Saturday, October 14, 2017

The Ireland Diaries, Part One: The Petty and Shallow



I’m back, folks! I’ve just returned from Ireland and I’m fresh off the high of being a worldly world traveler and all urbane and knowledgeable and stuff. It was my first trip out of the U.S. (I don’t count Canada as foreign travel), and my first time flying over the Atlantic. Over the last few days, as I’ve slowly recovered my senses and gotten over my jet lag, I’ve had a million thoughts jostling for space in my head and wanting to be written. As I was considering how to properly document everything, it occurred to me that the only reasonable way to do this is to divide all my intense thoughts and feelings into two categories: The Petty and Shallow, and the Deep and Ponderous, as the trip brought out both of those in me in stark relief.  Therefore, I shall break this blog post into two, possibly even three parts. Let’s start with the Petty and Shallow, divided by sub-categories:

Breakfast:    

I have to give credit to my sister and travel partner, Laura, (hi, Sis!) who set all of this up. She arranged the trip, made all of the decisions, worked with the travel agent, and Organized All the Things. One thing she made certain of was that Breakfast was included for every morning we were in Ireland. To be honest, I was dreading Breakfast. I somehow imagined a giant, imposing platter of beans, bacon, blackened toast, and greasy fried eggs thrust at me in the wee hours by an imposing innkeeper who would hover over me and ask in a hurt tone why I wasn’t eating anything as I stared at my plate in sleep-deprived nausea. I normally can’t eat until a few hours after I’ve woken up, and even then I usually only have a boiled egg or a half slice of toast.

But Breakfast in Ireland was the culinary highlight of the trip, dear readers. A buffet smorgasbord of lox, exotic cheeses (Brie! For breakfast!!), scrambled eggs, steamed tomatoes, sausage, grapefruit, boiled mushrooms, thick bacon, smoked meats, toast, and these irresistible little mini-croissants with fresh butter. Plus they cheerfully bring you your own personal silver pot of piping hot coffee. After only one day of Breakfast, I felt weirdly entitled about it. I thought a lot about Breakfast when we weren’t at Breakfast. And now I feel slightly let down every morning as I peel my pathetic boiled egg and gaze into the buffet-less abyss. It’s probably for the best. With all of the smoked meats, sausages, bacon, and butter I snarfed down every morning, I’m pretty sure I have about two functioning arteries left, but who needs arteries when you have…Breakfast!  

Side note: The Irish are great at Breakfast. However, salads are not in their wheelhouse. By the third day in, I was dying for some fiber and I ordered a Caesar Salad at a pub. It came with a few limp, dressing-drenched leaves of lettuce and nine (I counted) slices of bacon. If you don’t believe me, ask Laura. She saw it with her own eyes.

Service:

I was fairly shocked to find that in all my interactions, I didn’t once run into a single bored, gum-snapping, eye-rolling teenager glued to their phone as they sullenly shoved my hotel key/store purchases/dinner plate at me. Everywhere we went, the service was impeccable: Polite, respectful, kind, attentive, and patient. I like to think we were pretty low-maintenance travelers, but nonetheless, the staff at every hotel was a consummate professional and immediately jumped in to resolve even the vaguest suggestion that something wasn’t quite right. For example, at one hotel we didn’t have a door sign to hang indicating we wanted the room cleaned. When Laura asked at the desk if the room would be cleaned even though we didn’t have a sign, the staff immediately picked up the phone and made sure that the room was cleaned on the spot. Every single time we checked into a hotel, they somehow magically made a room available for us three to four hours before our official check-in time. They made sure our suitcases were taken care of, our cabs were called, our purchases were expertly packaged for plane travel, and that every need was anticipated before we even knew it was a need. Even the lady at Security in the Shannon airport was a delight: “I’m so sorry; do remove your shoes now, thank you so very much, you are lovely ladies, the two of you are. Thank you for visiting us, and have a wonderful journey home!” I don’t know if this is a European thing or a specifically Irish thing, but it was a joy to behold.

I have some things to say about our drivers while we are on the trip, but that will come in Part Two. Hint: The drivers were phenomenal.

The Stupidity of Others:

The vast majority of the people I encountered on this trip were great—polite, nice, happy to be there, cheery, seemingly intelligent. But the few that I ran into who were frankly stupid were amplified in my mind because their stupidity seemed to stem from the luxury afforded by them to be jaded. I think there is way too much obsession with privilege these days and it’s unhealthy, but to me, there was something particularly galling about the privileged attitude of these people.  This trip was not trivial for me. I have waited most of my life to be able to do this, and it wasn’t just another place to gawp at and add to some checklist of sites seen. I couldn’t afford to be jaded about it. Travel has not been a given in my life. I didn’t get an all-expense-paid gap year trip as a teenager or get to bum around Europe after high school—I had to work to survive. This trip was very hard-earned, and I have wanted to go to Ireland for as a long as I can remember. So when the idiot from Southern California complains that he doesn’t want to get off of the bus in the Ring of Kerry to look at the dazzling coastline because “he’s from a beach town and the water looks really cold and gray here”, I wanted to punch him. Same with the snotty English girl with cat-eye makeup and fussy boots who snubbed me at lunch, sniped at me for being in the wrong seat on the bus, and then complained petulantly that the weather was “simply not cooperating.” Oh, really??? The weather is “not cooperating”?? The water is cold? What the hell is wrong with you people? You are in a coastal country in October, for God’s Sake! Why travel if you’re not going to embrace where you are? Dumb, dumb, dumb. Fortunately, we were only on a tour bus for about a half a day, and I didn’t have to encounter any more idiots after that.

European Hotels

I have made a very disappointing discovery about myself, which is that I do not care for “character” in my hotel rooms. Excellent service aside, European hotels are jenky and grimy and cramped and there is always a game of “find the light switch” because none of the electrical wiring makes any sense, and there are never enough outlets and the hallways are frighteningly narrow and even the non-smoking rooms smell like smoke mixed with a faint whiff of death. By the end of the trip I came to appreciate the bland, anonymous sameness of a good old American corporate hotel. I’ll take a cookie-cutter Super 8 over a historical European inn any day. I know this makes a me a bad person, but when you’re exhausted and overstimulated and jet lagged, you just want a toilet that flushes properly and a switch that is in reasonable proximity to the lamp you’re trying to turn on.

Note: I don’t want anyone to think that the cleaning staff didn’t do a good job. They work really hard to keep the rooms clean. It’s just that when a place is hundreds of years old, you get inevitable patina of grime that’s impossible to get rid of. It’s no one’s fault; it just a hazard of age.

Scary Movies on the Plane:

Tip of the week: I watched a really scary movie on the plane thinking it wouldn’t affect me because I was on a plane, but I was wrong. I’m still scared from it. So don’t watch scary movies on the plane if you’re easily frightened. Being in the air doesn’t magically make it less scary.

Alright, now that the petty stuff is cleared away, Part Two will be a bit more substantial and in-depth. Stay tuned!

3 comments:

Carolyn said...

You should be a travel blogger! I loved this!

Carolyn said...

Oh, and I forgot...the sweet lady at the airport...that's Irish friendliness. You won't find it anywhere in Europe other than Ireland :)

Nancy Harris said...

Kristen, Loved your commentary. I agree with Carolyn - you should become a travel writer! Cheers! Nancy