transit

Jer picked a trip to Amsterdam, Netherlands and Bruges, Belgium for his big milestone birthday this year. Lisa and Jeanne had been on the same trip (in reverse order) about 10 years ago, so they took the lead in planning. The trip was in the works since early in the year, so it was surprising when it was suddenly time for the six of us to leave for Europe for our adventure!

We all planned to travel standby for this trip, so it was important to have plans, backup plans and backup to the backup plans. Originally we mapped it out to all meet in Amsterdam on Saturday morning with Col and I traveling on United via Houston and the rest of the gang on Delta via either Seattle or Boston. I started watching the flights several weeks in advance and everything was looking good up until days before our flights. I’m not sure if UA had a fare sale, but suddenly the flight from Houston was overbooked. Time to implement the backup plan. Unfortunately, the backup plan was a no-go, as flights into Amsterdam from the rest of United’s hubs were all full or nearly full. Wow…it was time for the backup to the backup plan!

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Flights into London were wide open from Washington D.C., so the new plan involved Col and I leaving a day early, flying to London, taking an overnight ferry from the U.K. to Holland and a train into Amsterdam to meet the others. I would be lying if I said I wasn’t actually excited about this backup to the backup plan. I’m a sucker for new travel experiences.

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We left early on Thursday and made the drive to Vegas. We easily scored Economy + seats in the exit row of a legacy UA 757 for the flight to D.C. Our flight was pleasant and uneventful, and we had time to grab lunch once we landed and made our way to the United Club to utilize my newly purchased membership. I pulled out the iPad to check on our flight and noticed an earlier flight that previously did not look like an option for us was boarding and still had two United Business seats available after all the standbys had been cleared. We quickly changed our records and ran out of the club to the adjacent gate where the flight was in final boarding. The agent smiled as we walked up to the counter and commented, “I have a feeling you’ve got your eyes on those last two Business seats.” I laughed and told her how we’d moved from the much later flight while she printed our boarding passes and told us to have a nice flight. I love when the non-rev gods smile upon us!

We boarded the legacy UA 777 and took our seats. Unfortunately, we weren’t able to sit together, but since we planned to sleep on the flight over the Atlantic that really didn’t matter. We departed on time and after reaching our cruise altitude, dinner was served. The meal was actually quite good, and after a couple glasses of wine I converted my seat to the fully flat bed and quickly fell asleep. The flight over is just over seven hours, so by the time you eat and have your service cleared you can really only get about three hours of sleep before the arrival meal and preparations start. I took the offered Euro style breakfast, but didn’t eat much of it since I was still groggy. We landed and made what seemed like a mile trek to the queues for entry into the U.K. We were given priority cards because of our Business class seating, so we quickly cleared Immigration and breezed through Customs.

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We had a long day ahead of us, so we had planned to grab a room at the Yotel in T4 to shower, change and maybe take a cat nap. Sadly, there was nothing available, so we made the trek over to the on-property Hilton where we were charged 20 GBP each to use the health club showers. It was a rip-off, but we needed the refreshing to make it through the day. From there we hopped on the tube and took it to the Liverpool Street station (with a stop at King’s Cross Station to appease Col’s Harry Potter love) where we purchased our rail and sail tickets to Holland. The tickets include rail passage in the UK to the coast, ferry passage over the North Sea and train passage to any final destination in Holland. The cost was about 125 Euro per person. We had all day before our train to the coast, so we stored our bags and set off on a day of exploring. We’d been to London already this year, so we wanted to see something different. We chose to head over to Greenwich to the Old Royal Naval College and Royal Observatory.

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We stopped for lunch on the walk from the tram station and enjoyed some really good burgers and a couple beers at Gourmet Burger Kitchen. Fortunately, the only time it really rained was during our lunch while we were safely inside. After lunch we walked through Greenwich, checking out the Cutty Sark on our way to the Academy. We wandered the Academy grounds, taking in the main hall and the chapel before heading to the Observatory and the Prime Meridian. At this point we were pretty beat from all our travel and lack of sleep, so the long slog up the hill to the Observatory was a challenge. We made it to the top and were treated to an amazing view of London in the distance.

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I was disappointed to find it cost 7 GBP each to actually stand on the historical Prime Meridian, but since that was our mission of the day we grudgingly paid it and waited in line like idiot tourists to snap a photo standing on the line.

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We left Greenwich and made the trip back to Liverpool Street where we realized we still had a couple hours to kill before our train. We wandered out of the station and found our way back to St. Paul’s Cathedral, a sight we’d only briefly seen last time due to the lateness of the day. As with most churches in the UK, it cost upwards of 15 GBP to see the inside of the cathedral, so we passed and made our way back to the station on our weary feet. We grabbed our luggage from storage (9 GBP for each item for 24 hours of safekeeping) and waited for the board to update with our train’s track number. Once it showed up, we hurried to the platform and boarded, happy to be off our feet for the couple hour ride to the port.

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We arrived at the port and proceeded to registration to check in for our passage. The reception staff for Stena Line exhibited what we’ve come to know as typical Brit…coldness. Being tired and worn out from so much travel I wasn’t much in the mood to deal with the rudeness, but I pushed through, paying for an upgrade to our cabin. We waited about 15 minutes in the reception area where we had a beer, and then got in line to board. The boarding process was very slow, as there was only one employee handling all the check in work and checking passports. Passengers were noticeably frustrated as the line inched along.

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Passengers board starting at 8:30 PM, and the ferry leaves for Holland just before midnight, arriving at 7:45 AM (one hour time change), so there is plenty of time on board to enjoy the facilities. We dropped our bags in our cabin and headed down to get dinner. Options are either a cafeteria style service (3-10 Euro per person depending on what you get) or a fairly fancy sit-down restaurant in a special area of the ferry (20-40 Euro per person). There is also a bar with light snacks toward the rear of the deck. We chose the quicker, cheaper option with mixed results. I guess it was what one would expect from a ship cafeteria. We headed up to our cabin to shower and sleep after our long journey. For those not looking to sleep on the passage over the North Sea, the ferry offered a casino and movie theater.

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Our upgraded cabin was very nicely appointed. A large bed was framed by a huge window overlooking the sea, although it was dark so we couldn’t see much. The bathroom was clean and modern and had a really nice rainfall shower. A fully stocked mini-bar included complimentary beer, wine, champagne, water and snacks. We showered and dropped into bed, exhausted from two days of constant travel with only a nap. Whether the sea was rough or smooth, I have no idea. I slept soundly, until….

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I had overheard someone on the train talking about it. So, I should have been prepared. But even someone completely prepared for it can’t help but be shocked out of bed when Bobby McFerrin’s “Don’t Worry, Be Happy” is blasted into your cabin at full volume. Col and I both jumped out of bed disoriented and completely baffled as to why this music was blaring. I even scrambled looking for a radio alarm to turn off. The music is piped into each cabin at 6:00 AM in order to ensure everyone is awake, packed and ready to go before the ferry docks. Since more than half the passengers on board have cars below deck, the line is adamant that everyone be ready to move their vehicles off the ferry and not slow anything down.

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We got ready, packed up and headed down to the main deck for coffee and chocolate croissants before grabbing our bags and making our way off the ferry. While the UK is not part of the Schengen Area, Immigration into Holland was very quick and pretty lax. One line for EU passport holders moved without stopping, and I never saw anyone actually show a passport. The line for non-EU passport holders was nearly as fast, held up only for the time it took for the official to find a place to stamp our passports. He didn’t even look at the passports other than to stamp them, so it didn’t appear that it was an actual passport check. The nice thing is…we got a nice Holland stamp with a ship instead of a plane!

We left the ferry terminal and headed to the train platform to board our train for Amsterdam. It was finally time to meet up with the rest of the gang for our adventure. It was hard to believe our trip hadn’t really even started yet!

bittersweet

Last weekend was one of mixed emotions. On Friday we buried a friend who was taken way too young. On Saturday we attended a wedding reception. It’s odd the range of emotions you can feel in such a short timeframe. On the drive home from SLC we took some time to capture a little of the beauty that’s always around us.

HDRtist HDR - http://www.ohanaware.com/hdrtist/You’ll be missed, Terry.

 

the rock

IMG_7080Col and I spent the weekend at Lake Powell for my family’s bi-annual trip. My parents, sister, brother in law and nieces stopped at our place for a night on their way up to the lake, then we met them for a long weekend at Lone Rock. I wanted to spend more time, but work schedules didn’t line up very well this year. We headed up on Saturday afternoon and stayed until Monday afternoon.

IMG_7092It’s Monsoon in this part of the Southwest, so afternoon thunderstorms roll in regularly, but usually don’t last very long. Of course our only full day at the lake was the day with the most weather, and we spent the better part of Sunday afternoon holed up in the motorhomes to avoid being struck by lightening.

HDRtist HDR - http://www.ohanaware.com/hdrtist/

IMG_7186Lake Powell is currently under 50% capacity. The upside is a nice beach for camping and less boat traffic (probably also a result of gas prices and the economy). Col and I just slept in the bed of the truck on our backpacking mats. I think I’m too old for that because I was pretty sore by the second night. Next time we’ll get a real air mattress.

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IMG_7140On Monday, we scrambled to fit as much in as we could before hitting the road. Col and the girls went tubing, and my dad skied. With no weather and light boat traffic, the water was really glassy.

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IMG_7332Mike, Tracy, Col and I got in a Cornhole (I still can’t believe that’s the name of the game) tournament, and they whooped us. Next time, I’ll bring ring toss and wow them with my mad skill. A quick off road jaunt in the Razr rounded out our full day before Col and I hit the road to head home. I can’t wait for the 2015 trip when we can actually spend a week.

HDRtist HDR - http://www.ohanaware.com/hdrtist/

HDRtist HDR - http://www.ohanaware.com/hdrtist/

hard way…

We’re off today to Denver and Salt Lake City to see Brandi Carlile (and Josh, of course)! I can’t wait to experience Red Rocks Amphitheater for the first time.

four…

The 4th of July holiday was a little weird this year since it fell on a Thursday. So, after a day off then a day on, we made plans to head up to Happy Fish to escape the heat of southern Utah. Temps have been well over 100F for the last couple weeks, and the holiday was no exception.

IMG_4260Col, Lisa, Cheryl, Katie, Angela and I all got up at the crack of dawn to run the inaugural Uncle Sam 5K. It was around 90F when the race started at 6:30AM, so the provided beards and hats were a little warm. After that, Col and I spent most of the day being lazy before heading into town for a late lunch of Mexican and a couple pitchers of beer. Afterward, we met up with Jeramy and went to the Dixie Sun Bowl for a concert and  big fireworks show.

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I rode up to the cabin with Jer and Cheryl on Friday afternoon. Lisa, Jeanne, Heidi and Terry were already up there with the dogs, and Col joined us on Saturday afternoon after he got off work. With highs in the mid 70s, it was much cooler and a nice change from the baking heat of St. George. We had a great afternoon of relaxing, a ring toss tournament (I beat Jer!) and a crazy downpour. A fun evening of chicken tacos and Shotzee (Yahtzee with booze) rounded out the day.

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Saturday was a mellow day, mostly spent enjoying the wildlife, another ring toss tournament (doesn’t matter who won if it wasn’t me!) and more rain showers after lunch. We retreated to the game room for a round of darts while we waited for Col to make it up, then spent the afternoon playing games and hanging out. This is what I really love about our time at Happy Fish…just the relaxing, fun times with great friends.

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Sunday morning was another beautiful one, and after breakfast Cheryl, Lisa, Jeanne, Terry, Col and I put together a game of frisbee golf. We worked our way around the cabin and into the meadow as the day warmed up, enjoying cold beer along the way.

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Lisa, Jeanne and I picked cheap, crappy discs that were too light to get any good distance. After three beers and several rounds way above par, I took to just chucking mine as hard as  I could to make it roll, instead of fly, for distance. The strategy only paid off in that I didn’t come in last. Col, Terry and Cheryl had frisbees that got some nice air as we worked through the course.

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The meadow was full of wildflowers, and Terry picked a small bouquet to take back to Heidi. Too bad at least three of his picks are technically illegal to take. Shhhh.

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It was another relaxing and fun weekend of good times at Happy Fish. We’re already planning an August trip, and like July, I’m sure we’ll need the break from the heat!

let’s end this…

We spent the weekend in Logan riding in the 2013 Bike MS: Harmons Best Dam Bike Ride, which raises money for the Utah and Southern Idaho chapters of the MS Society. This was our second time participating in the ride; we did the 75 mile ride in 2011.

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MPK does the ride every year, and manages to wrangle up a bunch of randoms to accompany him on the ride and the weekend in Logan. This year the group included MPK, Roger, Keith, Col and I. Col and I left SGU mid-day Friday to make the six-hour drive up to Logan. We stopped in SLC and picked Keith up and continued to Logan to meet up with MPK and Roger at the hotel. We stopped by the fairgrounds to pick up our ride packets, then hit The Beehive Grill, which serves Moab Brewery beers, for dinner and a couple drinks before turning in for an early rise on Saturday.

Col and I were determined to complete the 100 mile course this year, and fortunately due to MPK’s compulsive need to be early (and his nagging) we were toward the front for the start, which put us in a better position to make the cutoff to complete the longest course. The start was delayed by about 20 minutes due to a house on the main course. Yes…a house. Apparently someone decided it made sense to move a house down the middle of the street used to get the riders out of town at about the same time the ride was scheduled to begin. After some horrible time-filling by the emcees, the ride finally started. We were in the third wave to depart.

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The course this year was modified from previous years due to some of the smaller towns along the route complaining about the riders and their behavior. MPK, Roger and Keith quickly left us in their dust, which was completely expected. As this was only my third time on my bike this year, I wasn’t anticipating a speedy day. Slow and steady wins the race in my book. Col and I skipped the first rest stop, as it was only 10 miles into the course and we didn’t feel the need for a break. While the temperature was expected to climb above 100 for the day, the morning was nice and cool and made for a pleasant ride. We did stop at the second rest station, which was in Richmond and marked about mile 23 of the course. It was sponsored by the Utah Highway Patrol and is always a fun stop with vintage cruisers and great volunteers. A quick snack and refill of the water bottles and we were back on the road.

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The route winds through the foothills of the eastern portion of the valley before entering Idaho. Franklin, Idaho was the next rest stop. Another quick refill and a snack and we jumped back on the bikes. The ride took us north, and we were surprised to reach the sign indicating the cutoff for the 100 mile course. It was only 10AM, so we were really excited with our progress. We took deep breathes and crossed the road going straight…committing to the 100 mile route. Nobody (I’m looking at you, MPK) told us how hilly this 25 mile “detour” would be. While the majority of the Bike MS ride is flat(ish), this section had some pretty decent climbs, as well as a pretty fun and fast descent. We found the rest stop for this section, but didn’t linger as we wanted to make it to the lunch stop while it was still early.

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We completed the 25 mile loop and turned back onto the main course heading for the next stop in Lewiston, Utah for lunch. We reached the lunch stop just before 1PM and quickly devoured sandwiches, chips and some snacks. The clouds were burning off and the temperature was climbing, so lying on the grass in the shade resulted in a short (not sure how long because at this point the iPhone was dead) nap under the trees. We saddled back up for the last 33 miles to the finish, but this stage proved to be the roughest with the hottest part of the day, no cloud cover and a route hugging the western side of the valley where little shade is available. The leg to the next rest stop was 16 miles and covered some long, gradual climbs, so we got ready for a long, hot afternoon.

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We left Lewiston and quickly started burning without the protection of the cloud cover. We focussed on the beautiful Cache Valley scenery to keep our minds off the heat and our saddle weary rear ends. Logan and the surrounding towns are really in one of the prettiest places in Utah, and it’s so much fun to spend a day on the bike enjoying all the sights. We made it to the roaming water stop (which apparently hadn’t roamed at all) about halfway to the next rest top. We refilled bottles and kept moving, finishing the last big climb in good time. We cruised into Newton for the next stop, which turned out to be our favorite. The volunteers had plenty of water and sports drinks available and they were nice and cold. They had set up a misting station for riders to cool off and had a great assortment of salty snacks and fruit. They even had a pickle bar, complete with pickle juice shots! It was definitely our favorite stop.

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We reluctantly left the stop and made good time to the next, and final, stop in Benson. The route was relatively flat at this point, although some parts were a bit stinky as we cruised past the pig farms. We only stayed a moment at the Benson stop, eager to kill the last eight miles and complete our first century ride! About a mile before the finish, a woman in front of us took a nasty spill on some railroad tracks. After stopping to help (there wasn’t much we could offer) we got back on the bikes and wound our way to the fairgrounds to finish. 100 miles complete!

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I actually felt really good after the ride; better than I felt two years ago after doing the 75 mile ride. There was still no way I could have jumped on a bike and done the second day ride (either 40 or 75 miles), but maybe I can work that in next time. We spent the evening enjoying the awards ceremony and pool party before finding a great Mexican restaurant in Logan for a late dinner. Then it was time to hit the hay. MPK, Roger and Keith got up early the next morning for the 75 mile ride (show offs), while Col and I got back on the road for the long drive home.

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My iPhone battery died about 60 miles into the ride, so I had to recreate the route. But, we figure removing rest stops and lunch resulted in a time of about 6 hours 30 minutes. I appreciate all the help from my friends and family in blowing my fundraising goal out of the water. I raised more than $1700, and overall this ride resulted in more than $1.5 million for the MS Society in Utah and Idaho. That’s really something that makes me proud, and hopefully we can continue to provide assistance to those living with MS, as well as those who are working to fight it.  I know with continued support, the MS Society will End MS Forever, Restore What’s Been Lost and Stop the Disease! Thanks again.

Here is our route for the 2013 Bike MS ride.

 

dublin in a day…or so

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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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!

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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.

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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.

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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).

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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.

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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!