WEST ICELAND-MANCHESTER-ACHILL ISLAND jun 2016

This is a summary of our trip to Iceland, England, and Ireland. The primary purpose of this trip was to attend an academic conference in Manchester, England, the University Forum for Human Resources Development (UFHRD). I decided to put a stopover in Iceland on the front end since Icelandair has such liberal layover policies and Ireland (Achill Island) on the back end to make it easier for Pamela to say "yes" to accompanying me on the trip. There are pictures in the photos area of the website. Look for the link at the top of the page.

These notes are rather long and may not be interesting to all, so here is a short summary of what I consider the best parts.

Iceland

The daylight is truly amazing. It never really gets dark in June even though the sun “sets” at 11:44 pm and sunrise is at just after 3 am. This is because the sun never goes very far below the horizon.

Driving in Iceland is straightforward, but has its challenges. The maximum speed limit on the highways is 90km/hr (only 80km/hr on dirt roads!). Driving in the afternoon without a caffeinated soda after lunch is a problem for me on any long distance drive. The jet lag even with a good night's sleep just makes it more interesting. A driver in Iceland does have to pay extra close attention and just quickly glance at the amazing scenery because of the narrow roads with steep drop offs, no shoulders that result in stopped vehicles in the lane people *in the middle of the road* (that is hard to get used to), and sheep hanging out by the side of the road waiting until your car gets close to screw up their courage to jump into the road. I’m not kidding about the sheep. On the plus side, in the summer you have plenty of light so it doesn’t matter that there are not lights on the road outside of cities. Another plus is the ability to stop in the middle of the road just about anywhere outside of Reykjavik for a picture as long as you are watching for cars. 

Despite its small size, Iceland has greater population density than Montana and 2 other U.S. states. This means there are not many cars on the road.

Icelanders are really big on sagas. They are deeply embedded in their national culture, which you can tell from the live action "tweets" from the Reykjavík Grapevine, an Icelandic magazine, during their Euro 2016 game against Portugal. Talk about a David and Goliath match! This is Iceland's first ever European Championship and it is clearly a big deal to them. 8% of their entire population has traveled to the games in France. Here are some of the tweets:

• And now the unfortunate Portuguese will feel the mighty thunder of Þór's Icelandic warriors. [Þ has the "th" sound]

• You can see the fear on our puny opposition's faces. They know the Norse hellfire that awaits them.

• Even the breath of one mighty viking is enough to fell that Portuguese attacker, who fell without being touched.

• Óðinn's breath propelled our heroic goalie to swat away that weak-ass header. 

• When will our secret bench weapon be unleashed? No, not the power of the god Týr—the volcanic force of Eiður Guðjohnsen. 

• A weak shot from one of the wilting manboys of Portugal stopped with a flick of one mighty Icelandic hand.

• STONEWALL PENALTY SEND HIM OFF BEFORE HE IS SMITED BY LIGHTNING, it's for HIS OWN SAFETY.

• Now that defending was made of solid Icelandic… birch saplings. We don't have any oak. 

• Lol. Ronaldo. Lol. The nerves are showing. He is scared of the mighty thrashing that is to come. 

From Time magazine: Although the scoreline was a far cry from the 19-0 Icelandic victory the Grapevine had predicted in “ICELAND’S PATH TO CERTAIN VICTORY AT EURO 2016,” there’s still a “historic trouncing of the terrified Hungarians” to look forward to in the team’s next matchup on Saturday.

The seats at the gates in Keflavik airport are terrible. First, there are not enough of them so people have to sit in the flour or in windowsills waiting for planes. Second, the few seats that are available are metal. Sports stadium seats are more comfortable. It may be that the seating is so bad because they want you to spend all your time in the duty free shops.

England

Clearing passport control after the 4km (it always seems that long to me!) walk from the plane arrival gate was extra challenging because the UK wants an arrival card for *each* passenger. The agent was very polite about sending me back to get another form. Pamela got to sit at the head of the line while I trooped back with my luggage to the desk to fill out another card. I am always amused by the conversations I have with the passport control agent upon entry and exit. “What is your reason for travel? How many days are you staying? Are you employed? What do you do? Where do you work? What kind of research (for me) do you do? What is the weather like in Albuquerque? … What is the airspeed velocity of an unladen swallow?” and then I get tossed off the bridge of eternal peril!

Pamela and I embarked on an epic journey to find Chinatown, but because of some map reading errors (no finger pointing, we both have culpability), we walked for an hour in the wrong direction and had to settle for fish and chips because the journey went horribly wrong. At least we are still speaking to each other.

The demonym for Manchester is “Mancunian.” I never would have guessed.

At conference lunches or formal dinners, there exists the social challenge of deciding where to sit when you know very few people at the conference. One strategy that I have used in the past is to pick an empty table and hope or wait for someone to sit next to me. This reduces the initial social pressure of interaction when I approach the table, but increases anxiety briefly while I wait for others to join me. The approach I used on this trip was to choose a table with an open seat and introduce myself immediately. This kind of social interaction is a bit awkward at first, but probably equally so for the other people already at the table. The challenge is to find something to talk about briefly as you search for common ground of interests and experiences.

We walked a meandering, 1 km path with all our luggage to the Manchester Piccadilly station to catch our express train to Birmingham. I had asked Pamela to take a walk there while I was at the conference, which she did, but that seemed to have little influence on the number of times she had us crossing back and forth across the streets of busy traffic.

The highlight of the train trip to Birmingham was the recorded announcement in the toilet “do not flush nappies (diapers), [female sanitary products], paper towels, your extra sweater, gold fish, or your hopes and dreams down the toilet.”

Pamela almost fell over in the Debbingham’s department store from the perfumes in the air. She tried to position herself upwind of the fumes while I browsed. She was lucky because she put herself far from the person that was spraying sent and wafting it around it with small white cards! Evacuating the scented area, we came out of the store and into the Bull Ring shopping center proper, an enormous mall. This caused Pamela to immediately go into retail overload (“I can’t breathe!”) so I was directed to proceed directly to the nearest exit at top speed. Pamela is largely a “one and done” kind of shopper so the idea of browsing around malls is an anathema to her.

The Birmingham Museum and Art Gallery has a collection of medieval jewelry and gold work referred to as the “Staffordshire Hoard.” It is a collection of gold and precious metals and gem adornments from things like sword hilts and jewelry that was thought to have been buried in farmland in the 650s and possibly forgotten. It was located by one of those madmen that spends lots of time wandering around the countryside with a metal detector. No-one knows who buried the collection or why, but archeologists can certainly come up with guesses. Nearly all the hoard was found 2-3 inches below the surface of the topsoil. We don’t discover such things in America because we would have put a strip mall and parking lot over it long ago.

The security screening process exiting the UK was a nightmare, but we only have ourselves to blame. I noted on my departure from Scotland in April that the private company screeners employed in the UK are much more thorough about spotting liquids, creams, and gels (LCGs) than in the US. Normally I don't take them out of my bag or place them in a 1 qt container. Big mistake, especially when you have to get through security quickly. We spent 30 minutes between the long entry line and getting our bags searched and re-X-rayed multiple times 3 times for Pamela's wheeled bag. To speed up our exit once we got through with the endless series of X-rays, I repacked the exploded constants of Pamela's backpack while she was watching the screener find LCGs in her wheeled bag that she hadn't seen in days. This was a double edged sword because Pamela did not see me do this and kept asking if I packed such and such an item after we cleared security.

After clearing security, we had to navigate the twists and turns of the longest duty free obstacle course we have ever seen. The walkways are so narrow it was nearly impossible to walk past the people meandering through ahead of you without cutting through the perfume displays that make Pamela gag. I had to look behind me every few steps to make sure she hadn't passed out! After we got through the duty free area, then we had to pass through an airport mall with stores and eating places before we could even see a sign for the gates. It was like getting to the gates by traversing a shopping mall! 

Ireland

I realized that the bus tickets I bought in advance from Cork to Limerick would not get us to the airport, where we really needed to go to get our rental car. When I asked the bus driver about buying extra tickets, his reply was “We’ll look after ya.” I realized later that meant “Don’t worry about it” because I did not have pay to get additional tickets. That was our first real indication we were in Ireland. The second was during the trip to Limerick. An older woman came up to the driver as he was driving through one of the towns and said, “Now where did I want to get off?” as if she expected he would remember better than she would.

Our B&B hostess in Keel told us “in Ireland, Tuesday isn’t Tuesday.” That means the repairman might come on Tuesday like he said, or he might not.

Breakfast was the same wonderful meal we remembered from 2011: a huge pot of tea and another pot of hot water, brown bread, toast, juice, assorted cereal, fruit, and yogurt. All this is available before the cooked breakfast! Pamela had poached eggs and smoked salmon while I had the Irish breakfast (egg, tomato, lamb sausage, bacon, and black pudding). I have been looking forward to the bacon for months because it is cured almost like American bacon, but isn’t made from the pork belly so the fat is a tiny fraction of each piece and the pieces are thin slices about the size of the ham you can get for breakfast in some restaurants. I was also offered “red” or brown sauce by the young man serving. I know that brown sauce is also called HP and tastes just like our Heinz 57 sauce, but I had never heard of red sauce outside of Mexican restaurants so I asked for some. It turned out to be a form of ketchup.

I had time to watch Gaelic Rules Football and some Hurling on TV. The first seems like a cross between rugby, soccer, and mob riots. This would make it similar to Aussie rules football. There are no pads that I can see in either version of football, which may make it safer for the players. Safety equipment has the paradoxical effect of encouraging players to take greater risks with their bodies and use things like helmets like weapons the way Vikings did. The second sport, Hurling, is a mixture of hockey, soccer, rugby, and kickboxing. The object of both sports seems to be to slap some kind of ball or the opposing team’s players across or through a multi-level goal post. I probably could become a fan if I spent enough time watching these games, but they seem largely an excuse for going to the pub or public stadium to drink with friends and yell until you are hoarse. Who can argue with that (as long as you don't drive afterward)?

The Irish Times is a pleasure to read because they cover stories so differently than the U.S. press. For example, the coverage of the Irish national football (soccer) team supporters focuses on a) their drinking without getting hurt or hurting others and b) how they were treated to a better performance by their team than “they had any right to expect.” What a great way to express the fact that their team is solidly average. A second article noted that the only fan casualty among the Irish and Swedish fans drinking together was the Swedish fan, who had no visible injuries and was helped to the ambulance by the Irish supporters. The article writer surmised that the reason for the ambulance call was that the Swedish supporter had made the mistake of trying to keep drinking pace with the Irish (bad idea). Another article about all the things on an airplane that can make you sick made me want to avoid air travel for the rest of my life. The author made a colorful reference to the “‘thunderous volcanic’ flushing action of the toilet exacerbates the health risk by launching germs from the toilet.” What mental picture that conjures up! I personally find it hard to look away from the toilet flushing on airplanes because it is such an interesting process.

The lighthouse keeper at Blacksod, Ireland, played an important role in the D-Day landings in Normandy in 1944 because of the weather reports called in from there. If bad weather is going to hit the English Channel, it will smack the northwestern coast of Ireland first. We noticed this during our stay in Keel.

We had several thrilling experiences while driving. In one memorable instance, we were driving south from Bangor toward Mulranny on the narrow, two-lane road behind some kind of large vehicle that was the size of the Death Star and took up 105% of the lane ahead of me. It was driving at about 6 mph (10 kph) so I was keen to pass, but I had two challenges. First, the driver was about 40% across the middle of the road, taking up space I needed for passing without a one-way trip into the ditch (no shoulder). Second, I was concerned that if I got right behind the Death Star to indicate more clearly my intention to pass, it would blot out the sun, I wouldn’t be able to see oncoming traffic, and the driver would lose sight of me and assume I had driven underneath the vehicle. Yikes! It all worked out because the force was with me. I got into the right lane far enough behind the Death Star that the the driver figured things out and got back over on his side so I could pass. I did not try closing my eyes during this maneuver or Pamela would have permanently injured me. Even so, I felt like Luke Skywalker in the trench on his way to the thermal exhaust port: not much room to maneuver.

There special pleasures of driving with Pamela and two stood out on the trip. First, she can only look at a map in a moving vehicle for a minute or so or the risk of projective hurling increases exponentially. This can make it a challenge to get navigational assistance without stopping. My adjustment to this feature of driving with Pamela is to memorize the way as much as possible before setting out. Second, Pamela assumes that because she often has no idea where we are or where I am going that I don’t either so I often get suggestions like, “If it were me driving, I would just turn around and go back the way we came.” When she says things like this, I want to say, “If it were you driving, we would be in Alaska right now,” but we were too close to our wedding anniversary to make that a smart comment.

You can get porridge (what we call oatmeal) with whiskey or Bailey’s Irish Cream. Now that is a civilized way to eat, but probably only in Ireland.

Driving in Ireland is an opportunity to take note of the different approach to signage used there. Roundabouts on major roads (like the N4 and N5) now have large signs in English and German directing drivers to stay on the left (“Links Fahren”). This is a puzzling approach because it would be very difficult to emerge from a roundabout driving on the right side of the road because of the way the roads and curbs are positioned. There are many signs that tell you to use “dipped headlights,” which only I figured out after coming back to the States are low beam headlights. Instead of “Reduced Speed Zone Ahead” signs, the Irish use “Traffic Calming Ahead” with a picture that shows lane narrowing.

I missed a turn to remain on the main road driving to Limerick. My excuse is that I was distracted by seeing a traffic signal, a rare sight in villages in Ireland. After driving through town, we noticed the road getting narrower and narrower until it was only 1.5 cars wide and all signage disappeared. Pamela, the spinning compass woman, desperately wanted to turn back, but I knew we were traveling in the general direction of Galway and just turned east at the first opportunity in the belief we would intersect N84, which we did soon enough. Pam's sense of direction is like the ship's wheel in the Gilligan's Island introduction, spinning endlessly.

While walking back from a pub in Limerick at 11pm, we just happened to follow an extremely intoxicated young man wearing an Irish national team jersey wobbling back and forth on the sidewalk outside Arthur's Quay shopping center.  I tried not to look as he was having great difficulty keeping his pants up, which eventually dropped around his ankles. I noticed this because I had to look to keep from falling off the sidewalk! 

For those that like details, they follow:

1 Jun (Wednesday)

We left my father’s apartment at 0520 to park at the airport for our 0700 flight to Boston via Baltimore. Unlike Chicago and Newark airports, there were no significant security lines at Albuquerque’s Sunport and our flight left on time. We both slept most of the way to Baltimore because we had to get up so early (5 hours of sleep for me). I also slept during most of the 62 minute flight to Boston.

In Boston, we learned that Lyft cannot pickup passengers at the airport, which necessitated a change in my plan for getting to the hotel. We took the shuttle to the Blue Line station, Blue Line to Orient Heights ($2.65) and then bus 713 ($1.60 each) that dropped us off right in front of the Inn at Crystal Cove. This was almost as easy as Lyft and certainly less expensive. Based on the recommendation of the man working the front desk/reception, we ate dinner at D’Parma, which was only a five minute walk from the hotel. We had a Cajun stuffed mushroom appetizer and risotto artichoke chicken (the special for June). The food, including the tea Pamela ordered, was amazingly hot, which is one of my more important attributes for restaurant food. Pamela surmised that even the teacups get heated, which was unexpected but certainly helps.

2 Jun

We left the hotel at 0715 for breakfast at a coffee shop down the street. As we came in, I noted an Aerosmith song playing on the radio, quite apropos for Boston. We were the only customers so we sat at the counter, my favorite location in restaurants. We took the 0838 bus from the front of the hotel back to the Orient Heights Blue Line station and then two stops to the Airport. After we arrived at terminal E, I realized our flight was actually scheduled to depart 1435, not 1235 (that was the Mountain Time departure). Not only did Pamela refrain from killing me for getting her up so early for no reason, she helpfully suggested we migrate to the USO lounge in terminal C to wait. The directions on signage in terminal E were no help (suggesting we take the elevator to level 3, but you cannot get from terminal E to C on foot at that level). The USO was very nicely appointed and had almost no occupants. After a very nice tour (including the “eggnog” flavored coffee) from a veteran volunteer, we stayed from 10-12. Because we had economy comfort tickets, we were granted access to the Air France Lounge. We walked back and forth between opposite ends of the terminal to find it (hidden across from gates 3A and 3B). The first two rows of Economy Comfort seats on Icelandair use the exact same seat design as Saga (Business) class seats so that is where I booked our seats. On the plane, we had two very nice meals because I got carried away and confused, a double, about ordering food in advance of the flight, which allows you to get a better meal (or at least more options). We arrived at Keflavik at 2350 (still light), but had to circle for about 15 minutes because fog had caused a backup. We deplaned the old fashioned way: stairs and bus to the terminal. This also happens in Dublin, Catania (Sicily), and probably many small airports in Europe as well.

After asking at one of the rental counters, we located the Enterprise Rental Car shuttle driver from the sign he was holding up in the arrivals hall. The car was a white Nissan Pulsar, six-speed manual transmission with GPS that we hardly used. There are not *that* many options for where to drive in Iceland. The car had a keyless starter (just press the button with the clutch and brake pedals engaged) and separate temperature controls for passenger and driver. The separate temperature controls were the source of some amusement. Pamela was not used to these kinds of controls so I noticed her frantically trying to raise the driver temperature while she was going through one of her frequent internal temperature swings. I had to ask her repeatedly not to overheat me as she was desperately trying to find a temperature comfortable for her.

I used directions I had created based on iPhone map study before departing the USA and found the hotel without a problem in the very thick fog. We were in bed by 0147. The hotel from the first night was about 5km from the international airport in Keflavik (KEF), roughly 40 min from Reykjavik. I chose it strictly so we could get to bed faster after the flight. There is not much to see in KEF. Last October, we spent a little time in Reykjavik and the Golden Circle (Gullfoss, Geysir, and Þingvellir [pronounced "Thingvellir"]) so we wanted to see West Iceland and it is too far away to do as a day trip from KEF. Sleeping after 0300 was challenging for me because it was so light outside.

3 Jun Friday

I was out the door at 0900 to run for 28 minutes. Pamela got up as well. After eating the continental breakfast upstairs, I tried to use the hotel wifi to browse places to stay and things to do based on the videos we saw on Iceland Air, but it proved too slow. We drove back to the airport so I could look for the Vodafone shop in the arrivals hall, but could find no trace of it so we drove to Reykjavik to use one in the Kringlan mall (easier parking). By coincidence, I parked right by the store on the second level, but the sales rep told me a) it was easier to just using roaming for $10/day on my Verizon plan for the 3 days we plan to be in Iceland and b) how to dial a number in Iceland (00-354-number). I used the latter information to call Ensku Húsin (www.enskuhusin.is/en/), a farmhouse inn northwest of Borgarnes, to reserve their last room for the next two days. The room was upstairs in the original section of the farm house with a shared bathroom. I found out later the BR is shared with 3 rooms! We like to reserve accommodations in one place and do day trips from there to minimize packing and unpacking during the trip. This works particularly well for Bed and Breakfast locations because we get to know the hosts better and can benefit from their knowledge of the area, which reduces the time it takes for pre-trip planning.

Pam snoozed for most of the drive to Borgarnes except for the 6km tunnel we passed through ($1000 IK toll, good thing I had cash). We stopped in Borgarnes to tour the Settlement and Saga museum (two separate tours with audio via iPod mini) as well as have a light lunch (two main course soups, carrot and leek for me and lamb stew for Pamela, nearly half a loaf of bread with whipped butter and “volcanic salt,” ice cream from the  Erpsstadir West Iceland diary farm).

We stopped at the farmhouse after departing the museum. I was a little worried I might not find it, but the directions from one of the museum staff seemed clear and simple. I did miss the left turn to the house, but I recognized it as I passed it. They serve a three course dinner 19-2030 and breakfast 08-10. Pamela and I had salmon. We ate dinner with a retired couple from Sweden on their first trip to Iceland. They were school teachers and their English was very good. After dinner, Pamela and I walked around the property and to the nearby river and mini-rapids. We had tea in the sitting room downstairs after we returned. While the farmhouse was once someone's residence, the current owners don't live there and additional buildings have been brought on site to accommodate more guests. The people that work at the house serving meals and cleaning (a cook and at three other staff) don't actually live there, but come in from town to work during the day.

We went to bed at 2200 and it was still quite light out. I needed my sunglasses during the walk at 2100, which is amazing. I finished signing our Altezza High Desert lease applications before turning in, which was surprisingly easier to do after most of the guests had gone to bed. I had to do a lot more work with the paperwork for the apartment lease that I will leave out of these notes. At least it was all electronic so we did not have to be in Albuquerque to get everything done.

4 Jun

After breakfast of fresh bread, cereal, cold cuts, cheese, tomato and cucumber slices, juice and coffee/tea, we drove west on highway 54 for the edge of western Iceland, Hellissandur and Rif. When we crossed to the north side of the peninsula, it became very foggy so we couldn’t see much. Hellissandur and Rif are very small fishing villages. We drove back east to Stykkisholmur and ate a small lunch of pastry, soup, and bread at the Bakery there. Before and afterward, we looked for the historic houses, which are a bit challenging to find. You can only tour one, the Norwegian house, which was the two-story first wood framed building in Iceland when it was built in 1832 from wood imported from Norway.

We headed back to Ensku Húsin after the Norwegian House (self-guided) tour. I got a bit sleepy on the way, which alarmed Pamela far more than it did me. I napped from 1600-1730. Pamela drove to Reykholt to see the historic center devoted to The Prose Edda, the bible of Norse mythology. Prose Edda was written by Snorri Sturluson, a 13th-century author and politician who lived on a farm in Reykholt. The Prose Edda was among the most influential of all collections myths and legends, inspiring modern works such as Wagner's Ring Cycle and Tolkien's The Lord of the Rings. Alas, it was closed when we got there so we drove back to Borgarnes after getting gas. Since the farmhouse serves the same meal every night, we elected to eat tonight at the Settlement Center in Borgarnes where we had lunch the day before. This time we had Langoustine (Lobster tail, what Bryan used to call "lobsker") on pasta and apple cake with caramel for dessert. We wanted to share a single meal, but that must have been lost in translation. When eating lobster tail, it is hard to get grumpy about that.

5 Jun Sunday

I paid for the two-day stay at the guesthouse shortly after we ate breakfast, but at 0830 it was too soon to depart so we stayed in our room until 1000. We drove first to Reykholt, the site of Snorrastofa (www.snorrastofa.is, the “english”  button is at the bottom of the web page), a cultural and medieval centre founded in memory of the twelfth-century Icelandic chieftain and scholar Snorri Sturluson. He lived 1179–1241, traveled extensively in Norway, was a poet, scholar, “lawspeaker,” and wrote many Icelandic sagas. Icelanders are big on sagas. We arrived at 1030 and departed at 1200. The sagas were hand printed on vellum (sheep’s skin). One of the beautiful pages on display had a bunch of holes in it because it had been used as a flour sieve. Good grief!

Since there was no cafe, we departed Snorrastofa for Akranes to see the lighthouse and folk-sport museum (no English translations of the sport displays). The folk museum has exhibits on farming, housekeeping, and Icelandic life. It also has a small cafe with no hot food, but very tasty (and hideously expensive, common in Iceland) snacks. We departed at 1445 and *thought* we were a short drive from Reykjavik, but that was before we learned that the tunnel across the bay was closed and we had to drive 50 km further to go around it. It was a nice day, we had time to spare,the scenery was marvelous, and the sheep were few so it was not a big impact for us. It was hard for me to say awake on the windy roads and there were absolutely no services on the entire detour. There may have been signs warning about this in Icelandic, but they would have escaped my notice. Pamela frequently offered to drive, but there were very few places to pull over (shoulders, passing lanes, and slow vehicle turnouts are practically nonexistent in Iceland) so I was reduced to munching continuously on wasabi crunch mix to stay awake.

We arrived in Reykjavik at about 1600. Pamela was comforted because we were in sight of the lamb dog shack she remembered and used as a landmark during our October trip. On this trip, we were early enough that all the stores were still open. We had a snack at the Uno restaurant, walked around the downtown area, observed skateboarders jumping off of stairs and crashing repeatedly, and had dessert and coffee at Cafe Stofan, where we stopped the last time we were in Iceland. As we walked around the downtown shopping area, I took the opportunity to replace my Spanish, Chinese, Korean roadmap of Iceland with an English one. It was supposed to be associated with an app for the iPhone, but it appeared later that the app had been discontinued.

 

We drove back to the Icelandic Health Hotel at 1900, the same place we stayed on our first night. The hotel reminded me of a BOQ and it certainly could have been the BOQ from the former base. This room had two double beds and curtains for the windows in addition to the blinds, which made it much easier to sleep. We watched North by Northwest on Pamela’s iPad Mini until I realized that it was 2230 and I would be getting up at 0400 the next morning. I was having trouble keeping my eyes open anyway.

 

Some General Observations about Iceland

 

Driving in Iceland is not so bad. The maximum speed limit on the highways is 90km/hr (only 80km/hr on dirt road!). Driving in the afternoon without a caffeinated soda after lunch is a problem for me on any long distance drive. The jet lag even with a good night's sleep just makes it more interesting. The driver does have to pay extra close attention and just quickly glance at the amazing scenery because of the narrow roads with steep drop offs, no shoulders leading to stopped vehicles and people *in the middle of the road* (that is hard to get used to), and sheep hanging out by the side of the road waiting until your car gets close to screw up their courage to jump into the road. I’m not kidding about the sheep. On the plus side, in the summer you have plenty of light so it doesn’t matter that there are not lights on the road outside of cities. Another plus is the ability to stop in the middle of the road just about anywhere outside of Reykjavik for a picture as long as you are watching for cars. 

 

Despite its small size, Iceland has greater population density than Montana and 2 other U.S. states. This means there are not many cars on the road.

 

As I noted earlier, Icelanders are really big on sagas. They are deeply embedded in their national culture, which you can tell from the live action "tweets" from the Reykjavík Grapevine, an Icelandic magazine, during their Euro 2016 game against Portugal. Talk about a David and Goliath match! This is Iceland's first ever European Championship and it is clearly a big deal to them. 8% of their entire population has traveled to the games in France. Here are some of the tweets:

And now the unfortunate Portuguese will feel the mighty thunder of Þór's Icelandic warriors. [Þ has the th sound]
You can see the fear on our puny opposition's faces. They know the Norse hellfire that awaits them.
Even the breath of one mighty viking is enough to fell that Portuguese attacker, who fell without being touched.
Óðinn's breath propelled our heroic goalie to swat away that weak-ass header. 
When will our secret bench weapon be unleashed? No, not the power of the god Týr—the volcanic force of Eiður Guðjohnsen.
A weak shot from one of the wilting manboys of Portugal stopped with a flick of one mighty Icelandic hand.
STONEWALL PENALTY SEND HIM OFF BEFORE HE IS SMITED BY LIGHTNING, it's for HIS OWN SAFETY.
Now that defending was made of solid Icelandic… birch saplings. We don't have any oak. 
Lol. Ronaldo. Lol. The nerves are showing. He is scared of the mighty thrashing that is to come. 
From Time magazine: Although the scoreline was a far cry from the 19-0 Icelandic victory the Grapevine had predicted in “ICELAND’S PATH TO CERTAIN VICTORY AT EURO 2016,” there’s still a “historic trouncing of the terrified Hungarians” to look forward to in the team’s next matchup on Saturday. 

 

6 Jun (Monday)

I was up at 0400 and we were out of the hotel by 0530. We dropped off the Enterprise rental car (no sheep wool in the grill noted) and joined the confusing throng in the departure terminal. There was a big, rapidly moving line for baggage drop off, but it was not clear to me how to obtain boarding passes from which kiosks. We asked two Icelandair employees, but their guidance conflicted. In the midst of the mayhem, we heard a women yell at her husband “this is craziness!” Fortunately, I noted where Saga and Economy Comfort passengers could check in, which was a much shorter line. When we checked in, we were informed that our 0800 flight to Manchester had been delayed to 0830 (estimated).

 

After obtaining our boarding passes, we passed through security and the duty free shop. My larger carry on and jacket were flagged for a second check. I was allowed to note the location of the camping spoon tool I carry on trips as a possible source of interest, which helped me avoid having my bag completely unpacked, a practice that sets my teeth on edge every time since I take such care to pack things carefully in advance. Pamela was able to get her backpack through security with a small bottle of water, an unintentional act that certainly shows her ability to follow directions is suspect. I think it is her awesome attractiveness that distracts the guards. I, on the other hand, travel with such an array of interesting gadgets and tools that I regularly get selected for extra scrutiny. European and Australian air terminals make it mandatory for passengers to pass through the duty free store after passing through security, which I find tedious even though it probably improves sales.

 

Icelandair allows Economy Comfort passengers to use their Saga lounge, which is located before passport control. One of the things I consider unsuitable about the Keflavik terminal is the poor design of seating by the gates, at least in the A terminal. There are about 10 seats at gates that have seats, which means you frequently see large numbers of people sitting on the floor or laying on the backs in circular window frames waiting for their flights to depart. The seats they do have are all metal and incredibly uncomfortable for sitting after ten minutes. The seat comfort and scarcity are common deficiencies in smaller European airports and something we noticed in the Cairns, Australia departure terminal as well. The food in the Saga Lounge was plentiful and quite good. I positioned us near the coffee machine, Pamela’s favorite appliance. The machine also dispensed lukewarm hot chocolate. As we sat and I caught up on these notes, I could feel the creeping fatigue that meant I would be sleeping for most of the 2h10m flight to Manchester, England.

 

We left the Saga Lounge at 0720 so we could deal with any unexpected delays or problems without impacting our ability to board the flight. After clearing Icelandic border control (they stamp your passport on exit, right next to the entry stamp), we had to pass through *another duty free shop* before we could get to the gate. The flight to Manchester was delayed more 30 minutes. The only problem for me was having to sit longer on metal seats without a cushion. The flight was uneventful except that I ordered two meals for each of us when I made the reservations so we had some extra to take with us when we deplaned. I slept most of the flight while Pamela did not (movie watching).

 

Clearing passport control after the 4km (it always seems that long to me!) walk from the plane arrival gate was extra challenging because the UK wants an arrival card for *each* passenger. Pamela got to sit at the head of the line while I trooped back with my luggage to the desk to fill out another card. I am always amused by the conversations I have with the passport control agent upon entry and exit. “What is your reason for travel? How many days are you staying? Are you employed? What do you do? Where do you work? What kind of research (for me) do you do? What is the weather like in Albuquerque? … What is the airspeed velocity of an unladen swallow?” and then I get tossed off the bridge of eternal peril!

When we arrive in an airport, we alway have to go through the “where do I want to go and how does that relate to where I am now?” orientation. We have been to Manchester before in the summer of 2014, but then we rented a car and drove to Wales. Trip Advisor reviews for hotels have a handy “Questions” area where people frequently ask how to get to the hotel from the airport that I find very helpful. We had to take the Sky Bridge across the traffic to get to the airport bus/rail terminal. I had my coat on so I would not have to carry it and my luggage so I was not prepared for the temperature jump to 1000 degrees in the glass enclosed bridge walkway. I nearly expired before I got to the bus terminal! Trip Advisor directed us to take bus 43 that goes straight from the airport right past the hotel in about an hour for 6.40 total (they make change right on the bus). I told the driver where we wanted to go. He told me that I would need to tell the second driver after they changed during the trip. I thought the driver change process was interesting. We stopped at a bus stand where the new driver was wearing a vest with orange stripes. He came on the bus, exchanged the vest with the new driver, and entered the plexiglass enclosed driver station (spooky thought that they actually need such protection for the driver). The former driver walked in front of the bus and across two lanes of busy traffic. Clearly the orange vest is either designed to improve the odds of success for such risky activity or it emboldens the drivers to do such risky things. I am not sure which.

Right after we got to the room at 1400, Pamela promptly did her impression of an astronaut in suspended animation to recover the sleep she missed on the plane from getting up so early. We went out around 2030 for ice cream (gelato) at a gelato version of Cold Stone Creamery ("Cold Stone Gelato"). Pamela is thrilled to be in a place where it actually gets dark at night. While she reported no trouble sleeping in Iceland, she now feels that she can appreciate the value of actual darkness more.

7 June

I spent most of the day in the hotel room planning my attendance at the conference (which sessions to attend when) and preparing for the Talking About Organizations episode we are recording today. I walked to the Manchester Metro University Business School building and checked in for the conference, which starts 8 Jun at 1200. There was no line so the person manning the registration booth showed me where all the rooms are.

Later in the afternoon, Pamela and I embarked on an epic journey to find Chinatown, but because of some map reading errors (no finger pointing, we both have culpability), we walked for an hour and had to settle for not very good fish and chips because the journey went horribly wrong. At least we are still speaking to each other at this point. Another plus is that we consulted the map before we walked all the way back to the airport!

8 June

I went running today before breakfast, which was quite the challenge because of the need to dodge people and traffic in the city center of Manchester. BTW, the demonym for Manchester is “Mancunian.” I never would have guessed.

Even though I did not have a paper to present at the conference, I attended because I wanted to learn more about the kinds of research being done in Human Resources Development (HRD) and see if it is compatible with my research interests. Dr. Ann Huff refers to this as “joining conversations,” the conversations in this case being research streams and the techniques used to conduct the research. I attended this conference for the first time in Edinburgh in 2014 and thought the research was quite interesting.

The University Forum for Human Resources Development (UFHRD) conferences start with lunch at 1200 on the first day. I attended a pre-conference “meet the editors” session for Human Resources Development Quarterly. It was also a workshop on the peer review process, which I found enhanced and enriched what I already understood from my GW studies. The key points for me were: it is a community responsibility of scholars to review academic papers (I already knew this), peer review generally makes papers better (and reviews should take this approach), and doing reviews will improve your writing and understanding of the latest research being done (I had a general feeling for this, but the workshop solidified it).

At conference lunches or formal dinners, there exists the social challenge of deciding where to sit when you know very few people at the conference. One strategy that I have used in the past is to pick and empty table and hope or wait for someone to sit next to me. This reduces the initial social pressure of interaction right when I approach the table, but increases anxiety briefly while  you wait for others to join you. The approach I tend to use now is to choose a table with an open seat and introduce myself immediately. This kind of social interaction is a bit awkward at first, but probably equally so for the other person. The challenge is to find something to talk about briefly as you search for common ground of interests and experiences.

After lunch, I attended sessions in the Scholarly Practitioner Research, Learning and Teaching in HRD, and Workplace Learning and Training Development. It was hard to choose which sessions to attend so I tried to find good break points for when to move from room to room. The big challenge at the presentations is staying on time (for the presenters) and asking interesting questions (attendees) to show that you were focusing on what was presented.

I decided to ignore the welcome reception typical for the first day of the conference. My primary rationale was that the food did not look very plentiful or varied. I went back to the hotel to take Pamela to dinner. We chose a local Italian restaurant that had very few scary reviews on Yelp. We had lobster ravioli and antipasto. The food was good but the ravioli was not very hot when it came to our table.

9 June

Pamela and I ate breakfast together and then I walked to the conference shortly after 0910. The keynote this morning was a summary of the author’s book, “The Five Steps to a Winning Mindset.” It was a simplified version of the “Made to Stick” principles for making messages “sticky” and thus memorable so I did not learn anything new. I note “simplified” because “Made to Stick” had 6 steps instead of 5. It was an engaging presentation nonetheless. The speaker probably sells a lot of books. There were several interesting presentations from the morning sessions and I found that I was able to comment on or provide suggestions for a few. I did find the keynote after lunch very interesting. It was focused on the relevance of HRD for the business world and used a creative approach to identify some interesting problems between what researchers are doing and what practitioners need. Lunch was another HUGE meal, which made staying awake in the afternoon sessions like climbing Mt Everest without oxygen (likely to pass out). We finished for the day at 1730, which gave us plenty of time to change (if desired) and walk to Manchester City Hall for the conference reception and dinner. Prior to dinner, I had a chance to talk with Professor Bob Hamlin, who gave me some mentoring at the last UFHRD conference Pam, Beau and I attended in Edinburgh in 2014. He gave me some guidance about research paradigms and epistemology and noted that my doctoral degree just gives me a license to learn how to do research so my next task is to get several papers published based on my dissertation. He suggested that a good number is three papers, which I have heard from others so I need to get cracking on the paper my Dissertation Chair told me to work on-right after this trip is over. The dinner (leak and potato soup with a fried egg, chicken, chocolate mousse) was very good. I was practicing my best “Ralph as been abducted by space aliens and replaced with a near copy” impersonation by drinking some red wine before dinner and coffee, not tea, after. Pamela was agog, but managed to keep her mouth from hanging open. There was chamber music provided by four musicians and a magician that wandered around the tables doing magic tricks, mostly slight of hand, still amazing and fun to watch. Tomorrow we travel to Birmingham to meet two of the other three members of the Talking About Organizations podcast team (www.talkingaboutorganizations.com). We will return to Manchester on Saturday evening before our flight to Cork Sunday morning.

10 June

This was the final day of the conference. I could not run before the conference because it was raining and I really don’t like running in the rain. I attended the presentations on Workplace Learning research in the morning. One of the presenters was not “present” so we finished early. Today was another very big lunch. The ladies at the cafeteria had spoons the size of shovels for putting food on your plate. The final keynote was by a very well respected researcher in the field of Human Resources who presented her latest research on incivility in the workplace. About half the people attending the keynote dispersed immediately after her talk so the conference organizers decided to cancel the plenary session they had planned afterward. The final event for the conference was an eclectic, rambling overview of Lisbon, the site of UFHRD 2017 (www.ufhrd2017.com). It was provided by a university professor in broken English with lots of slides of Lisbon including areal shots of the football (soccer) stadiums. Football is very big in Portugal. On a final conference note, there seems to be some existential angst about whether the expression Human Resources Development, popular among the academic community and some practitioners, should even be used. The guest speaker we had from McDonald’s corporation refers to himself as the “Chief People Officer.” Businesses never use it in their annual reports. Even a person that Pamela met at a coffee shop near the hotel thought it sounded too impersonal. This could be a big problem for the community of scholars that write and study it because all their journals have Human Resources Development in the title.

I arrived back to the hotel room around 1400, which was 3.5 hours before we needed to depart for the train station. I was going to run, but it began to rain hard right after I got back to the hotel. Physical fitness hopes dashed again. Instead, Pamela and I went to one of our favorite business establishments in the UK, Patisserie Valerie, a cake and dessert shop www.patisserie-valerie.co.uk. We shared a double chocolate gateau and a pot of tea, which came to £6.40 (about $9.60). Not only was this a tasty, completely non-fitness related activity, it gave us an opportunity to use a large fraction of our remaining English coinage, which cannot be changed at the end of a trip.

We returned to the hotel to check out and then walked a meandering, 1 km path with all our luggage to the Manchester Piccadilly station to catch our express train to Birmingham departing at 1827. I had asked Pamela to take a walk there while I was at the conference, which she did, but that seemed to have little influence on the number of times she had us crossing back and forth across the streets of busy traffic.

I had some trepidation about the train trip because the Virgin trains only allow you to obtain your tickets from machines in the station (no humans involved). You have to use the credit card you used to purchase the tickets as a form of identification. This has not worked out well for me in the past in Europe because the PIN is not enabled on American credit cards that have a chip. Indeed, the first machine I used at the entry to the station did not recognize my credit card as I repeatedly swiped it rapidly in and out of the reader. We moved to another set of ticket stations with a queue for using them, which gave me an opportunity to observe what other people do. I noticed they were not swiping their cards frantically back and forth like I was, but inserting them and leaving them in the machine. This made perfect sense because machines are designed to read credit card chips and don’t work properly if you swipe the card rapidly in the reader. With my new understanding of the technique, I had no trouble obtaining our tickets. Not having a PIN was irrelevant to this process. We found the track for our train by looking at the LED information boards that list train departures by time and final destination. Knowing the final destination is usually not helpful to me because you often debark at your desired station or transfer station before the train reaches its final destination. In England, trains are not identified by numbered route (unlike buses in Ireland). Beneath the departure time, the display shows all the stops so you can be sure it is the correct train. In bigger stations like Manchester Piccadilly, there are often more than one train departing at the same time from different tracks. This means of identifying trains and tracks works fine unless they change the track at the last minute, which happened to use in Rotterdam in the Netherlands in 2011 and can be a very messy process. I always get a bit concerned that I am going to read the route and track display wrong and wait at the wrong track because the trains come and go so rapidly. The margin for doofus American error is very small. I have read departure information displays incorrectly in airports before that resulted in Pamela having to run through the terminal with her bag, something she hates with a purple passion. The train was only a few minutes late and finding our reserved seats in the first-class “coach” was easy enough. My bag fit in the rack above the seats with a lot of shoving, but Pamela’s did not. There was no obvious place to put it at the end of the car where we boarded so we ended up putting it in the area where people in wheelchairs go because it was vacant. This was made more challenging because there was a person sitting on his baggage in this area. Later in the trip, I learned from the train manager explaining to a person in the first-class car that you can be in the first-class car without paying for first-class as long as you don’t sit down in a seat. This is a very curious practice, but I am sure it is the case because the train manager explained about six times to the person for whom English was clearly not his native tongue.The trip only took 90 minutes.

My friend and fellow podcaster (www.talkingaboutorganizations.com) Dmitrijs met us at the station on the ground floor outside the ticket gates. He led us to our hotel, The Premier Inn, and gave us recommendations for seeing the city while providing a running commentary on Grand Central station and its contents. We ate dinner at a Bill’s in the Bull Ring. The beef stew was marvelous. The shopping area near High Street station is named the Bull Ring because it is where farmers used to tie up their bulls before selling them in the market that was located there.

11 June

I ran in the morning before breakfast. On the way, I noticed a tent on the pedestrian shopping street that a homeless person was using for shelter at night. The tent was disassembled by the time I returned. Afterward, Pamela and I went to breakfast at Cafe Rouge near the Bull Ring. The food was good, but the service was slow.

We checked out of the hotel, storing out luggage for later retrieval, and walked to the Debbingham’s department store via Grand Central. Pamela almost fell over from the perfumes in the air so she tried to position herself upwind of the fumes while I browsed a bit. She was lucky because she positioned herself far from the person that was spraying sent and wafting it around it with small white cards! Evacuating the scented area, we came out of the store and into the Bull Ring shopping center proper, an enormous mall. This caused Pamela to immediately go into retail overload (“I can’t breathe!”) so I was directed to proceed directly to the nearest exit at top speed. Pamela is largely a “one and done” kind of shopper so the idea of browsing around malls is an anathema to her.

Following our encounter with retail nirvana (or hell, depending on your perspective), Pamela decided she wanted to visit the Birmingham Museum and Art Gallery in Victoria Square. They had a nice collection of paintings and sculptures and an Egyptology section. My favorite area was the Sheffield Hoard. Just the  name is entertaining, a collection of medieval jewelry and gold work referred to as a “hoard.” It is a collection of gold and precious metals and gem adornments from things like sword hilts and jewelry that was thought to have been buried in farmland in the 650s and possibly forgotten. It was located by one of those madmen that spends lots of time wandering around the countryside with a metal detector. No-one knows who buried the collection or why, but archeologists presume it was done to keep the valuables from falling into enemy hands. Nearly all of it was found 2-3 inches below the surface of the topsoil. We don’t discover such things in America because we would have put a strip mall and parking lot over it long ago.

My fellow http://www.talkingaboutorganizations.com podcasters in the UK, Dmitrijs and Miranda, met us just after 1400. We walked over to The Mailbox (former Royal Mail sorting center, now, you guessed it, a shopping center and office spaces, and The Cube. On the top floor is a restaurant and bar that has great views of the city. Dmitrijs gave us a detailed tour of the more significant sites. Afterward, we ate a quick Italian dinner at Zizzi’s (King Prawns Linguini slightly spiced with chili). We moved expeditiously to retrieve our luggage and bid farewell to Dmitrijs and Miranda before boarding our train to the Manchester Airport via a train change in Crewe.

The train journey was uneventful except for finding people sitting in the first class car seats that were supposed to be reserved for us according to the tickets we purchased. When I looked quizzically at the people occupying them, one of them said, “the seat indicators aren’t working.” I had to ask him to repeat it and even after that I had to ask, “but what does that mean.” According to him, it meant “sit anywhere you want” so we located two unoccupied seats together. The highlight of the trip as the recorded announcement in the toilet “do not flush nappies (diapers), [female sanitary products], paper towels, your extra sweater, gold fish, or your hopes and dreams down the toilet.” That was funny and depressing at the same time.

After taking the shuttle bus to the Holiday Inn Express, I watched the second half of the England vs. Russia Euro 2016 game in the lobby with English fans staying at the hotel, which was certainly more energizing than sitting in the room to watch it.

12 June Sunday

We were up by 0545. We did not sleep very well. Because the room was hot, we kept the window open and that exposed us to traffic noises all night. Before going down to breakfast, I realized that I misunderstood the departure time of our flight. It departed at 0905, not 1005 so our 0740 shuttle to the airport was going to cut it close. The complimentary breakfast was good although the hot beverage machines didn't dispense hot chocolate like the Holiday Inn Express in the city center. Too bad.

The security screening process was a nightmare, but we only have ourselves to blame. It was really mostly my fault, but fortunately Pamela did not see it that way. I noted on my departure from Scotland in April that the private company screeners employed in the UK are much more thorough about spotting liquids, creams, and gels (LCGs) than in the US. Normally I don't take them out of my bag and place them in a 1 qt container. Big mistake, especially when you have to get through security quickly. I e spent 30 minutes between the long entry line and getting our bags searched and re-X-rayed multiple times 3 times for Pamela's wheeled bag. I have resisted segregating my LCG in the past because it is not the most efficient way to pack and use them. No more of that nonsense. To speed up our exit if we ever got through with the endless series of X-rays, I repacked the exploded constants of Pamela's backpack while she was watching the screener find LCGs in her wheeled bag that she hadn't seen in days. This was a double edged sword because Pamela did not see me do this and kept asking if I packed such and such an item after we cleared security.  

As we departed the security area, I took Pamela’s bulging 1 quart bag after her luggage was finally cleared. My reasoning was two-fold. One, I did not want her to lose any time trying to decide where it might fit in her luggage. Second, it was quite heavy. It reminded me of lead (she has some really dense creams). The consequence was that her carry on bag was really light now so it would be easy to pass any weight test if there were carryon bag police at the gate. There weren’t, but I didn’t know that at the time and it helps to be prepared for such things. I walked to the gate briskly with the bag under my arm inside my jacket so it would not be obvious that we had an . There were none and no one challenged the weight of our bags, which would have been easy for Pamela to pass since all the heavy stuff was either under my arm or in her backpack and backpacks don't get weighed. 

As if the security gauntlet were not a sufficient preflight challenge, we had to navigate the twists and turns of the longest duty free obstacle course we have ever seen. The walkways are so narrow it was nearly impossible to walk past the people meandering through ahead of you without cutting through the perfume displays that make Pamela gag. I had to look behind me every few steps to make sure she hadn't passed out! After we got through the duty free area, then we had to pass through an airport mall with stores and eating places before we could even see a sign for the gates. It was like getting to the gates by traversing a shopping mall! 

After a brief wait at the gate, we went down stairs and walked directly to the plane. All our carry on bags fit in the overhead lockers without trouble. I did have an "ick" moment when reading the Aer Lingus in flight magazine because someone had disposed of their gum by sticking it between the pages. I ripped the pages out and pulled them partially out of the magazine as a sign someone servicing the aircraft might take to replace it. After discoveries like that, I can find myself wondering briefly, before I convince myself it is a waste of time, what kind of person does that kind of thing and what thinking process do they use?

Upon arrival about 1045, we waited around outside the terminal for the bus until Pamela went inside to find nourishment and I started to collect visual data on where and when we might meet the bus. I did eventually ask when the bus would arrive (half past 11) because the LED sign at the curb made no sense to me. Before the bus arrived, I spotted a ticket kiosk at the curb and bought tickets to the Cork City Center station. We had a 40 minute wait at the station for Bus 51 to depart. By reading the printed bus timetable while we waited, I realized that the bus would continue on to Shannon Airport, our final bus destination for the day to pick up the rental car, but we only had tickets to Limerick. When we boarded the bus, I asked the driver if we would have to exit at Limerick to get additional tickets to Shannon. His reply was “We’ll look after ya.” I realized later that meant “Don’t worry about it” because I did not have pay to get additional tickets. That was our first real indication we were in Ireland. The second was during the trip to Limerick. An older woman came up to the driver as he was driving through one of the towns and said, “Now where did I want to get off?” as if she expected he would remember better than she would. They did eventually figure it out where she could get off, but you just don’t see that kind of exchange between bus driver and passenger in other parts of the world.

We rented the car at the airport with no problem and were on our way to Achill Island at 1500. I have been trapped in this parking lot before so I knew how to find the exit. Other than the very brief stretch of “motorway” (we call these “freeways”) between Shannon and Gort, we drove on two lane roads, one lane in each direction, the entire way. These are the “N” roads, such as N17. These are the closest Ireland comes to major roads. R roads, like the R319 from Newport to Achill Island, Keel, are even narrower and often have one lane bridges. Like Iceland, Ireland road builders appear not to believe in, or have the money for, passing lanes or slow vehicle turnouts, which can get frustrating if you get stuck behind a furniture delivery van on a small road, which has happened to us before. We stopped in Westport for dinner at 1800 since we had stayed here before in 2011 and liked the resort-like nature of the city. It is crammed with shops and restaurants. We struggled to find a restaurant without a two hour wait to be seated because there was some kind of festival in progress. The final restaurant we chose before leaving for the next town was Il Vulcano, an Italian restaurant where we had pork medallions, pears, and “mash.”

It took an hour to drive from Westport to Keel on Achill Island. The roads became progressively narrower the closer we got to the Achill Sound causeway. I am glad it was still light because they don’t have street lights on rural Irish roads. As we pulled up to Joyce’s Guesthouse, the proprietress Ann Joyce came out to meet us. This was a very nice gesture, but typical for her approach to hospitality, which she used to teach in Dublin years ago before taking over the establishment from her mother some hears ago. Her mother still lives in the home next door. She is 97 and, according to her grandchildren, there is nothing wrong with “Grannie’s SIM card.” We had tea, a tour of the house, and some conversation before taking our bags up to the room and crashing. Our room has a view of the road outside the B&B as well as the beach, Minaun Hill, and Clare island (visible only on clear days) on the opposite side of the bay.

13 June

We noted that the B&B has the standard proviso that we’ve seen in Ireland against doing laundry in the room, but I don’t have any other option so I washed my things and put them in the car to dry. That works out fine when it is sunny outside, but I may have less good fortune on rainy days. The clothing I washed before going to bed was still damp when I put it on, but it dried quickly from body heat. There was a problem with one of the outlets in the room so Ann gave me a power strip. She said an electrician was schedule to repair it Tuesday, but “in Ireland, Tuesday isn’t Tuesday.”

Breakfast was the same wonderful meal we remembered from 2011, huge pot of tea and another pot of hot water, brown bread, toast, juice, assorted cereal, fruit, and yogurt. Pamela had poached eggs and smoked salmon while I had the Irish breakfast (egg, tomato, lamb sausage, bacon, and black pudding). I have been looking forward to the bacon for months because it is cured almost like American bacon, but isn’t made from the pork belly so the fat is a tiny fraction of each piece and the pieces are thin slices about the size of the ham you can get for breakfast in some restaurants.

We skipped lunch and drove to Dooagh (“doo-wah”) for a two hour walk along the beach and sheep. After the walk, we drove to the end of the road in Keem. I could see waves breaking over some rocks or shoals out in the bay. I later learned these are called “Bill’s Rocks,” which probably means it was not a good day for Bill when he discovered them. That’s usually how shallow rocky formations in bays get named. We drove to a reservoir and dam that are far above Keem and Dooagh before returning to the B&B.

We went to the Achill Cliff House for dinner like we did in 2011. It was a similarly pleasurable experience. The fish and chips we shared were excellent and so were the apple pie and sticky toffee pudding desserts. We could not find the restaurant reviewed on TripAdvisor when we searched for restaurants in Keel because it is listed as a hotel, not a restaurant. One thing I have noted about Yelp and TripAdvisor restaurant reviews, but particularly Yelp is that they are tediously prolix and not mobile friendly. It is like they are telling a friend over the phone all about their experience. Reviewers seem to think it matters to readers when they went to the restaurant and who they were with before getting to the meet of their review. Not so for me (surprise). As a reaction to this and because I think it is a better approach, I get to the point in the first two sentences of my reviews: was the food good and would I return because of the service. The other thing I have noticed about online reviews of restaurants and hotels is that many reviewers are a lot more discerning and hard to please than Pamela and I are so I have to do a lot of mental “filtering” of the reviews as I scan them. My general practice only refer to problems if I have given the hotel staff a chance to correct the problem. Any other approach strikes me as terribly unfair and, as a reader of the review, I am more interested in whether the hotel staff were able to correct the problem once they learned about it. Interestingly for me, this is opposite of the way I feel about other social media sites like Facebook, LinkedIn, and Twitter. (Rant warning) People posting on those sites seem incredibly narcissistic to me. I don’t post often because I only include things I think more than one person would find interesting. I don’t spend much time on Facebook and wish most of the friends I have would post less of their political insight, tributes to family members I have not met, or current events.

14 June

It rained most of the day (that’s what it does on Achill Island so we came prepared for it) and Pamela had a sore throat that she was hoping was only due to allergies and not a cold. We stayed in all day except for walking across the street to The Bee Hive Cafe for vegetable soup and scones and later walking just down the main road to the Chalet Seafood Restaurant where we had seafood chowder, chocolate mousse, and lemon posset. The mousse was like eating a chocolate cloud.

One of the benefits of the relaxed pace we are on is I have had time to watch Gaelic Rules Football and some Hurling. The first seems like a cross between rugby, soccer, and mob riots. This would make it similar to Aussie rules football. There are no pads that I can see in either version of football, which may make it safer for the players. Safety equipment has the paradoxical effect of encouraging players to take greater risks with their bodies and use things like helmets like weapons the way Vikings did. The second is a mixture of hockey, soccer, rugby, and kickboxing. The object of both seem to be to slap some kind of ball or the opposing team’s players across or through a multi-level goal post. I probably could become a fan if I spent enough time watching these games, but they seem largely an excuse for going to the pub or public stadium to drink with friends and hell until you are hoarse. Who can argue with that (as long as you don't drive afterward)?

The food at the Chalet was really wonderful, but the single review I saw on Yelp after we ate there was just terrible. When I see reviews like this, I am tempted to attempt to rebut the prior reviewer, but then how could I know what their dining experience was? In any event, only the business owners are allowed to do that.

After Pamela had gone to bed, I stayed up rather late trying to get pictures downloaded from our phones and uploaded to this website. It took me a long time and I must be doing something wrong because the entire process seems too cumbersome. I found out through some later experimentation that I can upload pictures directly to the website from my phone so that should make things easier.

Ann gave me a copy of the Irish Times to read, which she has delivered daily. I always find this paper a pleasure to read because they cover stories so differently than the U.S. press. For example, the coverage of the Irish national football (soccer) team supporters focuses on a) their drinking without getting hurt or hurting others and b) how they were treated to a better performance by their team than “they had any right to expect.” What a great way to express the fact that their team is solidly average. A second article noted that the only fan casualty among the Irish and Swedish fans drinking together was the Swedish fan, who had no visible injuries and was helped to the ambulance by the Irish supporters. The article writer surmised that the reason for the ambulance call was that the Swedish supporter had made the mistake of trying to keep drinking pace with the Irish (bad idea). Another article about all the things on an airplane that can make you sick made me want to avoid air travel for the rest of my life. The author made a colorful reference to the “‘thunderous volcanic’ flushing action of the toilet exacerbates the health risk by launching germs from the toilet.” What mental picture that conjures up! See for yourself at http://www.irishtimes.com/life-and-style/health-family/what-happens-your-body-when-you-fly-1.2677082.

15 June

The weather was nice enough to run this morning, but it was very windy so I had to hold my ball cap to keep it from flying off my head much of the time. We drove to Belmullet and Blacksod (southeastern end of the Mullet Peninsula) today via Bangor, then bak to Mulranny and the backroads from there to Achill Island. This area of west Mayo is Gaelic-speaking, which means almost none of the road signs are in English. This is fine for Yield signs, but much more challenging for town names and general information.

During our brief stop at the end of the road, we learned two interesting things about Blacksod. First, the lighthouse keeper at Blacksod played an important role in the D-Day landings in Normandy in 1944 because of the weather reports called in from there. If bad weather is going to hit the English Channel, it will smack the northwestern coast of Ireland first. Second, between 1883 and 1884, 3,300 people emigrated to America (Boston) and Canada (Quebec) in 15 steam ships because of a famine in Ireland.

We had a thrilling experience during the drive. Actually, there were several, but I can’t get the others past the censor (Pamela). In this particular instance during the return trip to Achill, we were driving south from Bangor toward Mulranny on the narrow, two-lane road behind some kind of large vehicle that was the size of the Death Star that took up 105% of the lane ahead of me. It was driving at about 6 mph (10 kph) so I was keen to pass, but I had two challenges. First, the driver was about 40% across the middle of the road, taking up space I needed for passing without a one-way trip into the ditch (no shoulder). Second, I was concerned that if I got right behind the Death Star to indicate more clearly my intention to pass, it would blot out the sun, I wouldn’t be able to see oncoming traffic, and the driver would lose sight of me and assume I had driven underneath the vehicle. Yikes! It all worked out because the force was with me. I got into the right lane far enough behind the Death Star that the the driver figured things out and got back over on his side so I could pass. I did not try closing my eyes during this maneuver or Pamela would have permanently injured me. Even so, I felt like Luke Skywalker in the trench on his way to the thermal exhaust port: not much room to maneuver.

Slightly less thrilling, but much messier in a safer way was the experience I had getting soft serve ice cream (a “99-cone”) at a gas station. Soft serve ice ice cream machines are everywhere in Ireland. Nearly every town in Ireland features at least one 1.5 meter tall, plastic replica of a soft serve ice cream cone outside many convenience and grocery stores as well as gas stations. Soft serve ice cream is ridiculously inexpensive in Ireland. A small cone is about $1.50. The two flavors/colors I have noticed are white and brown. We stopped at a gas station and convenience store for a comfort break returning from Belmullet so I decided to get a cone. My first challenge was that I could only make sense of a couple of the posted options, “plain cone” and “sundae” so I needed an education about what selection was “appropriate for adults” as the clerk put it. I ordered something like a vanilla “99-cone,” a cone with a chocolate wafer and green streaks of some kind of bottled liquid. After the clerk handed me the cone, I had about 2 seconds to admire the color and shape before it started to drip all over my hand. It was at this point that Pamela came up to me and observed, “Your cone is dripping.” What would I do without that woman? I was too occupied with putting the change in my pocket and deciding where to focus on the ice cream that was turning to liquid to thank her for her insight

Among the special pleasures of driving with Pamela, two made themselves evident today. First, she can only look at a map in a moving vehicle for a minute or so or the risk of projective hurling increases exponentially. This can make it a challenge to get navigational assistance without stopping. My adjustment to this feature of driving with Pamela is to memorize the way as much as possible before setting out. Second, Pamela assumes that because she often has no idea where we are or where I am going that I don’t either so I often get suggestions like, “If it were me driving, I would just turn around and go back the way we came.” When she says things like this, I want to say, “If it were you driving, we would be in Alaska right now,” but we are too close to our wedding anniversary to make that a smart comment.

16 June

After breakfast, we stayed at the B&B all day so Pamela could rest. The cold she caught took a lot out of her and she certainly did not feel well. I spent hours in the sitting room downstairs where the wifi is available trying to download pictures and videos. I wanted to combine them into a movie using iMovie on my phone. I would have done this from the room, but the wifi is not accessible in the rooms. I also watched Euro 2016 games and worked on academic and consulting projects. Pamela was feeling peckish at 1630 so we made a beeline to the Bee Hive for some soup and fresh cakes (they bake their own daily). We went to the health and beauty closet next door. It is one of the tiniest free standing stores I have ever seen, just one room that is smaller than a one-car garage. It was windy all day (this is called “fresh” in Ireland). Near sunset, the clouds to the east were broken enough that the cliffs south of Keel were bathed in sunlight. This does not happen very often. 

17 June

I noticed that white pudding is not served at breakfast as often as it seemed to be on our last visit to Ireland in 2011 so I asked our hostess about it. White pudding is pork meat and fat, suet, bread and oatmeal formed into a large sausage. She said that the demand has decreased lately. I had the full Irish plus porridge (oatmeal) with Bailey’s Irish Cream. My other option was whiskey. After Pamela rested for the morning, we went across the street to the Bee Hive Cafe at lunch for vegetable soup and a roll. I chose the more idulgent route and just had two desserts: lemon drizzle and banoffee. All the cakes at the Bee Hive are made on the premises. After lunch, we drove around the island and to the top of Minaun Hill. The view of Achill Bay and Keel were wonderful even though we arrived just as a cloud was passing over us.

18 June

Today was our 34th wedding anniversary. We left the B&B at 11 for Sligo, about 2.5 hours east of Achill Island. We wanted to attend the Sligo Food Festival, which turned out to be a very low key affair. I suspected this would be the case when I could not determine from the website where the Irish Stew competition was going to be held. When we started walking around, we noticed the streets were nearly deserted because everyone was on pubs watching Ireland vs. Belgium in Euro 2016. Every store we walked into had the game playing on the radio. Unfortunately, Ireland lost 0-3.

We walked into the Italian neighborhood and had pastry and coffee/hot chocolate at Le Fournil Bakery in Tobergal Lane, a French bakery nestled among the Italian restaurants. We stood outside the shop afterward and listened to the first two acts in the busking (street performer) competition until Pamela called it quits from the rain and lack of a raincoat. We never did find out who won the E250 Irish stew cookoff.

Driving in Ireland is an opportunity to take note of the different approach to signage used there. Roundabouts on major roads (like the N4 and N5) now have large signs in English and German directing drivers to stay on the left (“Links Fahren”). This is a puzzling approach because it would be very difficult to emerge from a roundabout driving on the right side of the road because of the way the roads and curbs are positioned. There are many signs that tell you to use “dipped headlights,” which only I figured out after coming back to the States are low beam headlights. Instead of “Reduced Speed Zone Ahead” signs, the Irish use “Traffic Calming Ahead” with a picture that shows lane narrowing.

On the way back to Westport, Pamela called John J. O’Malley’s and made dinner reservations for 1800. We had tried to eat there on our way to Achill on the 12th, but lacked reservations and did not want to wait an hour and half. Pamela had fish chowder (good, but not as good as the Chalet Seafood Restaurant in Keel) and we shared a T-bone Steak (plus mash, peppercorn sauce, salad) with orange cheesecake for dessert. The cheesecake was much lighter than in American with hint of Bailey’s.

We came up to our room at Joyce’s B&B at 2020 and found a card, chocolates, and rose from Ann for our wedding anniversary. The rose was from her garden and very fragrant. We talked with other guests in the sitting room until 2300. 

19 June (Father's Day)

It was raining too much to run this morning so instead I focused on packing for departure while Pamela slept. I woke up with a sore throat, a clear indication of a cold. Ugh. Our hostess Ann served white pudding this morning because I had asked about it on Friday. It was a little blander than black pudding, but still tasty. We left Joyce's B&B for Limerick at 1100 in very strong rain. After Westport, I sought adventure by taking the R330 road from Westport to Ballinrobe. "R" roads are much narrower than N or M roads. The real adventure began, at least for Pamela, when I missed a turn to remain on N84 in Headford. I was distracted by the traffic signal, which is a rare sight in villages in Ireland. After driving through town, we noticed the road getting narrower and narrower until it was only 1.5 cars wide and all signage disappeared. Pamela, the spinning compass woman, desperately wanted to turn back, but I knew we were traveling in the general direction of Galway and just turned east at the first opportunity in the belief we would intersect N84, which we did soon enough. Pam's sense of direction is like the ship's wheel in the Gilligan's Island introduction, spinning endlessly. 

We stopped in Galway for lunch at 1330. The rain was heavy as we walked downtown from our parking place. We ate a light lunch at GBC (Galway Baking Company) then walked around the pedestrian mall and shopping area by the Spanish Gate in the city center because the rain had subsided. Pam, ever the bad influence, encouraged me to get a chocolate croissant at a bakery on the way back to the car. After arriving in Limerick, we stopped by Glen Eagles, the B&B where we like to stay in Limerick, and Helen had a vacancy for us. We last stayed at Glen Eagles with the Willbees in 2010. We caught up on news about her niece and her husband (lawyers living in Perth), both children living in Ireland: son works for one of two large aircraft leasing companies. Helen told us she would make breakfast a little early for us because we had to go to the airport the next morning. We walked to The Locke Bar for dinner. There was a sign outside the pub advertising music 7 days. We sat at a table on high bar chairs right by the door. We shared a salmon fillet (E15.95) that was laid on mashed potatoes and came with salad and a chocolate brownie with chocolate ice cream for dessert. We watched France v Switzerland football (0-0 draw) until two musicians came at 2100 to play traditional Irish music on an accordion and harp. One of the waitresses danced during a few of the songs, both upstairs and down. On the way back, we just happened to follow an extremely intoxicated young man wearing an Irish national team jersey wobbling back and forth on the sidewalk outside Arthur's Quay shopping center.  I tried not to look as he was having great difficulty keeping his pants up, which eventually dropped around his ankles (I couldn't help looking, I had to keep from falling off the sidewalk!). 

 20 June

After a splendid breakfast, we were on the road by 0837, arriving at the airport to turn in the rental car just after 0900. We just walked to the terminal from the Hertz lot (even though we had a Thrifty car). Shannon is not a very big airport.

We won the lottery for a Business class upgrade again, which was still less expensive than buying them outright. Aer Lingus holds an auction for open business class seats just like Qantas Airlines does. 

Flight EI 135 was operated by Omni Air International for Aer Lingus. I knew something was up with the flight when I saw an aircraft with OAI markings at the gate and not Aer Lingus. The service was fine except the portable video players were very big and bulky. For our boarding libation, Pamela had orange juice and I had champagne (Pam finished it for me). I initially sat in the wrong seat when we boarded (K not F). The plane as a 767-200 with business class composed of two rows of two seats separated by two center aisle seats

There was lots of turbulence during the flight so the seatbelt sign was on most of the time. The pillows at each seat were almost three times larger than you typically felt on transoceanic flights, which made them hard to use. The appetizer was prawn cocktail (me) or cheese plate (Pam). The main course was fish, chicken, beef (we both had it, not very good because it was pot roast and thus too well done for my liking). The dessert was more cheese (Pam) or raspberry cheese cake (me). For drinks, Pam had wine and I had a Bailey's. I watched the movie Dad's Army then napped. About 99 min from Boston, they served salad and fresh scones. You could tell they were fresh because they were not wrapped in plastic and were served with tongs from a tray. There were hit towels before the meal and scones. During the flight, I tried out my Katmandu slippers and polar tech socks. This was a very comfortable combination.

We arrived at Boston Terminal C at 1330 and stayed in the USO lounge near baggage claim until 1450 when we caught the bus to the blue line station, the train to Orient Heights, and bus 412/413 to the Inn at Crystal Cove. This bus did not go all the way to the inn like our last stay so we walked about 3 blocks. Pamela slept for about 3 hours while I watched the England-Slovakia Euro 2016 game (0-0 draw), caught up on email, and worked on the Swiss nuclear training outline I needed to submit. We went to dinner at D’Parma again, sharing just chicken parmesan because we had so much food on the plane.

21 June

We ate breakfast at 0740 at the High Tide coffee shop down the street from Crystal Cove. We caught the bus back to Orient Heights Blue Line station at 0830. We experienced some confusion about where the stop was. It looked like the pole delineating the stop we used on the outbound leg of the trip had been removed so after waiting for a few  minutes, we walked to where we got off the day before. The bus arrived just as we got there.

At Logan Airport, we went to terminal A for our SWA flight. I checked us in late the day before so our boarding numbers were B57 and 56, then C6 and 7 in Baltimore, like our trip to Iceland Oct 2015, there was a storm in Baltimore just as we were about to depart. We taxied toward the runway, had to wait about an hour for the storm, our flight crew ran out of duty hours so we had to taxi back to the gate, wait again for severe rain to pass, get m ore fuel and a new flight crew (luckily there were already onboard), get a new air traffic control slot, and finally departed at 1500. A late departure still beat having to stay over an other day. We on arrived ABQ at 1800 local (2000 Baltimore time). It was about 100F when we arrived, but the heat felt good after the cool, rainy weather in Ireland. After getting the car we drove straight to taco cabana for a green chili fix. We picked up the Toyota at dad’s and drove to the hotel (Extended Stay America). This was the end of the trip.