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Time to return home September 20, 2019

Filed under: friends,travel — itsrebekahlyn @ 8:15 AM
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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.

 

By Ardfern – Own work, CC BY-SA 3.0, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=16221988

 

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?

 

That sounds like the place for me! #travel #airport #chocolate #lounge #dublin #jetlag
Credit: Matteo Doni on Flickr

 

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.

 

Sample receipt with the Horizon card

 

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.

 

Loved this hat!

 

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.

 

They fit nicely in a travel pill pack I wasn’t using for medicines

 

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.

 

Some of the links above are affiliate links and I will earn a commission if you click through and make a purchase. There is no charge to you and I only link to items I have purchased myself.

 

A Wee Dram September 13, 2019

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.

 

Swords Castle on the way to the bus stop

 

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.

 

Christ Church Cathedral

 

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.

 

 

Neighborhood monument

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.

 

Gallagher’s Box House

 

A wee bit of Jameson’s

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.

 

The Clouds of History July 5, 2019

A gray and weeping sky greeted us Thursday morning, which fit our exhausted spirits. We were thankful to have a slower day planned and dawdled over breakfast in the hotel restaurant before meeting our guide for a taxi tour of Belfast’s iconic murals.

 

As much as I’ve read about Belfast, it was still startling to see how close together Shankill and Falls Roads are. The physical divide between Catholic and Protestant neighborhoods isn’t much at all. Our guide had a first-hand perspective of the “Troubles” as his grandfather had been a member of the IRA and served time in jail.

 

Much like we in the U.S. are working to rewrite history by tearing down monuments, some of the historical murals in Belfast have been painted over or modified to alter their meaning. We learned that any mural with a face on it couldn’t be painted over, but could be altered. History should be something that is objective rather than subjective, a statement of facts. If we don’t learn where we come from and the mistakes that were made, how can we learn and avoid repeating those mistakes? I wish now that I’d purchased a book on all the murals.

 

 

I’m fascinated with the whole Brexit situation, particularly how it will impact the people of Northern Ireland and if this shift will be what leads to the island being reunited. I asked the guide about this and he seemed to agree that reunification was likely, if only for economic reasons. Brexit will likely lead to a hard border with the Republic of Ireland, causing goods being transported from north to south to be subject to border checks. (Some roads cross the border numerous times within a few miles!)

 

Additionally, the Catholic population is growing; the demographic that has most wanted reunification all along. Where they once were a significant minority, they are forecast to be the majority within the next couple of years. If you live in the UK, particularly Northern Ireland, I’d love to hear your thoughts.

 

Our guide dropped us off at Belfast City Hall so we could do a little more exploring. It’s the most impressive City Hall I’ve ever been in! The rain was only a light sprinkle by this time and we enjoyed our walk back to the hotel. The train ride back to Dublin went quickly and we were greeted by Tricia’s friend, Dan. He guided us to our hotel on the River Liffey to drop off our bags and we walked to Trinity College, just a few minutes away. Trinity is a beautiful campus.

 

 

We had tickets to see the Book of Kells, a 9th century manuscript, created around 800 AD, that documents the four Gospels of the life of Jesus Christ. We reached the exhibit and flowed from one informational wall to another, learning about the art of illumination, until we reached the actual book in a glass case.

 

When we finally reached the Book, I experienced a feeling of deflation, much like I felt upon seeing the Mona Lisa in the Louvre. Both are much smaller than I expected and the colors of the Book weren’t as vibrant as I anticipated. It’s beautiful, for sure, and it’s obvious the work to create it must have been painstaking. I was so deflated I forgot to take a picture of the actual thing, but I did have a photo of a copy housed at the Dublin Writer’s Museum, which is a pretty good replication. Sometimes we build things up in our mind so much we are bound to be let down when we do finally experience them.

 

Copy of the Book of Kells

Dan was going to take us to a fish & chip shop, but after wandering for close to an hour, stumbling on icons such as Molly Malone, St. Patrick’s Cathedral, Christ Church Cathedral, and Dublin Castle, we stopped at the Bull & Castle. Dan was brave and ordered an appetizer of bone marrow. It was strange in every way, but the taste wasn’t bad. The steak I ordered was one of the best I’ve ever had.

 

 

Dublin definitely comes alive at night. The streets were crowded as we walked back to our hotel and music poured out of many pubs we passed. We had a good chuckle at the line of American franchises- Kentucky Fried Chicken, Papa John Pizza, TGIFriday’s, Subway, Burger King, and McDonalds- practically on top of each other. I admit we did enter the McDonalds, but only so Tricia could use the facilities. Don’t worry, I purchased a coffee.

 

Come back next week as Tricia and I pick up our rental car and hit the road!

 

 
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