Wednesday, September 26, 2007


Sometimes taking a break when you don't really have the time is actually a good idea. I went to Ireland last weekend, to a friends' wedding, and up to the moment of arrival I was feeling like I shouldn't have gone... I had felt (and still do to some extent) that I'm falling behind in my work just because there's so much of it, and so blowing a few days is not really that bright an idea. But as the saying goes, all work and no play makes Jack a dull boy, and we wouldn't want that, would we?

The trip gave me the chance to test drive Irish trains. Unfortunately I realised too late that Aer Lingus has just started to fly between Helsinki and Dublin, and so I resorted to my old foe R***air. Travelling with hand luggage only and with priority boarding I managed to skip all queuing at Pirkkala. Although it must be said again that Finns have no clue about queuing anyway, as I missed the priority boarding due to a swarm of people who were standing around where the priority queue was supposed to be but were in fact not in the queue.
Then, Dublin-Killarney with Iarnród Éireann. I had reserved a ticket and a seat online, and had taken a late connection as you never know when you arrive with R***air. This time we were on time and so while collecting my tickets I asked if I could take the earlier train instead. He said it was fine, but I would lose the reservation. This I thought was fine. Then I noticed that there was a massive queue forming in the Dublin Heuston station, from the platforms to the station hall, through it and outside. This was for the train to Galway. Puzzling, I thought...

Then another queue started to form, this time for the train to Cork which I was supposed to take. I watched it for a moment, and it grew very fast, and so I went to the ticket office again, to ask if there was any chance I would actually get onto this train. The bloke in the office, rather than checking the reservations situation from his computer, just looked over my shoulder, and told me that it will be full enough, but that I should be fine. So I thought I'd give it a go. Not really sure about how anything works, I took my place at the end of the queue, which by that time had reached the other end of the station, and started the 30-minute queuing. About 20 minutes before the scheduled departure, they started letting people on the platform, and when my turn came I realised why the queue - they were checking and stamping tickets at the entrance to the platform.

I then asked one official, if there was any way of knowing which seats are reserved and which aren't, and as I'm taking a "wrong" train if I could sit anywhere or if there are some specific areas etc. I knew that in some countries like Finland, you automatically get a seat reservation with your ticket, while in other places only very few seats are reserved and in others most are. Also, in places like Austria and Germany the few reserved seats are marked with passenger names. The guy said that I could go and check my seat but someone else might have taken it. I explained again that my reservation would be for a later train and I didn't have a reservation for this train. He then repeated the same advice. Finally I concluded that I can sit anywhere, the train is getting very full very fast and as the staff have no clue about reservations, probably not many people have them. I managed to find a seat, and in just about time - dozens of people were left standing in the Friday evening train.

The train left 15 minutes late, the process of making everyone queue before getting on didn't really work. The train was packed but people were very kind and nice. Many fo the passengers were students going home for the weekend. As the train rolled out of Heuston, and passed through the south-western suburbs of Dublin, we were greeted by the famous greenness of Ireland. Pastures, fields, woods, rolling hills. In all shades of green, so beautiful, so clean. And then some more of it. And yet more... I'm not complaining or anything, but the scenery is very similar to that in the Finnish trains, where it's just forests and lakes for hours.

In Mallow I changed to a commuter train and reached Killarney just under 4 hours after I left Dublin. Not exactly a bullet train but it did the job.

On the way back I saw that at all the stations they are advertising how much money EU is pouring to the railroad infrastructure in Ireland, and how they are rolling out new trains (like the one I took), and they were rebuilding many of the stations especially at the outskirts of Dublin. All good news, but they do still have miles to go. The tracks didn't seem to be in particularly good state, the ride was bumpy and speeds were very low at times. The trains are running on diesel, as none of the southwestern network is electrified. The whole queuing-system us bizarre and having to stand in lines for ages belongs to the airports, not on train stations.

But the views were great and it is still a nice way to travel. Compared to flying, at least, especially with R***air, which managed to piss me off again on the way back. This time they did it by selling me Saturday's Irish Independent that costs 1.70€ on Monday morning for 2€. I would understand the markup on price, but quite honestly, I couldn't even imagine that a newspaper would be 2 days old, when we take off at 8 in the morning (hours after the paper has been printed) from the town where the paper is made. I must say that I only realised this after a while, and actually didn't make a fuss about it as I was the first to exit the plane and everyone else wanted to be the second. Despicable anyway.

The wedding was very nice, as I expected. The actual ceremony was in the little chapel in the picture. Such a beautiful place, and a very friendly ceremony. The party was great as you could expect in an Irish wedding, and the food was great. When I saw the hairstyle and Ferrari-jacket I knew the DJ was going to be dodgy, but luckily the bride was firmly in control and set him straight before he could make people mad with his ridiculous ADHD-remixes, and finally he subdued and started playing the cheese people wanted to hear.

Sunday evening in Dublin was lovely as well, and I was well relaxed although somewhat deprived of sleep and dehydrated. Now it is back to business and teaching, lots to do and probably not so much to blog. Although I might try to write something about the students who you can't shut up when you meet them one to one but who do the most amazing mute fish impersonations when in class.

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