My work offers me plenty of scope for international travel, and that is just what I’ve been up to this week. I’m working on a project in Ireland, and I’m loving every second of it. The work is challenging and varied, and did I mention that I get sent to Dublin every couple of weeks or so? Even though I’m working, I love the excitement of going to a different place. So many people say “oh, it’s just work”, but those people have no souls.

So here is a little about my time as an engineer working abroad for the day:

Because Ireland is so nearby, and you can book a flight for less than the cost of a railway ticket to London (this is more to do with the fact that rail fares in the UK are exorbitant, rather than flights being cheap), a day trip to attend a meeting is feasible.  However, because you’ve had to make a concerted effort to get to the damn meeting and make sure you’re thoroughly prepared before leaving the country, there is a certain pressure on you to make it worthwhile.

My adventure began at 5am, with me thinking “oh, this will give me plenty of time to make my 8am flight”. I got ready quickly, had all my stuff packed, passport to hand, had checked in online already. Nothing could possibly go wrong. I got in the taxi, thinking I had loads of time, and in fairness to me, I did. Upon arrival at Manchester Piccadilly station, I noted that my preferred train had departed 1 minute earlier. Not to worry, the next one is in…. forty minutes. Crap.Ok, ok, I’ll see if there’s an indirect route I can take. Yes! I went to Wilmslow and got a local stopping service back. Slightly less panic. The train gets me to the airport at 0704, so that’s easily doable. Let’s just hope that security is quiet.

Nope. Upon arrival at T1, the queue was huge and chaotic.  Why, why, WHY??? I was stood internally panicking in the queue, getting more and more frustrated at every single minor transgression imaginable.  Screaming children, people clueless about what you can / cannot take on a plane, people not knowing where they’re going.  All of them a trigger.  It’s a miracle I managed to hold it all together. It got to the point where there was a real possibility that I could miss my flight, so I ended up being one of those annoying people who gets rushed to the front of the queue and treated like royalty because of poor planning.  But if the airlines didn’t do this, the system wouldn’t be able to operate efficiently and smoothly.  Sometimes people get it wrong, but the system is set up in such a way that it can only work if people are in the right places at the right times. Sometimes you have to obey rules you don’t like and put up with annoyance and discomfort.

So after getting priority treatment at security (sorry guys), I literally had to run to the gate.  I just made it.  The adrenaline rush I was feeling at this point was totally unsuitable for someone who needs to sit still on a plane for the next 45 minutes, but at least I was actually On The Plane.

I love flying, everything about it is fun (as long as there’s no undue panic involved).  I like getting ready to go, listening to the familiar safety procedures, taking off, watching Manchester disappear and seeing the clouds below me. Each trip is an adventure, even if I’ve already done it a hundred times before. Upon arrival at Dublin Airport, I was annoyingly early for my appointment.  There were no convenient flights to get me there just before the meeting, so I had to take the one that got me there three hours early.  Oh, well.  Time for a bit of sightseeing.

I got myself a coffee in the airport bar (it’s called The Oak, and it’s very stylish and reasonably priced – this is a thing I noticed about Dublin: how cheap it is.  Even when they are trying to rip you off as a tourist, the prices don’t even come close to day-to-day UK prices), and planned my excursion.  The airport is quite far from the city, so either a taxi or a bus is needed for this bit.  I got a taxi last time, but I don’t have a spare €35 to fritter away on a chaffeur, so I opted for the bus instead.  Having never done this before, I went to the tourist information centre upstairs in the airport, who were incredibly useful.  I had an inkling that I needed to get the 700 bus or similar (this is a special bus for clueless tourists like me), but they offered me a cheaper and more convenient solution in the form of one of the commuter buses that the ordinary folk use.  Wow, really immersing myself in the culture here.

Buses work differently in Dublin to how they do in Manchester.  In fact the whole transport system works completely differently.  It works Very Well, but only if you know how to use it. Dublin is one of those annoying cities in which you either need exact change on the bus, or you have to buy in advance.  I was pretty clueless about this, but there were plenty of helpful people at the bus station (perhaps a little too helpful, or maybe too chivalrous, perhaps). They have a ticket where you pay a fixed price and it’s valid for 90 minutes (they have barcode readers on the bus to track you!).  This is enough to get you from the airport into town, and I’d be interested to see how much bus you could get into 90 minutes.  Well, you want to make the most of your investment.

On the way in we drove past a shop trading in Key Cutting and Virgin Mary statues.  Which is an interesting business model.

Philip P. Lynott 1949 - 1986
Philip P. Lynott 1949 – 1986

I wanted to see a bit of the city, but I had one item to specifically tick off my list: Get a photo of the Phil Lynott statue.  As you can see from the photo (right), I was successful in this part of my mission. I then took a leisurely stroll to my meeting, in a glorious converted Georgian townhouse.The meeting went very well. I’ve been at some meetings in which I wasn’t sure why they’d invited me, but this wasn’t one of them. I had a lot to talk about, and so did other people.  Pretty much everything discussed was relevant to me, and I made the most of the day.  My opinion was respected, and the team was really mixed.  It seemed a bit more “with the times” than some other meetings I’d previously attended, and I hope this is reflective of other engineering meetings elsewhere. I felt after the meeting that I’d done my best, and that we’d achieved what we’d set out to.

But that’s not what you want to hear about.  Back to lovely Dublin! My flight home was quite a late one (again, no other convenient flight so I had to get one at a peculiar hour), and I decided to use the time to buy a present for my lovely (and if he doesn’t like it, I do, so I’ve done myself a favour either way).  I’d been advised by my Irish colleagues that there are some cheesy tourist shops around (they called these the Fiddle-dee-dee Shops), but I actually found a really cool alternative homewares store, reminiscent of Manchester’s Northern Quarter.  As previously mentioned, even though it was very tourist-geared, it was surprisingly cheap.  I wonder how cheap it is to live as an ordinary Dublin resident?

And then, time to go back to the airport.  I left a good amount of time to do this, because I had been burnt earlier that day on the flight out.  But, I just wasn’t prepared for the complete catastrophe that is the Dublin rush hour.  During the day, Dublin is actually a very quiet city.  Like Canterbury, but with less people, and more city. During the evening rush hour, the population appears to increase thirty-fold, and nothing moves.  I got really nervous on the bus back (the local bus; proudly using my recntly obtained insider information) that I might miss my second flight.  But I didn’t have to worry too much because although the first half of the journey was undertaken at slower than walking pace, the driver belted it down the R132 to the airport once we were out of the worst bit, and I actually made it there at a sensible time.

Taking off in the dark, I could see the lights of Dublin arranged in perfect rows, marking out the suburbs and arterial routes.  It was splendid, and something totally artificial.  We don’t need spirituality or miracles to find beauty in the world.  We can create it ourselves.