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June 5, 2002
Our painful departure from England (Russell)

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Yet another wait at yet another airport, with our luggage by our side

Before we left York, we had spent the evening of June 3rd packing up yet three more boxes of books to ship back to the United States.  We were due to board an airplane once more on June 5th, and we had to make everything fit back into our suitcases again.  Unfortunately, we had forgotten that Tuesday, June 4th, was a second bank holiday in honor of the Queen's Golden Jubilee, and the post offices were still closed.  We would have to take the boxes with us on the plane and mail them home from Ireland.

On June 4th, we said goodbye to Joan and the Cuckoo's Nest Farm, leaving behind a pile of books for her to donate (goodbye, Mona Winks).  Cameron said goodbye to the stable of calves, who had fascinated him for days.  We left the boys' stick collections behind as well, and Joss cried again inconsolably after we drove away.

On the way back down the M1 to London, we stopped at the Watford Gap services station outside of Northampton for lunch.  Our original idea was to get some sandwiches for the car, but Joss really wanted some hot food.  First, we tried Wimpy's fast food, until Gail discovered that the queue was not moving after ten minutes and that the people at the tables (with no food, by the way) seemed to be growing cobwebs.  We ultimately settled for the cafeteria, which had the most incomprehensible service we have ever encountered.  The staff seemed like they had no understanding of English (either hearing or speaking); when Gail ordered a meat pie for Joss she had to tell the server what to put on the plate.  When she asked for the "fresh lemonade" that was advertised, she was pointed in all directions by people who had no clue what it could possibly be.

We finally made our way back down to the London area.  Unfortunately, we were not staying in London itself; we had a reservation for one night at our last Travel Inn in Hayes, next to London Heathrow Airport.  We spent the evening repacking our bags.  Our experience of the Queen's Golden Jubilee (celebrating the 50-year reign of Queen Elizabeth II) was to watch the festivities on television (we were torn between envy that we weren't there in person and gratitude that we weren't mixed up in the crowds -- so close and yet so far).  For dinner, we had instant noodles from a hot pot in the room.  At bedtime, Russell finished reading Cameron and Joss the third -- and last -- book of The Lord of the Rings (we had begun the first book back in Australia almost a year ago).

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Watching the festivities of the Golden Jubilee on the telly

On June 5th, our plane was due to depart Heathrow at 10:50 AM, so we set the alarm for 7:00 AM.  (We had hoped to mail our three book boxes from Hayes, but the Post Office wouldn't open until 9:00 AM, when we were due to be at the airport.)  We were packed and checked out by 8:00 AM; this gave us an hour for Russell to drop Gail and the boys off at the terminal with the luggage, return the rental car, then take the shuttle back to the terminal to check in.  For some inexplicable reason, Heathrow does not indicate what Terminals 1, 2, and 3 are for.  We guessed Terminal 1, and luckily were correct.

It was when Russell arrived at Terminal 1 after returning the car that our misfortunes began.  British Midlands had no record of our reservations on the outgoing flight.  (Keep in mind, this is the same British Midlands that had no record of our flight from Paris to London a month ago.)  Despite the work of David, our American travel agent, more than a month ago, BMI only had a reservation -- "unpaid" -- for our return from Dublin to London two weeks from now.

After spending quite awhile "discussing" things with the ticket agent, we had no choice but to purchase new tickets for the London-Dublin round-trip... at a cost of more than £1,000 ($1,500 US).  For our outgoing flight we had to purchase Business Class seats, as there were no Economy seats left.  For our return in two weeks, we purchased Economy Class seats, as Business Class would have cost an additional £100 per person.  The soonest we could depart would be the 1:15 PM flight (the BMI flights were extra-full because Air Lingus was currently on strike), meaning that we would not even be able to check in until 11:15 PM.  We would have to sit in the waiting area for the next two hours with our luggage.  We were not happy.

We finally made it through check-in and security to the BMI Business Class lounge, where (as in Paris) there was no food, just beverages.  Along the way we picked up a man from Romania.  He had reservations on the same flight from London to Dublin, but he spoke no English, so we volunteered to see him safely onto the plane.  We took off at 1:30 PM, and by 2:30 PM we were landing in Dublin.

We made it through Passport Control with no problems, but our Romanian friend did not; he was detained.  We tried waiting around to make sure he was all right, but the (rude) Passport Control officers told us that it was no longer any of our business and to move out of the area.  We collected our luggage and our three boxes of books, and made our way out of the terminal.

Along the way, we passed a small post office in the airport and popped in, hoping to mail our book boxes home.  Here again, we met someone demonstrating incomprehensible customer service.  The staff woman agreed that yes, there was a cheaper book rate.  However, we would have to pack our books in such a way that it was obvious that they were books.  (Her exact words were, "I know that they are books, but how will the other office know that they are books?")  Russell asked how we were supposed to make it obvious that they were books, while still packing them in boxes.  The woman looked dumbfounded, said that she had no idea, then suggested that perhaps we should just tie them up with string.  Russell explained that we have never had this problem in any other country, and that we have been mailing books from all over the world.  The woman responded, "Well, we're a different country."  We left with our unmailed book boxes.  So far, we are not impressed by the civil servants in Ireland.

Our car rental from National went much more smoothly.  They didn't have a diesel car, but the very sweet young woman let us have a brand-new silver CitroŽn Xsara (AKA "Picasso"), a cross between a station wagon and a minivan.  The small back barely fit our luggage (we had to stick some in between Cameron and Joss), but the boys enjoyed the better view and the pull-down tray tables.

After a short drive south of Dublin, we arrived in Glendalough, where we had reservations for three nights at the Pinewood B&B.  Unfortunately, they had made an error in our accommodations; instead of reserving a double room and a twin room, they had reserved two twins.  They suggested that we try another B&B down the road, but after checking it out we decided to return to the Pinewood and settle for the twins.

Such was our arrival and welcome to Ireland.

 

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