I’d already scoped out the map of the terminal and identified which lounges we had access to. Because we both still have shiny cards courtesy of BA’s extraordinary generosity a couple of years ago, we’re able to avail ourselves of Aer Lingus - for ‘tis them with whom we are flying today. We’re not flying business class but they’re owned by the same parent company as BA and despite not being part of the alliance, there’s some moderately confusing relationship which grants us access with the BA cards.
It’s quite an airy lounge, there aren’t many people around, and it seems to be directly above at least one gate used by Aer Lingus, evidenced by a plane of theirs being parked there - and being replaced by another one when it buggers off.
It’s about 0745 when we get in and we’d quite like some breakfast. But there’s no hot food. There’s a fridge with Guinness, (how stereotypical) Carlsberg and wine, and another with a selection of mixers but no spirits are in sight. The cold food selection is pretty tiny. We each get pastry and I also have a banana, yoghurt, and some cheese and biscuits.
The seats aren’t that comfortable, though I have a bit of an explore and there’s a nicer sub-room across the way. But with Sky News annoying us on TV, no hot food, and another card in my wallet, we bugger off across the terminal in search of the Plaza Premium Lounge, via WH Smith whose self-service tills require a boarding pass in order to buy BBC Wildlife magazine. The lounge itself is hidden around the corner at the end of a corridor by the transfer security desks, and there’s a queue of 5 or so people ahead of us.
It clears quickly and we’re in. It’s much more crowded, but instantly more attractive - despite the lack of natural light, there are a range of seating options, a large hot breakfast buffet, and a staffed bar. We get seats at the far end and load up on scrambled egg, bacon, delicious sausages, mushrooms, and potatoes. I go to the bar and once the lady there has stopped talking to her colleague, she turns to me with a brusque “Yes?”, making my request for a Carlsberg much meeker than I’d intended on approach.
Helen has a G&T - required preparation ever since the Cessna adventure in Costa Rica - and with much time to spare, we each have a second. Just after 9am, an hour before take-off, we learn our gate. I like how the Heathrow iOS app provides walking directions inside.
There are three consecutive gates with Aer Lingus flights taking off within 15 minutes of one another: Dublin, Cork, and Shannon. We’re the last of these in all senses - Shannon, furthest gate, last to take off. Boarding starts literally as we arrive at the gate and after shuffling forward a bit in the queue, we realise it’s the priority queue and we’re not allowed in it. Swapping to the much smaller general boarding queue, we end up getting onboard pretty damn early anyway.
Seats 8E and 8F are ours, the furthest forward we could choose when check-in opened (a strange 30 hours earlier) without paying, like, 17 quid a pop. Seriously. There’s magazines in the seat backs ahead of us and we already know what we’re going to order should the trolley manage to reach us - flying time is only an hour and the first 6 rows are busy.
We pull away from the gate on time and taxi for bloody ages. It’s a grey day so no views are particularly great. The flight is, accordingly, pretty nondescript. Flying over Wales on St David’s Day, we can’t see the country at all. Mostly we just see clouds, though there are some gaps as we come over the Irish east coast.
A leaflet in the seatback pocket had been pimping the all new Aer Lingus planes and livery, being particularly proud of how many shamrocks they’ve managed to include.
I’m not really sure what the Common Travel Area/CTA means in practical terms, but I do know we brought our passports with us and needed to. The two blokes manning the immigration counters are super friendly, having nice banter with each person ahead of us in the queue. Then, neither of us are spoken to except for a hello and a thank you.
The bus ticket machine is a piece of piss to spot in the arrivals area, and I buy two tickets to our final destination: Galway. There’s a bus in 20-odd minutes, giving us time for comfort breaks and liquid purchases. Also some tourism: Shannon apparently was where the first ever duty free shop was? Outside the weather is bleak. Very bleak. But a pied wagtail is nice to see, near the smoking area.
A super-friendly lady at reception checks us in at the Residence Hotel, in the heart of Galway’s Latin Quarter. Up on the second floor in our room, we hang up some of our wet clothes and take stock. The TV remote control works only within 2 or 3 feet of the TV, basically from the foot of the bed but not from the head. Furthermore it has a button called “magic” which, when pressed, does nothing. Unless it’s doing something in an entirely different room or country or dimension, depending on how magic it actually is.
Power sockets are numerous and intriguingly placed - on a trip up north a few months back we stayed in a hotel in Shipley, Yorkshire, where no plugs were reachable from the bed, making it annoying to charge our phones or iPads. But here, in Galway, there are two plug sockets and a USB socket built into the headboard of the bed.
There’s very few people in there and we’ve got our pick of seats. Extravagantly welcoming staff take our food and drink orders, though Helen’s first choice of pie is currently unavailable.
I very much approve that every pie on the menu includes booze in its filling. Yeah, I think I’ll. have the sausage, black pudding and Madeira pie please.
Working our way back, the river stays incredibly choppy. The city’s only big chain hotel looms on the other side of the bridge, looking tired and grim.
Crossing the road is easier at a second attempt, and it’s time to see if the Salt House lives up to its own reputation. Best place for beer in Ireland, eh?
Colour me impressed. It tastes pretty nice too, but I’m far more interested in how its made. On the wall is a video screen showing rolling footage of other cocktails on the menu being made, and one of them features a bacon-infused bourbon. Whoa. Just over the way is a table full of screeching-laughter locals, though the worst offenders go outside for a smoke frequently and for long enough each time that it isn’t too distressing.
We stay for a second drink. I move back to beer, Helen has a Claddagh Sunset cocktail. The two tables nearest us remain steadfastly empty: they are marked as reserved and, apparently, are meant to be overflow seating for the screechers’ party. Everyone honours the RESERVED signs for a good 90 minutes until it finally becomes inescapably obvious that no-one is actually going to turn up and use them.
I go up for a third; Helen has a Pomme Star Martini though without egg, which the barman tells me is kinda weird because the egg is a pretty key ingredient. We have a moderately involved conversation about cocktails, since I’m so ignorant and anyway, it takes him a while to prepare each one so we kinda have to talk about something. The only drink which features the bacon bourbon is a Mint Julep and I don’t really like mint, but perhaps I’ll try it one day. For now though I’ll stick with the beer.
Midway through this drink I am suddenly desperate for the loo so go squeeze past the people seated behind me. A lad holds up a bottle of tonic water and says something I don’t catch, but I’m too single-mindedly dogged in my requirement for a piss to properly engage. I think I mutter something like “er I dunno mate”; whatever just happened, the entire table erupts in laughter. Weird.
The pub has live music. Back when we’d checked in we had been given the full SP: there’s no breakfast provision by the hotel except they would, if we wanted, put a small bag with, like, a school-style breakfast pack outside our door in the morning. Otherwise we should use the pub which serves from 10:30am onwards. In the evenings they stop serving food at 8pm, and there will be live music until 11pm after which there’ll be a DJ until 2am. The Irish take music very seriously, it’s completely ingrained everywhere. I don’t think there’s even the concept of a quiet pub in this country.