Friday, September 5, 2014

Ireland day 10: wrapping up

Our last day in Ireland was chaotic, but fun. If I told you that we managed to have breakfast in Adare, Ireland, and dinner just a few blocks from Buckingham Palace, would you believe me?

Well, here's how it all went:

After a nice breakfast in Adare, I enjoyed the Adare Heritage Museum while Donna enjoyed the Adare craft stores (where we bought a beautiful set of ceramic cups from a County Clare craftsman), we packed up and headed out.

We were at Shannon Airport in no time at all (I guess we masted this whole "driving in Ireland" thing after all!), and in just a jiffy the car was returned and the bags were checked and we were through security (Shannon is a very small airport and easy to navigate). To kill a few minutes, I enjoyed a pint at the airport lounge while Donna enjoyed the airport gift stores (where they had a lovely scarf).

We arrived at Heathrow, checked in to our hotel, dumped our luggage, and took the Heathrow Express into central London. The train is clean, smooth, comfortable, and fairly fast, but unbelievably expensive: if you buy your tickets at face value, two round-trip tickets will run you 72 pounds (about $130 US dollars), which is an astonishing price for two train tickets from the airport into town. If you buy your tickets online, there is a special deal where two round trip tickets cost only 50 pounds, which is quite a bit better, but it's still almost $90 US dollars. By comparison, the express train from Incheon Airport to downtown Seoul, which travels 3 times the distance but in other ways is very similar, was only $32 dollars for two round trip tickets.

Well, you know: London is expensive, after all. And I really wanted to take the train, because I like to do different things and try different things.

And, as a sort of bonus, the Heathrow Express train takes you to Paddington Station, which I wanted to visit because I so much loved the book when I was a child.

After all of that, we ended up arriving in Paddington Station at 5:00 PM on a Monday evening. Which, if you want to see what Paddington Station is like, is a fun time to get there.

But it's not a quiet time to get there.

Oh, and did I mention that the rain was still coming down steadily?

But then we had a great idea (well, inspired by a suggestion in Rick Steves's book about London): let's take the bus!

Riding the buses in Central London is surprisingly easy.

To start with, you can just use your Oystercard, like you do on the tube. And the bus fare is not bad (typically 1-2 pounds).

Each bus route has a number.

And, in each particular area, each bus stop has a letter, and a map.

The map tells you where bus number 23, say, goes, and how often it stops, and so forth. And, importantly, the map also tells you that, say, bus 23 stops at station K, which is one block to your left.

I'm probably making it sound a bit complicated, but it was really a snap.

And riding the bus at 5:00 PM on a Monday in the pouring rain was actually surprisingly enjoyable. We climbed up to the second floor (in Central London, the buses are double-deckers; you did watch your Harry Potter movies, right?) and watched through the window as everyone was out and about on their business.

From Paddington Station, we rode down Edgware Road, through a large middle eastern neighborhood filled with Lebanese restaurants and markets and lots of cafes with people sitting at tables on the sidewalk smoking the hookah and discussing the events of the day.

We rode down along Oxford Street and watched all the shoppers rushing to and fro.

We came across Oxford Circus and it was a sea of umbrellas.

At Picadilly Circus we decided to get off this bus.

We wanted to do some touristy shopping but nothing in Picadilly Circus was quite right so we took the 19 bus down to Knightsbridge and exited at Harrods.

There is truly nothing like Harrods.

But Harrods at 6:00 PM on a Monday evening, in the rain, in August; well, it was really hopping! Have you ever been shopping in San Francisco, in Union Square, on the Friday after Thanksgiving? Well, bottle all that up, and put it in a single building (a 10-story building that fills an entire city block in Central London), and that's what visiting Harrod's is like.

We actually got some real shopping done in Harrod's. And we also wandered around for an hour or so, to see the toy section, and the fancy restaurants on the top floor, and the famous bronze escalators with the statue of Dody and Diana, and all those other parts of Harrod's that you Just Have To See For Yourself.

Then we walked about two blocks, off the main street and down what seemed like an alley, to a restaurant I'd managed to find on the Internet: Haandi, an Indian restaurant in the North Indian style. The food was superb; the people were friendly; the price wasn't unreasonable: it was the ideal London dinner.

On our long, meandering way back to our hotel, we happened to find ourselves riding a bus with a man from Ireland; it turned out he has a summer home in Dingle and ws there the same day that we visited! It was great fun to tell him about our travels.

Oh, and: I don't exactly know why I feel the need to include this, but we saw the bottle of Dalmore Constellation Cask 1 1972 that is for sale at the Duty Free Store in Terminal 2, Heathrow.

Yes, that price is correct: 13,000 pounds for that single bottle of whiskey.

So, there you go.

After all is said and done, it's hard to think of anything I would want to change about our trip.

Driving in Ireland was, at times, fatiguing, but there's no way we could have seen anywhere close to all the places we visited without having a car. Staying at modern hotels was comfortable, but we didn't spend much time doing the "stay at a traditional B&B, visit a traditional pub, listen to traditional music, meet locals and talk" experience.

Overall, it was a wonderful vacation, and one I think we'll remember for many years.

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