I realize it’s June and I’m just writing the second part to our February trip to Europe. I was just building suspense and anticipation.
In planning our trip to London to see Brandi Carlile, we ran into a cost issue when trying to book flights home. I booked our trip over using miles and we enjoyed United’s BusinessFirst to get some rest before the longest two days ever, but we planned to travel home using our United NRSA (non-revenue standby) privileges. The only problem is flying out of the UK results in a litany of departure taxes that drives the cost of the “free” standby seat to well over $600 each. At that price, it’s actually not significantly more to just purchase a confirmed seat. But, after doing some digging I found a loophole. Ireland.
Ireland doesn’t bog down tickets with all the taxes travelers encounter leaving the UK. In fact, our standby BusinessFirst seats cost about $150 each when all was said and done. Sure, we paid for train and ferry transit to Ireland, but I figured we would still spend less than the taxes out of the UK and we’d get to see something more than just London.
We happily left our disgusting hotel in London behind and made our way to Euston station where we boarded Virgin Trains for the trip to Holyhead. The trip took about four hours and was a really cool way to see some of the English countryside. We paid about $55USD each for a coach train seat and a ticket on the ferry from Holyhead to Dublin. The train was basic and clean. The only puzzling thing about it was the lack of storage for suitcases. Aren’t many making trips like this traveling with backpacks and luggage? As it was, everyone in our car piled luggage into a precarious mountain at the back of the car. It looked like it would topple at any moment, and as passengers departed it was like a game of Jenga trying to retrieve various bags.
We arrived in Holyhead around mid-day. The connections to the ferries are very easy, but the station was really gross. The bathrooms were filthy and sparse, and there were no services to speak of in the waiting lounge. Fortunately, our wait was brief and boarding started and completed very quickly. We were immediately impressed with the size of the ferry. I hadn’t really put much thought or research into the concept, but I was expecting a smaller vessel similar to those that make the run between LA and Catalina Island. What we boarded was a large ship with staterooms, lounges, bars and restaurants…even free wifi. We had a great time on the trip over and enjoyed beer as we crossed the Irish Sea.
We arrived in Dublin and grabbed a cab to the city centre and our hotel, the O’Callaghan Alexander Hotel. What a treat it was to have a clean, spacious room with a large bath and fantastic shower! The best part…no hair in the bed! We prepaid the room using an online service and paid about $93 USD per night, which I think was a steal. We grabbed dinner at a local restaurant that was very pretentious and not very good, then hit the hay to be ready for our one day of sightseeing in Dublin.
I really only had one objective in Dublin, and that was to see the Guinness Storehouse and get my certificate for pouring the perfect pint. But, people would probably think I have a problem if my only sightseeing experience in a city was related to beer. So, we started the day out with a visit to Trinity College where we toured the Old Library and saw the Book of Kells. Once the high-brow culture soak was over, we headed over to Guinness.
As in London, we didn’t take any transportation around Dublin; we walked the entire day. I don’t think we covered as many miles as London, but my feet were still sore at the end of the day. We muddled our way through the city and made it to the Storehouse. The tour is self-guided and a lot of fun. It’s also a really deep look not only into the history of Guinness, but also the history of Ireland and Dublin in particular. The exhibit on transportation in Dublin was really interesting, and we spent a couple hours wandering the various displays. Of course, we finished it up with a short class on pouring the perfect pint and earned our certificates. Mission accomplished!
We left the Storehouse and wandered the city taking in some of the sights with the objective of touring the Jameson Irish Whiskey distillery (I know, I know…). Unfortunately, by the time we arrived there was a long wait for the tour and we had dinner plans, so we were unable to experience the tour. We walked back to the hotel and got ready to head out for the evening.
When we planned the trip to Dublin, I contacted a former colleague (and now friend) from Ernst & Young who I knew was living in the city. Giada and I met several years ago in Germany when I was working on a project for which she coordinated logistics. Giada is from Milan, but had taken an assignment in Dublin and she agreed to meet us for a pint. We met her at the hotel and walked to one of her favorite local pubs where we enjoyed a pint and had a great time catching up. She had plans for the evening with friends, so a few of them met up with us and they invited us to come along to dinner. Her friends are all Italians living in Dublin, so it was pretty interesting seeing the city from their perspective. We went to a local Italian eatery, then they invited us along to a nightclub. Knowing we had to leave for the airport at 6AM didn’t stop us from drinking too much and staying out late with them. It was a blast.
We left the girls at the club, and I decided I knew exactly how to get back to the hotel and that we didn’t need a cab. After an hour of wandering the city in the wee hours of the morning, we flagged a cab and made it back to the hotel. We’re lucky we didn’t get mugged (our hotel was across the street from the park where Geek Hiker was attacked).
After a brief nap, we got up, packed out bags and headed to the airport for our trip home. Departing Ireland for the US is great because travelers clear US Customs and Immigration while still in Ireland, so when the flight lands in the US there isn’t the hassle of clearing C&I, retrieving bags, re-checking bags and going through security again…you just get off the plane and head to your domestic connection. We knew the flight was very open, so there wasn’t no stressing about whether we’d get seats, and just before boarding started our names were called and we were given our seats in BusinessFirst. We boarded and enjoyed the service of a great cabin crew on our way to Washington Dulles. The lie-flat beds were welcome considering how little sleep we had the night before.
We arrived in DC to find our flight to Vegas was overbooked. Some quick changes (what did we do before smart phones?!) and we jumped on a flight to San Francisco. Once we arrived in SFO we ran from the main United terminal to the international terminal (all the Vegas flights seem to leave from the international terminal for some reason) where the flight was mostly boarded. We were 8th and 9th on the standby list, so it wasn’t looking good. We practiced exemplary non-rev etiquette and waited patiently to the side with bags ready. The gate agent looked over and asked if we were standby. We confirmed and provided our names. He printed boarding passes and handed them to us. How we managed to get on we’ll never know, but we sure appreciated it. I slept on the short hop to Vegas so I would be ready for the two hour drive home to Utah.
It was a whirlwind five days, but we had a blast. The concert was awesome, and it was so much fun to see some of the sights we’ve seen our entire lives on TV and in movies. I definitely want to go back to Dublin and see more of Ireland. I’m looking forward to another trip there some day!