Monday, June 23, 2014

Across the Atlantic

Two wonderful things have happened since yesterday, and they are, in order: a good night's sleep and a full stomach. I feel much more ready to tackle the subject of our travel today. I will try to summarize the important bits, because it was, on the whole, incredibly boring. You'd think there would be something enlivening about hurtling through the air at hundreds of miles per hour in an airtight piece of steel strapped to two compression bombs, but for whatever reason, it puts everyone right to sleep. Here is what I remember.

When you last saw us, we had passed through the first security check and Elijah had wished us "a great time". We resolved, among ourselves, to do just that. Security in Dulles was a breeze, and waiting at the gate for an hour even more so. In fact, the only thing that happened in Dulles besides our goodbye that I even remember is meeting up with Monica, another student in the Galway program, who was taking the same flight. Everything else is sort of a sticky, cheesy, bacony haze, at least until I digested.

In JFK (not Boston), our layover was supposed to be four hours, but because our flight there lasted about 40 minutes, it was closer to five. We emerged from the aircraft into JFK's terminal 2, a terminal entirely comprised of Delta gates. Great, we thought. We can find a quiet corner somewhere and relax or nap until our flight at 11:30pm.

But the gate number wasn't on our boarding pass, and it wasn't on the screen that showed all the Delta flights and where they were going. This must be, we thought, because we were so EARLY to the terminal, and the flight information hadn't even been DECIDED when we left for JFK, so we were really AHEAD of schedule. We figured the world would probably catch up to us and our superior preparation in a couple hours.

Only, two cheeseburgers (sorry, Mom) and several hours later, it hadn't. The screens in JFK's Terminal 2 showed flights to every location imaginable, some as far as six hours out. But there was no trace of a flight to Shannon anywhere. With an hour and a half left to spare, we figured it might be a good idea to figure that whole thing out.

I grabbed a passing employee and asked her why we couldn't find our flight information. She asked where we were going, I said Ireland, and she sighed.
"That's Terminal 4," she said.
"Oh? There's another terminal with Delta flights?"
"This terminal is all domestic Delta flights. There's not a single international flight here. That's Terminal 4."

We took this in for a second, blushing, as we recalled that in every single flight listing we had read, there had not been a single international flight. Maybe that should have been a hint.
"So..." I said, "how do we get to this terminal 4? Is it that way," I asked, pointing in a random direction in a transparent attempt to look informed.
"Nope," she said. "It's down these stairs, to the left, all the way down the hall, and out the doors. Walk across the bus and taxi lanes, turn right, and a while down there's a place where a train will pick you up and take you to Terminal 4."
"Oh. We better get going," I said, laughing.
"Yeah," she said, deadly serious. "You got to go back through the main entrance and through TSA again."
We booked it.

Luckily, our layover cushion allowed us to get to the gate with almost an hour to spare. Right on time, we boarded the flight and set off for Ireland.

The flight was uneventful. We watched the Veronica Mars movie. We talked. Sarah slept. I didn't. Finally, we flew into the sunrise and I could look down out of the window and see the sun rising over the Atlantic.

Seeing the cliffs and fields of Ireland slowly come into view  over the horizon was like nothing else. As far as I can tell, the whole country looks like that. All of it. There is no surface on the whole island that isn't a lush green field, covered in dense woods, sea-cliffs, or a nice property with a quaint little Irish house built on it. We got to fly over a nice portion of the west coast as we approached from the south and made our way up the coastline to Shannon. You can't see from the photo, but there are a surprising number of sheep in those fields.

The Shannon airport was our first introduction to Ireland, and Irish culture, and it was a good one. Each sign was written in Irish Gaelic, with an English translation underneath. Customs consisted of a friendly old man who called me "laddie" and barely looked at my passport before waving me through. After getting our bags, we wandered through an empty hall with signs telling us where we should go and who we should talk to and how we should handle entering the country, but no one was there. We just walked through into Ireland. We withdrew some shiny new euros from the ATM and bought a bus ticket to Galway.

You know the great thing about euros? The bills that are worth more are bigger than the bills that are worth less. You feel like you're holding more money because you are. I thought about this on the bus ride to Galway while we passed beautiful pasture after beautiful pasture, and neighborhood after neighborhood populated with unique Irish houses on large, open plots of land.

Once in Galway, we were given these cryptic instructions by our ever-helpful program director: "Once you're in Galway, exit the bus depot and turn left. About half a block down, you'll see the pickup spot for the free shuttle. It's across the street from the building with the glass facade with pink "For Sale" signs in the window."

The bus depot has no entrance; it is just a bit of sidewalk where the buses line up. This makes "exiting" difficult, and turning left even more difficult. Furthermore, the color of every "For Sale" sign in Galway is pink, and it appears that by "glass facade" he might have meant "lots of windows".

We took a taxi.

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