30 April 2014

Conserving Electricity

I have no idea how electricity is generated in Ireland. Coal was the thing in Fairbanks, and in Norway they had hydropower. Maine was mostly hydropower, too, I think. However they generate electricity here, things are set up to make it easy for people to use less of it.

We’re told that electricity is expensive. We will soon see, I guess. It was very expensive in Maine, so I am curious to see how it compares. During the four years we lived in Maine, we lived in two different apartments on opposite sides of town. In the first apartment, we were told that the electricity we would pay included the hot water for all three apartments as well as the security light. We paid lower rent to make up the difference. Our electric bill ranged from $25-30 per month. We knew that the landlady was very environmentally conscious and had done some stuff to all three apartments to make them more energy efficient and I’m sure the water heater was an energy efficient model.

We ended up leaving that place and camping for a couple of months before moving into the apartment in which we lived for 3 1/2 years. We noticed that the electric bill was significantly higher right from the start--it now hovered around the $50 mark. We wondered how it was that our bill was double what it had been. This apartment was smaller in terms of square footage and there were still the same three people using electricity in the same ways. I knew that rates had gone up in the two months we were camping, but it seemed unrealistic to suppose that this accounted for the entire increase. By the time we left, in spite of our minimal use of electricity and our conscious efforts to conserve, our bill was $78--for a small, 2-bedroom apartment.

It’s been interesting here to look at how things are set up to help people use less. The first thing we noticed while we were in the B and B was that every outlet has an on/off switch. I wondered whether that was just some kind of special thing there, but we have the same thing throughout the apartment. If there is an appliance that is wired directly, there’s an on/off wall switch for that--so our washing machine has one and the dryer has one. I am getting used to turning off something--like the electric kettle or the washing machine--and then turning off the electricity at the wall, too.

The shower has it’s own little water heater. There are no outlets in the bathroom at all, so to turn on the power to the shower, we have a red switch--sounds like a circuit breaker kind of thing. We flip that on and then when we get in the shower, we can turn it on and off from there. The stove/oven has the same kind of thing--before I turn anything on, I flip the red switch and when I’m done, I flip it off. There are still times that I forget to flip the wall switch on and I stand there wondering why something does not work.

The main water heater is in a closet in the hallway and there is a timer on the hallway wall. There’s a switch that allows us to turn the water heater off completely or to have it on a timer. The timer is set to go on during time of off-peak energy times, which start in the middle of the night and end in the morning. I am not sure whether this changes, but at the moment, we move to peak time at 9 am. There’s a dial for us to set the current time, depending on whether it’s summer time or winter time (summer time is what it’s called when they “spring forward” here, which happened on March 30 this year). There is also a “2-hour boost” dial, which we could use if we needed hot water in a hurry for some reason. I do not know when we would use this because we have more hot water than we need--and it is VERY hot. As it was explained to us, there are two coils in the tank--one on top and one on the bottom. If we used the booster button, the top coil would come on and heat the water in the top of the tank. This would be during peak hours, though, and would be more expensive.

There are electric heaters in the hallway and each room. The one in the bathroom has a switch in the hall and a string to pull when you want it on. It’s designed to provide heat when you want it. the others are wall-mounted with timers. These will also be set to come on during off-peak hours. They will store heat, which will then dissipate through the day. I believe there is something similar to the booster dial on the heaters too, which would be used if we were in need of more heat right away. As with the water heater, this would be during peak hours. The apartment consists of a central hallway with each room opening onto that hallway--and each room has a door. So we will be able to close doors to keep the heat (or cooler air, if we decide not to turn on a heater in that room) in each room.

I’m paying attention to how the sun comes in the windows, because in Maine, a good part of our heat came from us opening the curtains and blinds in the living room and our bedroom and letting the sun shine in! Right now we have the sun coming in the sitting room windows in the morning and then moving around to the back and coming through the kitchen window and those of one of the bedrooms. We aren’t using many lights at the moment, because it’s light when we get up and it stays light until 9:30ish at night. I think that in the height of summer, it will be light until after 11. The flip side is that in the winter it gets light late and gets dark early (yay!).

The fridge is large for here, but tiny by US standards. Most of the pictures of places we looked at showed under-the-counter fridges. The one we have is not that small and has a freezer on the bottom--it’s all drawers. I would have made do with a small fridge that sits under the counter, but I must admit I am glad to have the one I do--it’s a decent size and with the freezer I will be able to stock up on fish, bread, and other stuff when it’s on sale. There is enough room in the fridge section. And because it’s not as huge as those in the US, it saves energy--it hardly runs at all. The one I had in my kitchen in Maine was running all the time. On a related note, I have not seen super-sized bags and packages of frozen or other foods in the grocery stores. I did see turkeys featured in Tesco before Easter, which is a huge deal here. I considered buying one and then realized that I probably would have a hard time fitting it in the freezer and the oven, which is also small! The flip side is that in my local Super Valu, they still have frozen turkeys available and they are the smallest frozen turkeys I have ever seen. They would not cut the ice at Thanksgiving in the US. I remember last fall when there were news stories about the dearth of large turkeys. These scrawny birds must not be pumped full of the same kinds of growth-inducing chemicals as US birds.

The oven is not a stand-alone appliance, but is installed in the row of cabinets. It is, apparently something called a “fan oven.” I am not sure if this is the same as a convection oven. It is small. That seems to be another strategy for energy conservation--make stuff smaller! The washing machine is a front-loader that sits under the counter. The dryer sits next to it. One of my personal ways of conserving energy is simply not to use the latter. I haven’t used a dryer in 30 years, except when we were on our big road trip a few years ago and had to use the ones in the laundromats. I am not alone! There are clotheslines all over the place around here and people use them. There was a laundry rack in the water heater closet when we arrived and they were featured prominently at the end of an aisle in the Oranmore Tesco.

All of these things seem very practical and sensible to me--the smaller appliances, the outlet switches, the electric shower, the timers, the clotheslines, laundry racks, and the layout of the apartment with the doors to regulate air flow.  As someone who is always trying to use fewer resources, they all make things much easier!

29 April 2014

Don't Choose Number 5!!

It was our first full day in our new flat. We’d moved in the day before, and although I had some laundry that needed to be done, by the time we went and bought bedding, pillows, towels, and groceries, I just didn’t feel like doing it. We made our bed and unpacked a little, saving the rest for the next day. After we got everything unpacked, there was a little bit more laundry--stuff I’d packed without having time to wash. It was about 3:15 when I started the first load. Turns out that the under-the-counter front loader is very small, so I figured I could do one load and then another one. I stood there looking at the front of the machine and tried to decide how best to proceed.

The previous tenants had left laundry detergent, so I got that in the machine along with the clothes. I chose 20 degrees because I wanted to be environmentally friendly and that was the lowest temperature available to me--things went beyond hot, warm, or cold and I could choose a temperature anywhere between 20 and 90 degrees. Next to that dial is one that has numbers ranging from 400-1200. I had no idea what on earth that was for, so I decided to leave it on the 1200, where the last user had set it. Then it was time to ponder my options 1-15 plus extras, having to do with types of clothing--cotton, synthetic, wool, shirts, among others! I chose #5--cotton 20--because it matched my desire to have the temperature at 20 and I did have mostly cotton stuff in there, I supposed. I should hasten to say here that while a manual of some kind would have been helpful, I had not been able to find one, so I was winging it.

I turned the knobs and pressed the appropriate buttons and the machine started. This was a good first step. It seemed odd that I could not choose a number of minutes for the wash cycle, but I figured it’d be done when it was done. I was eager for this moment of completion to arrive, because I was completely exhausted and wanted nothing more than to be finished for the day so I could have a lovely couple of cups of coffee and maybe crochet while listening to a podcast or something.

After half an hour, I began to get concerned. Was the machine broken or had the electronic timers failed in some way? There seemed to be no progress in the process. Some water had been pumped into the machine and then it started rotating. Clockwise a few times. Stop. Click. Counter-clockwise a few times. Stop. Click. Clockwise a few times. Stop. Click. You get the idea. This went on for the first half hour and the next half hour. I thought if I had to listen to that click and reverse one more time, my mind was going to snap. It was driving me crazy! Rotate, Stop. Click. Rotate. Stop. Click. Rotate. When would this end? There were several more cycles to go--rinse, spin, pump-out--before we got to the blessed “end.” The light for the wash cycle was still lit after an hour and I sat here trying to hold the pieces of my mind together as we watched and listened to, “Rotate. Stop. Click. Rotate.” We started to ponder what we would do with a load of wet clothes in a broken front loading washing machine.

I could stand it no longer and I jumped up in search of some kind of book to help me. Finally, with great relief, on the top shelf of a corner cabinet in the back, I felt a plastic bag. I pulled it out, saw various bits of hardware and tools, and an instruction manual. I began to read.

Bill had fled to the bathroom and when he came out, I informed him that the machine was not stuck, nor was it broken. The cycle I’d selected--#5--takes 170 minutes to complete. Yup, that’s right--almost 3 hours to do a tiny little load of clothes. We still had about an hour and a half of, “Rotate. Stop. Click. Rotate.” left to listen to, but at least we knew that it would end. We ate supper. I told Bill, “Well, this explains the fact that there are settings for fastwash 60 and fastwash 30, plus a separate time saver button (this, I learned, only cuts the time in half).

Needless to say, by the time the first load was done, I had had enough and I put off the rest until the next day, when the fastwash setting--number 11--was my setting of choice. The dial that goes from 400-1200 appears to have something to do with how fast the thing spins. From the book, which I now keep on a shelf within easy reach, it seems that I can just keep it where it is and that seems like the best idea.

I will never choose #5 again.

I did laundry just this morning. I was looking at the dryer for some reason and saw that it suggested 95-120 minutes for a load of cotton clothing. Between the wash and the dry, it would take 5 hours to do a tiny load of wash!!! I hang stuff on the rack in the extra room with the window open. Since today is sunny (so far) and breezy, most of the load went out onto the clothesline and is already dry.

26 April 2014

"I am a Podunkian"

I am typing this on Friday evening and the week ends with visible progress! Perhaps this is because we started off the day by embracing the experience. Bill woke up feeling a little grumpy about the bank. After a few minutes of grumbling, he declared, “Here I am in Podunk, Ireland. I am a Podunkian.” Now, “I am a Podunkian” is exactly the kind of statement that will send me off into fits of laughter--especially in the pre-coffee hours of the morning. When I stopped laughing, I told him that I would be a Podunkian, too. As I have every day for the past two weeks I thought about how this is my Northern Exposure experience--much more so than when I actually moved to Alaska. There was weird stuff going on there to be sure, and the show actually got some stuff right. Unlike the show, however, life in villages was frequently ugly and had a dark side. This isn’t ugly, although plenty of the history of the place is (as it is everywhere). With the exception of the problem of Bill’s blood test, which will be the hassle of the week for next week and has the potential to become serious, the rest of the stuff is just silly.

I keep remembering one scene from the first episode in particular. Joel, the culture-shocked doctor from NY is talking to Maurice, the rich guy who owns most of the town. He says, “...I’m not just some putz fresh off the caribou farm.” The thing is that with regard to the culture in which he found himself, he WAS some putz fresh off the caribou farm. He had no clue what was going on and he fought against the reality of it. I’m in the same position--I don’t know what is going on sometimes or why people are asking me questions that seem completely bizarre. I was unprepared, for example, to be asked several times why I wanted to open a bank account. Clearly my answer that I live here and need a local bank account to pay the bills was unacceptable. Since it was the reason and I had no idea what the correct answer was supposed to be from her point of view, I kept on repeating it. She kept repeating the question. Finally, one of us mentioned transferring money from one account in the US to this account in Ireland. That was the right answer, I guess, because that is what she wrote down. In my opinion (which does not matter in the least!) the process of opening this account was way more trouble than it needed to be for everyone, but it is what it is (and it is pretty comical, really). I can fight against it, wish it was otherwise, or accept it and experience it--then think about why and how things got this way and what it says about the culture--LOL. I guess I’ll choose the latter course as often as possible. I am always happiest when my mind is actively engaged in learning new things and there will be plenty of opportunity to do that in the months ahead!

The landlord called this afternoon. He asked me whether there were numbers on the keys, because he wanted to be sure to bring the right ones to Ballinrobe tomorrow. I got the keys and read off what was on each one. He told me that he was thinking life would be easier if we had another set. Indeed. After I repeated the info on each key at his request, he then said that he would come, get our keys, have new keys made, and bring all the keys to us. I told him that we could get the key made if we knew where to do it and if it was OK with him, since the lease says not to have keys made. He told us not to worry about the lease and that he gave permission. Then he told us where to get the key made. Now we don’t have to meet with him tomorrow or spend time looking for a key-making place next week, which we would have done had he not called.

On the way to the bank--after 3 as instructed--we stopped and had the key made. Then it was on to the bank where we “made the lodgement” (deposited money) into the account and she gave us all the info she says we’ll need to transfer money into this account. This appears to settle things on this end. Interestingly, when we walked in, the place was jammed. It was almost 3:30, I think, and they close at 4. There was one long line at the teller’s window and another, longer line at the ATM. We realized this was because they were about to close for the weekend and people were withdrawing the cash they’d need.

We both noticed when we got here that people always pay with cash in the store. Yesterday when we looked at the bank account fees, we understood why. There is a 20 cent charge every time you use the debit card for anything--ATM withdrawals, point-of-sale swipes, etc. If you do anything that requires communicating with a live human being, it’s 40 cent (they do not use plurals for “cent” and “euro” no matter how many of these are being discussed). So of course it makes sense for people to withdraw as much cash as they will need from the ATM, thus incurring one 20 cent fee rather than swiping the card and paying 20 cent for each swipe!

Bill decided to call Eircom last evening about internet service. Since the bank account looked like it could be settled, and we need that to do anything, he figured he could start gathering info. He went to the website at the library yesterday, but the live chat was unavailable, so he clicked around until he got a number to call. He talked to a guy named Mark, who said it would take 5-10 days for us to get service (Vodaphone would be 4-6 weeks). Mark told him that we need to have a bank account before we can proceed, so Bill told Mark that we started the process yesterday, but it wouldn’t be finalized until today. Mark went off to check with a supervisor to see if that would be good enough. While he was gone, Bill told me that he wanted to go with Eircom. His deciding factor was the 5-10 day wait instead of 4-6 weeks. Bill spends a lot of time online, reading news, looking at people’s photos, uploading his own photos and more. One of the benefits for me of never having time to look at anything online these days is that I have had a little news fast and I like it. There are segments of news on the radio, but they are very short and much more time is spent on covering sport (no plural there, either) than on actual news. I don’t mind this, but Bill really wants his internet connection!

Mark returned, having gotten permission to begin the process, so apparently a modem will be mailed to us. We know that the place is wired with Eircom stuff. We would have to wait and see if Vodaphone was available here--Ger, the guy at Vodaphone, wasn’t sure about that. I have my concerns about the quality of service. There were issues at the BnB and Bill can’t connect at the library--they use Eircom. On the other hand, we have read that internet service in rural Ireland is crappy anyway and we were unfortunate enough to have Comcast in Maine and they were terrible, so we’re well used to it and there’s probably not much we can do about it anyway. We’ll see how soon we can stop planning days around trips to the library, home to charge the battery, and back for round two of tag team computer use!

This morning in the weekly regional newspaper, we saw a blurb about a support group for people who have had a stroke. They meet in Castlebar (a bit north of us) but there were names and contact info so people could get more information. Bill is going to call these people to try and get suggestions about where to go for his blood test. It’s likely that someone in the group is taking warfarin and knows the system. We have found that people are quite friendly and eager to help. It is when they have to follow strange institutional rules that things get annoying. So we are hoping for an answer. If that’s no help, we have the bus schedule at the ready so we can go to Castlebar and present ourselves to a live person at the hospital there.

I am quite enjoying RTE Radio 1 weeknights between 10 and 11:30ish. There’s a different show on each night at 10. I came in on the tail end of a couple of them, but I will be sure to tune in from the beginning next week. Then at 11, there’s a short news break, then a book reading--15 minutes a night. I sit and listen and crochet--quite nice!

We got junk mail today. Here it is.

Why bother with printing addresses and all of that? Just stuff the unmarked envelope in every post box.

I have been reading a very interesting and comprehensive book called Ambiguous Republic: Ireland in the 1970s by Diarmaid Ferriter. It covers the cultural changes that took place in the country during that decade and it goes into depth about many aspects of culture and society, including politics, family issues, women’s rights, law, economics, the role of the Troubles and how that affected the Republic of Ireland, and a lot more. I am a little more than halfway through it, so there’s plenty more to go, but the first 400 pages have provided me with some context in which to place my current experiences, my thoughts about why things are as they are, and my observations about how things operate here. Some of it is quite amusing. I leave you with an anecdote that had Bill and I laughing this morning.

Ferriter talks about the smuggling problem in the 1970s and says that the differences in tax rates between northern Ireland and the Republic exacerbated the problem. He says, “Cars were being smuggled, but so were pigs, to the extent that in the period between spring 1976 and the autumn of the same year, pigs were being wheeled round and round the border until they were dizzy. There was an EEC subsidy to be gained from exporting pigs north. The loophole was that this subsidy was available every time the pigs went north. Consequently, the pigs were going north, collecting the subsidy, being smuggled south, and then being sent back north to collect the subsidy once again.” (p 353)

The way this is written makes me imagine a line of pigs at the border, each one with a hoof out, to collect their subsidy as they pass through a checkpoint.

Have a great weekend!

24 April 2014


Well, we keep marching along and making slight progress. We got the letter--2 of them, in fact--from Electric Ireland. One was addressed just to Bill and one had both of us on it. A short time ago, we stopped at the bank again. This was apparently STILL a potential problem. Yes, it was posted and delivered by the post office and it was from a utility company, but IT WAS NOT A BILL. The woman at the bank had to check with someone there about whether the letters would be sufficient. Then she had to call someone higher up than that to inquire. They allowed it and after waiting for a while so she could get this authorization, she invited us into the back to do the paperwork. There was a stack of it. She asked us several times why we wanted a bank account. This is actually a question on one of the gazillion forms. I had no idea what to say other than what I was repeating, "We live here and need a bank account." Finally I said, "We just want to pay the rent." LOL She ended up writing down that we wanted to transfer money from the US bank. Then came a series of questions for her to answer about whether we were coming from a high or very high risk country and whether we would be sending money to or receiving money from a high risk country. Just for the hell of it, knowing full well there would not be an actual answer, I asked her why it had to be a utility bill. She just repeated the policy to me. I understand the policy. I am just curious at what brilliant mind thought it up and why a lease isn't good enough--even a lease that had been mailed to us and delivered by the post office would have been inadequate. I am left to ponder the likelihood of people flocking to Ireland and signing fraudulent leases in order to deposit money in the bank. Perhaps there is a larger problem than I am aware of, but if so, you would think people would be able to articulate that. She couldn't. And like other people we have dealt with, it's not her fault. She was very nice, helpful, and friendly. She tried to answer my questions. She is just working in a rather silly and ridiculous system. In any case, we are still not done. We actually will not have a bank account until after 3 tomorrow, when we have to go back to the bank, ask for this person, lodge money in the account, and get account details. At that point, we can find out how best to transfer money from the US. I must say that this is not an experience that inspires confidence. We will be leaving the US account open with some money in it for the time being.

Before the bank we hit yet another brick wall with regard to getting info about where Bill can get his INR test, which is now several days past due. After not being able to find a person to speak to at the health clinic last week, we went by there the other day to be there when they opened, so Bill could speak to someone as they came in. She was not at all helpful, just telling him that they don't do that there and he needs to find a doctor. The thing is, before we left Maine, Nurse Joan sent Bill all the paperwork she thought he'd need so he could go somewhere here, have the test, and have the results sent back to her. She would call him and let him know what to do. However, we are unable to actually get any information about where to go to get this to happen. This morning we went to a doctor's office in the hopes that they could direct us, but there was no receptionist or anyone to talk to at all. This seems to be a theme. There is nothing else we can do today. Bill will try to call tomorrow and we will see what happens then. In the meantime, he is taking the same dose of the warfarin that he's been taking. He has never gone too high with that dose and the few times he's gotten too low, it has been on the borderline, so he's remained pretty steady. It has only been when he was at 1.8 (he's supposed to be between 2 and 3) and they've messed with the dose that he's gone too high. Being above  is a concern because there could be internal bleeding and stuff, I guess. Being too low means that the blood coagulates easier and he would be at risk for another stroke because of the a-fib. So I have made it a point to avoid serving Vitamin K rich foods and we proceed with his normal dose. If he cannot get any answers tomorrow, we will probably have to just go either to Castlebar or Galway and find a hospital. Presumably there will be someone there who can at least provide us with information. I can laugh at the foolishness at the bank and other evidence of podunkness, but I am not amused when we are dealing with Bill's health.

No progress on the internet connection front. We did not have these kinds of issues when we moved to Alaska in 1995--and that is actually pretty remote in many places.

Bill called the landlord today and spoke to him about getting another set of keys. We have not found a place where we can have these made and according to the lease, we are not allowed to do that anyway. We have, however, been told by more than one source that leases mean nothing in Ireland and no one feels obligated to abide by them. Yet another moment of mind-boggle. I would prefer to save the trees if they are not worth the paper they're printed on, but I don't run things around here--LOL. Anyway, he said he would be in town Saturday and would give us a call. I am not holding my breath.

We are about to go back home for lunch and to charge up the battery on my computer. The library is in an old church--the graves outside are from the 1800s--and there's no place to plug in. We can come back after that so Bill can try to get some of his photos uploaded. For some reason, his computer will not connect at the library.

The apartment is a bright spot among the bizarre and frustrating experiences we have whenever we venture outside to actually try and get things done. here are some photos of our little bright spot!

Suitcases unpacked and stowed away in the wardrobe of the extra bedroom! Yay!

Room with the rack is the extra bedroom and the room above is our bedroom. Below: Wardrobe and dresser in our bedroom, plant stand converted into yarn holder, and red bathroom.

Below: kitchen, dining area, and sitting room.

17 April 2014

Making Progress

Plowing ahead! I am sure many people in Ballinrobe will start to recognize us as the weirdo Americans who can be seen every day rushing around town with their backpacks. It’s quarter to 5 on Wednesday as I am typing this and we have just returned for the evening after doing exactly that once again and I think we have made some more progress!! We had to hang around a bit this morning because the bank did not open until 10:30. Then we went there and found out we couldn’t open an account, so we walked to the health clinic to find out where Bill could get his blood test. There was no one there to talk to--just a tiny waiting room with a couple of doors. One had a sign with a phone number to make appointments, so he wrote that down in the hopes that he could reach someone with some info that way and we came home for lunch.

The library opened at noon, so we headed that way. We both checked out books and we got a DVD about the Aran Islands. We still have 3 slots left on the library card! Then we headed over to Vodaphone. We had told the guy there that we’d be back today after we’d gotten our bank account. We didn’t want him to think we’d just abandoned him, lest he be working on commission, so we went in to tell him that we were unsuccessful in our bank account quest, but would return when we met with success. He went online and looked up “the best” number for us to call Electricity Ireland. He was very helpful. There is no reason for us to go with Eircom anyway, but Vodaphone would have the edge in my book, just because of how helpful this guy has been!!

We came home and Bill called Electricity Ireland. They had no record of us, the woman said. Off to the letting agent’s office, to see what we could find out. She was supposed to set things up, but if she hadn’t, we needed some number from her and a meter reading. For the latter, we would have to have a hint about where the meter is.

She was out, but Bill saw her rushing down the street in her stiletto heels. We waited. She ushered us in, holding her sandwich in one hand. We explained that we needed the letter from the utility to open the bank account. She said she’d done it this very day. We told her we’d called and they’d no record of us. “When was that?” she asked. “Ten minutes ago,” I replied. To the phone she went where she punched in a bunch of numbers and started eating her wrap. When a live person was on the line, she told him that she’d called earlier, there was no record, and we needed a letter ASAP to open a bank account. She gave him a bunch of numbers (guess that was what they wanted) and repeated her name a couple of times through a mouthful of cold cuts. Then she waved the receiver in our direction and said they needed to talk to William. While Bill chatted with the very helpful Electricity Ireland representative, the agent rolled her eyes and made a comment about the system being crazy. She was actually very helpful and I felt kind of sorry for her--I know how annoyed I get when I have to waste time and it must bug the crap out of her. Of course, if she had done this when she was supposed to, this episode could have been avoided. She said that after Bill left yesterday she realized that we would need the letter from the utility to open the bank account--I guess that’s what made her finally call nearly a week after we’d moved in.  Bill had to give the guy his date of birth--it’s not easy to remember that they do that in the following order here: day, month, year.

So a letter is going out via registered mail, according to the guy on the phone and we should have it within 3 days, if not Friday, he said. Bearing in mind that Monday is a bank holiday, we will hopefully have the letter in our hands within a week or so. Then we can try again at the bank.

After we left her office, we headed down to Tesco to get some groceries--I am slowly building up the supplies. We were greeted by a little dog whom we had talked to before. He was in his yard the first time, but this time, he’d escaped and was running toward us on the very narrow sidewalk with cars whizzing by. He wanted to play and kept following us. We tried to walk away and he just jogged along with us. We kept walking back to what we thought was his yard, which was gated and had chicken wire across the gate. Looks like some alternate plan is in order there. We finally lost him when someone pulled up in a minivan across the street--he went to greet them. It seemed like they were all acquainted--dog and people. I checked his collar to see if there was an address, though there are rarely house numbers anyway, so that wouldn’t have been very helpful, I guess. But from his tag, I learned that his name is Max. When we were on our way home, he was back in his yard and a bit more subdued.

Also on the way home, we saw the ice cream truck. We’ve heard it going by every day and I commented that it was funny that the song it plays is Yankee Doodle Dandy. Turns out the name of the truck is, “Americano.”

When we got home, we discovered that Tesco gave us a voucher for 38 cents to use on our next shopping trip. It said that today our groceries would have been 38 cents cheaper elsewhere, so they were making up the difference.

So we are home for the night and I am glad. It was a productive day. And I got to play with a cute little dog.

It’s now Thursday morning. I woke up thinking that these posts might have come across as a bit whiny. It is true that I have been annoyed and amazed at the way things are done--or more properly, not done. This has no doubt been exacerbated by the fact that my annual spring blahs have arrived right on schedule. Sometimes it helps to vent my frustrations. However, my primary reason for describing these experiences in such detail is that it is possible that someone else might be thinking about making the same kind of move, and if so, knowing what to expect might be helpful. For example, had we known about the bank thing, we could have made sure that we were in the Electricity Ireland system a week ago instead of prioritizing the lease agreement. We continue to wait in vain for the other set of keys, so it’s a good thing that we always go out together! One is a kind of skeleton key, so I am not sure that we could even have another one of those made. The deadbolt key could be copied if we can find a place to do it, so looking for a place to do that might be a project for next week. I know that in time we will get settled in and then be able to spend our time doing more productive and useful things. We will be able to explore the area and learn a lot of new stuff. We already know that we probably won’t stay in this apartment after our lease is up. It’s a shame, because I really like it, but we aren’t allowed to have pets. We decided that we would wait until we are more familiar with things here before getting a dog and possibly a cat, but we will want 4-legged-furry people around again and we won’t be able to do that here, so we will go to a place where we can adopt from a shelter. That might be in Ballinrobe and it might be somewhere else. Our future explorations will help us decide.

Since this is the last day I can post anything this week (the library is closed on Fridays, Sundays, and Mondays, and this week on Saturday too, because it’s Easter holiday), I wanted to end on a positive note. There is a lot that has been nice about being here.

When we come home after running around, it is always a great feeling to walk in the door. This is partly because I am a homebody, but it’s also because “home” is a nice place--the apartment is comfortable, quiet, and it has a good vibe. I like being here. The furniture is comfortable. I sleep really well too, which is great!

I have been here for 2 weeks and have not needed to take any allergy meds. I am completely surprised by this--I expected to be swallowing benadryl as soon as I walked out of the airport. The flowers are in bloom, shrubs and trees are blooming and leafing, there is grass growing on the ground and in the gutters. It is windy. I expected lots of pollen and lots of symptoms, but it hasn’t happened. I thought maybe the rain kept the pollen counts down, but there hasn’t been enough of it to make a difference. We had one outbreak of rain yesterday and a few sprinkles, but other than that, it hasn’t rained in several days. I do not know why I am not being laid low, but I am grateful for it! I do wonder whether the next point might have something to do with this, but I have no scientific evidence to say with any certainty.

We have access to high quality, affordable food here. In spite of what we had been told, we are finding that the food is no more expensive than it was in Maine and it’s possible that it is slightly cheaper overall. Because many of the chemicals and other crap that are allowed in the US are not allowed here, the food is better quality. I got some Irish organic yogurt with no sugar added--just the yogurt and blueberries--and it was the cheapest yogurt option in the store. I picked up some drinking chocolate yesterday so we could have a nice cup of cocoa and the ingredients are sugar, cocoa, and salt. It did not taste like chemicals. The sugar is not GM sugar. Most of what we buy is produce and that is highlighted and featured in the grocery stores. We have a fridge and counters full of fruit and veg. Healthy fish is available and affordable. Every time we leave the store, Bill says, “I can’t believe that’s all it cost! I always expect it to cost more!” It is nice to be able to get healthy, local, affordable food--many people all over do not have that luxury. There’s a produce market on Main St that I will have to check out sometime and a small Polish grocery down the street.

People here are friendly. The guy cleaning up the litter yesterday noticed Bill taking a photo and pointed out to him the mailbox across the street that has “VR” on it. This was apparently dedicated by Queen Victoria.

The library is small, but it’s a library. It appears that there is a decent collection of books about various aspects of Irish culture, history, and people. We’ve checked out a couple of them and will check out more in future. This collection will be a good resource. There’s also a bunch of fiction, which will be nice too. Some of the authors are familiar and some not. I checked out a novel by Donna Tartt yesterday, and there are plenty more books that look like they will be worth checking out. There will be opportunities to read work by authors I would not have had access to in the US.

Now that we have done what we can do to move things along and we are coming up on a holiday weekend here, I am looking forward to a quiet weekend spent mostly puttering around the flat. This is exactly my kind of thing! I will end this looong post on that positive note! Hope that wherever you are, your weekend is great!

16 April 2014

Shaking My Head

We have made some steps forward! Yay! Turns out that the letting agent attempted to upload a copy of our signed lease agreement to some website. I dutifully created a password, logged in and found...nothing. There was a 0 next to my name. There was no lease agreement to be found, no matter which of the two or three links we clicked on. Off we went to her office. I was frustrated and angry, so I waited outside. I did not trust myself to not say something I would regret. One thing is for sure, I am finding room for improvement in terms of trying to live in equanimity.

Bill went in because the door was slightly ajar--he paid no heed to the sign that said the office was closed between 1 and 2 for lunch. The office is on a corner and I stood there watching the spectacle of people trying to maneuver their vehicles through a weird intersection. I looked up and saw a large truck with the blinker on and I realized that he probably did not want to make the turn with me standing there--many trucks and cars just take the corner by going up on the curb (or kerb, as it’s spelled here, I guess). I walked around the corner and stood under an awning where I continued to watch the traffic. I recently read that Ireland is tied with Portugal for the most traffic accidents in western Europe. This does not surprise me in the least. What does surprise me--and I commented to Bill about this on about day 3--is that you do not see dented cars on the streets. They must get them fixed pretty quick.

Bill came out of the office and said that there was a copy of the lease down at the blue building across from the shoe store--some kind of gift shop. Apparently the shop is owned by the landlord’s sister or something like that. The agent had contacted the landlord by phone and told him that we needed a copy of the agreement. She also told him that we need another set of keys. He has plans to provide these “soon.” I do believe that I am seeing some of the “laid back” behavior some Irish folks have told me about. I wondered aloud to Bill what might happen if, instead of actually paying the rent when it’s due, I just said I would get to it “soon.” At least we now understand better what we are dealing with--and it’s nothing I have not dealt with before.

We got the lease and stood on the sidewalk looking at it to see of any contact info for the guy had been added. Nope. There was point after point about our responsibilities and what issues require us to contact the landlord, but there was no information on how to do that. Bill went back to the office. She looked up his number on her phone and wrote it down. I think that Bill was correct when he told me that she is now “in our rearview mirror.” Oddly enough, by then I felt the need to come to her defense. She could not believe the guy had not given us the hard copy or the keys, and had neglected to put contact info anywhere. She is not a laid back kind of person. I did not enjoy being around her, but I can see that being the kind of person she is, it must be difficult for her to deal with people who do not have the ability to get things done in a timely manner and/or who just don’t give a crap.

He also inquired about the internet while he was there the second time. The fact that it was listed as something that came with the apartment meant that the connection was there if we want to utilize it. There are many ways in which this is misleading and illogical, but I will save that for another post. I assumed that was the case, so it did not surprise or upset me in any way--I was just glad to have an answer.

We went home to talk about what to do next. Before coming upstairs, we stopped in at the flower shop around the corner where we were told we should deposit our garbage. We introduced ourselves to the owner (who is also a Burke) and she asked us who we were renting from. When we told her, she said, “Oh that’s alright then. Sure, just put your trash in our bins on a Tuesday morning or come down anytime and put it in the bins.” Then she took us out back and showed us which ones. At least that was an easy and straightforward answer. We are concerned, however, about the lack of recycling options--that is something we will have to look into if we ever get connected.

We came upstairs and had some water. We discussed internet options and decided to go to the Vodaphone shop on Main St--we will probably go with them once we get our bank account set up (now that we have the lease, we can look into that). It will take 4-6 weeks (!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!) to set this up, but they have stuff they do to allow temporary service while we wait--for up to a month and a half. It is hard to know which company to go with--people seem to just take Eircom by default, but our experience with them at the BnB and the local library has been unimpressive.

Our last stop for the day was the library with our proof of address in hand. Time to get library cards! Er, make that library CARD. Bill walked up and said we’d like to apply for library cards. I already had my passport out as proof of ID. The most helpful and polite librarian got out a piece of paper and told him to fill it out. She asked if we didn’t want visitors’ passes. “No,” I said, “We live here.”  “Will you each be wantin’ your own cards, then, or just the one? Maybe you just need the one because you can check out up to 8 books at one time on the one card.” She repeated the 8 books at one time thing a few times in a tone that made it seem like this was an enormous and impressive number. Bill looked at me uncertainly. I sort of shook my head and we went off to fill out the form. I put my passport away. “Don’t you want your own card?" he asked. “She seemed pretty flustered and I don’t want to cause her any more distress. Let’s just do this. There’s not much to check out anyway," I replied. When he brought the form back to the desk and she was processing everything, we realized that she was probably trying to save us money, because the card cost 3 euro.  And it is true that if people were allowed to check out much more than 8 at a time, the entire collection of this particular library would be wiped out. It’s small. I prepared for this possibility as best as I was able--my Nook contains 486 books. I have a few I picked up at the charity shop the other day and the couple I managed to bring with me. I will have reading material. I have a feeling, though, that my days of listening to books podcasts and hopping over to the library page to place holds is over for the time being. Bill was looking up the Co Mayo system while we were still at the BnB and the way he understood it, every ILL request will cost 5 euro at a minimum.  Anyway, perhaps tomorrow afternoon I will take my copy of the card (he got a wallet card and two keychain cards) and see if I can find anything to check out. I’ll keep it under 8, though. Gotta leave a few books for Bill and others!

I typed the above yesterday (Tuesday). It is now late Wednesday morning and we have just returned from the bank where we have encountered a roadblock. Turns out that an Irish passport and a lease agreement is inadequate for opening a bank account. We need a letter from a utility. When we signed the lease, I asked the letting agent who we should call about the electricity. She said she would do it. As of this morning, mail was still coming to the apartment from the electric company addressed to the previous tenant. So we cannot open a bank account until we have a letter from them with our names. We cannot get any kind of internet connection until we have a bank account. The only utility bill we’ll have will be the electricity, so I guess we have to wait for them. In the meantime, I guess we have to call the letting agent again and make sure she has contacted them. We're approaching the Easter holiday weekend, when things will be closed Friday and/or Monday. I told Bill that one would think that, as completely new customers to the electric company, it seemed reasonable to assume that we would get some kind of form letter at least with instructions on how to proceed. From what I have been able to find out, people pay their bills by having the utilities take money from their bank accounts. So we need a bank account to pay our bill, but we can't get an account until we get something from them. LOL!

15 April 2014

Unpacked, But Unsettled

We’re all unpacked, but still unsettled in our new flat. We met the letting agent last Thursday at her office. Joe, from the B and B, had driven us the hour from Oranmore to Ballinrobe--he let us off, then parked and waited for us. We went in and signed two copies of the lease agreement, expecting that we would get to take one with us, but that wasn’t the case. She said she’d get the landlord to sign it and mail a copy to us. Then she said she’d meet us at the flat, so we rushed out, hopped in Joe’s car, and directed him there. She was right behind us. When we got there she brought the keys upstairs and unlocked the door. She went to hand the keys to Bill and Joe said, “Only one set of keys?” She seemed taken aback by this, but recovered and rather breathlessly said that the landlord would bring another set when he came on Saturday. This was the first we heard of this upcoming visit, and the last--it never happened anyway.

The listing for the flat said that internet service was part of the deal. However, it also listed a dishwasher as one of the “mod cons” and we do not have one of those, either. I do not care about the dishwasher, since it wouldn’t be practical for us to use one anyway. I do care about the fact that I cannot get online. There is a strong signal and we wondered whether the whole building is covered, but if so, we have no security code--and no contact info for the landlord, which we assume is in the rental agreement that we do not possess. So we have to find out whether we already have service or whether we have to set it up. She kept repeating that it was nice that there would only be the one other bill (electricity) besides the rent, but she was so rushed and inattentive that I do not feel confident actually believing anything the woman told me.

The other issue is trash and what to do with it. We asked about this as we were signing the lease agreement and the response was, “Ah, trash. I am pretty sure he has an arrangement with the flower shop downstairs for tenants to throw the trash in their dumpster.” We paid a call on the flower shop and the woman there was bewildered. She said the boss would be back tomorrow, so we might want to stop by and talk to her.

The building in which we live is on a corner--facing the main road is the flower shop, an open unit, and an optician’s office. There is one apartment behind the optician downstairs and three upstairs. Ours is off by itself facing the side street. There’s a deck in back with a picnic table and clothesline--that deck is the roof of part of the flower shop.

Joe came upstairs with us too, last Thursday and thank goodness he did! When the letting agent rushed off, he stayed and showed us how to work the water heater timer and the heaters which are in each room. The water heater is set to come on during off-peak hours and the room heaters will do the same, and then store the heat, which will be dissipate during the day.

I am typing this on Monday, but will post on Tuesday, since that is the next day the library is open and we need their internet connection! We are also hoping to have access to our rental agreement by tomorrow--we need it for proof of address, so we can start the process of opening a bank account and stuff like that. Since Easter is next weekend, we are thinking that things may be closed on Friday and/or Monday.

We’ve been walking around and exploring a bit. We went in one direction yesterday and then went to find out how far out the Tesco is--there’s a small grocery store a few blocks from our house and we did shop there when we first arrived, because we were tired and didn’t want to go far. They are quite adequate. Tesco seems to have better sales, though, so I will probably utilize both of them--Tesco’s about a 15-20 minute walk. Today we walked in a different direction just to see what we would see. We came across the ruin of a church with a horse in the adjoining field. He came up to the wall when Bill stopped to take pictures. I wished I had brought a carrot or something!

The other day we stopped in one of the charity shops we’ve come across in town--there are at least 3 of them. We went into the Hospice shop and browsed through the books. It was so strange to be unpacking and to have so few books to find places for, so we started building up the collection once again. They were a euro each or 5 for 4 euro--we walked out with 5. Then Bill spotted a photography book he wanted while we were on our way out, so he grabbed that, too. This took away half of our backpack space for the groceries we were on our way to get, but I’d brought an extra bag and we’ve clipped our Chico Bags to our backpack zippers so we’ll have them available. We managed to get it all home. When the books have been read, we will probably bring them back to the shop to be sold again.

Other than the annoyances of not knowing what to do with trash and the lack of connectivity, we are pleased with the flat. It is very comfortable and quiet. One of the first things I did was to rearrange the furniture in the dining area/sitting room because there was too much of it clustered in the center of the room and everything seemed cluttered. I do not like clutter. By moving things back and against the walls, the room is more open and airy. There are windows at either end as well, so it’s quite bright. We did go out and buy pillows, sheets, and towels but just about everything we needed was here when we arrived--pots, pans, dishes, flatware, glassware, a toaster, and we even found a drip coffee maker and a laundry rack. Where the drip coffee maker came from, I would be curious to know--we have not seen them in any stores--we looked. Even in a “home goods” store in Oranmore, all they had were French presses and stainless steel pots in which to make the instant coffee that is everywhere here (even in the coffee shop we stopped at when we first arrived--for some reason I expected something different from a place called “Coffee Academy!!”). The Tesco in Oranmore had French presses, too, and I was resigned to buying one. We were also going to pick up a laundry rack in Tesco--we have the clothesline outside, but with frequent outbreaks of rain, even on days that start out sunny, it seemed wise to have a rack. Now we don’t have to buy either thing.

One other thing we will not have to buy is the hair clipper thing that Bill uses to shave his head. He left his behind due to weight and space issues with the luggage. He figured he’d have to buy a new one sometime. Instead he opened a drawer in a nightstand and there was exactly what he needed. It had a funky plug--not Irish and not US, but we tried it in our adaptors and it works just fine!

On a more general level, I have been very surprised at the amount of litter and dog poop that is everywhere--at least in Ballinrobe and Oranmore. There are plenty of trash bins around, but apparently many people can’t be bothered to use them and there is trash everywhere. I have also learned to pay attention while walking because many people do not seem to feel obligated to pick up after their dogs. Fortunately, so far at least, these people apparently have small dogs. All this littering seems really disrespectful to me and it seems a shame that so many seem to have so little regard for their communities.

Bill is unable to connect at the library, so for now, we can't post photos.

09 April 2014

We Move in Tomorrow

Yesterday we took a trip up to Ballinrobe, about 29 miles north of Galway, where we had an appointment with a letting agent. It was quite a process just getting the appointment. We'd been clicking around for a couple of months on Daft.ie, a website dedicated to real estate listings--both rentals and places to buy. We would look at a place on the site and then have to try and figure out where it was and whether there was bus service there. It was a fun thing to do while we were still in Maine, but it did get a little old after a while and the listings and places all started jumbling up in our heads. We did try to contact a couple of people through the site while we were in Maine, but didn't get a reply.

When we got here, we started to narrow things down a bit. Bill emailed a letting agent about a house on Friday night and called Saturday morning, but again got no reply. We narrowed our focus to a small area in and around Ballinrobe and discovered that the same letting agent had almost all of the listings we were interested in. So on Monday, I called her and left a voice mail--a long one--saying who I was and telling her that we were just arrived and looking to rent something quickly. I said that most of the places we were interested in were her listings and we were quite confident that one of them would prove quite satisfactory, so we would like to set up a time to come and view some of them. Then I got cut off, so I had to call back and leave the phone number and my email address, which I spelled out. I knew the message would be too long, but I'd been told that things might be a little more laid back than I am used to and it might take a while for her to return my call. Since I was hoping for a faster reply than that, I tried to provide some incentive for her to call sooner rather than later--and she called back an hour later.

We were in Galway at the time and had no idea about the bus schedule, so when she called back, Bill said we'd have to call back to set up a time after we knew what time we would be able to get there. We turned around and walked back to the tourist info centre, got the info we needed, and left another voice mail--turns out that every time you call, you go to voice mail. She must've called back after that, but Bill didn't feel the phone vibrating, so it was a missed call. When we got back to the BnB that afternoon, Bill called and left another voice mail. She called back and while they were talking, she suddenly entered a "no coverage" zone and the call was dropped. He called back. Then he found her email address and I sent an email--the address wasn't that easy to find, so I figured she probably didn't use it much, but just in case...

Finally she called back and we set up an appointment for 2:45 on Tuesday.

We caught the bus on Tuesday morning from Oranmore to Galway and then from Galway to Ballinrobe. We arrived at 1 and walked around town. We'd planned to look at a duplex and an apartment on the same street. There were other places we'd saved as possibilities, but time was short since our bus back was at 3:45, and those were our top two. In our wandering around town we found the duplex, but had no pictures of the front of the apartment to go by, so we didn't know where that was. Both are in a good location--near Main St, but not on it, 2 grocery stores (Super Valu and Tesco) within walking distance--the former just down the street, a fruit and veg market, the library, and the post office on Main Street, and a Polish market down the street. There's a large Polish population here. We also went by a couple of charity shops. So we will be able to get what we need on foot :-) Both the apartment and duplex are furnished, so we knew it wouldn't be necessary to figure out how to get heavy furniture or appliances there.

Anyway, by the time she got to her office and we were on our way it was 3 and I was feeling the time crunch. It was all very rushed, but both places are small, so there wasn't much to see. The duplex was nice, but it seemed like it was more space than we needed. Plus there were some drawbacks. There is a small yard with that, so there would be yard care and neither of us are into that--cutting grass and trimming hedges aren't our cups of tea! Inside, when you walk in, there is an odd little room, which is very narrow. There's an electric heater on the wall and a couple of feet from that is a loveseat. That's it--the loveseat and the heater. That is a room we would never use. The kitchen is tiny--so tiny, in fact that there is no room for the refrigerator, which sits in this odd storage room that leads outside. The dryer is there, too, and a lot of cabinets for storage. I wouldn't use the dryer or need the storage--what do I have left to store? I thought that having to go out into that room to get something from the fridge while I was cooking would be a real hassle. It was also pretty chilly out there, so every time I opened the door between the kitchen and that room, I'd be letting heat out. The bedrooms upstairs were fine, but small. The heat is oil and there is a "solid fuel stove" in the sitting room. Another thing I would not use. Fumes from burning stuff usually do not agree with me.

Then  it was on to the apartment. The kitchen and bedrooms were bigger and nicer, as was the bedroom furniture. The fridge is in the kitchen. Everything is nicely laid out, with no space that will just be sitting there unused (the extra bedroom won't get much regular use, probably, but it will get some). There's no grass to cut. I think it will be more energy efficient. There's a nice deck outside and a clothesline. And it's 10 euro a week cheaper. We chose the apartment. It was 3:15.

We rushed back to the office and did the application. She said she could see no problems and asked if we could leave a deposit. We did. She said she'd get approval from the owner and get back to us and that she'd try to set it up so we could move in today. The bookkeeper said, "Welcome to Ballinrobe. I'll be seeing you around town!" We left to go stand at the bus stop across the street. It was 3:30.

Last night came and went. This morning came and went. Most of this afternoon came and went. The phone did not ring. We were getting annoyed and a bit stressed because our time at the BnB is up tomorrow and we needed to know whether we should try to extend our stay. We'd also worked out transportation options to Ballinrobe in the morning, since the luggage makes the bus an impossibility. From what we'd been told, it seemed unlikely that the owner would refuse to rent to us, though you never know. It seemed likely that she'd forgotten to let us know, so at 4, I called and left a voice mail. she called back a few minutes later and apologized for not calling sooner. Approval had been given and we are off to Ballinrobe in the morning to sign some papers and get the key. Yay!

Since we're so unfamiliar with the country, we decided that we would find a place to settle and use as a home base from which to explore. We can move to a completely different area if we decide to do that later. Because of this, our search criteria were few--we had to be able to walk for necessities--like groceries, there had to be a bus service, and we didn't want more than 2 bedrooms. This all works out.

In addition to the Bus Eireann service that we used yesterday, there's the fabulously named Burke's Bus that leaves Ballinrobe every weekday at 7:20 for Galway and returns at 5:30. On Saturdays it leaves at 9:30, I think. So we have choices. Burke's is cheaper than Bus Eireann and the times are better. It seems like a great choice for commuters.

So there's another chapter ending and a new one starting. We've been in a liminal state for a while now, either in the process of leaving, traveling, or being at the BnB. Now we transition into a beginning. it'll be interesting to see how it all unfolds!

06 April 2014

Heathrow or the Twilight Zone?

We were supposed to have 2 hours between our flight from Boston to London and the flight from London to Shannon Airport. We took off a bit late and landed a bit late, so we had an hour and a half. We got off the plane and started following the herd and the signs that said "All Connecting Flights." We quickly found ourselves racing through corridors strangely devoid of any airport personnel. We went around corners, took  3 right hand turns in a row, went up an escalator only to turn a corner and promptly go down a different one. It was a maze of labyrinthine corridors with a stampede of people marching quickly forward, following the purple stripe on the beige wall. There was nothing else. In corridor after corridor, there was just the beige walls with the purple stripe--no flight information, no airport people, no other signage of any kind. It was creepy.

Finally, at an intersection, there was a set of those TV screens you see at airports, except these were huge and there were 6 pages listing flights. We were able to find our flight and learned that we needed to go to Terminal 1. I have no idea where we were at this point, but I think we might have started in Terminal 3.

At this point, the words on the purple stripe changed to "Terminal 1" and we plowed on and it started to look like we might be making some progress instead of running around in a maze.
Alas, we were only at Terminal 5, which is where we could catch the shuttle bus to Terminal 1 when it came. There was a line, but we got on the bus when it appeared a few minutes later. We were then treated to a hair-raising ride through the dingy underbelly of Heathrow Airport as the maniacal driver whipped us around corners and curves and sped through the construction zone. We were deposited at Terminal 1 and were greeted with a sign welcoming us there. "Hurray," I thought. That was premature.

In we went. Up the escalator we went. We turned right, since that was our only option. Then we went down an escalator. We soon found ourselves in another set of creepy labyrinthine corridors--I will give the designers of this airport high marks for creepy labyrinthine corridors--they do those very well!

Having flown all night and not slept, our energy supply was not really up to this task. I am used to walking places and even used to walking places with heavy bags on my back. I am not accustomed to competing against the madman who designed this airport to see whether I can make my connecting flight after having had no sleep while sitting in a cramped airplane seat for 6 hours the night before! However, it seemed I had no choice--there were none of those carts that you see in other airports driving around. Just beige walls and that purple stripe.

Onward we went! Then we came to a place where we had to show an immigration card and passport. They'd handed the cards out on the plane and I filled mine out, but thought it was weird that they asked how long I planned to be in the UK. Did they really want me to say what I ended up saying, which was "until my connecting flight?"  I asked the flight attendant who handed me the card and the one who tried to give me one later if people doing a connecting flight had to fill one out and they said not to bother--we wouldn't need one. We did need one, so I was glad I'd filled it out. Bill didn't have one, so he just showed his Irish/EU passport. I got a stamp and we proceeded to the next stop, which was the biometric measurement station. This is where we each in turn removed our hats and glasses and stared at the two red lights until they turned green.

On with the glasses and hats and back into the purple-striped corridor. Up and down, around and around until we came to the security line! Yay! Off with the shoes, out with the laptops and for Bill, off with the belt. Then I had to assure the guy behind the conveyor belt that I did not have any liquids in my bags. This took a couple of tries, but when I told him that my personal care items were in my checked bags, he was satisfied and I got to go into the body scanner. After that, I got a pat down so the woman would be convinced that, in spite of what the scanner was saying, I did not have anything strapped to or implanted in my left thigh. The scanner paid no heed to the pouch of euros I had around my neck and tucked into my bra. Whether or not this is an indication of their usefulness, I do not know.

On with the shoes and belt. Repack the computers. Hoist up the bags. Continue the race-walking marathon. What is that up ahead? It looks like something! People! Open space! Maybe the gate is coming up! Or maybe it's just the Terminal 1 shopping zone.

And here is where The Twilight Zone meets Peanuts as I race up to the little kiosk which reminds me of Lucy van Pelt offering her psychiatric advice for a nickel. I feel it necessary to say that had I paid a nickel, I would have been ripped off, because when I showed the boarding pass to the woman standing behind the Aer Lingus kiosk, her response would have made my head explode, if I'd had any energy for that kind of thing. "Oh yes, madam, you need to hurry to gate 84 or you'll miss the plane," she told me as she waved her hand vaguely in the direction behind her.  Having no time to do anything else, I proceeded to hurry to the gate--again. What the hell did she think we'd been doing for over an hour at that point?

Through the crowds of shoppers we went until we got to a dingy looking corridor with a sign over it that said, "Gates 77-90, No shops beyond this point." Are you kidding me? No shops beyond this point? Really? Are there planes beyond this point, I wonder? Specifically, is there a green plane around here somewhere that will take me out of this hellhole and to Ireland? Because really, that is what I want. I do not want to shop and if I did I sure would not do it here!!! I just want to find Gate 84 and be gone from this place!

Into yet another dreary corridor we went, but with no purple stripe this time. Just beige walls. Twisting and turning once again, we came to--wait for it--another biometric measurement station! Yes, because clearly things could have changed a great deal in 15 minutes! Off with the hat and glasses. Stare at the red light. It's green, so on with the hat and glasses. I turn to leave and see through the window another security station. I almost burst into tears. I walk out of the biometrics room and discover that we need to go in the opposite direction, into yet another corridor to somewhere. I wait for Bill, who doesn't appear. I walk back towards the room and a guy in a fluorescent green vest stops his conversation and asks if he can help me. I tell him that I am waiting for my husband and we are rushing to get to our gate. He asks to see my boarding pass and tells me that Gate 84 is 1/2 mile away and we can make it if we hurry. Thanks, pal. I'll commence with the hurrying, since you tell me I should.

Hurry we do and we reach a cluster of gates all crammed into one small area--no room for shops. There is a set of doors and a crowd of people blocking the doors. It takes me a minute to realize that they are boarding at Gate 82. My goal is within reach! I push my way through the crowd and breathlessly stumble to the counter at Gate 84, where the last few stragglers are boarding--there is not even a line because everyone else is already on the plane. I hand my passport and boarding pass to the guy at the door and walk down the jetway and into the plane. There's a spot for my backpack in the overhead bin, so I shove it in, sink down into my seat and kick my other bag and my big sweater under the seat. I am out of breath, sweating, and thirsty, but I am on the plane. I am getting out of Heathrow. It feels like an escape.

05 April 2014

A Decade in the Making

Ten years ago, as we were preparing to leave Alaska, Bill and I decided that we would move to Ireland "someday." Bill also discovered that he could get Irish citizenship by descent because his paternal grandparents were both born there, so he started gathering the necessary paperwork--birth, death, and marriage certificates. At the time, we had two older dogs that we did not want to give up, so we decided to move to Klamath Falls, Oregon for a while. When the dogs had lived their lives, the next move would be to Ireland. As is so often the case with plans, things didn't work out that way. Five years ago we left Oregon and spent almost a year wandering, including a 5 month stay in Niagara Falls, NY. After that, it was on to Maine, where we happily settled in Brunswick for four years. During all of this time, we kept on talking about going to Ireland someday. We had thought we might finally do it in May of this year, but just before Christmas we learned that the company where Bill had been working was going to be sold. A decision would have to be made--he was offered a job with the new company, but if he took it, there would be a month of training after the sale was finalized and if we followed our plan, he would have left a few weeks after that training was complete. That didn't seem fair to his co-workers or possible employers, so we decided that it was time to go--in April rather than May. When the sale was final and we were allowed to talk about it, we gave our landlord notice and started redistributing our possessions. Mailing things is expensive, so we knew that we would be taking only what we could bring with us, and we limited ourselves to 4 suitcases and the carry-ons. We each got a free bag with our ticket and could buy additional baggage at $100 per bag. Each bag could weigh no more than 23 kg (50 pounds). There were two bags that were close, but we came in at 22.2 kg each! Yay!
We sold a lot of our stuff on a local yard sale page on Facebook, we donated a bunch to local thrift stores and the clothes bank, and we gave stuff to friends. We've moved a lot in the 34 years we've been together and several times in the past decade. Each time we downsize a little more. This was the first time we downsized so much and were so limited in what we could take. It was hard to let go of some things at the time, but there is also something very freeing about decluttering and minimizing. And I noticed that I was envious of the people at the airport who had one small backpack.

On April 2, our friend, Nicki, dropped us and our luggage at the bus stop so we could catch the bus to Logan Airport in Boston. As we were riding out of Brunswick, I teared up thinking about what a great place it is and the wonderful people we were leaving. I loved living there. Because luggage space and weight were so tight, we were dressed like the Michelin Man and Wife as we headed to Logan and throughout the handing over of the luggage and the security process--and I have to say, the TSA people there were great. They were friendly and respectful while doing their jobs thoroughly and efficiently. As soon as I was through the line and had put my shoes back on, I found the nearest bathroom and removed a few layers of clothes.

We had a lovely flight on Virgin Atlantic, a hellish hour and a half in Heathrow looking for terminal 1, and then a short flight to Shannon, where we had a private taxi waiting for us. The driver was a very friendly and nice woman who is also an immigrant. She came here 10 years ago from Poland. She was so excited to hear that we plan to stay here and she shared some of her observations about the country and people. It was a great ride that seemed to be over in a flash! We got to the BnB and Bill and the poor guy who is co-owner with his wife huffed and puffed and dragged our luggage upstairs.


We walked into town to get some lunch and a cup of coffee. We walked further and found a supermarket where we bought some fruit, rolls, and cream cheese to have for supper, and then we came back. We met the other owner, Rose, who is a lot of fun to talk to. Then we came up to our room and tried not to crash too early. That's how it came to be that yesterday we woke up in Ireland after 10 years of thinking about "someday." Someday is here and we will be somewhere in Ireland--we just don't know quite where yet.