When we told Max we wanted to visit him in Ireland he said, "What for? It's just more of the same, only wetter and greener."
He was right, of course, but we still wanted to see it for ourselves.
So we decided to investigate some cheap airfares - Ryan Air, in fact. Booking and actually getting a genuinely cheap fare.
First you have to jump around looking for those odd crazy fares that pop up without rhyme or reason. You grab one when you find it, and book it.
So then it's time for add-ons. Starting with the compulsory tax - which, oddly enough, seems to be more with lower fares. Then they want you to pay for insurance in case they cancel your flight or something. And they want to know if you would like to take any luggage - there is no free luggage allowance - and that will be an extra ten pounds for every fifteen kilo piece.
We chose to travel with only hand baggage - we were allowed one ten kilo piece each.
We decided against paying a few extra pounds for "priority booking". Ryan Air pride themselves on giving passengers the freedom to choose their own seats ... so in the unholy rush, when boarding is announced, if you have priority booking you get to join the queue that boards first.
We flew from Gatwick Airport, which is great to get to (you go on the train and the station is in the airport) but the security check queues were horrific. We noticed the people in our queue were all being asked to take their shoes off, but others weren't. We asked about this, and were told we had lobbed into the "random shoe line". Then, as we made it through the magic door without setting off any lights or alarms, we were unceremoniously requested to assume the position for a full and thorough pat-down ... none of this simple waving a wand over you that you get elsewhere.
However Peter's bag apparently set something off, and he was asked to give permission to have it searched. It is one of those back-packs with lots of little side pockets, and the officer rummaged through those until he came up with ... a bottle of shampoo that Peter had forgotten about and not declared (we thought we had left it behind in Sheffield) and it had a capacity greater than 100ml! That was binned, and Peter's phone and mp3 player then had to be swabbed for gun powder residue. (The funny thing was, when we were packing to return from Ireland we discovered a quite large pair of pointy scissors that had been there all along in one of the other pockets of his bag!)
A Foreign Country
It's easy to think of Ireland as being part of the UK - only it's not.
It's a foreign country, with a foreign language. But, being part of Europe, it is full of people from all over Europe, all colours and cultures, so that can seem a little incongruous. Apparently students in school all have to learn the Irish language, and in some schools it is the only language used.
Are the Jokes True?
You know how people say things about the Irish, and make jokes and stuff ... well this sign did make us wonder if any of it is actually true.
It's on the edge of a very busy road (we took the picture from the bus) where there is no footpath, and there is a railway line just over the wall there ... and we have no idea what it means!
However we did see one very clever thing that Peter was especially impressed with.
We went into Dublin city for the day, and - naturally - bought ourselves a map so we could find our way around.
Peter is one of the multitude of people who struggles with map-folding! So when we opened this little beauty and found this:
... well, we were most impressed! Open the map, close the map, open the map ... could have played with it all day! Now why aren't all maps made like that?
We went to Kilkenny. But someone got there first and he was already dead.
Sorry. It had to be said.
We wanted to see a real castle, so we climbed aboard a bus and set off through the mist to have a look at Kilkenny Castle. We got to see plenty of green and wet on the way.
We were a little disappointed - it lost one of it's four sides during a battle yonks ago, and they didn't bother to rebuild it. We took the obligatory guided tour through the inside rooms - it was more like a palace than a castle.