy play the spoons!

Here is the older guy that came from the bar to sing and hang out with the musicians-

The girl who could play the fiddle pretty darn good and then she got up and danced!

The barman joined the session and sang unaccompanied, he was good too(and shy)-

And finally- My Lovely Rose of Clare-

After a very long and tiring day we finally headed home and hit the sack, hoping that the morning would bring us good news on our luggage.

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