So, after much trepidation, Monday 25th June was the day I said farewell to the USA – hopefully only temporarily. But a great deal of procrastination, compounded by depression, conspired to make Monday morning rather panicky: I hadn’t completed sorting, packing and throwing away! And I did have the glimmerings of a panic attack as I tried to finish everything off. Making matters worse was the fact that I’d forgotten to borrow my friend Heather’s bathroom scale, so I had no way to check whether I’d be charged for my suitcase being too heavy. The last thing I needed was the embarrassment of being at JFK Airport, frantically pulling things out of my suitcase to try to bring it under the 50lb limit, while people wait angrily behind me.
Stage 1: To Danbury City Centre
For better or worse, I finally dropped off the key to my room, and made the nearby pharmacy my first stop. Aside from needing to make change for the bus into the centre of Danbury, I was desperately hoping that they might have a scale that I could use. I was in luck, there: a friend opened up one of the scales from the shelf, so that I could weigh the suitcase. Result: 48.6lbs – phew! Suitably reassured, I bought a $1 can of Pringles, so I’d have something to nom on the bus to New York City. It wasn’t much, but it’d hopefully stop my stomach from rumbling for a while; I’d had to forego buying food, to try to ensure that I’d have enough money to get the €60 I needed to get me from Dublin Airport to Holyhead via Dun Laoghaire.
Stage 2: Danbury to New York City
The bus ride to NYC was uneventful, I’m relieved to say, and was helped by the fact that there was wifi available on the bus, together with power outlets, so tweeting (slowly) helped to keep me occupied. Some scary moments while trying to sort out the bus to JFK: First, I couldn’t figure out where to buy the ticket, but I have enough sense in me to ask for help in these situations. Once that was done, I struggled to locate the bus stop, so I managed to miss at least one bus while working it all out.
Stage 3: NYC to JFK
Still, I managed to make it to the airport in good time. Better than good time, actually, since Kristal texted me to let me know our good friend tiana had learned that flights out of JFK were being delayed by 45 minutes and more. By the time I reached the Delta terminal, the flight had been delayed by a whole hour. No matter, really, since it would give me time to get checked in, and through security.
At check-in, I soon learned that the bathroom scale at the pharmacy was inaccurate – at least, compared to the airport scale. The latter reported that my suitcase actually weighed dead on 50lbs. One pound more, and I’d have been stung for $100. A couple of my Twitter friends had been trying to reassure me that the airport personnel would let a pound or two slide, but I wasn’t so certain.
Next came the part I’d been sort of dreading: The TSA checkpoint. The last time I’d flown, there weren’t any backscatter machines, and enhanced pat-downs, and reading the numerous accounts of humiliations at the hands of TSA staff had left me feeling rather nervous. And, sure enough, who gets pulled from the line to stand in the machine? Me – and I’d also forgotten to remove a couple of coins from my right pocket, so those showed up on the scanner. Fortunately, after removing those from my pocket, and standing with my arms stretched out to the sides, the TSA guy only patted down my right leg before letting me through, so yay!
With possessions collected and shoes back on feet, I made a beeline for the Travelex booth, to get those precious Euros. Another heart-pounding moment occurred when the guy at the booth said that, because I was buying such a small amount of money, there’d be a $10 surcharge… the grabbing bastards! It’s not as if I had a choice, though: I would have needed to exchange several hundred dollars to make any kind of saving. Additionally, the banks and travel agencies in Danbury aren’t like the ones in Britain, so they don’t have a bureau de change. By contrast, you could throw a brick in Doncaster (my home town) and hit three banks that would have bureaux de change. But the police don’t take kindly to brick-throwing.
Anyway, I was actually able to afford the €60, and still had about $15 left over… I could have food! Yay! Oh my God, how much do they charge for the food at this place? I ended up settling for a Boston Creme donut from Dunkin Donuts, which barely filled a hole, but I was highly reluctant to get anything from Burger King, and naturally, their Value Menu was nowhere in sight. When I do eventually return to the USA, I’m bringing a packed lunch, dammit.
I was getting rather frantic, trying to find a way to contact Kristal to let her know that I knew about the delay, and that I was OK. Problem was that, while those around me were using their laptops, iPhones, iPads or Android devices, I was limping along with my aging Dell PDA. It had worked just fine on the bus to New York, but at the airport, an abundance of wifi hotspots did not enable me to connect. Just as I was losing hope of letting Kristal (or anyone) know what was happening, I noticed that there was a restaurant that had iPads at every table. Amazingly, Internet access was actually possible, though hugely restricted: I couldn’t get to AOL to use my main email account (blocked under the category “Webmail”), but I could get to Gmail – thank goodness I have two of those accounts!
Now, although I’m not the “oogly-boogly” kind of person, I do tend to see things which I take as signs and portents. There were two on this trip: the first was on the Danbury-to-NYC bus, when I saw a store called “Romantic Depot”, which I claimed as a sign that things were still going to go well for Kristal and I, even with me being further away from her. Yes, I’m a soppy bugger, but I don’t care.
Anyway, the second was the sight of my very first Chiver! If you follow me on Twitter, you’ll know that I have a habit of posting links to pictures from The CHIVE and The BERRY. And they adapted the World War II “Keep Calm and Carry On” poster to read “Keep Calm and Chive On”, and they are hugely popular with the Chivers – the fans of the site. And there, waiting at Gate 12 to board the flight to Dublin, was this young man wearing one of those T-shirts! So after speaking briefly with him – and he was a pleasant, friendly chap – I took his presence as a sign that the flight would go well. Goodness knows I needed something to calm me down; I’m not afraid of flying, but what with all the stress of not being properly organised do undertake the trip, I was rather twitchy.
Stage 4: JFK to Dublin. Goodbye for now, America.
I needn’t really have worried, because I was flying Delta. It was the first airline I flew with, way back in 1994, and I loved it back then. I’m very happy to report that, nearly two decades later, there was no reason for the love affair to end. Friendly service, delicious food, and a comfortable flight – excellent.
Something did happen which left me feeling rather guilty: The lady who sat down next to me felt compelled to move away from me, when she realised I was a smoker. I genuinely couldn’t smell it on myself, but I could definitely smell my stinky feet, which had been gently steaming away for 13 hours in my shoes, so that might not have helped the situation. I got the full force of it myself at the security checkpoint. Still, at least I didn’t feel so cramped… Sadly, I didn’t get any sleep, despite being very tired and the flight presenting itself as the best opportunity to get some kip. So it was a very shagged-out Mark who touched down on Irish soil on Tuesday morning. But it turned out I’d be kept awake by the stress of ensuring I made all my connections. Yay, stress!(?)
Stage 5: Dublin Airport to Dun Laoghaire
Much confusion ensued when trying to find the bus I was supposed to take from Dublin Airport to the ferry at Dun Laoghaire, and I once again worried that it’d cost me more than the €9 I’d seen on the website that Ironfruit and Bethness had so kindly sent me. It didn’t help that I hadn’t, at the very least, written down the name of the bus company that I was supposed to be using. Not so much The Accidental Tourist as The Horribly Disorganised Tourist… But again, I managed to get to the bottom of things, and it cost the correct amount, so time to breathe another sigh of relief and lurch onwards to the next potential issue.
Stage 6: Dun Laoghaire to Holyhead
In fact, things went more smoothly at Dun Laoghaire, although I still couldn’t get onto the Internet to update everyone. There was an option to sign up for 30 minutes of free wifi, but I didn’t get through the sign-up process fast enough before we started boarding.
And, aboard the ferry… yay, a no-commission bureau de change! And the nice lady didn’t laugh at me when I presented my last $4 to be converted into sterling! Well, I really had $5, but I kept one as my “Comeback Dollar”, to bring me back to the USA. Yes, I’ll cling to any bloody thing if I think it’ll increase my chances of getting back to America.
One nice, smooth – though foggy – ferry crossing later, and I was in the land of the WelshPixie… I was very relieved that the ferry was one of those big ones, rather than the “SeaCat” type (aka the Vomit Comet) which used to run from Folkestone to Boulogne. Three reasons: You can walk around the craft, there are more facilities, and if the weather is rough, a large ferry is definitely the lesser of two evils against a SeaCat.
I’d also had the chance to do a few quick tweets, though not many: the onboard power sockets were the sodding round, continental ones. Grr. Turned out that I could have bought a plug converter if I’d had the money, but I didn’t. Oh, well.
Oh, yes… As I was wandering around the deck, I saw a young boy using a laptop… playing Minecraft in Creative Mode!
Stage 7: Holyhead to Manchester, via Chester
Anyway, I was in Welsh Wales! I was a little frustrated that my first ever visits to Ireland and Wales were just me passing through, but it couldn’t be helped. I was rather amused to see that the route from Holyhead to Chester included passing through Llanfairpwllgwyngyllgogerychwyrndrobwllllantysiliogogogoch, and I was determined to take a picture:
One final bit of panic before reaching Manchester, where I was to meet Rossy, Makefile (Becca) and Stacey: I had the worst trouble finding a payphone to let Rossy know when to set off, and when I did find one, I barely managed to get the information to Rossy before his phone lost the signal! All’s well that ends well, however, and met up with the three of them before heading on to Bolton and my base of operations for a little while.
Well, that wasn’t what I’d describe as particularly exciting, but at least you all know what happened… Thanks again to SudoRossy, Becca and Stacey for making me welcome, and to My Mysterious Financial Backers who made it possible to get from Danbury to Bolton!