Today we woke up at 7:30 AM, checked out of our hotel, and took our bags to the Marriott hotel across Grosvenor Square. This is where we stayed our first night in London, and it is also where we would be returning following our short trip to Ireland. Just to be safe, I had checked with the concierge the night before to ensure we could check our bags for a couple of days while we were gone. He said that it would be no problem. Unfortunately, the morning concierge didn’t share the same view. He reluctantly agreed to let us leave our bags after I explained the earlier conversation.
Upon leaving the Marriott, we went to Starbucks for breakfast. This was the first time we had Starbucks in over a week…that’s what I call restraint! We then took the Tube from Bond Street to Liverpool Street, to transfer to the Stansted Express train. Stansted is a remote London airport, about 50 miles north of the city, which houses many of the discount carriers. The express train to Stansted took about 45 minutes. We checked in at the RyanAir (similar to Southwest) counter and waited at the gate for our flight to board. We were sure to get in line early, since we were in the last boarding group (based on our check-in time). The flight was about an hour into Knock and was very smooth. It was interesting to see snacks being sold on board (nothing provided free). I’m sure that this will be coming soon enough to the States with all the current airline financial problems!
Upon arriving in Knock (a very small airport), we picked up our rental car from Hertz. It was an Opel Astra, which is about the size of a VW Golf. I was a little scared to drive it, since I would need to not only drive on the passenger side but also on the left side of the road. Regardless, we took off for Ballinlough to meet my extended family (my dad’s cousins). Despite having some difficulty finding their house (we had the right one the first time, but there was no answer), we finally Met Eddie & Linda, their girls Eileen and Yvonne, and their granddaughter Evie. They are wonderful people and made us feel as though we couldn’t leave (we didn’t want to, either). They served us dinner, Guinness, and Irish coffee (with whiskey). We left about 8 PM for our bed & breakfast in Ballina (pronounced Baal-IN-A). Needless to say, the dark, narrow roads were very unforgiving and we probably should have left earlier. While traveling through one of the towns on the way to Ballina, I managed to get to close to the curb on the left side of the car and one of the protruding, already-replaced hub caps made contact. It got sliced up pretty bad, being cheap plastic and all – but that was the extent of it. We finally arrived in Ballina around 9:30 after what seemed like a very long hour-and-a-half drive in the darkness and rain. We called the B&B owner before leaving the Rogans’ to let her know we were on our way, but she didn’t get the message and was worried about us. After explaining our adventure, we settled in for some long-awaited sleep.