Tuesday, July 12, 2022

Third Schedule Lucky Irish Charm

Travel around Ireland has long been on my travel bingo card. In December of 2019, after much research and budgeting, I booked a tour called Enchanting Emerald Isle. I bought round trip plane tickets for Dublin Ireland. Everything successfully planned, Chad and I looked forward to our nine day trip all around Republic of Ireland in June of 2020. Hahahahahahahahahahahahahahahaha!

In late April of 2020, I got a voicemail from a man with a lovely British accent informing me that my Enchanting Emerald Isle tour needed to be rescheduled due to the global pandemic. I also got a real loosey goosey email from Delta letting me know that the flight to Dublin was canceled, and that I had a year to use the credits for that flight. So I phoned the man with the lovely British accent, and we postponed the reservation for the Enchanting Emerald Isle tour from June of 2020 to June of 2021, when the world would surely be up and running again. Hahahahahahahahahahahahahahahaha!

In late April of 2021, I called and emailed the man with the lovely British accent, wondering if his company still existed, and if we should reschedule Enchanting Emerald Isle tour for June of 2022? After a few suspenseful days, he got back to me. Yes, the company still existed. Yes, we have to push the reservation for Enchanting Emerald Isle tour back again. Sometime during 2021, I received another loosey goosey email from Delta that my travel credits for that canceled flight to Dublin extended through December 31, 2022, because laws. Hoping for the best in 2022, but trying to remain flexible, I shrugged and crossed my fingers. Hahahahahahahahahahahahahahahaha! 

Finally! It happened! In June of 2022, Chad and I went on the Enchanting Emerald Isle tour all over Republic of Ireland. It was everything I dared to hope it would be. There were also several hiccups, because COVID-19 isn't done reinventing itself yet, and the airlines are woefully understaffed.

Buckle up, buttercup! It's travelogue time! (Sorry if that sounded aggressive. I mean for it to sound familiar and playful with just a little tinge of foreshadowing that not everything goes as planned, like ever, but especially the past few years.)

Cliffs of Moher: a preview

Leading up to our departure date, I triple-checked our passport expirations, our vaccination cards, our reservation with the pet-sitters, and our flight arrangements. I did all the anxious things I do before a trip out of the country, such as sending a detailed travel itinerary to my best friend, my nicest neighbor friend, and Chad's mom. I made sure that the pet-sitters knew who should look after our cats in case of our untimely demise. (Hi, my name is Jennifer. I have anxiety. I choose to sublimate my catastrophizing with planning for disasters and communication of those plans.) I made sure that Chad and I packed extra socks and extra underwear. I told Chad we had to get to the airport four hours before our flight. He knew I was anxious, and did not argue. 

On our travel day, we made it to the airport very early. We checked in for our flight with ease. We made it through airport security in under thirty minutes. Everything was going smoothly. Hahahahahahaha! Then I got a text from Delta informing me that our flight from Austin to Atlanta was delayed by fifty minutes. What that text did not say was that delay meant we would miss our flight from Atlanta to Dublin, so good luck with that. I noticed that Delta had another flight from Austin to Atlanta set to begin boarding soon. As calmly and kindly as I could, I approached the gate for that earlier flight. I asked the gate agent if she could help me switch to that flight, or if I needed to go to a different service desk.  I explained my flight delay situation. The gate agent calmly and politely explained that the earlier flight to Atlanta was very full, and very unlikely to accommodate us. I said I understood. I said we could rebook our connecting flight to Dublin once we got to Atlanta if it came down to that. The gate agent took our names, and added us to the standby list. Did you catch the running themes here? Calmly. Kindly. Politely. 

Ten minutes later, the gate agent paged our names. She said we could squeeze onto the earlier flight, and warned us that the seats were not good: middle seats across the aisle from each other on the back rows by the bathroom; not the Delta Comfort Plus we paid for on the later flight. "I understand. Thank you so much. That's fine as long as we make our connection," I said. Then that superstar gate agent went above and beyond. She asked for our luggage claim stickers. She went out in the 105 degree Fahrenheit heat, on that even hotter tarmac, and physically made sure that our bags got on the same flight as we did. Thank you, Pamela from Delta! I submitted a rave review for Pamela on the Delta website. I hope Delta gives her a raise. 

We made it to Atlanta. We made our connecting flight to Dublin. On that flight to Dublin we enjoyed the Delta Comfort Plus seats very much. We arrived in the Dublin airport at 10:05 the next morning, local time. So very jet lagged and bleary eyed, we made it through customs, found a taxi and made it to the first hotel where we would meet up with the other members of our tour group later in the evening. Ta-da!

Chad and I knew we couldn't check-in to our hotel until 3:00 PM local time, so we stashed our bags with the front desk and got a taxi to nearby Malahide Castle and Gardens to begin our Irish sight-seeing adventures. The taxi driver asked if we wanted to walk the nature trails around Malahide Castle, or be dropped off at the visitor center. We opted to walk part of the 4.5 kilometer Malahide Castle Demesne Sylvan Trail first. When we left home the day before, Austin temperature reached 105 degrees Fahrenheit / 40 degrees Celsius. The temperature at Malahide that day provided such sweet relief at 59 degrees Fahrenheit / 15 degrees Celsius. The path was shady, with plenty of flora lining the edges. After a bit of relaxed wandering, we found the 800 year old castle. It did not disappoint!

Malahide Castle Main Entrance

Malahide Castle Backside

Malahide Church Ruins

Malahide Fairy Garden Entrance / West Lawn

Malahide Pond in Walled Garden

These photos are only a small fraction of the beauty of the gardens, grounds and butterfly greenhouse habitat that we experienced at Malahide Castle. We got rained on a bit, but we weren't upset by it at all! Rain, cool temperatures, and lush greenery are big parts of why we wanted to visit Ireland!

Around 3:30 local time, we got a taxi back to our hotel so we could check-in and freshen up before meeting the other members of our tour group for dinner. The first hotel (not going to name it) was not that nice, in a worn carpet, frumpy way. I was perplexed by our small room with two twin beds, stale air and dusty ambience. This is a four star hotel in Ireland? Luckily we only had one night there, and the staff were friendly and helpful. 

The majority of the other members of our group were traveling together from Holyhead, Wales. The majority of the other members of our group were British. And all of the other members of our group were retired, except for me and Chad, as our tour guide jovially announced upon meeting us the first night. Our tour guide, Richard, thanked us for bringing down the average age of the group. Nowhere in any of the booking details does it say that these tours are for retired people, but apparently retired people self-select for these tours. Oh no! Did I commit Chad and myself to nine days of rambling around Ireland with a bunch of slow, cranky septuagenarians? Hahahahahahahahahahahahahahahaha!

Spoiler alert: The retired people on our tour were (for the most part) extremely friendly, inclusive, fun, and ready to explore Ireland at a fast pace! We were all (or mostly all) great friends by the end!

Tune in later (I'm not committing myself to a schedule) for all the Ireland tour travels.