Catch-a-Baby Road

While visiting Killarney, in Ireland, we stayed at a “B&B” of dubious distinction, located on Lewis Road, a busy thoroughfare on a slope that connects a residential area of town with the commercial district, and lots of American tourists were driving uncertainly up and down it in rented cars, probably a little faster than they should.  We traveled up and down this road many times during our visit, in all kinds of weather at all different times of the day.

One evening, as we were headed back to our room after dinner, we spotted a young family headed our way, or rather a mom and four children hurrying down the hill. They were apparently on their way to some event that involved bringing flowers, for each kid carried either a single flower or a sprig of a few blossoms as they rushed to keep up with Mom, whose shirt was flapping in the breeze as she pushed a stroller carrying a toddler.  The older kids walked alongside, the big brother next to his sister of about nine, and bringing up the rear was a little girl of about four or so, carrying a single rose, wearing colorful, plastic sandals.  She was skipping wildly, dodging the cracks in the sidewalk as kids do.  By this time we were quite close to her, and I was about to ask Mom what the flower event was all about, when it happened:  The little girl’s leg went out from under her, and down she went, sort of scraping the sidewalk on the way.  The shrieking started at a high pitch, and Mom turned, seeing her daughter go down.  She reacted quickly, letting the baby go, and spun around to catch her daughter’s arm, the shrieks continuing and getting louder.  The next thing I knew, I was holding the stroller with my feet, to keep it from rolling into the street, and the baby was staring up at me, a shocked expression on his face, lip trembling.  All I could think to say was “Oh, hello, there!  I’m a stranger, and will keep you safe,” and was again about to ask Mom about the flower festival, but the look of determination and exasperation on her face made me think better of it.  They continued on, as hurriedly as before, but Mom was holding the daughter in one hand and the stroller in the other.  Off they went.

On not turning to mush

Having made a radical shift in my lifestyle, I have the inevitable job of stepping back and reassessing my situation.  What am I doing? Why or why not?  Just who do I think I am? Explain.

First, I am the same person I was while working for Eppendorf in their Enfield, CT, facility, finishing up a 7-year stint as a back-office software specialist.  That job was the rather quiet conclusion to a long career as a software developer and consultant specializing in collaborative software, primarily utilizing Lotus Notes.  Writing Notes applications has kept me busy and fed my family for around 20 years, and allowed me to work for clients like MasterCard, Bayer AG, GE Capital, and FujiFilm.   I rode the Lotus Notes pony into the sunset, and on this last assignment, I helped put a few of Eppendorf’s Notes applications out to pasture, soon to be replaced by other software.  In any case, my part in Eppendorf’s destiny has ended for me.  Nothing dramatic, no weeping, or for that matter, shouts of joy. It’s just over.  Once in a while, one of my former colleagues may go, “Remember that guy Leslie?  He’s the one who was always pounding the desk and swearing at his computer.”  They might even remember to send me a friendly email once in a while.  It’s a little like the 2002 movie “About Schmidt,” starring Jack Nicholson, where Schmidt tells the much-younger office manager on his last day on the job, “So you’ll be sure to give me a call if you ever have a question, won’t you?” The manager says, “Oh, sure, sure we will,” and it’s clear that no such thing will ever happen.  So that’s where I am coming from.   I am no longer a cog in that particular machine.

So here is where the quiz comes in:  Which of these statements is correct?

  • I am retired.
  • I have stopped working.
  • I am out to pasture.

Retired…  First, I use the term “retired from my full-time job” to describe myself.  But I haven’t actually stopped working, I just choose which things to work on. Stopped working…  I have stopped doing the sort of work I did for Eppendorf, yes, but will continue working on what is important to us.  Three tasks are on my plate at the moment:

  • Contributing to this blog, and staying in readiness for our upcoming cabaret performance on 6 August, at St Marks Church, Edinburgh, at 3:30 p.m).  The latter involves doing quiet lip trills on the mouthpiece in hotel rooms — especially when there is other noise to disguise it!
  • Refreshing lyrics for songs we plan to sing.  And do the occasional vocalise when it won’t annoy people too much.  (Yeah, just up to the point where they are about to make a phone call to the front desk.)
  • The rest is dealing with the basics of ensuring that we have a bed to sleep in every night, enough diesel in the tank, and enough Euros in the wallet. This is worthy employment for what we are doing right now, and actually a lot more relevant than providing anonymous software support. Out to Pasture??  It should be clear that I am definitely not.  This  quaint term for “have become a useless, idle person” does not apply.

The real challenge, for me, is dealing with all the change in my status, my purpose, my life.  That is my real employment.  I tend to describe myself as being open to change, relishing new challenges, blah blah blah. But I have found that I have a very real limit to how intensive the change can be before I cry Wait!  Not so fast.   One day, I had a full-time job, and the next, I had left that job forever.  One day, we had a house in Connecticut, the next, we didn’t, and in fact we didn’t own any property at all!  Everything, including the cars, were shed to help us focus on this grand trip.  One day, I knew where all my stuff was (more or less), next day, no clue where most of it was.  (What we kept, is now stored in a 10 x 10 storage cage in Newington, CT.)   We are technically “homeless,” but not really; we just pick up our pallets and walk (actually drive or take public transportation) to the next stop in the journey.  And most importantly, we keep recording the particulars of what we discover, and whom we meet along the way. Just who do I think I am?  This is actually a serious question:  what is my new role in society?  Do I matter? Does what I do matter?  Am I doing something useful?  These are all actually trick questions, in that they usually come wrapped in the cloak of the Responsible Citizen, the Good Parent, the Reliable Employee.  Well guess what?? The cloak is flying off.  The answers to each of these is, respectively:  Let’s work out the answers  each day, and generally speaking, the short answers are Yes, Yes, and Yes.   It is far from clear how it will all pan out, but there is only one way to find out.

When I was a young college graduate, my dad retired at age 62.  My dad was a man of very regular habits, and retirement initially was stressful for him. He found himself without his familiar trappings, even though he looked forward to a new, relaxed phase.  His blood pressure shot up, and he drove my mom crazy fretting about every detail connected with selling their house in Ramsey, New Jersey, and moving into the new home they built on Cape Cod.  After a while, he calmed down, and my folks proceeded to have a wonderful retirement.   I have had similar moments in this post-retirement phase of my life, but more days than not, it feels right.

By the way, here’s an update on some of the minor successes we have achieved along the way:

  • I got used to driving on the weird side of the road, and haven’t crunched a single bumper, nor sheared off a single side mirror.  Many times on our drive from Killarney to Doolin, we had very narrow, country roads, and frequently had to pull way over to let lorries (trucks) and tractors by.  No sweat.
  • I got an Irish SIM card from Vodafone, the local wireless provider here in Ireland, and this has given us a very powerful tool in navigating through Ireland, allowing us to search for whatever we needed, and use Google Maps to guide us to our destination.  High five! Great success!  (Hopefully there are a few Borat fans left out there.)
  • Patrice found us suitable accommodations several times, with no more than a day’s advance calling ahead.   Flexibility is a wonderful thing, if you can deal with a little uncertainty, and have decent internet. (see previous bullet)

All suitable employment, and we have been well rewarded.

Driving wrong

We rented our first car today since arriving in Ireland July 17, having avoided using an automobile by taking buses or enjoying rides from local friends. But Ireland, while a relatively small country (32,599 square miles), is too big to navigate by bus alone.  Besides, we have plans to journey north to Sligo and Bundoran, where trains or buses simply aren’t practical.

Here’s the thing with renting a car in the British isles:  they drive on the wrong side of the road, and the driver even sits on the right side of the car.  So right away you have that emotional reaction, that “That’s just plain crazy” that occurs to you.  Intellectually, it’s a bit different.  Driving on the left, surprisingly, is easy to get used to, as we found out this afternoon.  We set out to find the entrance to a park, and ended up driving around a number of blocks, getting farther and farther away, eventually finding the gate, which was closed.  But it was good driving practice.  A Youtube clip we came across gave us a handy bit of advice when driving here:  Keep Left, Look Right.  So by the end of the afternoon, we had it down to a science.  It’s mostly a matter of raising your awareness of where the other cars are, and what the drivers are doing, which after all, is a pretty good thing to do when driving around boring old home.  (Have we mentioned that we don’t have one of those at the moment?  Read other blog entries for details.)

The real bugaboo, or rather two bugaboos (do bugaboos come in pairs?) are first, the great likelihood that if you rent a car here, you will get a manual transmission, because that is what folks drive here.  This is what drives the tour business: most tourists wanting to see the Ring of Kerry are frightened at the prospect of dealing with narrow, winding country roads, while trying to shift and clutch.  I confess that I was one of those frightened people.  We took our Ring bus tour a couple of days ago.   But, in a continuation of our amazing streak of luck, we managed to dodge this particular bullet: the rent-a-car guy at Budget told us categorically that we were likely to get a manual, but miraculously, he had an early return from a lady who decided to take that Ring of Kerry trip on the bus, so she didn’t need her car, which happened to have an automatic!!  Our luck has been phenomenal, that’s all there is to it.  Drinking enough Guinness warms the hearts of the locals so they take pity on us poor tourons.

The other bugaboo is fuel:  most vehicles here use diesel, and you must remember to put the right fuel in the tank. To add to the challenge, signs indicating diesel here are black, and petrol green, the direct opposite of the U.S.  I’ve never heard of anyone actually getting the wrong fuel into the tank, but the web sites about driving in Ireland that I checked before starting on our journey contain repeated warnings about the cost of having the tank drained and causing fatal damage to the engine, so I assume that it is occasionally a problem.

In the end, the real issue is not driving in a funny backwards land (did I mention they have red POTS and DLEIY signs at intersections?).  It’s all about dealing with the goofy drivers and goofier pedestrians.  People roll along, paying no attention to clueless people walking dreamily across the street, their guardian angels silently rolling their eyes.

-Richard

Where to lay our heads?

One of the challenges of planning as you go (or not planning, to be more accurate) is figuring out where to sleep each night.  So far, we’ve spent four nights in an AirBnB apartment in Dublin, one night in a hotel in Dublin, two nights in a so-called B&B in Killarney, and we spent last night in a hotel in Killarney.

Only one of those spots was reserved from back in Connecticut.

We’ve stayed in a number of AirBnB locations over the years, with great success.  The upside is that you usually have quite a bit of space, good privacy, and often a small kitchen.  In Europe, they sometimes have a washer/dryer as well.  AirBnB used to be a bargain, but as the service has gotten more popular, it is more expensive. The place we stayed at in Dublin was in an excellent location and had a comfy layout, but the bathroom sink drove me crazy.  The cold water faucet was just a trickle, and the hot water was too hot.  So we brushed our teeth in the kitchen.  The bathroom also had an old, loud fan that went on… and stayed on… every time you turned on the light.  Good thing Richard and I know each other well enough to leave the door open…

Also, the shower power was weak.  Oh, and the bed was bouncy and uncomfortable, and the pillows were shot.  That AirBnB rental cost about $163 per day.

We splurged and treated ourselves to a nice hotel the next night.  Which was in the middle of the Dublin city center, and quite nice, at 309 Euro.  A Euro is about equal to $1.16 these days, so that’s the equivalent of approximately $360.  Even there, the bed was small, though the pillows were better.  We were underwhelmed at twice the price.

The next two nights were spent in Killarney at a so-called B&B… which turned out not to include breakfast.  This room was so tiny we could only open one suitcase at a time.  Admittedly, we have big suitcases!  And a trumpet, and a big backpack with two laptops, and another day pack.  We’re planning to send home the trumpet after the performance in Edinburgh, and I might get rid of some clothes.  This is a lot to travel around with.  That little B&B room cost 129 Euros.

We switched last night to a really nice hotel called Killarney Towers.  120 Euros per night, and a huge bed and a nice shower.  Also a pool, which we made use of!  Of course, that leaves us with wet bathing suits this morning.  This is the best room so far, and a bargain at that.  They warned us about the noisy bar directly below, but the music was standard Irish fare, and only last until 11:30, so it wasn’t a problem for us.

We just rented a car.  !!!  Not only do they drive on the “wrong” side of the road, most of the cars use a stick shift.  So everything is backwards.  We were lucky enough to get an automatic, and Richard has already tooled around the block a couple times.  No one is dead yet.

I give my name instead of Richard’s in Ireland… they love hearing Fitzgerald, and I tell them my grandfather was born here.  Glad I upped the red in my hair before we left.  😉  The car hire man gave us a deal.

So off we go today to parts unknown, hoping to learn to drive as we explore.  Wish us luck!

 

Here in Dublin

This is Patrice, waving hello from our “splurge” hotel right by ChristChurch Cathedral in the center of Dublin.  The bells have been ringing for hours, and we understand that Friday evening is sometimes the time for practice … it’s quite a’pealing!

We’re off to dinner soon, but I just wanted to add some quick impressions of what we’ve experienced since our VERY early Monday morning arrival:

  1. Leaving everything is freeing, exciting, and a bit disorienting.
  2. We have to pace ourselves.  Flying overnight, the time change, walking everywhere, an unfamiliar bed and everything else… leads to fatigue.
  3. It’s great fun to do new things and meet new people.
  4. Getting used to the idea that we have months and months to do whatever we want, enough money saved to do it, and that no one is going to tell us what our agenda should be is kind of mind-boggling.  What do you choose to do when you can do whatever you want?
  5. We’re having a grand time already, but it very much resembles what I used to joke about when my parents traveled–we called theirs “walk and eat” vacations.  Well, that’s what we’re having!
  6. Despite feeling that we have enough cash for the nine-month journey, we’re writing down every penny (or, in this case, Euro) so that we can keep track of it.  We’re going to tell you what we spend to give you an idea of what it actually costs to go around the world.

Look for a “What does it cost?” page, a “Where do you stay” page, and a link to both books by Patrice and musical events for the two of us as we grow this site.  If you have suggestions for where we could sing, be in touch!

The plan is to visit Ireland, Scotland, France, Belgium, the Netherlands, Germany, Austria, Italy, Thailand, Vietnam, Singapore, Australia, New Zealand, and Tahiti, with a zip back to California before spending three months in Hawaii…

 

 

We are not coming back…

 

“When are you coming back?”

We’re not.  At least, we don’t think so.

Inspired by a dream we’ve shared since we met, Richard and I sold our house, ditched nearly all our possessions, gave our cars to the kids, and got outta town.

It wasn’t pretty.

But thanks to the kindness of friends who put us up prior to the trip, we had a place to lay our heads while we did many frantic last-minute runs to our 10×10 storage cube, mailed packages one of us (Patrice) had been putting off mailing for years–such as the wedding gifts to my niece who is now a mother of two–and handled not one but two sudden car repairs and mutual dental emergencies.

To those dear friends, we express sincere regret about our surprise late-night arrival when we showed up a day early and caused you to leap out of bed and venture cautiously down from the bedroom to see who the home invaders were.  They were us, and Richard was discovered red-handed, munching dangerously on purloined Wasa Brot!

Mucking out the house, filled with Patrice’s stuff, Richard’s stuff, Patrice’s Dad’s stuff, Richard’s Mom’s stuff, and our respective kids’ stuff, as well as boatloads of books and masses of music, turned out to be a journey of exhaustion leading to despair.  We thought it would never end.

Despite all the chaos and confusion, we eventually got it done.  Like labor, the end of a gargantuan life change like this becomes so painful that you want it over no matter how much it hurts.

And so we took off from West Hartford, Connecticut, home to Richard for six years and Patrice for nearly thirty, and headed for our nine-month trip around the world.  It will all be worth it.  We hope.

So when are we coming back?  We might, but we have no plans to at this point.  Our minds wander to thoughts of Oregon, California, Hawaii, Scotland, Ireland, France, Italy… who knows where we’ll end up.

 

 

 

 

 

Get ready, on your marks..

First task… move out of our house and get ready for the start of our travels…

Move every blessed possession out of house: accomplished! Every single item was either moved into a 10×10 storage cubicle, loaded into trash bags, donated, or put into our two cars in preparation for the big trip. This project had a special logistical challenge – combining two tasks together, like packing for a long trip, AND moving all your stuff. This has the effect of making me feel at sea (pun intended) and without an anchor. How do you pack for a trip if you home base is scattered in various boxes, bags and open laundry baskets? And this past week I have done more manual labor than I recall ever doing even in my twenties, having assembled and sealed dozens of boxes, loaded same in my car, and made at least 10 runs to the storage facility, wherein I hauled a flatbed cart loaded to the gills up a steep ramp, and pulled it through the labyrinth of hallways which light up as you enter, and arrange the boxes carefully. I tapped reserves I didn’t know I had or needed, then blew through the reserve reserves. As a result I am a bit ragged. After we moved everything, and I mean everything, I suggested we celebrate by having burgers and drinks at Max Burger. We were a sweaty mess, but they liked our money so they let us in.
I think we deserve at least a round of Huzzah’s, what do you say?

The adventure begins

In a little bit less than a month, we step on a plane and fly to Dublin.  In the meantime we have a lot to do, and are busy preparing… for what we will bring but also music that we will perform in Edinburgh at St Marks Church.