Ta Athru chomh maith le Saoire (Cuid 4)

ED is in IrElanD

Ed Is in Eirinn

Ta athru chomh maith le saoire (Cuid 4)

A Change is as Good as a Holiday (Part 4)

Friday 17 December 2010: 4 years 3 months on …

Sunday, 28 November 2010 – Saturday, 4 December 2010

Sunday morning was packing up and heading off for Heathrow Airport at 10h30 to meet up with Mike and Grace Carswell, and our very short flight of 55 minutes over the Irish Sea to Dublin. But flights into Dublin were delayed (we would see why later!) and we only left LHR shortly after 15h00.

Mark and Janet Stanborough dropped me off at Heathrow and when I checked in, there was no record of my booking. Mike had flown over to London for the Old Grey dinner and when I called him, he and Grace were on their way to the airport. He gave me a new reference number and so I tried to book in a second time. This time, the flight had not opened for checking in yet as a result of the delays. We decided to have breakfast instead.

Third time lucky got me checked in. The Stanboroughs left and I headed off through customs. This time, it was far more thorough than the previous time in Johannesburg. Shoes off, belt off, wallet out, cell phone out, but still the machine kept beeping.

Eventually, it proved to be a paper clip in my shirt pocket. I had put my Euros (for Ireland) in my top pocket and a paper clip was holding them together! Paper clip dumped and Euros into wallet got me through the check point and into the holding and shopping area for flights to the Republic of Ireland.

Grace and Mike arrived, and we waited with hundreds others for flights to Ireland – some had been there since early morning.  Mike knew a number of people heading back and he introduced me to some, including “Louis”, Alan Lewis who had refereed the rugby game between the All Blacks and Wales in Cardiff the previous evening.

When Aer Lingus Flight EI 163 to Dublin eventually took off, we headed west and north. I was at the window and was able to see the white snow covered hills and mountains of Wales. Then the Irish Sea and then the east coast of Ireland and the city of Dublin. Mike gave me a running commentary of the coastline and pointed out his home suburb of Blackrock and other landmarks.

Failte go dti Baile Atha Cliath (Welcome to Dublin) – the name Dublin is derived from the Irish name Dubh Linn, meaning “black pool”.

As far as the eye could see, the Emerald Isle was not green, but snow white!

It had evidently started snowing in Dublin on the previous Friday evening. Mike commented that in his twenty years in Ireland, he had never seen so much snow in Dublin in November. Little did we know what still lay ahead of us weather-wise!

As a SA passport holder (and no visa required for the Republic of Ireland, I moved through a different queue to Mike at customs. No stopping to search me this time, but the officer asked for the purpose of my visit and when I would be leaving.

“Holiday”, I said, and he graciously offered me, and wrote into my passport, more time in Ireland than was needed. It almost became necessary to have that extra time, as we would find out later.  

Mike specialises in treating sports injuries and counts many famous Irish sports people amongst his clients. The numerous photographs that decorate his practice’s walls are ample testament to this, and a google of his name on the internet provides further evidence of the high esteem that he is held in Dublin.

Louis – Alan Lewis – was Mike’s first patient on Monday morning. He had asked me to come and chat to him. So after crashing into bed on Sunday evening, I dragged myself into the treatment room at 7h30 on Monday morning. Whilst he lay on the table, being pushed and prodded by Mike, and in between the ooo’s and the aaaa’s and some other choice words, Louis and I had a conversation of sorts! (Later in the week, I also had the privilege of meeting Irish rugby players Johnny Sextant and Leo Cullen.)

This week was different to the last in that I was staying in one place and was going to be a tourist on my first visit to Dublin.

Dublin is a city of some 1,5 million people and is on the east coast of Ireland at the mouth of the Liffey River which flows from west to east through the city. Similar to London and the Thames, the city lies north and south of the Liffey.

I was in Blackrock (An Charraig Dhubh), a suburb on the south coast. A train service, the DART – (Dublin Area Rapid Transit), runs along the coast from the northern suburbs, through the centre city and then down the coast through the southern suburbs. (For those who are familiar with Cape Town, it’s a similar set up to the rail service that serves Cape Town and goes down the Cape Peninsula coastline through Muizenberg, Fish Hoek, Kalk Bay and Simon’s Town.)

A walk of about a kilometre through the downtown area of Blackrock got me to the station, right next to the sea. There is a massive tidal difference between high and low tides – the water would either be lapping up to the wall right next to the railway line, or else a vast expanse of sand (covered in snow in areas) would meet the eye.

From Blackrock station, it was a mere ride of some twenty minutes north through six stations (including Lansdowne Road (Bothar Lansdun) station which is under and serves the new Aviva rugby stadium) to the seventh station Tara Street in the city centre.

From there it’s a short walk westwards along the south bank of the Liffey to O’Connell Street, the widest and the “main road” of Dublin that runs north-south through the city. I started my sightseeing there – but as more and more snow came down, I opted for a green bus tour that took me on a circular trip through the city. It gave me a good overall perspective and of, course, there are always the interesting titbits given by the tour guide in the most beautiful of Irish accents.

 As the week progressed, the snow continued falling – it moved from the most snow in November to the most snow ever! First it came from the northeast on the weather system blasting its coldness from the Arctic, then it came from the northwest blasting even more coldness from Iceland and Greenland. The temperature moved between a low of -11C and a high of 0C.

As the beautiful fresh white crunchy snow lands on the frozen ground, the bottom layers of snow become ice. The conditions become treacherous underfoot, cars and buses stop moving, the train system slows down and stops on occasion and walking – sliding! – becomes an art. Some of the main routes are kept open by throwing salt on the snow. Soon, the salt reserves dwindle and they have to mix grit with the salt to make the supplies last longer. The roads start looking like a giant black slush puppy.

The city is grid locked with vehicular traffic. The airport shuts down. The joke of maybe not getting out on Saturday starts looking like a reality! But that’s Saturday – don’t worry about things that may never happen!

In the meantime, I am determined to see as much as possible. So with snow flakes pounding my face and taking careful steps to avoid slipping on the ice, I manage to see (all) and visit (some)of the sights, amongst many others:

The Millenium spire, the GPO, Trinity College, Molly Malone’s statue, Oscar Wilde’s house and memorial, the Georgian homes, St  Stephen’s Green, the National Gallery and Museum, the City Hall, Dublin Castle, Christ Church Cathedral, St Patrick’s Cathedral, St Catherine’s Church, the Guiness Storehouse, Wellington Monument, Phoenix Park, Kilmainham Gaol, Grafton Street, Dvblinia (Viking/Medieval Exhibition), Aras An Uachtarain (the official residence of the President of Ireland), Teach Laighean(Leinster House) – the building housing the Oireachtas, the national parliament of Ireland.

Each of these places has a unique story and place in Irish history and society. It interested me how many parallels there are between our own country and Ireland. And so many wars fought (all against England, except one – a civil war between the Irish themselves!).

Something like 45% of the Irish population is under 25 years old – so many Irish have emigrated over the years that they consider their people as one of their biggest export commodities! Then, of course, there’s the other export commodity, Guiness, Ireland’s No 1 Tourist attraction. The Storehouse is the highest point of any visit to Dublin, both figuratively and literally, as Gravity, the Guiness Storehouse Bar in the sky is the highest point in Dublin City and has the most amazing view of the city.

 This commodity also proved useful when the walking got too much and respite from the elements was required in one of the oh so many pubs that grace the Irish landscape. And no better place than Temple Bar which is the home to Dublin’s cultural quarter and touristy pubs.

With the friendliest of people, duo’s singing Irish music, Irish stew, hot fires and cold Guiness – this surely was close to being in heaven! One afternoon, I got stuck with Emile Phelan, a plumber from Jersey who was visiting his Mom in Dublin. We had many “just another” – just the one for the road home! It became a long and winding and slippery road!

 No wonder in the folksong Galway Bay, the singer croons

And if there’s going to be a life hereafter

And somehow I know there’s bound to be

I will ask my Lord to let me make my Heaven

In that Isle of Green across the Irish Sea!

I can just imagine the festivities of Dublin and Temple Bar when the weather is more favourable!

One day, after spending some time acquainting myself with the Blackrock village, I took the DART train south to its furthest point at the coastal village of Greystones, and also stopped off at Dun Laoghaire(pronounced Dun Lary). There are some magnificent coastal scenes along this route, and I can imagine that these must be extremely busy areas come the summer months.

And talking of pronounciation – you will have noticed above that Ireland is a bilingual country and most everything is tagged in both Irish (first) and English. I tried time and again to understand the announcements made on the train, but I’m afraid it was often not easy on my newcomer’s ear!

Besides the weather, I also had to deal with a cellphone that did not work and the lack of internet connectivity. I felt quite isolated from the rest of the world. The technicians could not get to the house to deliver a new modem, and as for the cellphone – well, despite spending time with Vodacom in Port Elizabeth before I left to ensure international roaming, my phone would not work in Ireland. (I had deliberately gone to see them as I had similar problems when I went to the USA in March 2007).

I spent some hours at various Dublin Vodafone outlets, but to no avail. The last one I went to put a call through to Vodacom enquiries in SA, but after listening to ‘Scatterlings of Africa’ for almost 45 minutes and no reply, I gave them up as a bad job! (No wonder, I thought, we have become scatterlings of Africa when a multibillion conglomerate can’t even answer its phones!)

(On returning to SA, I called their head office (a few times!) to complain. Well, still not much more luck other than being thanked for bringing the problem to their attention and advising me that, despite their previous advice to both Pera and me, they did not have a roaming agreement in Ireland that would allow my contract package to work there!)

Despite the communications problems, I was still able to do our weekly AlgoaFM radio show (via landline) with Lance du PLessis from my bed in Dublin on the Wednesday morning – it was billed as ‘ED is in bED’!

Too soon, the week was coming to an end. On Friday evening, Mike, his brother-in-law Barry and I went to the local pub in Blackrock to say our last goodbyes to each other and to that Irish institution of pubs and Guiness. (A pack of Guiness that I bought at the supermarket for home use was left on the outside porch because it was colder there than in the fridge!)

The snow continued till Friday, the airport re-opened, and I was taxied there early Saturday morning in order to get back to Heathrow on an earlier flight before the weather turned foul again.

 It was time to say Beannacht and Sian a fhagail – goodbye and farewell – and to begin the journey southwards home.

Lesson #4, for me, was “Despite obstacles in Life, you can still have a darn good time!”