Sunday, January 25, 2009

Welcome to Kelly’s Life, Episode 15

I have returned from my travels abroad, with stories to tell (long stories). But to establish some groundwork, there area few historical Kelly facts worth noting:

Fact #1. I have a vacation rain curse. I have previously called it a family rain curse, but the fact of the matter is – I am the one that causes it to rain when going to places for leisure purposes. I can make it rain in the Sahara (or any other desert/drought stricken area of your choosing) – with little more than a leaky tent and the absence of a raincoat.

Fact #2. I have never been overseas. Well, technically, I’ve been to New Foundland (it’s only Canada) and Cayman islands. But the close proximity of those lends itself towards feeling local. And you don’t technically need a passport. And you can swim back if absolutely necessary.

Fact #3. This was a free five-day drip with my mom. She won it. Generally speaking, I have always considered free trips to be better than not free trips. However, this is no longer a hard and fast rule.

Day 1

06:01:27 – I leave my apartment for the airport. I’m 87 seconds behind schedule. This is of no great concern though – as I have plenty of time. My flight is not until 08:30.

07:08:43 – I arrive at the airport, long term parking. Is see one shuttle bus on the last part of the loop to pick up people, but I figure, not to worry, I have plenty of time, and the next one will be along shortly. I figure I’ll leisurely stroll to my gate, get some breakfast, read a book – it will be quite lovely. But then, of course, there’s no shuttle to be seen anywhere.

07:18:30 – The ridiculously slow shuttle arrives. I pile on, right next to the door, ready to be the first one off the damn thing when we get to the terminal. Everyone proceeds to pile their luggage in front of me. I will need to hurl myself over it all. And I will, with great ferocity. As I am a seasoned traveler.

07:24:15 – Upon arrival at the terminal, I lose my opportunity to breach the luggage obstacle, as hordes of ferocious tourists lunge for the door. I make my way weaving through the crowd, up the escalator, only to see a lengthy line, wrapped three times over, at the check-in counter.

07:29: 01 – While standing in line, I notice a flashing red light – “ONE HOUR BAG CHECK-IN REQUIRED.” What does this mean? As I ponder this, an airline staff member moseys up and tells us that if we don’t have our bags checked in one hour prior to departure, we will not be allowed on the flight. If we get to the counter at fifty-nine minutes prior, we will not be allowed on the flight. I ask the man next to me, “What time is it?” His reply, of course, “7:30”.

I dash out the door to the skycap. I figure he may be more lenient, and maybe it isn’t REALLY quite 7:30. I wait as he checks in one person in front of me. He takes my ticket, punches a few keys and says, “Sorry.”

It’s 7:33.

I make my way back to the end of the line. And by the time I get to the counter, I have convinced myself that the world is about to end, as I have missed my trip. The flights are full. I’ll have to fly stand-by. And I will never make my connecting flight out of Boston. And my mother has the tickets. My only chance, says the woman at the counter, is to try and fit my suitcase through the conveyor belt baggage template and hope it fits. I proceed to the security checkpoint – and see about 900 people waiting to get through too. Time rushes by when you’re about to miss a plane. So I spent my time profusely praying to whomever may be listening – Please make my bag fit. PLEASE make my bag fit. Please oh please oh please. MAKE IT FIT! You see – it’s a big bag. The laws of physics would not change (however the laws of Murphy seemed to adapt to each and every moment). People stared at me. Stared at the bag. Then grinned. Shook their heads. I know what they were thinking. “Silly girl. That will never fit. She’ll have to go back.” And I agreed. Then it was my turn, and I heaved my bag up there. It’s big enough to fit my friend Annie inside of. And maybe her cat too. I say to the scanner man, desperately, “I know this isn’t going to fit, but…” he smiled kindly, and said to give it a shove, and see. And lo and behold, almighty divine intervention shoved that bag through.

You should see this bag. It’s gargantuan. And I guarantee – it would not fit through a second time.

So of course, I had to wait for the tram to the concourse. And of course, when I got there, I noted that the gate was almost to the very end. So I started to run. Well, you really can’t call it running, per se. Bad knees and not enough time spent at the gym. I was lurching through the airport, rather like Igor might, surprised at the lack of oxygen actually reaching my lungs. I’d bet your toddler could cover more ground than me. I was ridiculously pathetic (I really need to start getting to the gym more often). I could see, as I approached the waiting area – that it was empty. I get around the corner – and yet again – lo and behold – the door is still open. I was the last one on the plane. So I proceed to profess my faith, thanking profusely the fact that I had made it.

I arrive in Boston, with plenty of time. Good thing too – Logan airport makes you feel like one of those little rats in a high school science experiment – stuck in a maze where you know there’s cheese but no perceivable way to get to it. And so I wait for my mom to arrive. Our flight is at 7:20. I watch as all the very attractive men go to Munich. I must get to Munich too, I think.

It’s after 5:00. No mom. I begin to worry. Will I go without her? Oh hell yes. But I haven’t got the tickets – just a fax of the itinerary.

Then mom arrives. “You would not BELIEVE the day I’m having,” she says. “Oh really”, is my weak reply. Apparently she got stuck in traffic.

Aer Lingus has a novel approach to loading 300 hundred people on a big airplane. They say, “We are now boarding”, and everyone tries to get on at the same time. This would not be my first experience on this trip of feeling like Bessy the cow in the herd of cattle headed to market.


DAY 2 (or somewheres about there)

We arrive in Shannon, Ireland at about 6:00 in the morning Ireland time (pretty dang earlier in the morning US East Coast time too). We make our way to the rental car counter, and it seems the travel agent did not manage to mention to the agency that we required an automatic shift vehicle. Much to mother’s chagrin, all they had was a standard shift, and she would be forced to do all the driving, as I’ve never driven stick shift in my life. Mum was none too thrilled about the prospect of driving on the left side of the road, sitting on the right side of the car, and shifting with her left hand, backwards. Completely understandable. And I must say, as soon as we made it out of the parking lot, I was none too thrilled about the prospect of her driving it either.

“Left mom. Left. You gotta stay left. LEFT!!!!!”

Then of course, the roads are a wee bit narrow, and a Toyota Corolla ends up being a gigantic car. Every time a car would come the opposite direction, I’d feel compelled to yell, “NOT TOO FAR LEFT!!!” As the tires caught the curb edge, or worse, came dangerously close to clipping parked cars.

Then, there was the spectacular moment when a truck came round the bend, and dear mum ducked towards me, closed her eyes, and veered the car to the left. I could see, right then and there, that this driving thing was going to be wee bit of a problem. I began to ponder the rational of learning to drive stick shift, in Ireland, on the left of the road, the right of the car, etc – right then and there. It may be tricky, but was worth serious consideration.

So then, there were the round-a-bouts. A handy dandy European way of not having traffic lights at intersections. The trick here is that you yield to the right. Although, this was something mum had difficulty catching on to. She’d look left, then step on the gas, while I’d yell “WAIT!” as the cars whizzed by from the right. This seemed to happen, oh, well, just about every single time we came to one of those.

We proceeded on out of town and into the countryside. We were about twenty minutes outside of our destination, when we came up a hill, and around a bend in the road to a beautiful vista. And the car accelerated noticeably. I recall thinking – Mom is feeling more comfortable driving now – until she started driving the car off the road.

And that’s when I realized. Mom’s sleeping.

So I yelled.

And then I yelled again.

And when that didn’t wake her, a yelled quite loudly again.

So then, when mom woke up, she lost control of the car. Strangely, my life didn’t flash before my eyes, as it well should have, cause we were most certainly going to die. Instead, I was trying to decipher what we were going to end up hitting. The tour bus, with all the foreign onlookers, or was it going to be a matter of careening off the hillside, into the deep green grass? It was a matter of serious contemplation. Cars weaved around us, as we fishtailed first left, then right, then left again. The car should probably have spun, but it didn’t. Mom got the car under control, (divine intervention again, I’m sure of it) pulled off to the side and parked it. She casually said, “I think I need some fresh air”. And I thought to myself – you need to get far, far, far away from me.

When she got back in, I reminded her of the rules of driving with others: if you are tired, say so, and we’ll sing songs, talk, open windows, anything that will assist in helping to continue breathing in and out every day for just a little while longer.

I began to think that me driving was, in fact, a fine idea, and much safer option.

We got to town in one piece. Walked around a bit. And went to bed at 6:00.

DAY 3

Prior to departing on this trip, Mom had the splendid idea that we should take a bus tour. At the time, I stated, that there was no way in ever loving hell I’d be caught dead on a tour bus. However, when presented with that option again, I considered it (for all of about two seconds) and said, “That sounds absolutely fantastic! Let’s go make reservations.” And so spent the majority of day three on a bus full of little old people and pudgy tourists with cameras, desperately peering out the bus windows, looking at fast moving glimpses of the beautiful Ireland countryside. We went whizzing by old stone ruins (like really, really old) of castles and cathedrals and things of that sort. We saw cute little sheep. Well, they could have been sheep, or cows, or small wooly rocks – difficult to tell while looking out a speeding tour bus. We stopped at the appropriate tour stops, and each time had twenty minutes to inundate the town and buy our trinkets, before shuffling back onto the bus. Cattle, we were. But nevertheless, it was the only way to safely see Ireland outside of the town we were staying in. It was raining anyway. As a matter of fact, apparently, no one local had any recollection of seeing that amount of rain at that time of year. But quite frankly, when going to Ireland, one expects rain. So it really didn’t much bother me at all, and seemed rather appropriate.

That evening, I ditched mum and went pubbing. It was necessary. I was mistaken for being local, both by the locals and the tourists, which for some reason I found to be quite entertaining. I drank much of the smoothest Guinness you can imagine, and found it increasingly difficult to understand the Irish folks. I wandered back to the hotel after an appropriate amount of inebriation and fantastic music, and promptly fell asleep.

DAY 4

We took a carriage ride into the national park that morning, to a great old stone house. A minor rift between mum and I ensued when I opted to skip the guided tour of the house, with explanations of everything old and frilly, and go for a hike instead. I quickly found myself walking through the green fields and stonewalls, next to cows, and most defiantly wooly sheep with strangely long tails, through a soft and somehow pleasing misty rain. My destination was a waterfall, which I figured would be raging. The closer I got to the falls, the more the landscape changed to the feeling of a rainforest. All surfaces were covered with something green and growing. And I was right, the sound of the falls increased with each step, and I stood at the base of them – water positively roaring. I saw stone steps leading up into the forest under a canopy of trees, and my curiosity got the best of me, so I followed them. I wandered up to the bend, and there were more steps. And I followed those around the next bend, and there were more steps. This continued for a while, about 300 vertical feet, to the top of the falls. Feeling significantly satisfied, tired, and thoroughly soaked, I hitched a ride back to the hotel.



DAY 5

Horseback riding through the park on an Irish draft horse, galloping through puddles and mud, under great old trees, through forests and next to lakes and stone ruins of cottages with trees growing out of the center of them. In borrowed pink rubber tall boots. It was brilliant!

A side trip (by car!) to a little town an hour south to Kenmare, to shop for trinkets. Mom’s driving caused me a series of panic stricken moments, but my sensibilities had dulled somewhat, and I tended to simply hope for the best. We spent the last evening watching a summer stock dance troupe.

DAY 6

With ample time allotted for getting lost, we left early for Shannon. Mum still hadn’t mastered the roundabouts. My patience was lost by the time we were in close proximity to the airport, and it was a relief to finally leave that car behind and venture into the airport, still, miraculously, in one whole uninterrupted piece. All 300 people tried to get on the airplane, and I looked out the window at the last glimpses of the great green island as we made our way up over the ocean, and back to the United States.

There are, of course, a few morals to the story:

1. Know how to drive stick shift.
2. Left side of the road countries should not rent cars to the Americans.
3. Don’t fly into Europe in the morning.
4. Rain on a vacation is not necessarily a bad thing.
5. Vacation should last longer than five days.
6. Vacation should not involve relatives.
7. Short-term travel with family in foreign countries and long flights and scary driving gives cause for need of another vacation when said first vacation is over.
8. Get to the airport early.
9. There’s nothing like traveling to restore your faith.