In retrospect, I guess I was foolish to take things at face value. You're going to say that we are babies, and it's true! We lack the hard-headedness necessary for this particular set of circumstances. I have friends, and, honestly, children, who would not have gotten themselves in a predicament like this. I cringe to think that they are reading this, but I tell you for your own amusement.
It's just that when you are basically being given something, you hate to look in its mouth for problems. And I'd say that certain...expectations...were created, what with "first-class tickets" (traded in for coach for the three of us with a little left over towards the car) and that whole "countryside home in a scenic area" thing. I admit it: I just assumed that things would work out fine.
And on the whole, they did. It's just, at first, it was a little odd.
It was disconcerting, to be sure, when my queries about directions, contact info, and what was available at the house were met with silence, and then terse answers. I realize now that the (also perhaps naive but well meaning) veteran's group in question had taken a lot for granted when they offered this prize...I'm not sure how much they themselves knew.
I think it was their first raffle of this kind. They have a good group that seems to help people wonderfully well. I think it's a good cause and I wouldn't bother them for the world. And in fact, I tried not to bother them....
But what to do about the vagueness? What is my standing here?
If you try to make me pay too much, I'll balk, but if I'm getting a freebie, I feel at a disadvantage.
So we set out from the airport, urged on not very competently by "Jane" (the UK voice on our Irish GPS, loaned to us by Irish friends), aiming for the town, which was not too far.
This was the address I had been given:
"Name" of house.
And that is all.
And mind, while I found that at intersections in Ireland signs were pretty good about how to get to another town or even point of interest, they were silent as the grave regarding street names. And often, the street name changes each block.
And "Jane" wasn't dishing.
It was after 8 on a Monday morning. We went up and down the main thoroughfare of the town several times, encountering not a soul, few cars, and no open shops or post office.
By 8:45, still nothing.
For all purposes, this town was dead. Maybe it was one of those Bank Holidays...I never found out.
We were getting a little panicky as we realized the enormity of our predicament. When I called the number we had been provided, the phone was answered by a man who then hung up. (I had given my number to the owner (in America). Had she forwarded it to her aunt, who was supposed to be meeting us? My phone certainly did not ring.)
It was as if you were put down in my town and told to find a house somewhere on Main St, a couple of miles!
Of course none of the houses had names, that I could see. The defining characteristic of this house, supposedly -- the Abbey -- was nowhere to be seen and indeed remained defiantly hidden for the duration.
There was no one to ask. There was no one to call. We were truly exhausted and a little hysterical every time we had to turn around, since reversing direction caused our addled brains to forget where our left was. We were waking up to the thought that we just did not know where to find our house.
At last I said, "Guys, we have to pray to our Guardian Angels to help us."
In the distance I saw a man. "Phil -- there's a man! Get him!"
My dear husband felt the iron enter his soul. That man was the only man in town, as far as we could tell. He was turning the corner and walking down a side street, but he wasn't getting away.
We careened, slowly and with due care not to mistakenly drive on the right, around the bend and I leaped out of the car, trying not to project too much crazed desperation.
Reader, I know you will not be surprised when the man told me he knew the family name (not the name of the house) and directed me a couple of miles down the road. He told me landmarks and sure enough, there it was.
It looked overgrown...slightly decrepit...and by the way one of the very, very few non-cinder-block-and-stucco houses we saw anywhere, and hence not all that difficult to describe, had anyone made the choice to do so.
I didn't have much hope that it was the house of the lady who was to meet us, although it did look like it could contain a man who would hang up on lost travelers. We knocked.
Two women opened the door, greeting us as if they expected us, as indeed they did. That was a relief...but, "This is it!"...the house itself...our "country home."
|This photo is from later on in our stay. Note the brick wall and gate...a landmark you might go ahead and mention to someone trying to find your house, perhaps? So far not terribly bad, but it's on a main road and maybe not all it seems.|
"It has everything," the owner had told us. Well, not really.
|Oven not working.|
|I kind of like a seat on my toilet. This is the downstairs bathroom.|
|I only show you this in case the photos are making you wonder what my problem is.This was the feeling throughout.|
The oven didn't work, the stove worked all right with two small burners (plenty of pots, but no frying pans), but tripped the circuit with three. No dryer, which is a problem in a country with daily rain. If I had known, I would have prepared.
|While the Cliffs of Moher are an amazing sight, they are a little like The Cliffs of Insanity in The Princess Bride. Not quite the gemütlich choice for the living room, in my opinion, not that I would have minded if things had been otherwise!|
Sparsely furnished...smelled like old cigarette smoke. It had been, the ladies informed us, vacant for a long time. It wasn't dirty, but it wasn't nice.
|Yeah, my laundry was there as a permanent fixture. When she said the house had everything, I didn't bring 2 weeks' worth of clothing. Bridget doesn't look too deprived, does she?|
It was livable when we opened the windows, but obviously not a dreamy romantic cottage.
|A fun spot, if you like shops, which Phil doesn't.|
The nearby large (by West-country standards) town was pretty, with enjoyable, family-friendly pubs with great music in the evenings-- Bridget even played and danced (no pictures of that, sorry -- pubs are dark places!). Phil fell in love with hurling. We toured.
Second, we received an unexpected invitation from friends whose whereabouts in Ireland I wasn't sure of. I hadn't emailed them about our trip for that reason and because I had no idea what was in store for us.
|On the ferry to Dingle, crossing the River Shannon.|
|A ferry rider.|
|The River Shannon. This is near where my Irish ancestors came from in 1830.|
They knew through Phil's website that we were going to be in Dublin at some point for Phil to give a talk, but they didn't know where we were, either. A sweet email rescued us at just the right moment. (By the way, there was no internet in the house either, although my friend who actually does live way out in the country has internet.)
|A rare sight of true-blue sky!|
Phil desperately wanted a real vacation where he could think his thoughts. Poor man, he got a tourist's outing, the kind he least likes, much alleviated by a warm, happy visit to the truly charming and romantic country home of our friends, which I'll tell you about in the next installment.
|Why there's a windmill here, I could not say, but it was a pretty sight.|
I don't know what the other blessings might be, though I have no doubt there were many. Everything that happens to us is a blessing! And even as bad things go, this one does not register at all on the world-wide disappointment scale of life.
But I won't conceal from you that we were disappointed.
Bridget and I are super-sensitive to the way things smell, and we just hated being in that house. It was quite a chore to cook anything palatable, although we at least could get through a bunch of meals in a higgeldy-piggeldy, well, we're-not-actually-hungry sort of way. We ended up spending more money than we had hoped to on that account. Phil missed out on two weeks of peace and quiet (other than our visit to our friends' house). And Bridget missed tramping around the countryside.
As for me, mostly I just felt that dumb feeling, "Why would something like this happen?"
It was a little pointless. If I have to live through a flood or an ice storm, I will make the best of it. But this seemed a little like one of those not-nice practical jokes you teach your children not to play, like pulling the chair out from under someone, or breaking their favorite toy.
Here everyone thought we were so lucky to go to such a wonderful place, and we were. We could have been happy camping in a ruin or staying in a palace. With this house, it was a little harder to not just wish you were home; that you hadn't had such "good luck."
Yet, nothing is luck! It's all for a reason...but don't ask me to tie it all up in a package for you. It was just one of those things! I will say this -- it made me love my own home!