Location: Cincinnati, Ohio, United States

Sunday, April 12, 2009

The Emerald Shores of Ireland - Part 23

The Emerald Shores of Ireland
A trip journal by David Bowers
9/2/08 - 9/11/08
Part 23

After John's briefing, we had some small talk with Jerry who mentioned that during the tourist season he might get a day off every now and then, but generally he only has hours between ending one tour and beginning the next. In fact, sometimes when the flight out is late, or the flight in is early he literally walks from the departures area to the arrivals area all ready to start again. In addition, we may think that John and Jerry are a team, but in fact they just met a couple hours before we met them. So we learned a little but about tours from the tour leaders perspective, and that he leads in order to meet people and show off his country.

Ireland - Dublin

We then arrived at the airport which is under a major expansion project. Unlike most airpots where tour busses can pull right up to the terminal, here we parked out on the other side of the parking garage. Luggage was unloaded, and claimed. Jerry then led us to the terminal, taking us through a walkway that goes through the center of the parking garage, sure we had to cross a lot of streets but traffic was very light. We did not take advantage of the conveyor belt ramp, instead we walked into the arrivals floor of the airport where we were offered the choice of escalators (called travelators in Ireland) or elevators up to the departures level. When the elevator reached the departures floor we got out of the elevator and pretty much fell right into the check in line located right next to the elevators.

Ireland - Dublin

We could see numerous check in desks open, but at the first bend in the queue area were two security people. Jerry stood alongside the line right before the security people in case anybody needed help, or so we could each thank him as we passed by. When we got to the security person, they scanned your passport and then started asking a bunch of questions, asking how long you were in Ireland, what your ending destination is, questions about who packed your bags, have they been in your control, and I was thinking "Didn't we get rid of those questions?" They then ask you about any electronics you have with you, if you own them, and if you had them repaired while you were in Ireland, they advise you about the liquids policy, and are you in compliance, and lastly if you have any weapons or anything that could be used as a weapon. If they like all your answers you they put a dated and initialed sticker on your passport and you can proceed to check in.

At the check in desk they scanned our passports again, and issued boarding passes, they did not need to see our e-tickets. She explained to us that we would need to claim our luggage in Newark and then recheck it, she then took our checked luggage for us. Before we could get our boarding passes we had to sign the front of them. Lastly we had to read a notice stating that our flight is participating in the United States Border pre clearance program, so we would need to report to the United States border checkpoint located in the Dublin airport no later than 7:30, failure to show up on time could cause us to not clear the checkpoint in time and cause us to miss our flight. So we have now checked in for the flight and checked our luggage, it is time to walk back through the main aisle of the airport actually having to cut through the line of people still waiting the check in,. We then headed to the security checkpoint,

In this case the queue area for the security checkpoint is located in the main check in area, and you don't go through the doorway into the next room until right before it is your turn. I read all the usual instructions and warnings. When we approached the metal detectors, I followed the lead of those in front of me, which included not removing your shoes. It would appear Ireland does not participate in that silliness but they make up for it by having you remove your belt. Other than that it pretty much the usual procedure: boarding pass and passport is checked, you put all your stuff on the belt as usual. In fact this was the easiest time I would have with airport security for quite awhile. One really neat thing they do is in regards to the gray tubs they give you for your loose articles. When you approach the security lane you take a gray tub off a rack located in front of the belt, and then when you are done, you sit the tub on its side in that same rack and give it a shove back, where the tubs recycle back to the people approaching the checkpoint.

When they say you will wind up in the duty free mall, it means you walk into an area that looks just like a big shopping mall, except all the stores don't charge the VAT. We looked on our boarding passes and learned we would be leaving out of pier B, and a check of the signage indicates the tax refund office was between B and C. We walked down the busy mal until we noticed signs directing people back the way we came for the tax refund office. The tax refund office is cleverly hidden in plain sight. There is in fact an overhead sign above the main walkway that clearly says "VAT REFUND" but it doesn't have an arrow pointing it out. Even if you did look towards the tax refund office you would not see it because you would see the foreign exchange desk instead. The tax refund offices, remember you could have up to four stops, one for each of the three tax refund agents, and one to stamp the forms you drop off for storeowners who are doing their own refunds, are located behind the foreign exchange office. Not only that, but it looks like on off limits service hallway, our own refunds were with an agency that had self service kiosks in the airport, which were lining the hallway back to the agents offices. You have to provide a lot of information like address, nationality, and passport number, travel dates, and credit card information so they can process the refund. We noted the kiosks also blend in well with the ATM's in the area. We left the are having filed our refunds and were happy we did not have to get in that long currency exchange line. We had both managed to spend enough money that we did not have enough left to bother with the exchange office.

We regrouped in the mall and checked our watches, 7:15 and we needed to be at US immigration by 7:30. We took off on a dash through the duty free mall, thinking that we had not really wasted any time. We took the clearly marked turn to Pier B, and noted that Ireland believes in exit through retail, as they have one duty free store you literally have to walk through to get to the gates. We followed the walkway to our gate and found out our gate was downstairs, but the stairs to the gate was blocked by a security checkpoint. The checkpoint was marked as being the United States Immigration office, but it was also marked as not opening until 8:00. Now wait, how can we report to the office by 7:30 if the stairs don't open until 8:00. We were able to spend some of the time in a room labeled as the "Form Filling Area". As US citizens we only had to fill out the blue and white customs declaration form Non citizens would have to complete either the white or green immigration form. The blue form asks a lot of the same questions as the Irish arrival card did: name, address, travel dates, what flight you are returning on, nationality, passport number etc. It then asks you a bunch of yes/no questions about what you are brining back to the country. At the bottom it asks you to estimate the value of items purchased abroad that you are importing. We completed our forms, and then got in line for the checkpoint at the top of the stairs. By the time the checkpoint opened some time later, the line was wrapped clear back to the duty free mall.

The checkpoint at the top of the stairs was pretty simple, they scan your passport and allow you to go down the stairs. Father mentioned he thinks this is the Irish passport control, we then go down the stairs to the just opened US Immigration office. Above the inspectors passport control desks they had both United States and Irish flags hanging, each sporting gold fringe. Since the office had just opened we walked through a large empty queue area right up to an inspector. Since we are US citizens, he merely had to scan and stamp our passports and then he stamped the blue/white customs card and told us to keep it with our passport.

ireland - my passport stamps

We then entered a gate lounge area and were happy we had some time to make a rest stop before getting on the plane. We did stop at a snack bar, but their bottled drinks were warm, so we took our chance on the vending machines where we obtained cold drinks for €1.80 each, our last purchase in Euros. We returned to our gate area, at this time we discovered they forgot to secure the gate area before we arrived, so they secured the gate area with us in the gate area, then they came around and checked everybody's passport for a sticker, checked us in, and asked if we have anything with us we didn't have when we passed through security. We indicated our soft drinks, but there were not a problem.

At boarding time, our boarding passes were torn and we were admitted through the gate, where we went back up a flight of stairs, it seems that these gates share jet bridges with the gates on the floor above. We boarded the plane and took our seats. I was instantly delighted to find out this plane has the personal seat back entertainment system. We picked up packs with pillows, blankets and headsets. After our late departure from Newark, we were glad we left Dublin on schedule. Once up in the air I watched the new Indiana Jones and the Crystal Skull on the personal entertainment system. After the movie it was about time for dinner, which wound up being a choice of a beef or chicken dish, we chose the chicken, which wound up being a ceasar salad, chicken parmesan, garlic roll, and a desert cookie. I purchased a Heineken to enjoy with dinner, and Bob had wine.

After dinner I looked around the music and games but didn't find much of interest, or the games were frustrating with the touch screen interface. I finally settled in watching Forrest Gump. Sure, it had Chinese subtitles which could be easily ignored, and since I had not seen the movie in about 15 years, I found it to be very entertaining, and it brought back some memories. During that movie the flight attendants were pushing the duty free cart, and after the movie they served box lunches with a turkey sandwich, chips, and a candy bar. After the second meal, I put the flight status updates on the in flight entertainment system. Before too long, we were landing in Newark, New Jersey, United States of America. The first step at getting home, is being back in your country.

We entered Newark airport in the very back of terminal C, and when we got off the plane we were directed to an escalator or elevator that took us up to a glass enclosed catwalk that allowed us to walk above the main concourse while ensuring the only place we could go was the US Customs office. They did, at least, provide a series of moving sidewalks for the very long walk. When we reached the end of the catwalk, we were directed to escalators that took us back down a floor to the Immigration office. You may recall we went through US passport control in Ireland, so when we entered the Customs area we were ushered down a bypass lane that allowed us to walk right past the inspectors booth without stopping. Once we got to the other side of the booths, we followed the hallway to another escalator down to the baggage claim area. I quickly glanced at the carousels and found the one we needed on one end of the room. We walked around the outside of the room and found a near deserted area on the carousel we needed. I was dismayed to learn my glasses somehow broke on the flight, but that's not a big concern as I can see well enough without them. I was delighted to learn that our bags came out towards the front of the group. We claimed our bags off the carousel and then got in the line to go through customs. The actual customs procedure was pretty simple, we stood in line, and at the head of the line an agent collected up our blue and white forms, glanced at them and waved us on. I was just as happy to be waved past the secondary inspection area, we rounded the next corner and two lanes formed, one for those whose destination was Newark, and then a lane for those changing planes like us. We followed the transfer line which went to another queue area. When we got to the front of this line we were directed to a baggage check person, who checked our baggage tags, the bags and our boarding passes. He took our bags and they disappeared into the baggage scanner.

The exit lane to the baggage recheck area directs you right to the escalator back up to the departures level. We went upstairs and noted we were in terminal C and our flight takes off out of terminal A. We were directed to the Sky Train, which provides transportation around the airport as well a connection to the mass transit system. We approached the Sky Train station, and the escalator up to the platform was broken and blocked off, and the stairs looked evil. So, we formed a line to be taken up one load at a time in the one elevator they had. Up on the platform I misread the sign and instead of getting on the train to the other terminals, we get on the train going towards the mass transit station. We probably should have taken the next stop and changed trains, but instead decided to just ride the circuit around. We did not realize the ride out to the mass transit station and back was about 10 minutes out of our way. Luckily it was only around 12:30 and our next flight was 3:30, and we were happy to be on the late flight, instead of the one leaving at 1:30 like the other half of the group.

We rode the Skytrain through all three terminals and a couple parking garages. Eventually we arrived at the concourse for Terminal A. We got off the train, and rode down the escalator to the concourse area, and were happy to find out we were right by the security checkpoint for our gate area. We entered the line for security, and you have got to be kidding me, only one lane open. We waited through a long line for security, and we had our passports and boarding passes checked, put our shoes, and coats and liquids, and umbrellas in plastic tubs, and set our carry on bags on the conveyor. We proceeded forward and they were putting everybody through the explosives "puffer" detector. We then passed through the metal detector and with no alarm, I though I was clear. The guard spotted a stray wire coming out of my pocket, the courtesy headset the airline had just given me for my last flight. I tell you that guard went ballistic over a cheap airline headset, as in almost brought the checkpoint to a stop. He had me totally empty out my pockets, go back and get rescreened which was fine as I had past all their machines anyway. It was more amusing to me seeing the guard go totally ballistic over a little headset.

Having finally cleared the checkpoint so we found some seats, took a rest break, and then sourced some food. We decided on some Uno's deep dish pizza, and if the security checkpoint wasn't enough of a harsh reminder that we were back in the non customer friendly USA, the fast food booth confirmed it. They didn't offer us any napkins or plastic forks for the pizza, and acted like we were a bother. Not to worry, we finished our pizza and then sat back waiting for our flight. We got lucky with this departure from Newark as we were loaded and left Newark right on time. It was an uneventful flight back and I had another Heineken on the flight from Newark to Cincinnati, and we already had our money out before the flight attendant came to us so he said "What can I get you gentlemen from the bar?" I did like his unique ring that has a can opener right on it.

We soon landed in Cincinnati, and after a quick rest stop we made our way back through Concourse A to the center of the airport with the help of the moving sidewalks then down the escalator to the train. This time I made sure we got on the correct train. It was a short ride to Concourse 3, then through the exit from the secure area and up the escalator to the arrivals area. By the time we got to the baggage carousel our bags were there ready for us. We then met up with y mom and uncle. After all the welcome homes, we headed to the parking garage, loaded up the car, and then headed home. We first dropped Bob off at his house, then we went for dinner at Gold Star Chili in accordance with the Cincinnati by laws that state you must have chili upon your return to the city from any extended length trip.

While sitting in Gold Star, my sleepiness caught up to me, we had a nice conversation with dinner, then headed home where I showed off the souvenirs. I then headed to bed to get rested up. And so ends my trip to the Emerald Isle, thanks for reading.

Bonus photos: The Irsh flag I bought proudly flying in front of my house on St. Patricks Day

Irish flag from Ireland

The Connemara marble and Waterford crystal crosses:

Irish Souveniers - Waterford crystal cross and Connemara Marble cross

Now an all American St. Patricks Day tradition: The drinking of the green beer:

Green Beer - it must be St. Patrick's Day in America

Thanks for reading, I hope you enjoyed the series

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