A Long Planned Trip (ish)
I’ve had a longing to visit Ireland since… I don’t know, forever. My brother and I had started planning a trip to celebrate my long overdue graduation from college in 2004. Well, life happened instead.
We were supposed to go in the summer of 2005 and in Feb of that year, I found out that the grant funding my position at the University was running out. I wasn’t fired or laid off per se. They just couldn’t pay me anymore. So, scratch that idea as I had to take a job in another city and front the cost of moving.
Fast-Forward to Present
Ten years later and I work for a global company and have architected a change to their wireless infrastructure. Lucky for me, the first site to deploy is in Cork, Ireland and I’ve been requested to be onsite for the roll-out.
It’s not quite the vacation I had imagined back in college, but it’ll have to do. I’m both giddy and full of dread at the thought of the trip. On the one hand, I’m going somewhere I’ve always wanted to go. On the other, I’m going to spend about 70-80 hours in a conference room that looks no different from those in the US.
The Day Arrives
I had an evening flight out of Atlanta with a four hour layover in Amsterdam. In my mind, I would sleep on the flight over and be ready for a light day mostly spent at the hotel. My boss had other plans and wanted me to get to the office as soon as I landed. I got maybe two hours of sleep on the first leg of the flight, had a pint of Murphy’s at Schipol before the second leg and slept the hour and a half over to Ireland.
Hitting the ground running when I got to the office was an interesting experience to say the least. My body had no idea what time it was and I was regretting eating the in-flight meal the evening before. It felt like I had a ton of bricks in my guts. Somehow I managed to work from 11am local to around 10:30pm that night.
The Local Cuisine
Being somewhat of a food nerd, I asked one of my co-workers where we could get some traditional Irish fare. His response… ‘What, you mean like cabbage?’. Luckily, I was talking to the wrong person and meals weren’t nearly so tragic.
Highlights from the trip were Sunday brunch at Sage in Middleton, dinner that night at Blair’s Inn near Blarney, and our last night’s dinner at Electric in Cork.
Sage has an excellent locally sourced menu and a surprising craft beer selection from Irish breweries (I think the craft beer scene is lagging behind the US since most bar served macro beer). All of the ingredients come from within 12 miles of the restaurant. I had house made black pudding to start and a main course of Hereford filet medallions.
Blair’s Inn was a wonderful experience in itself. It had the country pub atmosphere that I had hoped to find. We sat at a corner table by a coal fireplace which was quite toasty and welcoming. The beer selection here was also top notch and I had a really nice cask stout. Dinner was a braised lamb shank (literally melt in your mouth) and rosemary mash. I also splurged and got sticky toffee pudding for dessert. Movement back to the cab was difficult after a meal like that.
Finally, on my last night there we had dinner at Electric. This is a neat place right on the River Lee. We started by having a pint downstairs at the bar while we waited for our table. Our table was in the main dining room, but they also have a fish bar overlooking the river. I started with seafood chowder which was absolutely amazing. For main, I had fish and chips which I felt was more of a cultural obligation. It was good, but disappointing after the excellent chowder. For dessert, I had an Irish coffee (another cultural obligation).
On Sunday, one of the local directors had arranged for a little excursion to Middleton. He picked us up and we had brunch at Sage before walking over to the Jameson distillery. I honestly had not had any Irish whiskey since college (and really, not served in the best way back then). However, good whiskey is a passion of mine and I was happy to explore.
Browsing through the old stone buildings was a remarkable experience. There’s a lot of history there that we just don’t see in the US (not that we don’t have a lot of great history!). I was also very impressed by the sheer size of the operation compared to the time it was built. The fact that people were able to build to this scale before the industrial revolution is awesome.
The actual production of the whiskey was mostly what I expected. The process doesn’t vary that much among distilleries or breweries. They do distinguish that they triple distill the spirit before barrel aging. For whiskies, the barrel selection and aging times are what give the final product it’s characteristics. Jameson is very smooth and has a lot of honey and vanilla aromas and flavors. I actually quite enjoyed it.
At the end of the day I added about $200 worth of whiskey to my luggage and had to stop at a Tesco to pick up an additional bag for dirty clothes. Mental note: In the future, pack an extra bag so that there’s room for souvenirs in the luggage.
The Return of the Geek
The last night in Cork was a little rough. We had a team dinner which lasted well into the evening and then a meeting with the home office in PST at around 10pm local. My flight was at 6am the next morning with a layover in Amsterdam again and then a direct to Atlanta.
By the time I made it to bed, I had about two hours to sleep before I had to get up and catch the taxi. Being from Atlanta, I’m super paranoid about getting to the airport early so I scheduled my cab for 3:45. Perhaps that was a bit aggressive as the TSA line didn’t even open until 4:30. No worries, I had time for coffee and a little more shopping in the duty free store.
All-in-all, the flight home was uneventful and I was able to get a little more sleep this time. Hartsfield-Jackson International terminal on the day before Thanksgiving wasn’t nearly as bad as I expected. The bad part was getting around to the domestic side to pick up my brother. Ouch. Traffic into the cell phone lot was backed up bumper to bumper, so I dipped into the hourly lot and forked over my $3.
Still on the List
Even though I finally made it, I still have Ireland on my priority list of destinations. Next time I want to do it on my own terms. Occasionally, we talk about going for a summer trip and renting a cottage for a couple of months. My job basically allows me to work from wherever I can get an internet connection. It would be even better is we could clean our place up and lease it out while we’re gone.
Anyway, thanks much Ireland! I had a great time despite the work requirements.