This last premise isn’t something I learned in 2020 but it did serve me well. In 2003 I was diagnosed with Fibromyalgia, a diagnosis that wasn’t well understood then and even now is still a mystery in many aspects. Everyone experiences it to different degrees and the symptoms include joint and muscle pain, trouble sleeping, brain fog, fatigue, emotional swings more unpredictable than any roller coaster, and a wide variety of other challenges. The way I feel from hour to hour can change, making it difficult to commit to plans with friends or feeling guilty if I do plan and have to cancel at the last minute because the pain is too bad.
Some mornings I wake up with muscles so tight I can’t stand up straight or turn my head. I’ve learned over the years tricks to ease the tension but there are days when nothing works. I just have to bear it and tell myself, “Tomorrow is a new day”.
I’m a student of history. It always frustrated me in school when each year we would only cover the same time periods. We rarely made it to World War I and never beyond. I took it upon myself to read about the events not covered in class.
The magnitude of devastation the world has seen and survived helped to keep the events of 2020 in perspective. The “Black Death” swept through most of the known world in the mid-1300s and lasted seven years killing an estimated 200 million people. There was no known cure or treatment. This plague came on the heels of a famine about thirty years earlier, which is estimated to have killed anywhere from 30%-60% of Europe’s population.
Many of you have probably heard the statistics of the Spanish flu that began in 1918 as WWI was still grinding on. Somewhere between 20-50 million people died from this illness and again there was little doctors were able to do. Just over forty years later, in the late 1960s, my grandmother was stricken during the Hong Kong flu epidemic. Thankfully she survived but her lungs were damaged for the rest of her life. Treatments had progressed, though, and this outbreak’s death toll declined to between 1-2 million lives.
Most recently, in 2009, the Swine Flu swept across the globe creating panic and causing around 200,000 recorded deaths. My dad contracted this illness and was very ill. He survived, but again his lungs were damaged and he’s suffered breathing issues ever since.
Disease is not the only thing that has claimed lives through the centuries. Wars, famines, natural disasters, tyrannical leaders, unchecked gang violence, and everyday car wrecks have laid claim to millions of victims. When the media is bombarding us with one story all day and facts are evolving on a frequent basis it’s easy to get caught up in fear and become paralyzed, desperate for any action that offers protection.
I have family members and acquaintances that contracted COVID. Some were very sick, some died, but most were minimally ill. I have gone through the gut wrenching pain of watching loved ones die of incurable diseases. I don’t discount the suffering of those who have experienced loss. It took a period of anguish for me to come to terms with what my heart has known since childhood. God knows all the days of our lives. He knows when we will be born, all we will do and the day we will die. It’s an inevitable part of life none of us like to think about but cannot escape. Remembering that along with the lessons of the past helped me keep the year in perspective.
If you don’t know Jesus in a personal way, it’s difficult to see light or experience hope in this fear filled time. If you need hope, I encourage you to take time to read the New Testament of the Bible, the words of Jesus himself. Start with the book of John. If that is intimidating, watch Season 1 of The Chosen, which follows the calling of the disciples of Jesus. It makes the life of Jesus relatable, understandable, and real. Season 2 will begin streaming on Easter Sunday, April 4, 2021.
Humanity has suffered great turmoil before and we will do so again until the day Jesus returns. What a glorious day that will be!
Before the pandemic, I worked in an environment with plenty of distractions. One wall of my office was shared with a busy conference room and another with the main breakroom for the floor. When the refrigerator door opened it would often hit my wall and threaten to shake loose anything hanging from it. People often hurried past the door or dropped in to see what was going on and my office mate being an extreme extrovert, people-pleaser, engaged them all in lengthy conversation. I became an expert at tuning out what was happening right beside me.
Transitioning to a home office stripped those distractions, but replaced them with new and, for a period, more interesting distractions. What time did the mailman come? How many deliveries did the neighbors receive each day? Would the construction across the street ever be finished? Who are the new neighbors moving in? Is the handsome new guy single? Yes, I became the one drawn to the window at any new sound or rumbling delivery truck. I’ve seen enough mysteries where the nosy neighbor gets killed, though, to know not to buy a pair of binoculars for a better view.
All I learned about tuning things out in the office started to come in handy at home. I didn’t need to see which children where playing outside or what the handsome young man was wearing when he left. I could have the TV on for background noise and when one of the podcasts I follow wandered into the now repetitive and pointless topics, I hit fast forward.
As the weeks passed, I started to see more families riding bikes or taking walks. I wonder how many of them were outside hoping to escape the pervasive doom and gloom. It was good to see families out together, enjoying nature and time together. There is a wonderful drive through a wildlife refuge a few miles from my house along with a maze of tiny dirt paths that meander along spits of land in the Indian River. I took these drives several times and saw more people enjoying them along with me than I have in all the years I’ve lived here.
It’s healthy and often necessary to tune out the noise in life. I don’t mean just the news and social media, but the things that nag at you and keep you from spending time with family. The house will always need to be vacuumed, the dishes or clothes will always need to be washed, there’s always another conference call or report to write. It’s important to draw boundaries and stick with them.
Keep work at work and home at home. Of course emergencies can arise with either, and those can be handled as needed, but other than that, focus on where you are and who you are with at that moment. Turn off the TV and computers. Put your phone on silent or Do Not Disturb and take a walk. Tell your kids stories they will roll their eyes at, but years down the road they will remember and realize how right you were.
I’ve been pretty self-sufficient for as long as I can remember. I have put together all my furniture, even the Ikea stuff with the terrible directions. Watching HGTV demolition days always inspired in me a feeling of how satisfying it would be to take a sledge hammer to my kitchen cabinets.
Solitude isn’t the same as isolation, at least in my heart and mind. The Merriam-Webster Dictionary defines solitude as “the quality or state of being alone or removed from society” and isolation as “the action of isolating or the condition of being isolated.” I find something relaxing and restorative about solitude, while I never associate isolation with any positive. Prisons have isolation cells, hospitals have isolation wards, horror movies are often set in isolated cabins, you get the picture.
2020 was a year like most of us have never experienced. Social turmoil, a pandemic, economic downturn, social isolation, and violent terror attacks. Conversely, there was also a resurgence of families spending time together, children playing outside, an awakening of faith, a renewed appreciation for many things we’d long taken for granted. Over the next several weeks I will share some of the things I learned and experienced.
The first thing I learned was to appreciate what I have. I was fortunate not to be furloughed from my job when many others were. I had mixed feelings, a little bit of envy. I can think of numerous projects I would have completed with all that time off, including editing my current work in progress. However, there were glitches with the unemployment benefits and some colleagues were still waiting for their first payment over a month later. Watching my meager savings account dwindle in an effort to keep the basic bills paid would have place tremendous stress on me. I thanked God for knowing what was best and keeping me where I needed to be during that period.
Our final morning in Ireland started with some last minute adjustments to our bags and a light breakfast. Our taxi arrived a bit early and I was feeling good about having plenty of time to get checked in and settled before the flight. The Dublin airport has two terminals and I had studied the website the previous night to make sure I knew which terminal we needed to go to. My memory isn’t the best, though, and when the taxi driver asked which terminal I couldn’t be sure I remembered correctly. There were signs for other airlines but not Iceland Air so I took a guess and we got out at Terminal 2. (Don’t hold me to this, it could change and may have since we were there. I checked the website at the time of this writing and found Iceland Air currently departs from terminal 2)
That was wrong. We asked for directions and found the skyway connecting the two terminals and hurried to find the check-in counter, where of course there was a line. We really had plenty of time, but waiting in lines before a flight makes me anxious. When I travel in the U.S. I always use the airline’s app, do the online check-in with the digital boarding pass and only have to worry about the security line.
Before too long we were at the counter checking in. As you may recall, we were supposed to fly home the day prior, but the airline had allowed us to extend an extra day to make up for arriving so late on the inbound flight. The change had seemed to go seamlessly until we checked in. Yes, they had our seat reservation but the checked bags and meals we had prepaid for hadn’t transferred to the new departure.
I wish I had made note of the name of the ticket agent as she was truly wonderful. She made some phone calls and received approval to check our bags without any additional fees. The food, though, she couldn’t help us with. We weren’t getting the meals until the second leg of the flight from Iceland to Orlando, so I figured I would try to work something out during the layover. Boarding passes in hand and checked luggage handled, we went in search of the VAT refund desk.
If you haven’t traveled to a country with a Value Added Tax (VAT) allow me to explain. This tax is only applicable to residents and those traveling outside the VAT zone are eligible to file for a refund on goods purchased that are being exported to their home. Food or services consumed during the trip are not eligible for any refund. To make it a bit more complicated, there are different ways you can refund the VAT. Some shops complete paperwork right at the time of sale exempting you from being charged the VAT to begin with; some provide you with a lengthy receipt that has to be turned in before leaving the country, and then there is the Horizon card. This card is swiped at participating stores and then you swipe it at the airport before departing for your refund to be processed. Some stores have clear signs about which process they follow, most do not.
Then there is the hunt to find the VAT Refund desk in the airport. The first set of directions we received seemed pretty good, turn at the sweets shop. Well, the Dublin Airport has multiple sweets shops. Were we supposed to turn at the chocolate cafe or one of the smaller shops that appeared every few feet?
We stopped and asked again then headed back the way we’d come. This time we saw a small sign that seemed to indicate what we were looking for. We turned down a hallway nearly bereft of people and found two desks with one person at each and some kiosks in between. We handed them our papers and they helped us with the documents that needed to be mailed then directed us to the kiosks to swipe our cards for the remaining transactions. When it was all said and done, I think I got back $7 or $8 US Dollars, certainly not more than $15. A number of my souvenir’s purchased in smaller shops apparently didn’t have the appropriate receipts. So, if you are considering applying for a VAT refund, consider if it is worth the headache of trying to figure out how many processes you want to follow and how much time you want to invest in finding the refund desk.
We arrived at the gate with plenty of time to spare and had an uneventful flight from Dublin to Reykjavik. Once we landed, we found an Iceland Air customer service desk and asked about our meals. Sadly, these agents weren’t as kind as the women in Ireland. Here we were told we were out of luck, that the food had to be ordered 24-hours in advance and no they couldn’t refund us what we had paid. Off we went in search of something to eat since it was an 8+hour flight. The cost was exorbitant and the choices were limited in the secure area. I wasn’t about to go through customs to get to the services outside security after the fiasco I’d had on the way into the country so I bit the bullet and bought an assortment of snacks.
Where the Dublin Airport was packed with various shops and places to eat, Reykjavik-Keflavik Airport was sparse and laid out in an almost clinical style, at least in the secure area. I don’t recall too much about the area outside security from our inbound flight. I was too tired and traumatized by the trip getting there I didn’t register too many of the sights.
There was a nearly a 4-hour layover and I don’t think I relaxed until the plane was in the air, worried about possible delays. All went well, though, and we landed in Orlando around 10:00pm. By the time we returned to my house and shared some highlights with my parents who had been house/cat sitting, it was after 1am local time (7:00am Dublin time) and we’d been up since 6:00am Dublin time. Tired but filled with many happy memories I fell into bed.
A few general thoughts and comments about the trip.
Since returning home, my mom has gotten a genealogy bug and has located a number of Irish and Scottish ancestors on both my maternal and paternal sides. I knew there had to be some Irish and Scottish blood in my veins as the land seemed to call out to me and I felt so completely at home everywhere we went. Now, of course, I need to make a trip to Scotland to explore my heritage there.
I love hats, but don’t get to wear them too often in Florida. I hate it when my head gets hot and sweaty. I wore one everyday in Ireland. I had 3 to choose from but I ended up only wearing two of them. One, a black wool knit cap my parents gave me for Christmas just a few months before the trip was perfect. It was warm, snug on my head against the strong winds, and remarkably rain resistant. Many thanks to the folks at Three Eagle Outfitters that recommended this hat to my mom.
One concern before we left Florida had to do with chronic neck, shoulder, and back pain. I have found that DoTerra’s Deep Blue cream works wonders on these pains so I stocked up on travel packets in case I had a flare during the trip. I took 20 packets with me and only needed to use two or three. That was a blessing.
On our inbound flight I had used a shopping bag as my personal item, which had been less than ideal. For the return I used a High Sierra packable backpack I’d brought along for day trips and this was much more efficient. I used this bag several days during the trip and it proved water repellent. It was a nice lightweight and when not in use packed into a compact rectangle. On the return trip, this held my iPad, camera case, itinerary notebook, a couple of the books I had purchased, wallet, cell phone and a few other sundries. The side pockets were great for holding my water bottle and some snacks. During day trips I was able to secure the zippers by using a carabiner to link all three together, making it at least a bit more difficult for a thief to quickly reach into the bag.
Once we were home, I contacted Iceland Air about the challenges we had encountered and I was pleased with the resolution they provided over email. The online customer support was much nicer than the agents we spoke with in the airport itself. We were able to get our return meals refunded and under European Union regulations were compensated for the inbound delay, with all the funds in our accounts within approximately 48 hours of wrapping up our correspondence.
I am sad to be ending this series and haven’t decided what my next series is going to be on quite yet so I will be taking a couple of weeks off. I will post some of my favorite pictures from the trip that didn’t make it into previous posts in the interim, though. Between Tricia and I we have close to 5,000 photos/videos! We’ve been home nearly 7 months and I just received copies of her photos this past weekend. I’m looking forward to looking through them to get her perspective on the trip.
Thanks for taking this journey with me. I look forward to sharing something new and interesting in October.
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Our final full day in Ireland dawned gray with a misty rain. Over breakfast we met another pair of women who were on the second half of a whirlwind tour of Scotland and Ireland. We had a nice chat, swapping stories of our adventures thus far, then Tricia and I headed to the bus stop for one last round of sightseeing.
We’d been told by the B&B owner we could purchase a LEAP card to use on all the public transport at any convenience store. We found one blocks from the bus stop and stopped in to ask about the card. The clerk asked how long we would be using it and when he learned it was only for the day he explained we’d be better off just paying the bus fare.
There were plenty of locals waiting at the stop and one was able to help us out. The bus was quite nice, with comfortable seats, free wi-fi and a cozy temperature. I think I may have fallen asleep for a few minutes because I don’t recall much of the 30-minute ride.
When we got off the bus, we were right by the River Liffey and only a few blocks east of O’Connell Street. We planned to us the Hop On-Hop Off passes we had intended for our first day, so we made our way to the tourist office where the buses started from to get our tickets validated.
Our original plan was to ride the bus through a complete circuit then debark at our points of interest on the next trip around. Unfortunately, there was much more traffic than there had been during our previous trips around town earlier the previous week and the going was slow. When we reached Christ Church Cathedral we decided to get off and start our visits.
What a magnificent structure! I can’t imagine what the upkeep costs are for these massive cathedrals. The marble carvings and intricate ironwork is breathtaking. I had wanted to attend a choral program at either Christ Church or St. Patrick’s while we were in Dublin, but that didn’t work out with our delayed arrival. We did, however, get to be a part of noon prayers and the priest recited the Lord’s Prayer in Irish, which was pretty cool. There were also some workers finishing what appeared to be a restoration of some stones in the exterior courtyard and they asked me to help them seat the final stone. That was a cool experience. I wish we’d gotten a picture.
St. Patrick’s Cathedral wasn’t all that far away, however, my sense of direction is terrible and so we ended up going a number of blocks out of the way to find it. This was its own adventure though, taking us into more local streets with fruit stalls and quaint private courtyards. As we wandered I recognized some of the street signs from the Irish Country Doctor books. The main character, Fingal O’Reilly started his career in medicine in Dublin after graduating from Trinity College and served the poor souls of the Liberties, where I now found myself walking. They weren’t as run down now as back in the 1930s, when Fingal’s story was set.
On the walk from Christ Church to St. Patrick’s we must have passed three or four other large churches as well. The good people of Dublin certainly can’t say it’s too far a walk to get to a church!When we reached St. Patrick’s we were struck by the difference in size compared to Christ Church. It’s still a lovely cathedral and has characteristics that make it special in its own way. I was experiencing some back pain so I spent a good bit of time sitting down while Tricia went out to explore here. While I sat staring up at the stone ceiling I marveled how the builders had managed to create such a work of art that has stood the test of time. I couldn’t help but wonder what could cause the stones to be shaken loose, toppling down onto our heads.
From St. Patrick’s we joined the bus tour again, passing the Guinness Storehouse, Kilmainham Jail (another place I had wanted to visit), Phoenix Park, and a number of other sites I would have liked to have taken in. If you want to do the sights of Dublin via the Hop On-Hop Off bus I would recommend at least a 2 day pass. One day simply isn’t enough time when everything closes at 5:00 or 6:00 pm.
When we completed the loop and returned to the starting point, we debarked and crossed the street to the General Post Office. Known as the GPO, this was the site of the Rebellion stronghold during the 1916 Easter Rebellion. The GPO Witness History is an interactive experience that immerses visitors in the events of the Rebellion and was one of my must see destinations on this trip. By this time I had a migraine and my back was hurting, but it was still an interesting experience.
Because the exhibits are interactive, it does take longer to go through, but I was thrilled to see so many people really taking the time to experience everything. In addition to the exhibits, there’s a great 17 minute movie that takes visitors through the week-long struggle using old news footage, animation, a map of the city, and a timeline.
The gift shop has a broad selection of books on the rebellion, its leaders, and woman of the rebellion. I would have liked to have brought them all home, but my suitcase was quite full and my bank account would have been very unhappy so I only purchased two along with an ornament for my Christmas tree.
It was already close to dinner time and we had missed lunch, so we went in search of food. We headed toward the Temple Bar area where Tricia had found Gallagher’s Boxty House on Yelp. The city was much more crowded than the previous week, with St Patrick’s Day just around the corner there were vendors on every street corner with kitchy Irish stuff. We found the restaurant , which was nearly too warm with a fire going, but we were seated right away and the food smelled good. Tricia ordered a Gaelic boxty and I chose a hamburger. The hamburger I ordered was one of the best I’ve ever had.
I don’t drink much, a glass of wine now and then, but I really wanted to have a Jameson’s as that is what the good doctor Fingal O’Reilly always has at the end of a day. I got up the nerve to order it and, while I sipped it throughout the entire meal, I kind of enjoyed it. I doubt I could ever do more than one serving but on occasion in Ireland…
Feeling restored after a good meal, we hit the streets again in search of those final souvenirs we could tuck into the small spaces of our suitcases and give out as gifts to our friends back home. As the rain began to sprinkle again, we made our way back to the bus stop where a long queue was forming. We ended up being some of the last allowed to board the full bus. As much as I wanted to take a short nap, I was anxious to not miss our stop.
Back at the B&B the trial of making everything fit into our suitcases began. The compression bags we had used seemed to have lost some of their compression powers from being opened and closed so many times during the trip. It was close to midnight before we unlocked the puzzle and fit everything in.
Come back next week for a final recap of this memorable adventure.
Before we get back to the Irish adventure, please join me in praying for the people of the Bahamas. The devastation is tragic. I am thankful the storm stayed off shore when it reached Florida. The projections of this storm continuing up the U.S. coast and possibly into the Canadian maritimes as a hurricane is frightening. If you are in the path of Dorian, please take it seriously and stay safe.
The Hill of Tara, much like the Rock of Cashel, has a mythical quality to it in my mind. Both sites are so wrapped in legend and history it is hard to separate the two. I read about both in my teens or early twenties, a time when I was prone to romanticism and their deep ties to ancient lore seeped into my being. So mysterious is the Hill, we nearly missed it.
We exited the motorway and drove for what felt like hours down tiny “local” roads. I caught glimpses of some massive homes, wishing I could take my eyes of the road long enough to appreciate them. I wish we’d kept better track of time because I know we couldn’t have spent as long on this little road as it felt, but the next thing we know the GPS is telling us we have arrived and we are parked in front of a gate that looks like it goes into a private field.
I backed up and turned around, driving up the lane a little ways to a parking area. When we initially passed it we thought it was for a restaurant and couple of shops, but decided to park and see if one of the shop owners could point us in the right direction.
The shop owner assured us we were in the right direction and advised us to walk up the hill to a gate that should be open, but if not we could climb over it. Once we knew where we were going we noticed how obvious it should have been.
A biting wind tore at us as we walked up the hill, increasing in strength the higher we climbed. It’s not a long climb, but I’m sure the wind strengthened at least 5-10 miles per hour from where we started to the top. Gray clouds that had thinly veiled the sun on our drive grew thicker and more menacing.
We reached an old church first and it exuded a creepiness that Edgar Alan Poe would have reveled in. A tall tree, bare of any leaves, held dozens of huge nests with large black birds roosting, their cawing loud as if trying to drown out the roaring wind.
I’m not a fan of horror movies but I’ve seen a couple and I could imagine every terrible creature feeling quite at home in the church cemetery. I did wander around to take some photos, but honestly I couldn’t get out of the churchyard fast enough.
Once outside the cemetery wall, we wandered the rolling mounds of the Tara complex. The view from this height is stunning, even on a cloudy evening like ours. It’s said on a clear day, half of Ireland’s counties can be seen from this perch.
Some of the mounds had signs telling what ruins had been found below the ground and one was fenced off, I believe for an upcoming archeological dig. In case you’ve never heard about Tara, this was the seat of the high kings of Ireland and legend has it St. Patrick visited here in 433 AD. Going back even further in history, is the “Mound of Hostages”, a passage tomb and the oldest visible monument, which dates back to about 3000 BC.
For a historical fiction account of the era, particularly the triumph of Brian Boru I recommend two books that drew me into the lore of this place, Lion of Ireland and Pride of Lions by Morgan Llywelyn. The links I included above provide more information about the monuments you can now see as well as the history of the area.
We wrapped up our exploration when our fingers were too numb to take pictures and headed to our Bed & Breakfast in Swords. This was supposed to be our last night in Ireland so we had chosen a place a few miles from the airport and were scheduled to return the rental car that evening. It took a little over an hour to reach Swords, but Sibonah (the car GPS) didn’t want to be very helpful when it came to locating the B&B. I don’t know why we had decided to use her rather than one of our phones since she’d been unreliable the few previous times we had used her. All I can think is we were tired.
We made a couple of circles before reaching the B&B with a tiny driveway. We unloaded our suitcases and hauled them up to the second floor room. The hostess was a bit of an odd duck and was more concerned about a bag bumping the wall than our struggle up the stairs. Her cat was much friendlier, though, and provided a dose of comfort before we steeled our nerves for the drive to the airport car rental return.
This is the point when the wheels nearly fell off the bus. Tricia and I were both tired and we hadn’t had a real meal since breakfast. We were only 3 kilometers from the airport, but it must have taken us half an hour to figure out where the rental return was located. We drove round and round, getting more tense with each circle. Of course there was a ton of traffic also making it even harder to maneuver. I was trying to stay calm but I could feel the frustration rolling off Tricia in the passenger seat. I figured out to pull into a hotel parking lot on the edge of the airport property and sent Tricia in to see if she could get directions but that ended up making her more frustrated.
I sent up a silent prayer for guidance and headed out of the hotel, taking a different exit from the roundabout than we’d taken the other times and it turned out to be correct. It took a couple of minutes to get the car turned in then we were shuttled back to the airport terminal area to wait for a bus. This was the first experience with bus transportation for either of us, not just in Ireland but anywhere in the world.
The B&B owner had given us some directions on how to get to the bus stop near her house and the name of a bus, but she spoke so fast neither one of us was sure we’d gotten the information correct. A lady who worked at the airport joined us at the stop and we asked her about the bus. She was kind and provided us with the information we needed, then made sure we boarded the correct bus when it arrived. We managed to find the correct stop to get off and then had to walk a few blocks back to the house. A light rain had started again and we were thrilled to get back to our room.
Thank goodness for an in-room kettle and several bags of tea. Instead of venturing back out to find dinner, we made tea and finished off the pastries we’d purchased at Lidl early in the day. A cup of hot tea, a hot shower, and a bed have never been so appreciated.