04 July 2009

Journey Across the Pond: Day Two

11 June 2009—“Yeah, We’re American…”

We finally arrived in Dublin around 9:00am, Irish time. It felt great to get out of our cramped, poor-man’s-first-class seats and stretch our limbs. The flight attendants routed passengers in two different directions off the aircraft, as there was no jet way and we would have to deplane by way of a rolling staircase. Because of where our seats were located, we were to exit from the front of the plane. This naturally required us to move forward, but our carry-on suitcase was in an overhead bin a couple of rows behind us. Michael had to squeeze past a couple of people to get it down, holding up others who were ready to walk down the aisle. I’m sure the fact that we disrupted the exiting algorithm ticked off passengers waiting their turn to retrieve their conveniently-placed belongings and move toward the exit sign, but I didn't notice.

Descending the stairs from the 767 put my imagination into a full sprint, and suddenly, I was the First Lady in pearls and a pillbox hat. I wanted to throw my arms up in a double-wave to the grounds crew below and greet them with handshakes and sign autographs. I figured a lifetime of seeing pictures and videos of world leaders traveling by air showing them regally exiting their planes by staircase must have something to do with this. They usually acknowledged the press with a wave or show of the peace sign. Why couldn’t I? But looking down at my $5 Old Navy T-shirt and giant camera bag, I snapped back into reality and heard, “…like a president or politician.” That would be the end of a sentence from my husband. It is unreal how often we share exactly the same thought.

The air was crisp and the temperature pleasant. It must have been 30 degrees cooler than back in the South. Michael, the hot-natured being that he is, was soaking it up. I was grateful to be in a jacket and jeans.

We followed signs towards customs and immigration to have our passports stamped. There were two separate lines, one for EU passports and another for non-EU passports. A young woman in uniform directed the non-EU passport holders to the end of the line…which wound its way around a corner, down a corridor, and into another dimension. There’s nothing more frustrating when you’re traveling than the hold-ups at the very beginning of your vacation. Fortunately, the line moved quickly and it was on to the baggage claim carousel to collect our one checked suitcase.

Michael watched for our suitcase while I freshened my contact lenses and reapplied mascara in the airport bathroom. What I really wanted was a shower, and unfortunately, airports don't have those. I met Michael at the carousel, where I decided to trade in my sandals for socks and hiking shoes. He was still waiting for our suitcase, looking aggravated from yet another hold-up. It took us about 20 minutes to figure out it wasn’t on the carousel. Someone had removed it and placed it next to the luggage carts opposite to where we were standing. It upset me that some stranger had touched our things and put it just out of sight, but at least it wasn’t lost in transit.
While moving toward the car rental counter, I withdrew my red travel folder from my shoulder bag. This contained print-outs of reservations and a tentative itinerary for the week. My obsessive-compulsive personality doesn’t allow me to travel without such organization. I flipped to the print-out for our rental car so we could show proof of our reservation once we reached the counter. An American, who was being helped at the counter, was obviously not quite as prepared as myself. You see, the reservation print-out explained everything from payment due to insurance rates to roadside assistance. The American in front of us must have asked every question that could have been answered by this print-out. And on top of that, he wanted the rental agent to give him suggestions on which towns to visit and directions to those different towns. Doesn’t he know how to ask for a map and read it? I thought to myself. The line grew quite long behind us, and the American held every one of us up for more time than we were willing to give for his unpreparedness. Even a 10-year-old from Colorado behind us exclaimed, “Geez, this guy is taking forever!” His mother hushed him, even though she completely agreed with what he was saying. I hear ya, too, kid. I also heard my stomach telling me it was time for my next meal.

We finally got our turn with the rental agent. He was a patient young man named Daniel. He applauded me for having a copy of our reservation and told us this process would go very quickly because of it. I gloated. Looking at Michael’s driver’s license, he laughed. “So yer from Dooblin, are ya?” he asked, since Michael hasn’t updated his license from his hometown address. I was already smitten with the accent, and we weren’t even out of the airport. I couldn't wait to speak to other locals during our journey. But what Daniel asked next had my attention more than the accent: “So Georgia, eh? Isn’t dere a city called Savannah dere?” I exchanged looks with my husband.
“Yes, sir,” I replied. “It’s on the coast.”

“Ah, yes. It’s beautiful dere. It’s where ‘Midnight in de Garden of Good and Evil’ takes, place, no?” he continued. I was floored.

“Yes! It’s one of my favorite books. John Berendt came to our university a few years back for a book talk and signed a copy for me.”

“No jokin’?” Daniel’s eyes lit up. “Great book.” Then he went right back into business mode. He informed us we would have to pay a flat fee of €25 to enter into Northern Ireland, with it being a different country. We would also have to be preapproved for €1700 since we were from a “non-left-side driving country.” I assumed non-left-side drivers cost these rental companies quite a bit in damage. There's nothing easy about seeing €1700 show up on your credit card statement, even when you know you'll most likely get it back at the end of the trip. Michael was going to have to make it an entire week driving a manual-transmission Corolla with the driver’s side on the right and the correct lane on the left without a single scratch.

Daniel was right. The entire process took less than 20 minutes and we were on our way…to the shuttle. It was driven by an Indian gentleman with an Irish accent. Still smitten with the accent, I loved it even more because of the fact that he was Indian. I wanted to ask the obvious question, but I wouldn’t allow myself to be that kind of tourist. He took us to the local Clarion, where they kept the rentals in a gated lot behind the main building. He drove the car out of the lot and walked us around our Corolla, taking note of prior damage and making sure we knew how to get out of the parking lot (harder to do than you might think…). I have to say, it was very strange getting into the passenger side of the car on the left side.
We drove up M1 toward Belfast, me constantly grabbing my seatbelt and gasping at each new experience while being driven on the wrong side of the highway. Even the fast lane was opposite of what it is back home. A guy in a BMW let us know where we should be driving by gesturing while passing us. Our one moment of comic relief came when we passed a sign for a town just north of Dublin—Swords.

“I’ll take ‘Swords’ for 200, Alex,” I said in my best fake Connery.

Michael didn’t miss a beat. “Uh, that’s ‘S’-words’, Sean.”
Hunger couldn’t keep me in the car much longer, so we exited the M1 into the town of Drogheda. There was a mall with an ATM and sandwich shop called “Mi Casa.” So we withdrew a few Euros, had a toasted sandwich and another Coke (measured in milliliters this time instead of in ounces), strolled around the town, and moved on to the next leg of the trip. We were ready to be in Belfast.
One would think that driving from one country—the Republic of Ireland—to another one—Northern Ireland—would be a worthy event with welcome signs and passport checks. Not so. We didn’t even know we had crossed into Northern Ireland until we noticed that the speed limit signs changed from kmph to mph. You did know, however, when you had reached Belfast because it was a huge city that had access from multiple exit ramps. As prepared as I was with print-outs of our reservations, I did not have directions to our first hotel. Thus, frustration ensued. All we knew was the address of the hotel, which was somewhere on Victoria Street. But street names changed from block to block in every Irish city. We were lost.
We must have spent nearly an hour driving all over Belfast, searching for Victoria Street. There were suggestions of stopping for directions or finding a payphone to call the hotel, but I hate asking directions and we didn’t know if payphones still existed in the digital age. When we were moments away from having the argument of the century, the hotel “magically” appeared atop a hill. There might as well have been a heavenly light cast upon the hotel along with 23 giant arrows pointing at it, the sight of it was surely meant for our sore eyes.

The receptionist greeted us warmly. “Welcome to Park Avenue. Have ya been stayin’ with us before?”
“No, ma’am,” we replied. “This is actually our first night in Ireland.”

“Oh, roight. Let me tell ya about yer stay with us,” she continued, explaining to us how to get to our room, what restaurants were inside the hotel, and when breakfast would be served. She checked us in and handed over our room key.

Three minutes later, we were in our room and strangely, scratching our heads.

“The power doesn’t seem to work,” I told my husband, flipping every switch in the room. Nothing came on, not even the side table lamps. Michael followed me around the room, trying to use his super husband powers on the switches since my wife powers obviously had no effect.

Still nothing.

“Well, I’m not waiting for lights to come on. I’ll just have to pee in the dark,” I informed Michael. He sighed, knowing he would have to call reception to ask how to get power to our room while I was in the bathroom. I heard him through the door.
“Uh, yes, this is Michael Wynne up in room 203. This may sound like a ridiculous question, but we were wondering how you make the lights work in the room.” There was a pause. “Yes, I see it on the wall. You just put your room key in it? Ok, thanks for your help.” He hung up, and I came back into the room.

“This device on the wall receives our room key…” Michael explained as he inserted the key, making the lights come on, “…and ta-da.”

“Didn’t the receptionist ask us if we had been here before?” I asked him. “You would think telling her it was our first time here that she would have said something.”
“My guess is that she had a bet with another receptionist on how long it would take the Americans to call down to ask how to work the power,” he replied. Seeing my please-explain-yourself look, he said, “She definitely started laughing with someone when I asked the question.”
Yep, we were American, and we didn’t understand the Irish way of conserving energy.

With lights finally working, we took a shower and crawled into the bed for a late-afternoon nap. It was the first real sleep we had in a day and a half, and I didn’t wake up until after 7:00pm. Michael easily could have slept until the next morning, but I had to shake and poke him until he woke up. It was time for him to feed me my next meal.
We went downstairs to ask the receptionist who had laughed at us earlier for restaurant and pub recommendations. She whipped out a map and began to show us the hot spots in Belfast.
“The City Hall is where ya shood start. It’s in the middle of everythin’ at the city centre.” She started drawing lines and circles on the map of streets where we could find places to eat. “The Europa is a great hotel for eatin’, so it is. There’s also The Apartments. Or you could get some poob groob at the Crown.”
Actually, the Crown Liquor Saloon was on my itinerary. It was a pub with gilded ceilings and old-fashioned snugs, which were private drinking rooms inside the pub. You called your server by ringing a doorbell from inside the snug.

“You’ll see the old Opera House, if ya go this way,” she continued with her doodling. “It’s beautiful to see, so it is. Dere’s de Wheel near City Hall and other places to see. And woonce yer dere, it’s easy to get around, so it is.” She seemed to say that a lot in our conversation. “Let me call ya a taxi to take ya to the city centre.”
Our taxi dropped us right in front of City Hall around nine in the evening. It happened to be on Great Victoria Street. I thoroughly enjoyed that everything in the UK was named for Queen Victoria. Not a bad name, in my opinion. It was still very bright outside, so we clicked a few pictures as we admired the town. We even stepped inside the Crown for a moment, stunned by how detailed and intricate its interior was. It would almost be a shame to get shnockered in this pub because you’d miss out on its stained glass paneling or painted tile. But our stomachs were too empty to start with a Guinness, and pub grub wasn’t what we were feeling for dinner. We vowed to come back to the Crown after dinner at the Europa. Except, two hours later when we were leaving the Europa ready to scope out a snug back at the Crown, we found it gated and padlocked. Apparently, most bars close at 11:00 in Ireland. We were disappointed, but tired enough to look for a ride back to the hotel.
Arriving back at the hotel, we were in for another shock: the hotel doors were locked. The lobby lights were turned out and our “so it is” receptionist wasn’t sitting at the desk. We needed a receptionist to be our source of cash to pay the cabbie.

“Poosh the call bootten dere,” our cabbie told us, nodding at a glowing green button to the right of the door. Sure enough, pushing the button brought out a man in uniform. He unlocked the door and asked, “Are ye residents here?”

“Yes, sir. We’re in room 203, and we need cash to pay the cabbie. He said we could use our ATM card here at the desk.”

“Oh, we’re not loicensed to do cash exchange,” he explained. “Have the cabbie take ya to the ATM joost aroond the corner dere.” While Michael went on with the taxi driver, I stayed in the lobby with the man in uniform. His nametag read “Ian.”

“So where are ya froom?” Ian asked me.

“From the States,” I replied.

“Yes, but where in the States?”

“We live in Georgia, not too far from Atlanta.”

His eyes grew twice their size. “I’ve been near dere, in Tennessee. Ya see, I loove me some roockabilly music, Elvis Presley and sooch. Seen Nashville and de Gran’ Ol’ Opry. Dere’s even a Belfast in Tennessee, ya know.”

“I didn’t know that! Isn’t Nashville a great town? My husband’s sister used to live there,” I said. “And I happen to be an Elvis fan myself.”

“Aye, yes. The music is grand. Even got me a couple of rebel flag tattoos on me arms.” He paused. “Would ya care to see ‘em?”

I had been conversing with this Irishman for 2 minutes, and he wanted to show me his Confederate ink. I was so eager to see the piece of Southern culture on his arms, I practically rolled his sleeves up for him.

“Dis one’s joost the flag,” Ian explained, showing his left bicep. There, in the dimness of the lobby, I saw the Stars and Bars, waving in an imaginary breeze, on an Irishman’s arm.
“Woah,” was all I could say.

“And on the odder side, I’ve got the Tasmanian devil holdin’ the flag.” He rolled down the left sleeve and rolled up the right one. He wasn’t lying. Looney Tunes’ version of the Tasmanian devil snarled with the Battle Flag in his hand. I couldn’t help but laugh.

“I’m in awe,” I told Ian. “I never thought I’d see this in Ireland!”

“Aye. But it shoos my loove for yer American rockabilly and blue grass. It’s good stoof, and it’s all dere in Tennessee.”

Michael appeared at the hotel door, looking to be let in again. Ian unlocked the door, and I roped Michael into our conversation. “Ian here has been to the States to visit music country up in Nashville. And he has rebel flag tattoos.”

Michael gave me a look that said, ‘Just how long was I gone?’ But Michael knows no stranger and eased right into the topic with Ian. The three of us talked for another twenty minutes about music and culture as other residents of the hotel came in and out of the lobby. Ian had to man the door for each one of them, but he didn’t once stray from conversation with us. We didn’t want to keep him from his duties too long, so we thanked him for the pleasant conversation and bid him good night. We took the stairs up to our quaint little room. This time, though, we knew how to get the lights to come on.

No comments:


Related Posts Plugin for WordPress, Blogger...