It was Monday, after 5, and our last day in Ireland.
We zipped along for about 10 miles toward Dublin on one of the few stretches of true highway in Ireland. And, of course, whenever you have true highway, you know that true construction is just around the corner. And it was. So it was crawl and creep and bumper-to-bumper and temporary signs that pointed every which way for M4 and M1 and N1 a bunch of other road names that all looked the same at high speed. We had purchased an actual map of Dublin so we figured we were much better off than when we had driven in the first day. We figured wrong.
We got into the city, but it was damn near impossible to figure out where we were on the map. As mentioned eons ago, there aren’t any street signs, and the street names change every couple of blocks anyway. Even keeping our eyes peeled and knowing kind of where we were, we got lost several times before finally making it back to our hotel.
Our package deal had included 6 nights at a nice Dublin hotel, so we had left half our stuff there while we drove around Ireland. It was, thankfully, all still in the room when we got back. We tossed our luggage on the beds and hurried out to enjoy our last night in Ireland.
By now we knew where we were going without a map – back to Grafton Street for some last minute, desperate shopping. But it was around 7, and most of the shops were closed that Monday night.
We found an open music store and bought some compilation CDs of traditional Irish music, which turned out to be lousy. I also picked up a CD for Gwen of a pop Irish singer whom we had heard on the radio that day. Can’t believe I remembered the song lyrics, or that the helpful, multi-pierced, blue-haired young woman who waited on me actually knew whom I meant!
The Trinity College store was closed, so no hoodie as planned for Liz. There was a very brightly lit, everything- green tourist store that was open until 8, so we ducked in and picked up a few things before they kicked us out.
Starving by now, we wandered down the dark, narrow streets looking for a place for dinner. We settled on Italian.
I know, I know! Our last night in Ireland should be all about black pudding and mutton, but I didn’t put up too much of a fight when Lib suggested this dimly lit, sophisticated little place. We got a table by the window, dropped our packages on the floor, and our tired bottoms into the chairs and ordered some wine.
Remember that commercial that has the girl friends reminiscing over their instant coffee about the hunky waiter they met on their trip “What was his name? Oh yes” they cry in unison, “Jean Luc!” And they elbow one another while giggling suggestively, all the while keeping their cups of instant coffee prominently displayed?
Well that’s the kind of waiter we had. Except his name wasn’t Jean Luc since our hunk was from Spain, not France. I can’t remember his name, actually. Was it Jesus Luc? He was a charming, dark haired Latin lover type – very interesting, which was surprising. Usually someone who is blessed with model-like looks doesn’t bother to develop any other attributes like humor or charm – they don’t need to. He told how he had lived in many countries, usually those that speak English or Spanish. He liked to move every couple of years so he could experience as much of the world as possible. He had lived in New York, and had traveled across the US to California.
We split a salad and an entrée – I don’t remember what, but it was good. Then we gathered our bags and headed out into the night in search of craic, with a fond look back at Gorge Luc, or whatever.
So you may see Lib and I elbowing one another over our flavored coffees and simpering “what was that waiter’s name?” Except neither of us remembers it, so that’s the end of that commercial.
Any tourist to Dublin has to visit the Temple Bar area – that’s where the nightlife is. Or so we heard. So we moseyed down with only a few references to the map. There were taverns, bars, clubs and pubs all jammed together. The joint was jumping and it was past 9 on a Monday! We found a pub with a singer and somehow snagged a couple of stools right next to the guy. After getting a pint o Smithwicks for Lib and a snifter of Irish Mist for me, we were all set up.
The singer was probably in his late 50s. He played the guitar and sang a mix of Irish and American songs, some Bob Dylan, some traditional. He was really good. One song was a combination of 2 songs that included “Hey Sinner Man” – remember that from Camp Oak Hills? At the break I told him I knew that song. He wasn’t impressed. We asked for Danny Boy and he said, “I won’t play that shite!” In retrospect he sounds like a jerk, but he was kind of funny, and the man could sing.
We were quite a distance away from our hotel by now – more than a mile. I figured that we could take the bus back. They stopped running around 11:30, however, so we had to get going. So after a few beverages we picked up purses, packages and coats and headed out into the inky night.
I was pretty sure I knew what number bus would take us close to the hotel. The only problem was, I didn’t know where to pick it up. So we started walking south and east, looking at every bus stop for the right number. We weren’t having any luck. I thought the street by Trinity College had all the bus stops so we headed over there. By this time, we both had to go to the bathroom, rather urgently. We walked south on College St. Still no luck. Then we headed north. That was the opposite of the direction we needed to go, but I figured one of the many bus stops HAD to be ours.
We figured we could find a pub and use the bathroom, and we would miss the last bus. Or keep walking to try to find the correct bus stop and hold on until the hotel. The choice was taken out of our hands, however, because there weren’t any pubs or open businesses anywhere in sight. Just miles of dark streets, punctuated by thousands of bus stops, none of them the one we needed. There were only a few people on the quiet street – Dublin had closed up for the night.
“Weren’t you scared?” you ask, like that toady in those great old Commander McBragg cartoons. But we weren’t scared. Not us. Maybe it was because we felt a kinship with the sleeping city. Maybe we too wrapped up in our emotional goodbyes to even think of danger? Well, kinda. But mostly we had to pee so badly, we couldn’t think of anything else.
Every step was agony; every fiber of our beings concentrated like a laser beam on not soiling ourselves. Poor Lib was crying yellow tears. With real Christian charity I did not comment on the wisdom (or lack thereof) of certain persons downing way too many pints at the pub. I wasn’t much better off myself. It looked like we might wrap up our magical visit to the olde country by baptizing the streets of Dublin.
We found the right bus stop with minutes to spare. The old #71 came out of the mist like a hero out of a legend, riding up to rescue us two damsels in (bladder) distress. We caught the last bus of the night. Our ordeal was not over, however, as we keenly felt every bump. But the good old #71 was swift and true. I recognized the stop just 2 blocks before our hotel and we hopped out and walked as quickly as possible toward the welcoming lights, discussing tactics. Was there a public restroom in the lobby, did Lib remember? Would we have to go all the way up to our room on the 4th floor? Could we make it down that long corridor?
As we turned into the driveway, we saw there was a bus stop right in front of the building. I hadn’t noticed that one before. Sorry! Lib only beat me half-heartedly with her shopping bags, as she didn’t want to slow the pace.
Delicacy prevents me from going into much detail. Suffice it to say we made it in time. (Note to Burlington Hotel: Have you considered the wisdom of placing restrooms at the FRONT of the lobby, instead of way in the BACK, down a twisting hall by the conference rooms? I mean, really!)
Back in the room we got showered, packed and hopped into bed because our flight left before 9 in the morning. We lay in our twin beds talking about our experiences until we forced ourselves to get to sleep.
The next day we were up early and in our little rental car with the dawn. We hadn’t much time and had to assume the worst about Dublin traffic. We had conferred with the concierge on the best way to get to the airport, had studied the maps and were pretty confident we knew where we were going. The road ran parallel with one of the canals and there was a swan swimming in one. Traffic was already heavy and we were stopped by a traffic light every block or so. We decided to take the tunnel that ran from Dublin Harbor, under the city and out most of the way to the airport. It was a little hairy over by the docks with the big trucks and roundabouts every block, but what a difference a week makes! We were as cool as natives by now – Lib navigating and me driving. We made it around the airport and back to the Hertz lot without mishap. We zipped through the car check-in process and were seated on the Hertz minibus to the airport with time to spare.
What happened next was all my fault. As the little bus bumped over the potholes and around the construction cones on the way to the terminal (is every airport always under construction??), I thought: “That was easy! No mix-ups or delays, no car accidents on the way to the airport, no huge traffic delays. We’re going to get there with plenty of time to relax and have some breakfast, maybe look around the duty free shops.” I may even have said that aloud! Of course, you can’t thumb your nose at The Fates like that without paying. My arrogance jinxed everything.
We were dropped off at the curb, tipped our driver and wheeled our bags into the terminal. As she walked, Lib was looking through her stuff with increasing urgency. She stopped dead on the sidewalk at the door
“I don’t have my bag”. Lib pronounced with white-faced calm.
She actually had quite a few bags, as far as I could see, but what she meant was a small, thin, black envelope of a bag that she had worn round her neck for the whole trip. Not important except that it held her money, her credit cards, and her PASSPORT!
The important thing was to remain calm.
Actually, the really important thing was to FIND THE FRIGGIN’ BAG!
We wheeled up to the Hertz counter where 3 young men were trying to hustle customers. We explained our plight to one guy who put a call in to the lot office. He gave a description of the bag and the car we had just dropped off. I remembered that an idiot light had gone on that last day so the inspector was planning to send it in to the shop.
I went for a cup of coffee and we hung around the Hertz desk, trying not to think of the chances that the car had been sent off-site to be repaired, that the bag was somewhere in the car, that nobody had stolen it and the contents. One possible outcome would be that she would get her bag and passport back, but we might miss our flight. Would we end up like that Tom Hanks movie where he lives in the airport? I was wondering what sisterly loyalty required of me – should I stay here with Lib? Or was it every girl for herself, and come and visit me when you get back to the states?
Apparently The Travel Fates just wanted to have a spot of fun with us, not really mess us up, because after only about ½ hour, the helpful young counterman dashed out to the minibus platform and returned, Lib’s bag in hand. Everything was there! We weren’t going to miss our flight!
Lib gushed her thanks “I could just kiss you!” Now, this may have been merely an expression, but I don’t think so. Lib was, by this time, a bundle of nerves. And, after a week in country, a good 25% of her body fluids had been replaced with Smithwicks. She was also full of Quiet Man-induced lust hormones and her young rescuer was quite cute.
He smiled charmingly and diplomatically said, “That would be grand, but then all the other blokes would get jealous.” So she gave him a tip instead and we were on our way.
Lib was all for dashing straight to the gate, but I said we had plenty of time, and we still had to deal with the VAT.
As previously mentioned, Ireland seniors get pensions, free heat, phones and such. The unemployed get the dole. And it’s not cheap for the government to buy out the bankrupt Waterford plant so that they can give 250,000 Euros in severance pay to all the workers. To fund all these glorious schemes, they have a sales tax of around 21% (listen up, you Obama lovers) called the VAT.
Here’s how it works. If you live in a European Union country, you have to pay the tax on just about every good sold and service rendered. But that wouldn’t be fair to us Americans, because we’re not going to reap the harvest of EU socialism. So, in the interest of trade parity, we’re entitled to a refund on the tax we paid on goods (just goods, not food and services) that we’re taking out of the country. Several stores told us to keep our receipts and apply for the refund at the airport.
How hard could it be?
VAT stands for Very Annoying to Tourists.
Turns out there are several vendors who handle the VAT refunds. And they are not interchangeable. You have to identify, locate and deal with the specific vendor who handles the particular receipt you have. It was kind of like a treasure hunt, except without all the fun!
We found the first desk pretty handily, and the line wasn’t long. We were clutching fists-full of receipts but this place only handled one of mine. I filled out a form and got my refund of a whopping 3.23 euros. We didn’t know where to go next. The woman behind the counter had no idea where in the airport we had to go to get refunds for the other receipts. Yeah. Right. We discovered one kiosk two doors down from her, but apparently she had never noticed it before while working there EVERY DAY.
The next place had a long, long line so we skipped over it. We found the next vendor who didn’t have an actual counter with a body, surly or otherwise. They used a couple of little machines that looked like arcade games that electronically scan your receipts and credit your charge card. We approached this line to find out 2 of the 3 machines were out of service. There was another long line for the only working machine. It appeared “working” was a relative term, given the language emanating from the mouth of the person trying to get his refund processed.
By now Lib was tugging my arm out of my socket. “We have to get going – they said to allow plenty of time for customs and check in!”
“OK, OK” I consented with bad grace as we picked up the pace toward the international part of the terminal. I tried to slow down to at least catch a glimpse of the wonderful perfumes and luscious chocolates in the duty-free shops, but Lib seemed to resent even this bit of moseying, towing me like a tug with a barge. But, as occasionally happens, she was right.
We came around the corner to a huge, snaking line for customs forms. We found the tail of the snake and joined the queue. By this time there were about 40 minutes until our flight and the line didn’t seem to be moving very fast. But we got the forms completed, and were heading down the stairs with 15 minutes to spare. I was kidding Lib about worrying too much when we got to the bottom of the stairs.
Have you ever been to Disney World? You know how there’s a long line for Splash Mountain, but it doesn’t look too bad and it’s moving, so you join in? And its only after you’ve already traveled through miles of the line, and you’ve got 20 minutes invested in the process, that you turn a corner and discover that was just the antechamber of the line. The esophagus, if you will. Now you’re entering the belly of the beast, and there’s a whole gut full of line, folded back on itself like a huge, heaving mass of intestines. And the powerful muscles push you through, helpless as you make your way, oh so slowly, to your goal. There’s no way out except forward now. And you pray you don’t encounter an obstruction – a polyp in the process.
Apparently the same guy who designed the deceptive line system at Disney World had a hand in the Dublin Airport. Because we rounded a corner at the bottom of the stairs, expecting to come out at our gate, only to see the REAL line for customs. The Big Kahuna of lines. And there were no fun animatronics telling the story of Brer Rabbit to while away the time while you waited. We were so screwed. There was no way we were getting through this in time.
We slowly wended our way through the line. A bored looking woman in a Continental uniform called several names from a list of soon-to-be-departing flights, including ours. We raised our hands thankfully, sure we were going to be plucked from the line to make our flight. But she barely glanced at us; just checked our names off her list and went back out of the mass of humanity.
The guy at the customs booth was American, which I guess makes sense because we were applying to come back into the country. He passed us through and it was time to pull an O.J. Simpson. As in that commercial where he runs through the airport, not the part where he murders his wife.
We arrived, breathless, at the gate, the last passengers but for one desperate man waiting for his wife. The same sour-faced Continental employee who had tagged us in line was standing by the door and she said, in tones of utter indifference “Well, it looks like you’re going to make it after all.”
Yes! We had passed through the line, through the colon and had finally reached the asshole!
We got strapped safely into our miniscule economy class seats and smiled at one another, exhausted but happy. I’m so thankful that Lib had the inspiration to take this trip, and the determination to talk me into going with her. She was a wonderful travel companion. I couldn’t think of anyone with whom I would rather share the adventure.
The plan banked over the coast and we watched the lovely mountains of Connemara give way to the shore and then the ocean as we headed back to America. But little bits of our souls will always be there, among the rocks and green hills of our ancestral home.