Tuesday, March 31, 2009

Ireland is forgiven

So Ireland and I made up officially yesterday. I'm no longer holding a grudge against the country. What prompted this act of forgiveness? Well, it was a magical day.

First, the mail came and a gas bill arrived. Yep, that's right, this meant we got our bank account! It will still be 2-3 days until we know the account number and another week until we get our ATM cards, but you can't push Ireland too fast. It also meant I have finally rejoined the land of the living and got a cell phone. Cable and real internet access will surely be just around the corner!

But the real reason I completely forgave Ireland was an amazing discovery. I found the mecca of Irish grocery stores, Fallon & Byrne. It all started when I got a call that there was a birthday at Richard's office this week. I've volunteered to make the birthday desserts for the office and chocolate was requested. I had made my favorite chocolate cake for the last birthday and didn't want to repeat. The decision was made, chocolate mousse tart of course! I headed to the grocery store after our bank account and phone errands and gathered supplies. Dublin has a serious lack of chocolate chip choices, and yesterday I couldn't locate any at all. So I substituted with the only baking chocolate available at the grocery stores (I checked two different stores). At home, disaster struck. The mousse with the substituted chocolate was terrible, just terrible. I spent the next 45 minutes on google, trying to find a better source of chocolate chips. Nothing came up. Earlier at Stock, my favorite source for baking pans in city centre, I had asked this same question. They acted as if semi-sweet chocolate and bittersweet chocolate was something unheard of but mentioned that Fallon & Byrne had specialty spices and cheese. Not exactly a ringing endorsement of their chocolate selection. But it was the only glimmer of hope I had. It was within a mile of Richard's office. So at 8pm, I im-ed Richard, told him I was heading downtown to try out this grocery store on the off chance it had better chocolate, and that I wasn't going to have dinner ready. :) Richard, always ready to explore, walked with me.

We walked in, me in some serious doubt, to heaven in Ireland. Not only did it have my Nestle chocolate chips (at 4 Euro/6 oz.-yikes!) but it also had fresh jalapenos! Last weekend I made salsa with some Thai peppers from the local Asian market, but it just wasn't the same. I was so happy I nearly cried.

So, I forgive you Ireland. Yesterday was a happy day! I cleaned them out of chocolate chips. 8 bags may have been slightly overzealous. Oh and did I mention it is open until 10pm weeknights. Seriously. Heaven.

Wednesday, March 25, 2009

The Land of Inconvenience...Ireland

Okay, so calling just Ireland inconvenient isn't fair. It's really everywhere besides the US. But I'm living in Ireland right now, so fair or not that's what I'm calling it.

I finally had my first break down today at the utter lack of convenience. If you've been reading the blog or my facebook status updates, then you're thinking to yourself, "The laundry's finally gotten her. We may never get her back." And while, the laundry is the absolute bane of my existence, it's not what did me in.

I don't have a cell phone yet. And before you say it, yes I could get the pay-as-you-go kind and be done with it. But for many reasons not interesting enough for the world wide web, I've decided to get the pay monthly plan. Mostly this allows for an "unlimited data" plan where you don't have to pay per kb for checking e-mail and feeding my facebook addiction. But to get a cell phone on a pay monthly account, I need a utility bill or bank statement.

Okay fine. I finally have our utilities set up and they say they can't send me a utility bill until the end of the cycle which in Ireland is two months. They assure me they'll send it in May. But they did send a letter with our account number requesting a deposit. I took this to the cell phone store who promptly turned me away and said it must be a utility bill. I pointed out the letter had our account number on it and this didn't seem to make any difference.

The mobile store informed me a bank statement would work as well. I can't get a bank account until I have a utility bill (May) or a letter from the PPS office (the Irish social security office). I've been to the PPS office twice now to collect this vital piece of paper and it still hasn't shown up in the mail. So no bank account.

I've been stuck in this cycle of paperwork since we arrived. All of it attempting to get our lives set up. And if it all went according to plan we'd be finished with everything we needed at our fingertips two weeks ago. But no.

To make things simply laughable, we can't get internet or cable set up at the house without an Irish phone number and bank account. So it's all very chicken and egg. And long story short, I have to go because writing this blog is costing about $2 with the pay-as-you-go internet aircard we bought.

Sunday, March 22, 2009

Spring Break in Ireland...Colllllege!

Well, I've finally recovered from our Spring Break guests. Tyler, Ian, Kevin and Maura visited for UT's spring break. What a week!

It was the guys first trip to Ireland. We did the usual: Trinity College and the Book of Kells, Christ Church, St. Patrick's, Guinness and Jameson. We also got to stay in Waterford Castle. Thanks Maura! It was amazing. There's really nothing like taking a private ferry to an island, driving up the misty lane and arriving at a castle for the night. It was a very unique night in Ireland. And it was definitely the best meal I've had in Ireland. I can't wait to go back soon and play the golf course as well.

Other highlights of the week included being kicked out of a pub in Dublin (soooo Spring Break), becoming official Jameson whiskey tasters, brewing our own batch of Guinness, the St. Patrick's Day parade and testing out many, many pubs in Dublin. Check out the slideshow below for some of the shenanigans.

Created with Admarket's flickrSLiDR.

And as a warning to all our future visitors, this is what happens when you nap the first day instead of getting your body clock adjusted: jet lag. Kevin pretty much slept in every seat he took, the entire week.

Created with Admarket's flickrSLiDR.

I'm exhausted, but it was great to have family visit us so soon. I had fun getting to know Ian and Kevin, who both came so close to becoming classy cousins. This is definitely a St. Patrick's Day I will never forget.

Friday, March 20, 2009

St. Patrick's Day...Where do I begin?

Well, we've had our first visitors and what a fun week. I'll write more later. For now, these pictures will have to represent St. Patrick's Day/Texas Spring Break and everything we've been doing this week.

Friday, March 13, 2009

Switzerland...just a few more pics

A few more Switzerland pictures...

Created with Admarket's flickrSLiDR.

London Pictures

Now that we're home and I've had a chance to go through the pictures, there's a few more I wanted to share. Enjoy!

Created with Admarket's flickrSLiDR.

Laundry, Laundry, all I do is Laundry

Okay. I was prepared for the tiny washer/dryer situation over here. But I wasn't prepared for how damn long one load of clothes takes. In it's recommended cycle for whites, our washer is supposed to take 95 minutes. But it really takes about 130 minutes. Seriously. And then you have to start the drying cycle or hang everything. I've been opting for hanging everything. Washing the new sheets and towels we bought has seriously taken three days. Oh how I miss my beautiful red ginormous LG SteamWasher. :(

Thursday, March 12, 2009

Dragons, Trains, Snow, Cheese & Chocolate - you know, Switzerland

We flew into Zurich from London Saturday morning and took a quick train to Luzern, about 60 km. We were sleepy when we arrived, but we checked out a very Picasso-heavy museum and Old Town Luzern. It's a beautiful town, but the highlight of my day was the chocolate of course. We discovered these delicious little confections called Luxemburgerli. They look like tiny hamburgers, and come in several flavors, mocha, vanilla, pistachio and Bailey's were our combined favorites.

Sunday we went searching for the dragon that lives in and around Mount Pilatus. We first took a gondola and then a very steep cable car to reach the peak at 6943 ft. where we had a beer to go along with our nice altitude buzz. Though not entirely properly dressed for the -1 C temps, we climbed the last few feet to reach the highest open trail at 7000 ft. We lucked out with the weather with mostly sunny skies until the moment we reached the peak. Just then a cloud moved in and stayed parked over the peak the rest of the day.

The two Swiss dining experiences we had were great. In Luzern, we dined at the Old Swiss House. Richard had their house specialty wienerschnitzel which is prepared at your table with about a pound of butter - no exaggeration. It was a delicious meal in an atmospheric old restaurant in it's third generation of family owners/chefs.

The Old Swiss House

In Zurich we had fondue, of course. It was also delicious, but the best part was meeting the owner of the restaurant. He spoke very little English, but continued to tell us all about fondue in broken English, French and German all throughout the meal. We were the only diners in the restaurant since we ate extremely early that evening and he was very excited to have Americans there on their first visit to Switzerland.

All & all I really liked Switzerland, though it's an extremely expensive place. I hope to go back and bring the pups because it's also an extremely dog-friendly place. Dogs were everywhere...the train, the department stores, even some restaurant. There was probably a dog in just about every store I stopped into in Zurich. What's not to love about a country that loves dogs, cheese and chocolate?

Wednesday, March 4, 2009


It took us several modes of transportation to arrive at our hotel. But after a short 55 minute flight from Dublin to London Heathrow, the Heathrow Express train to Paddington Station, then a short taxi that dropped Richard at his office and me at our hotel we had officially arrived in London!

Paddington Station

While Richard was off meeting the folks in the London office, I was a total tourista today. Having spent a lot of time in London a little over 10 years ago I wanted to hit a few favorite places and try out a few places I had missed back then. I only had a couple of goals for the afternoon and pretty much just wandered from place to place. I started with Trafalgar Square which was around the corner from the hotel and relatively empty since it's not high season.

Trafalgar Square

And in honor of Texas Independence Day, March 2nd, I had to make a stop at the Texas Embassy Cantina 1 block from Trafalgar. I don't know if it's different management from 10 years ago or just a new chef, but the salsa and enchiladas I had was actually very good. And the Cadillac Margarita with Patron silver was absolutely delicious!

Next I hopped the tube over to St. Paul's Cathedral. Photographs are no longer allowed inside the building which made me very sad. And there was restoration on one side of the building's exterior. Nevertheless it is still as beautiful and facinating as ever. Here are a few shots of the cathedral.

Then I went in search of what I heard was the best view of the city, Primrose Hill. I'm not saying it was a bad view, it just was not that impressive. But it was an interesting neighborhood and a nice park that borders Regents Park. So I walked back to the hotel through Regents Park and got a few pictures of the park beginning to come back to life in spring.

That night Richard finally got off work and we went to his favortite Filipino restraurant in London, Josephine's. It was delicious. We had the lumpia of course and pancit and several other wonderul dishes.

Richard had scouted several bars to check out. Long Bar at the Sanderson Hotel was very "LA." It reminded us both of the bar at the Standard. The billiard's room adjacent to the hotel lobby was very cool. That's Richard very darkly behind the purple pool table.

Next we stopped at Annex 3, an eclectic place owned by antique dealers. I ordered this fruity cocktail at the outrageous price of £9. It was served in a tiki glass. Very silly. And finally, we made one more stop, the Artesian Bar in the Langham hotel. It draws its name from the Artesian well it is built over. They bottle their own water from it. They carry over 50 different types of rum and make dozens of specialty cocktails with them. The decor was romantic and stunning. Every detail was attended to. They even had linen cocktail napkins monogramed with an A. Our bartender, Ales, was the best bartender I've ever seen. He was knowledgeable and friendly and made one hell of a drink. I discovered two new rums that are delicious. Foursquare and Cockspur. Ales made us a Healthy Heart cocktail. It was Cockspur 12yr shaken with freshly squeezed pomegranate and lime juices then sweetened with pomegranate molasses. It was fabulous.

All and all a fabulous day and night in London.

Tuesday, March 3, 2009

We're legal!

Today Barbara, Daniel, Sarah (all other GLG US employees who moved to Dublin), Richard & I went to register with the Garda National Immigration Bureau. We were told it would be a wait. Everyone said it's like the DPS office back home when renewing your license. That was putting it mildly! We arrived at about 9:20 am. We waited in one line just to get a number. After 20-30 minutes we all received our numbers. The earliest number of our groups was 184. We looked at the sign displaying which number was next and it said 92. That seemed bad, but one agent said it would only be an hour.

We went for coffee and a little walk, and came back not wanting to miss our numbers being called. After our 30 minute coffee break they were at something around 105. So, long story short, it took 5 hours at that office and then another 45 minutes at the PPS office which is apparently like your social security number.

It was a long day, but we had good company and now we're al legally residing in Ireland.

After today's experience, I have new respect for all the trouble US immigrants must go through to obtain legal status. Irish regulations and red tape are nothing compared to the US and it still wasn't even close to what I would call an enjoyable day. Besides waiting in line we really had no problems registering. It's a once a year process, so we're done with that office until next February. Thank goodness!

Sunday, March 1, 2009

Where's my passport? Oh there it is.

Okay. Apparently my subconscious was a little less excited about heading to Dublin.

Richard and I had just landed in Chicago O'Hare airport Thursday and deplaned when I realized I no longer had possession of my passport. Mind you, we took eight suitcases between us and 2 carry-on bags, and the one thing I didn't have was the only thing I needed to get in the country. It was a moment straight out of some generic sitcom. After some frantic unpacking of my computer bag to ensure it really wasn't there, we headed to the nearest American Airlines agent. I will not bore you with the details. Her response to my problem was, "Wow. What are you going to do?" Incredibly unhelpful. To make things slightly more complicated, it was 29 degrees, windy and snowing at O'Hare so there were delays all over and crowds of people waiting to find out if and when their flights would depart. So chaos everywhere. Richard sat down with the phone and the computer and started calling every number for American Airlines and IAH he could find. Everyone was incredibly unhelpful.

I, meanwhile, went up and down terminal K searching for a gate that wasn't surrounded by angry passengers. I came accross gate K13. Looking back, I wonder if it was surrounded by a glowing light drawing me there like in movies when someone finds "the answer" to their quest. And the source of that light would have been Lukas. Lukas, the American Airlines agent with a heart and a brain, listened to my problem, called the Houston agents and asked if anyone had turned in my passport. After several phone calls, Lukas, my hero, informed me that someone had turned in my passport in Houston and they were working on getting it flown to O'Hare. At this point my heart starting beating normally again, my panic subsided and Richard stopped looking like he was going to kill me.

My passport wouldn't arrive until 10:30pm that night, so I'd have to take a flight the next day and join Richard one day later. "No big deal," I thought, "I am extremely lucky I'm getting there at all." So we made my hotel reservations (thank goodness for Marriott points), and I saw Richard and his co-workers off to Dublin. I then settled in for the 3 hour wait for flight 2374, my passports flight. It was arriving at gate H18. Lukas told me it would be placed in a box and given to the flight attendants in Houston and routed through DFW since there were no more directs from Houston that night. Meet the plane at the gate was all I had to do to retrieve it.

And the story would be one to look back on and laugh at, and indeed at this point I was laughing about it. If it had only ended here. But it didn't.

It's now 11:25pm and my passport's flight is arriving after much delay since there were delays in DFW as well as O'Hare. I waited and waited for the plane to empty out, the crew to finish cleaning up and the flight attendants to deplane. Finally I saw them and inquired who had my passport. The two up front looked at each other quizzically. They called back to the attendants who were straggling, "Did anyone hear anything about a passport or a box?" There it was, my panic was back. They suggested I check the other DFW incoming flights. Three flights had landed at the same time since there had been such bad delays at both airports. I ran to the nearest display board to try to find the gates for the two other flights. The board was off, so I ran to the next one. It said H13 so ran back that direction and the plane and attendants were long gone. There was one lone gate attendant and I asked her if she had seen or heard anything about a box or passport the flight attendants would have been bringing. She looked at my like I was crazy and said you should check lost and found. I then asked if she knew if Lukas was still working, desperately hoping someone who understood what was going on would be able to speak to me. She didn't know. Incredibly unhelpful. I ran to H6 which is where the last DFW flight had arrived. No one was even at that gate anymore. I asked the nearest American Airlines employee if they had seen Lukas. He said he thought he was parking the plane. So I waited. A woman who was definitely not Lukas came out from the gate. The man looked at me and said, "I guess she parked the plane." He shrugged and suggested I look at the rebooking center. So I ran direction. They said they just saw him heading toward K6. I ran to K6. At this point it was nearly midnight and everyone I asked for help from had their bag packed and was heading home. They had had a long day with delays and angry people and clearly didn't want my problem to deal with. And I really couldn't blame them. I didn't want my problem either. At K6 I pleaded with the gate attendant (who was not Lukas) to call for Lukas on the intercom or look into my record to find my passport. Finally when I wouldn't leave she looked at my record. She said there was no record of any package being sent on Flight 2374 or any other flight. She also said I wasn't booked on tomorrow's flight. I then lost all hope of her competency since I had already logged and chosen a seat for my flight tomorrow. I did manage to badger her into giving me a direct phone number for the Chicago ticket desk which is apparently where Lukas usually works.

Defeated, I headed toward the exit and the taxi line. As I walked I left another message with Lost & Found. Their message states at the front that they won't call you back unless they find your item. They also said they'd be open at 8am. The ticket counter opened at 6am. So there was nothing I could until morning. I thought, "It's 12:30 now, I'll get a few hours sleep, then wake up and start calling people." The taxi line at O'Hare was a mere 45 minute wait since there were so many delayed flights. I waited. There's an entire other story about the incompetent taxi line employees, but it really just ends in more of me waiting. I arrived at the Residence Inn near the airport, set three alarms for 5:50am and passed out, exhausted and deflated.

At 5:50 am, I finally gave up on getting any sleep since I couldn't stop tossing and turning. I got up and started calling the number I had been given. No answer until right at 6am. At 6am my angel, Yolanda, answered. Lukas was my hero, but he fell short of angel when he didn't put a note on my record about my passport which led to no one else believing my story. It took awhile to explain to Yolanda what had happened. She couldn't find any record of the passport in my flight record, but she did confirm I was booked on the flight out for today, routed through London-Heathrow since the direct to Dublin only runs every other day. She asked me a bunch of questions I couldn't answer, took my number and promised she start working on it and call me when she found anything. She said she'd give Lukas a few more hours sleep if we couldn't find it and call him at home. She was very sweet though and said "Feel free to call me every 30 minutes or so if you don't hear from me." She must be used to dealing with impatient people. :)

I phoned her back every so often and in the meantime make many phone calls to DFW and IAH trying to track my passport. When I did get to speak to a human they were all incredibly unhelpful. Around 9:30, I spoke to Yolanda and she said, "I just can't find it. I've talked to the flight attendant office and everyone else and no one has heard anything about it." I then asked her if she thought there was a good chance I would never see it again. She responded that there was a very good chance. My mind raced and thought through all the things I would have to do to get to Dublin now. Replace my passport. Okay, I'd call Rachel who is still close with the staff in the Congressional office she used to work in. They can get it expidited. I'd call my Aunt Maura in Chicago and stay with her until my new passport arrived. I'd go to Target and get something else to wear, especially underwear. My mind kept racing. I phoned Rachel, who was wondering how I like Dublin. I told her, I'd tell her when I got there, if I got there. I finally let the panic take over a 20 minutes telling Rachel what had happened. I got control of myself and started making more phone calls because I wasn't ready to give up yet.

After more fruitless phone calls, my cell phone rang at just after 10am. It was Yolanda. She said, "I've found your passport. It's in Chicago." I said something that must have been funny because she laughed at me and said I was the luckiest person. I agreed and made plans to get to the airport immediately and regain possession of my passport. About 3 minutes later, I got a phone call from Lost & Found who said they were returning my call and they had my passport. I now felt confident with two independent groups saying they knew my passport was in Chicago. But I wanted it in my hands.

I phoned Rachel and let he know that the panic was over, showered, put on the same clothes as yesterday, and headed to the airport. The Lost & Found person asked, "How'd you miss it? It was in a huge box." Apparently the agent in Houston had put it in a giant box and sent it as checked luggage, not with the flight attendants. It had also only been marked with my name. So no one knew how to get it to me when it showed up on the baggage claim unmarked. She said I was the luckiest person. I agreed again.

The rest of my experience was typical airport fun. I landed in Heathrow exhausted. I was detained by immigration in London since I wasn't travelling with Richard who has the Irish work permit. They had me detained while they called the Irish government to see if it was okay to send me on. The Irish said, sure whatever. I landed and Dublin and finally made it home. It was only 27 hours after Richard had landed, but it seemd like much longer.

Thank you to Lukas and Yolanda. And a special thank you to the anonymous good samaritan in Houston who turned in my passport.

It's so good to be home.