Thursday, August 20, 2009

No leprechauns, no rain... it's all a wee bit strange.

UK Trip Log: Day 2 - Monday, 29 June, Touchdown Belfast:

Previous Entry: UK Trip Log: Day 1

Mercifully, the six hour flight is over. My friend and neighbour, Mr. Overly Friendly Drunk Irishman, has already confirmed at least one Irish stereotype. I let him go ahead of me as we disembark, mildly surprised that he can walk in a straight line after having imbibed such copious amounts of alcohol.

As expected, the immigration line for non-citizens is long and tediously boring, even more so because I am stuck behind a bunch of American high-school kids visiting Ireland for the summer. Eventually I make my way through immigration, baggage and customs (or so says a sign I pass under - no sign of a customs official anywhere nearby though).

I am really looking forward to seeing S, and it is equal parts relief and joy meeting her again. V and N look just like they did a couple of years ago, quite a mighty feat considering V had a baby in the interim.

We make our way outside and I get my first real glimpse of Ireland. It's nice and sunny and warm (well, it's not cold). I begin to wonder whether I am in the right country. I'm told there's been a heat wave the last few days and some people have even been hospitalized. If this weather is considered a heat wave, I fear I might need to be hospitalized once it gets back to 'normal'.

One thing to note for Americans going to Europe - the roads are narrow. If you like to drive an F150 with room to spare on the sides, this ain't the place for you. Knowing I am going to need to drive in the next couple of days, I grab the seat in the front and try to get used to driving on the other side of the road, trying hard to ignore the fact that the roads are barely wide enough for a Mazda 6 and that there is no divider to stop the oncoming traffic from barreling straight into you.

When we get home we are greeted by my mother in law and the cutest baby girl this side of the Atlantic. The rest of the day is spent being entertained by the Baby A. Show. In between I realize I have been designated the resident computer expert and now have the responsibility of diagnosing and fixing V's beat-up old laptop. This is the only computer they have, and their only connection to the outside world, so no pressure really.

I manage to stay up till 10:30 and not fix the machine. I know I have to sleep so that I am fresh for my US visa stamping the next day, but the damn sun's still out and it just doesn't feel late enough to sleep. What sort of freakish place have I come to?

Light or not, I feel the jet-lag starting to get a hold of me, so we decide to pack it in for the 'night'. After all, it's a big day tomorrow. I get to find out whether I am going to be let back into the US.

Sunday, August 09, 2009

Dive under the rainbow, fly over the pond... Ho, what's this? Do I spy a wee Leprechaun?

UK Trip Log: Day 1 - Sunday, 28 June, Raleigh to Belfast via Newark:

Ahh... the day has finally arrived. After all the planning, booking, cancelling, searching, bidding, pricelining, kayaking, hotwiring and eurocheapoing, I am relieved that the day is finally here when I leave for our UK vacation. S has been in Ireland for 3 weeks by now, so there is the added benefit of ending my forced isolation. My friends had all been telling me to enjoy my temporary bachelorhood, but despite my best attempts, I could not find much to enjoy about being lonely and hungry all the time.

It's good that I don't believe in omens. I am woken up by a recorded message from Continental that my 2:30 flight has been cancelled and I have been booked on the 5:30 flight to Newark instead. Now normally this would be no more than a minor irritation, but knowing from first hand experience that Continental flights from RDU to Newark are always late by at least two hours every day, I know this change means I will definitely miss my connection to Belfast.

I yell into the phone, " Are you kidding me? You can't just cancel the f@#$%^& flight!"

I hear the recorded voice say a dispassionate "Thank You," followed by an even more dispassionate click.

I immediately scramble to call the customer support, who turn out to be very customer unsupportive. Apparently all other flights are full, so I can't get a seat on an earlier one. There is nothing they can do, I am told. They can un-cancel the original flight, I counter. For some reason they think this is an unreasonable solution.

So I call the friend who is dropping me off and tell him to come 3 hours early so that i can try to catch the earlier flight. I reach the airport and manage to get on the top of the waiting list for the 1230 flight.

I make my way to the gate, hoping and praying that I get the earlier flight. I am told that I will have to wait until the entire plane has boarded before they know if someone has not shown up for the flight. I feel like an expectant father pacing outside the delivery room. After what seems like an excruciatingly slow boarding process, in which time I have prepared and practised my rant about how they need to get me to Newark in time any way they can, the attendant finally delivers my boarding pass. Thankfully, I don't need to demonstrate my inadequate arguing skills. I carry the boarding pass with me like I would a newborn child (or at least how I imagine one does this sort of a thing, never actually having had the chance to do it).

The flight is uneventful and on time, a rare feat for Continental ( the latter, that is. I assume most of their flights are pretty uneventful). Having reached Newark airport seven hours before the next flight, however, I now need to figure out how to pass the rest of the time. I figure one good idea may be to spot potential terrorists. One just never knows these days. And doing it on the ground is so much easier than saving the plane from them a-la Steven Seagal, though I have no doubt I can pull that off as well if the situation arises. So I start scanning the crowd and almost immediately come upon a likely candidate. Angry scowl, stubble, brown skin (racial profiling, cry the liberals) - definitely a shady character. It takes me two minutes to realize I am staring at my own reflection in the terminal window. Hmm, scratch off FBI from the list of potential career options.

After my failed attempt at racial profiling, I decide to spend some time people-watching. Oh people, you are so weird. There is this one lady who must think she is on a reality show. She is arguing with her boyfriend on the speaker phone. Angry women scare me, so I quickly sidle past her. I take a seat. Directly in front of me is a couple in their thirties. The woman is showing the man the warts on her neck and back. People watching is not turning out to be that much fun either.

One puke-worthy hamburger, one fourth of a book and a multitude of strange people later, I finally am on board the plane. Oh, the ride is just beginning. I am in the middle seat, a location intended for the singular purpose of torturing the poor, unfortunate souls who are either too late or too stupid to book a different seat. Already seated in the window seat is a friendly Irishman. Shakes my hand, gives me his headphones (God knows why) and tells me he has been stuck at the airport for the past 24 hours. Wonderful. I sit down and make myself comfortable. A lady in her forties walks up to the aisle seat. As she is sitting down, my new Irish best friend tells her that he has been stuck at the airport for 24 hours. She brushes him off, and then brushes me off for good measure. Mr. Window Seat tells me I am a good man. As if I didn't know.

At this point Mr. Window Seat proceeds to burp three times. Of course, being a gentleman, he does excuse himself. Sulking Lady now pages the air hostess (or whatever they are called these days) and gets her seat changed. Mr. Window Seat asks me if it was anything he said. He says he has had a few wines and makes sure I know he has been at the airport since last night. I am thinking about how to move to the vacant aisle seat without offending the man, when the air hostess (steward?) ushers another man into it. The light at his original seat is broken, so he has come here so that he can read his paper. Poor sod doesn't know what he is getting into. Just to prove that point, Mr. Window Seat asks him if the previous lady changed the seat because he had had too many wines, tells him that he has been here since last night, burps a couple of times, and then excuses himself three times. Then he decides to take a toilet break, apologizing profusely for making us get up.

He comes back and gets seated, making sure he tell us how sorry he is for making us get up (again), and how nice we are. Eight times. When the dinner rolls around, her asks for two whiskeys, one water and no dinner. He plans to drink the whiskey and go to sleep he tells me. Thankfully, he really does do that. Of course, the burps continue. And he talks in his sleep. Every once in a while he wakes up and reminds me what a nice man I am, how he was at the airport for 24 hours, and how beautiful Ireland is.

After a couple of hours, I decide I really need to get some sleep despite the wine-and-whiskey-burps smelling air around me.

It's a good thing I don't believe in omens. This day does not portend well for the rest of my trip.