Around the middle of our week-long trip to Ireland, we spent a morning at the Flying Boat Museum in Foynes, near Limerick. I know almost nothing about seaplanes, except what I learned when visiting the Spruce Goose when it was still in Long Beach, CA, when I was a kid. So this museum didn’t sound that interesting to me when I first read about it in our itinerary, but it turned out to be one of my favorite excursions.
Clockwise from top left: dining room, cabin seating area, the radio and weather room in the terminal building and the Clipper's cockpit.
Because Foynes is situated on a large, calm harbor, it was a natural choice for a flying boat airport. In 1939, this small town (population: around 600!) was where the first commercial passenger flight direct from the USA to Europe landed. The Pan Am Yankee Clipper touched down on July 9 of that year. The museum is housed in the original terminal building, and a full-scale replica of the Yankee Clipper was built for the museum in 2006.
One thing that struck me when inside the Clipper replica was how luxurious air travel was in the late 30s and 40s. The dining room, with its white cloth-covered tables, must have been modeled after dining cars on trains. The seats in the cabin were wide and comfy-looking, and two facing seats could be extended to make a bed. Every passenger had his own bed. I mean, the kind of bed you can actually lie down on. You could pretty much bring whatever luggage you wanted on board too. Those were the days when people traveled with trunks and didn’t have to worry about cramming everything inside carry-on bags. I’m tall, so one of the hardest things about flying for me is the lack of leg room. I could really get used to travelling on the Yankee Clipper. Of course, the price of a ticket could probably buy you a small house.
It was damp and chilly inside, and the woman showing us the replica said the plane was very cold in flight. It smelled a little musty too. Flights were long by today’s standards. A flight from Foynes to New York took 25 hours, 40 minutes.
Foynes is also the birthplace of Irish Coffee.The chef in the terminal’s coffee shop, Joe Sheridan, noticed how cold passengers were in the waiting room. He decided to warm everyone up by fortifying coffee with Irish whiskey. After we walked through the replica, we had a demonstration of how to make Irish Coffee, and my friend and I drank one. Boy, does it work.
Yesterday I got back from a week-long, whirlwind vacation in Ireland. A friend from college and I flew into Dublin, she from California and I from Paris, and took a tour that circled the island. Usually I travel independently, and have only taken a few tours in my life. You never know how these things will be in advance and I wondered what our travel group would be like. It turns out that our group of 36 was made up of people with a wide range of ages and compatible personalities. There were lots of hugs and e-mail address exchanges going on on the last night.
Everywhere I went, I saw people who looked like they could be my cousins or uncles. Which isn't surprising, considering I'm about 75% Irish. By the end of the week, I wanted to refer to myself as "meself" and stop pronouncing the "h" in "thanks" or "thirty." I made a new friend named Paddy, who asked why it took me so long to return after my first trip 20-odd years ago. I don't have a good answer for that, I said.
Top left corner, clockwise: Celtic cross in Glendalough, thatched cottage, donkey, Giant's Causeway, Glendalough, Cliffs of Moher, phone booth in Bunratty, street in Cobh. Center: boys in Cobh.
The flight over took 90 minutes, but coming back it was only 70 because of the tail winds. We were lucky with the weather and had clear skies and sunshine. Monday morning in Dublin was sunny with blue skies, but an hour after my flight took off I landed in an overcast Paris. Today, it even rained. It seems France and Ireland swapped weather patterns. What's up with that?
So I left the land of smiling people who go out of their way to help you and say things like "tat's lovely, tanks," and arrived in the land where you have to stand one inch behind the person in front of you to prevent people from cutting in line. Where, when a cashier smiles and makes eye contact with you, it's something to marvel at the rest of the day instead of being the norm. Oh well. I do like the French. They're just not family.