As I sit here today, all I can do is think about how quickly and crazily the world has changed in the past few weeks. We’ve had travel plans upended, watched stores go out of stock of necessary items, and succumbed to worry and angst over the economic and medical crisis we’re facing. The reality of social distancing and self-imposed isolation is settling in. It’s looking like it’s gonna be a long haul, and I’m feeling a bit down.

It’s hard not to, considering I’m used to taking a trip every couple months, either for work or for leisure. Now I’m without the ability to even plan anything, since so much is unknown. I wrote about my award travel plans during the coronavirus pandemic. But that is only one side of dealing with things.

As an outlet, I thought I’d start a series of quick posts about some of the more humorous moments from the past few years of travel. Today I want to recount our experience entering Ireland for the first time.

Where is Athlone?

Back in 2016 my wife and I took a wonderful trip to the French Riviera, Italy, and Ireland. It was one of those “once in a lifetime” trips that will definitely become more than once in a lifetime, thanks to miles and points. We spent a full thirty days enjoying 8 different cities. It was truly wonderful to see and experience so much.

The tail end of our trip was spent in Ireland. As I was using hotel points for every single night aside from our few nights in San Marino, I scoured options with the currencies we had. Without any Radisson points (at the time), award options outside Dublin were pretty limited. I finally settled on staying at the Sheraton Athlone for three nights, with another 5 in Dublin at the Hilton. Why? Because those were literally the points I had left. I hadn’t even heard of Athlone until the trip, but the hotel and town looked nice, and simply exploring the countryside after two packed weeks exploring Italy sounded lovely.

What’s in Athlone?

Ireland has probably the easiest requirements of any country I’ve ever seen for U.S. citizens. We had an issue leading up to this trip where I had to renew my passport last-minute due to Schengen Visa requirements (to play it safe). Italy requires 6 months remaining on your passport to enter.

Ireland? Your passport could be expiring next week, and they’d welcome you in. Just leave before it expires. That’s all.

So I didn’t expect any hassle getting through immigration. Everywhere I’ve been, it’s the typical questions: where are you staying? How long will you be here? Where did you arrive from?

But I was taken aback when the immigration officer asked me, “what’s in Athlone?” Um. I don’t know? Shouldn’t you know more about your country than me?

“Do you have family there?”

“No. We’re just visiting.”

“First time in Ireland?”

“Yes.”

“Why Athlone?”

“Um….” *I really didn’t know how to respond*

At this point, I was starting to panic inside. She was so deadpan and just stared at me intently. I didn’t know where this was going. Had I made some mistake by choosing to stay in Athlone? Were we going to be detained?

I finally sputtered: “I just thought it sounded like a nice place to visit?”

She finally broke. Her eyes rolled, and she cracked a smile. “You should at least head out to Galway! There’s nothing to do or see in Athlone!”

Stamping and handing our passports back, I thanked her for the idea. My wife and I shared a chuckle. Here we were feeling like we’re being interrogated, and she is just concerned about our choice of destination.

Conclusion

For the record, Athlone is a perfectly charming and sleepy little Irish town. It was nice to have literally nothing on the schedule for a couple days. We enjoyed the Sheraton, lazily explored the Athlone “castle”, and took a boat ride up the River Shannon.

But I’ll agree that it wasn’t the most picturesque or exciting first taste of Ireland. I’d never felt harassed by an immigration official until that moment. In hindsight, she was just trying to be helpful. but remembering the situation will always bring a smile to my face.