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October 2021 - The Catch Up before Belfast and Travel Day.

Wow - I cannot believe it is October already and the nights are already rapidly drawing in.

Already I am yearning for some sun and warm weather. I hate the days I cannot get outside and do stuff during the day.

Everything pandemic wise was starting to feel more like normal until the flipping petrol non crisis. As we knew we needed fuel to get down to Stansted we decided to preserve as much as possible in my car and to ensure that we had a contingency for Karen to either go to work or to see her Mum. I also refused to join any queues at garages to perpetuate the situation. As it happened my patience paid off as I managed to fill up completely just before we left. It did mean that I got on with many of the jobs around the house and used my bike more to get places.

Karen has been very busy with work with some days getting 3 or 4 different offers. She stuck to her principled approach of whichever offer she accepted she went ahead with even if she got a much more appealing offer later. This is a trait that her agencies love when it works in their favour but get frustrated when it doesn’t. Despite pleading and bribes she sticks to her word.

I’m going to skip over the Football in the hope the less said the soonest mended.

We have also had the ‘Anglian Water’ saga which could be turned into a TV drama all on its own. What started as me musing whether our water bill was correct has turned into: having a new water header tank installed in the loft, ordering a whole new main bathroom to be installed, a leak into the kitchen from the bathroom which means I need to redo the ceiling, 7 visits from Anglian Water, the front and back gardens being surveyed 4 times with all sorts of electronic equipment, 4 big deep trenches being dug into what was my lovely back lawn by different workmen and finally for now an actual genuine working stop tap being installed in the garden which will hopefully lead to a smart meter being installed. It is quite remarkable that no one could knew or could fathom how the water main got into the house.

The Hot Tub is still being used with very few days being missed. I have been amazed by how much Karen is still enjoying it. Being in it together on a lovely evening with all the lights on is still feels magical. We feel so lucky to have it. It is also lovely when we are joined in there by Barry & Ellie who both love it as much as we do.

Getting back to the proper Theatre has also been lovely. We have now been 3 times (Six, Bedknobs and The Dresser) all of which we really enjoyed. We are still being cautious but it has felt reasonably safe.

Golf has been painful as I seem to suffering from either Golfers or Tennis elbow (not that I know the difference). For 24 hours after playing the pain in my left arm is quite bad. Yet another thing I need to get sorted at some point. I hate getting old as nothing seems to work as it should anymore.

We both suffered a reaction this time to the latest flu jab (as have lots of people we know). But the few iffy days are hopefully worth it for the protection it should provide.

With the restrictions seemingly being lifted and travel looking much more likely we have had a rapid replan of all of future trips. Currently it is looking like we may be out of the country for 110 days over the next year. We are watching the news carefully to see if we will be allowed into Florida on 8th November. We are desperate to go but it all depends when the USA authorities get all their processes sorted to open the borders. They said they were aiming for early November but they look like missing that. It will just be our luck they do it from the 9th which will involve disappointment and lots of more frantic replanning. First world problems - eh?

So now we are off to Belfast. A place we have wanted to visit for a long time. We had some Ryanair flights booked that we had rescheduled twice and needed to be used by the end of October or lose them. We were determined not to lose them and so at the time of when considering where to go to, staying within the UK seemed a safe and easy option. But flipping Ryanair then decided to stop flying to Belfast due to the landing fees and so we have ended up planning to fly to Dublin and hiring a car from there.

Karen was particularly stressed leading up to this trip. Mainly caused by her picking a bad cold from school (she took a LFT which was thankfully negative). This coupled with working the 2 days before we left and being at the Theatre the night before we went, meant her packing time was very limited. That lead to every problem or issue about everything being totally my fault but I suppose that is what husbands are for.

The alarm was set for 5am as we wanted to be on the road for 5.45am. We missed it by 5 minutes which I thought wasn’t too bad. The weather was wet and miserable. The Sat Nav showed we should be there for 7.30am which I was happy with.

I was still happy until we got 7 miles from Stansted when we came to a standstill on the M11 due to an accident way past the next junction where we needed to get off. After 20 minutes stationery I feared we might miss the flight altogether but then we started to creep along at 5mph. Eventually we reached the turn off and headed to the Short Stay Car Park - Green. This seemed to be the furthest away of all the Short Stay car parks and was an awfully long walk to the terminal.

We were pleased to find inside that most people were wearing masks. We were less pleased to see the length of the queue to get through Security. It was the worst we had ever seen st Stansted and took us 25 minutes to get through. It would have been 20 minutes but Karen had ‘too many bags of liquid, including some unlabelled’ so was ‘selected’ for swab testing. I was very pleased that she received the special attention and never mentioned it again.

This left us just 65 minutes before our flight was due to depart. This was even more annoying as we had free lounge passes that we wanted to use before they expired at the end of this month. We decided to go straight there even if it was just to use the toilet and get a drink. Going straight anyway at Stansted is impossible though. The walkway weaves around and double backs on itself so many times in order to make you walk through all the flipping shops. Try as you might it is quite difficult to make a speedy journey.

However we did make it to the lounge and we had time to gulp down a hot breakfast and use their facilities. As soon as our gate was shown on the departure board we headed off to find it.

Being back on the plane seemed strange but familiar all the same. The flight was full but pleasingly we had a spare seat next to us. I spent the short flight time to Dublin reading my Kindle.

Landing at the Ryanair terminal in Dublin means a lengthy walk to Immigration. Using our brand new passports we used the E gates with no issue. I was surprised no-one wanted to check all the Covid paperwork I had had to fill in advance of flying which made them seem pointless.

We had booked car hire through Ryanair and made our way to the rental desk. It was closed, as they all were and we were directed to the desks in terminal 2. This was a good further 15 minute walk away. We were not impressed. However the Sixt rental desk were welcoming and helpful. I chilled a bit until I then found we had to get a courtesy bus to get to the flipping car.

Eventually and more than a hour after we landed we finally got into the Hyundai I10 and were on our way. It seemed a simple 100 mile drive to Belfast and I was quite looking forward to it.

We were in no hurry and as Karen was in need of a caffeine top up we thought we would stop for a coffee if we saw one. We headed north on the M1 and were merrily making our way when suddenly we saw signs saying it was a toll road. I became very concerned as I hadn’t anticipated that and wasn’t sure how it worked with a hire car. I left at the next junction and thought I would find somewhere to stop whilst I googled the issue. We came to what looked like a shopping centre with an advertised food court and so I thought we could kill 2 problems with one stop. The shopping centre though was deserted and the food court non existent. Instead we bought some wraps and cold drinks from Dunnes.

Stupidly I suggested doing the next piece of the journey on the old Dublin to Belfast road to see some of the countryside. The road though was poor. Lots of hold ups and the weather was deteriorating. Eventually we got to Drogheda and saw a sign for a Costa so we turned in to get a Karen a drink. Whilst using their Wifi and after catching up on a load of messages I had missed whilst in the air, I proposed we rejoin the M1 for the rest of the journey. We did so but after about 15 miles the Sat Nav took us off yetagain because the M1 was shut.

The rest of the journey seemed never ending. It was only 60 miles but took forever. I think we got back from Cornwall quicker. I was quite disappointed that I have no idea where we crossed into Northern Ireland. In fact I think we may crossed the border more than once. We were tired and grumpy when we eventually got to the Hotel over 5 hours after we had landed into Dublin.

Our Hotel - Holiday Inn Express was in the University Quarter. It seemed quite new and had a free car park. My final disappointment of the day was that I didn’t seem to get the special welcome I had become accustomed to as a Gold Member. Snobbish I know, but I was expecting an upgrade and lots of fawning to me. After I investigated later, It turned out all the rooms are actually the same, and to be fair the receptionists were very nice and polite. Sometimes I just get ideas above my station.

The room was more than fine. We settled in for a while and then headed out to a nice looking Italian at the end of the road. In fact it was lovely inside. Villa Italia was a large restaurant and quite full but they found us a table. The service was top notch and we were quite taken by our attentive little waitress. The food was very acceptable and went well with the carafe of wine. We were very tired though and were back in our room by 8.30pm and asleep by 10pm.

We were however looking forward to exploring Belfast tomorrow.

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