European Surprises

Sometimes people ask us what the most expensive, surprise item has been for us living in Europe.  During our Italian sojourn I would say it was the combination of incessant highway tolls and parking and moving violations, the latter of which we accumulated many--out of ignorance mostly, as we were not careful enough to mimic the locals' patterns of speeding up and slowing down.  Which appeared random at first, as we mistakenly assumed they were the result of the Italian laissez-faire attitude of driving.  But come to find out they were closely attuned to the position of speed cameras.   Parking fees were mostly of our own making (by 'our own' I mean 'Stewart's'), and our oblivious jaunts into forbidden ZTLs, the inner city zones that require special permits, were not cheap either.    

In Dublin, it is turning out to be the gas and electric bill.  While San Diego takes the cake in that category, Dublin is seems is not far behind.  The matter isn't helped by our quixotic heating system in the apartment that randomly creates a steam-room setting in the hallway and one of a refrigerator in the kitchen.  An honorable mention goes to the Irish TV tax:  a two hundred dollar ANNUAL fee for the privilege of having a television in one's home.  

Putting those things in perspective though, we have been lucky.  It could have been most certainly worse, and for that we consider ourselves fortunate.  

Holiday Travel Catch Up

Alrighty, a quick catch up of the year.  A little short on the details, but needs be when the devil drives.  

Dec 2016:  Trip to the Netherlands.  Windmills, art everwhere, wooden shoes, the fascination of Amsterdam, and dikes of course.   January 2017:  Stewart's overdue hernia surgery in Landstuhl, Germany.  February:  we turn 50 and 70, celebrate in Greece--Athens, Olympia, Delphi, ancient history galore.   Barcelona for a week, before the independence troubles began.  March:  Sicily, Mt. Etna, Agrigento. 

April:  a week in Berlin, followed by 5 days in Dublin for house-hunting.  Found a great place, and we sign the lease agreement.  May:  Chris, Marianne and Mary visit, three days later we move to Ireland.   June:  Dubin Pride, a trip to visit relatives in County Donegal, a trip to London to see the Chang-Esteys, then August:  the International Gathering of the Clan Macnab in Killin Scotland and marching in the Royal Edinburgh Military Tattoo; whirlwind trip back to Kentucky/Ohio/DC to visit relatives and attend cousin's wedding.  

September Mark Beckett's visits, October Cousin Jay visits, November I'm back in Lexington with my parents for Thanksgiving for the first time in ages and Stewart headed to Milan for Toastmasters.  Then down to Miami for work, back to Dublin in December, Greg and Heidi coming for Christmas.   2017, done.  

It has been a year of poignancy, of heavy travel schedules, and once again schlepping our collective crap from one location to another.  All of it unforgettable, most of it in a good way.  




Dublin Bus

If you're not accustomed to riding double-decker buses, I would recommend a ride in one as part of your trip to Dublin.  There is the novelty of perspective, of course, sitting on the upper deck.  But it's the gauntlet of narrow streets and bridges, combined with the unflinching tenacity of the drivers, that makes it a spectacle that never ceases to impress me.   

On a related note, on at least three different occasions the Dublin City bus driver remembered me out of hundreds of riders, knew where I was going, and made sure I got off at the appropriate stop.  One of those times he used the PA system which was sort of embarrassing, but still, kudos that he took enough professional interest in his riders.  

And on another related note, Dublin has a bus dedicated to IKEA.  If you've never imagined schlepping a deconstructed 50 pound filing cabinet on public transportation, add it to your Dublin agenda.  

Irish Post Office

Last year I had lamented over the Italian Post Office, and its brazen, unabashed incompetence.  So now we're here in Ireland, and things are different.  

For starters, the Irish Post Office has grabbed Christmas by the horns.  Barely three days had passed since Ireland's weeklong celebration of Halloween, and they have pulled out all the stops with mechanised Santas, nativity scenes, and general holiday mayhem all splayed out in their voluminous lobby.  It is clear they do not intend to play second-fiddle to Marks and Spencer or Arnott's or any other high-falutin' department store when it comes to the holiday spirit.  

The employees are very personable, in a next-door-neighbor kind of way: there is no faked smile, or the pretense of them being overly excited you have appeared at their window, but once there will happily chat with you and answer your questions.   And while no one would accuse them of being on technology's leading edge they have their Italian brethren beat hands down when it comes to knowledge and execution of their jobs.  There are still anachronisms for sure--this week we bought 140 holiday stamps, and the clerk printed out a receipt with 140 line items for each individual stamp--but at least they had the stamps at the ready and didn't have to meander for 15 minutes in the back room looking for them as if they worked in a hardware store and not a post office.  (I don't mean to denigrate Italians, by the way--they are wonderful people, except for three of them in the downtown Bergamo post office who, if there is a god, will soon be burning in hell.)

So good on you, Irish Post Office, you represent your country well.    


Where I've Been So Far


Although it is not necessarily below me, I keep records of my whereabouts not for vanity but for the IRS, who takes a keen interest when I leave its immediate jurisdiction.  My time in France has all been for work, in Ireland all for pleasure, and Italy and Germany a mix of the two.  We traveled to Greece for our big birthdays this year, to Barcelona prior to the Catalonia independence movement troubles, and a brief stop in Switzerland on the way through to Germany.  The UK was a mix of work and vacation too, and includes our big trip to Scotland for the Clan Macnab International Gathering.  In August we traveled back to Kentucky, Ohio and DC for a wedding and to catch up with friends and family.  

The rest of 2017 will be in Ireland, with Stewart's brother and sister-in-law arriving for the holidays, and me traveling to the U.S. and Caribbean for work beginning in November.  More on that later.