When Irish Eyes are Smiling, Days 1-2: Jet Lag Stupid

For a little change of pace, I am actually writing about my latest adventure after the fact instead of my normal running commentary.  I just did so much that there simply wasn’t enough time to collect my thoughts and write at the end of each day.

But I get slightly ahead of myself.  For the past 10 days I have been enjoying the great country of Ireland.  I took part in Moostash Joe’s From Ireland’s Ancient East to the Wild Atlantic Way tour in conjunction with Globus Journeys.  Man, it was a blast!  This is a tour for anybody who wishes to experience the beauty and the mystery of Ireland.

As usual, the first day was nothing but travel, travel, travel.

Using Delta Airlines, I flew to Atlanta, GA for a 5 hour layover which I utilized in getting a bite to eat and getting a good exchange rate at TravelEx for my Euros.  Combining my money with my parents (who also joined me on this adventure) got us some pretty good bang for our buck as it reduced the service charge and netted us a better rate of exchange.  We also took part in a special where an extra $5 not only saved us more service charges when we changed the money back to dollars, but also guaranteed the best rate of exchange.

About 8pm we boarded the plane and began our journey to the Emerald Isle.  It was a very comfortable flight which a powerful tail wind that sliced an hour off our travel meaning only 5 hours on the plane.  Delta Airlines also had an amazingly good film library which I made full use of on the trip and had a quite tasty hot chicken dinner.

Before I knew it, we were landing in Dublin and the first thing I noticed was just how green it was.  That may sound a little cliché, but it was just green, lush, and beautiful.  I just may retire to this country due to its temperance (it never gets very hot or cold) and the fact that I could do a bed and breakfast review every day for the rest of my life.  They are everywhere!

Due to the time change, it felt like the middle of the night for our travel group, but the day was just getting started in Ireland.  Apparently, everyone on the planet decided to land in Ireland at the crack of doom because it took over an hour to go through customs.  But we finally got through, collected our bags, and met our Tour Director, Bill, and our driver, Yarrick, who loaded us into our motorcoach to drive us to our first hotel, the Clayton—Cardiff Lane.

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Clayton Hotel–Cardiff Lane

Since we arrived so early, our rooms were unavailable so our dog-tired group could do little except walk around the town a bit or sit in the lounge on the first floor.  Dad managed to find a nearby Catholic church so he, Mom, and I dragged ourselves over to St Andrew’s to attend services.

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St Andrew’s

The church (as many are in Ireland) was very beautiful and ancient.  As cool as it was to attend a service in another country, it was also the oddest service I’ve ever attended.  Being so fogged with exhaustion made it hard to focus on the service which was only exacerbated by the fact that I could not understand the priest due to the poor acoustics of the archaic structure.  There also didn’t seem to be much sense of community as every person attending the service prayed at their own rate of speed, leading my mother to wonder if this was actually a proper Roman Catholic church (it was).

Still, it was an experience to remember.  Afterwards, we dragged ourselves back to the Clayton where we grabbed a light meal in the lounge.  I had a toasted ham and cheese sandwich and nibbled on some of Dad’s chips (the European word for French fries).  As I ate, I looked around the lounge and saw our weary fellow travelers falling asleep on chairs and at tables.

About 3pm, we were finally able to get into our rooms where we all passed out for a nap.  Feeling somewhat refreshed after a few hours of rest, I cleaned up for the welcome dinner in the hotel restaurant, Stir.

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Dinner was wonderful.  I enjoyed a delicious barley risotto with mushrooms and wild rice and a true Guinness.  The Guinness served in America has nothing on the real thing.

When dinner was done, we all returned to our rooms for a night’s sleep to begin the tour proper in the morning.

A Journey Beyond Imagination, Days 7 & 8: Traditional Tokyo & See You Later

Author’s Note:  This is my 50th post.  I didn’t quite know what to expect when I started this blog, but I’m glad that you’ve been here to share the ride.  It’s been a true pleasure to share my escapades with you.  I look forward to the next 50 stories.

In what seemed the blink of an eye, we were on our last full day in Japan.  Once again we had the day to do whatever we pleased, so Mat wanted to take Dave and I away from the touristy part of Tokyo and experience its real side.

Early in the morning, the three of us caught a subway to the Azabu-Jaban district.  Once we stepped out of the subway station, it seemed like we had journeyed back in time.  No traffic.  No noise.  All was quiet, scenic, and peaceful.  The streets were lined with little homes.  It was a magnificent world.

As we walked along the streets, Mat demonstrated his knowledge of Japan as he launched into an interesting lecture on the anime series, Sailor Moon, and its connection to the Azubu-Jaban region.  He pointed out that a lot of the embassies were in this district and it was incredible to pass all of these gated homes and see which ambassador was living there.

We also passed several schools, explored a little cemetery, and visited a couple of shrines.  After the shrines, Mat took us on a scenic route through a little park.  As we wandered through the park, I suddenly had a great moment of clarity.  Every once in a while, I have these moments and when they hit me everything seems so crystal clear and simple.  It’s as if God has momentarily opened my eyes and is letting me know that everything is going to be all right if I keep the faith and that right now, even if it doesn’t seem like it, I am exactly where I’m supposed to be.  As I watched a waterfall in the park, I let myself sink into that moment.

All too soon, we were on our way again.  Upon leaving the park, we found a little library and Mat and I decided to stop inside for a moment while Dave waited by the fountain.  When we entered the library, we were given special passes so we could use the resources.  Mat and I examined a few newspapers and then went back outside to collect Dave and find a place to eat.

I discovered a rather inviting little café and we decided to grab a meal there.  I seem to recall that we had the special of the house which were pork cutlets and rice.  After the respite, we headed to the subway station and were off to visit the Tokyo Sky Tree.

The Tokyo Sky Tree is one of the tallest structures in the world.  I thought the view was amazing from Tokyo Tower, but it had nothing on the Sky Tree.  The Sky Tree has two observation decks:  a high one and a REALLY high one.  Needless to say, we visited both.

The view from the REALLY high deck was jaw dropping.  I don’t think I could see the whole city, but it couldn’t have been far off.  From this height, one could see just how massive this metropolis truly was and it was a sight I will be unable to forget.  I only wish it hadn’t been such a cloudy day because I would have been able to see Mt Fuji in the distance on a clear day.

Once we had had our fill, we headed back to our hotel to get ready for a final group dinner.

We went to a traditional Japanese restaurant called Izakaya.  Upon entering the foyer, we were required to remove our shoes and were seated around a long table.  We sampled many different foods, but what made the dinner truly special was the company.  We had been together for most of the week, but this was the event where we truly got to know one another.  We had begun this journey beyond imagination as touring companions, but we were leaving as friends.

The next day arrived and we packed our bags and met in the lobby to say our final good-byes.  Mat and Dave had an earlier flight which would ultimately take them to Mat’s hometown in Phoenix where they would rest up for a few days before Mat escorted Dave back to Omaha and visited his family and friends.  Mat had been right. . .I did have the time of my life.  And as we said our farewells, our eyes all shared the same idea. . .our little trio would return to Japan to experience it again and anew.

After I saw Mat and Dave off, I walked Mike to a Hello, Kitty store in Ikebukuro so he could get some souvenirs.  As we headed back to the hotel, I noticed a ramen restaurant that our group had passed on multiple occasions.  The food there must be incredible as there is always a line out the door and Mat said the same had been true when he had first visited Tokyo two years previously.  For once, the line was short and I was sorely tempted to wait and try the ramen.  But it wouldn’t have felt right without Mat and Dave to share it with, so I resisted the urge, though we three have made a vow to hit it up when we return.

About 1pm, my bus arrived and, once again, I rode the 90 minutes to Narita International Airport.  I stopped and exchanged my remaining yen for dollars and made a bit of profit on the exchange.  Yukie helped get us our boarding passes and saw us off, taking a final photo.  But I knew it wasn’t good-bye for Japan.  It was merely see you later.

The flight home was a bit smoother as the Gulf Stream now sped up our flight, reducing it to about 9 hours.  This time, there was an empty seat between me and the other person in our row, so I was able to stretch out and get a bit more shuteye.  I remember it was about midnight when finally got back to my home and my internal clock was screwed up something awful.  It was nearly 3am when I fell asleep and I actually slept all the way to 11am.

The jet lag which I had managed to keep at bay in Tokyo struck me with a fury when I returned to Omaha.  I imagine jet lag is what being drunk must feel like except without the misery of a hangover.  Every few hours, I would nap for a little while as my body battled to reset its biorhythms.  It took over a week before I was fully recovered.  As I shook off the last remnants of Japan, I finally realized the adventure was over, but the memories will last forever.