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Our Week in Ireland

Our Week in Ireland
via Air France La Première
August 2016

Mrs. SFO777 and I are off to Ireland today to meet our OC travel friends for a week in the Emerald Isle.  They left Friday after I got them two last minute Lufthansa First seats on the evening LAX-FRA nonstop.

The idea of Ireland started last summer after our fabulous Belmond/Orient Express barge cruise in the South of France.  Belmond had announced their new Grand Hibernian train touring around Ireland.   We booked almost a year ago, but delays in completing the train resulted in them canceling the 1st three weeks, including our week 3 trip.  Since we had already planned for Ireland, we just made other hotel and tour arrangements.  We saved money on the deal and received a sizable "we're sorry" discount on a future Belmond train or cruise.  Yay.
After our amazing Air France experience last year, we are both excited to be back on Air France and in La Première for the first of three long haul La Première flights in the next 6 weeks.   Today, we are flying out of SFO as the return of our ex-OSL ticket from last year.  So first stop is our local John Wayne Airport for the quick flight to SFO.  Or so we thought.  SFO weather and ATC delays gave us an extra hour on the ground at SNA as we waited for the ATC OK to depart.  Fortunately, I always build in 3-4 hour connect time on separate ticket connections like today.   
With only 20 minutes before our original boarding time and before any announced delays, we passed on the crowded Admirals Club and head for Gate 12.
Yeah, she looks like she's headed to the right city.  As Mrs. SFO777 noted, no doubt she looked in the mirror this morning and said "damn I look good today".  LOL.
Our first ATC delay.
And another one.
OK, time for something to eat.
Santa Ana-San Francisco
United Express 5337
10:47a-12:17p (sked)
12:13p-1:35p (actual)
August 21, 2016
Seats 3CD
After sitting for 90 minutes at the gate and watching one delay after another, Mrs. SFO777 decided she wanted to stand and be gate lice today.  You go girl.  No Global Service, military in uniform or families with small children under the age of 2, so we boarded at 11:45a.
I just love when an unfiltered Mrs. SFO777 speaks her mind.  She wasn't expecting a United Express flight. so I got an memorable earful as we took our seats.  I know now to write to stuff down so I have her exact words today...
"… What kind of a fricking plane is this?  This is not a real plane!… You never said it was United Express, you just said United...
A few seconds later, more good ones…
"... We waited all that time for this?  What's the point of being in First?"
And my favorite of the morning...
"… Why don't we charter next time?  How much would that cost?..."
UA messaging.  Usually pretty good but a little late on the last delay.
On the other hand, pleasant FA Ricardo offered an open bar PDB and was great on the short flight.
OK, I guess this is not so bad.  United's inflight entertainment system is working and Mrs. SFO777 watches a movie.
We landed at 1:20p or about an hour late, and the did a few loops around the taxiways as our gate was still occupied. 
We pulled up to the gate at 1:35pm and headed for the SFO branch of Yannkee Pier, of our of faves when we lived in San Francisco. 
We both had the seafood tacos, one shrimp, the other blackened snapper.

At around 2:15p we headed for the Air Train and the short ride to the International Terminal.

To the La Première counter at Air France check-in, where a friendly agent completed our check in and summoned a La Première colleague to personally escort us to security and the lounge.

... where we used our CLEAR cards to jump the queue since AF is not a PreCheck participant...

... meeting our rep inside security.

And then off to the Air France/KLM lounge.

Which is where the old Delta lounge used to be on the lower level just inside the lounge doors.

A pretty basic and crappy lounge with a reasonable attempt to segregate La Première passengers for the hoi polloi in Business Class.  Not luxurious by any stretch of the imagination but I'm not sure what more they can do with only one F flight a day. This small space used to be the Business center when it was a Delta Sky Club.  

Ordinarily I would blur faces of other First Class pax, but these two going back home to France were Business Class passengers at best. Not sure how they got in and why they were allowed to stay, perhaps friends and family, but they had grabbed the best seats and were happily stuffing their faces most of the time we were there.  

There was a limited self serve food and spirits set up...

... as well as a menu with a few substantial and fairly attractive dining options. A very pleasant attendant was assigned to the room and was eager to please.

Finally convincing Mrs. SFO777 to try her freshly baked chocolate chip cookies.

While I went for some cheese and authentic French macarons.

Some pics of the rest of the very crowded lounge.

But with a great view...

At around T-35, our La Première rep Peggy came to escort us to our gate.

As a life long Cavaliers fan who thoroughly enjoyed our 1st NBA Championship ever over the overhyped and overrated Warriors, LOL on selling these now useless T-shirts.

San Francisco-Paris
Air France 83
4:00p-11:35a +1
August 21, 2016
Seats 3DG

The best part of the personal escort to the plane is that we completely bypassed the gate counter...

... and boarded thru a private locked door to the F only jet bridge.  Sweet.

The A380 La Première cabin is on the lower deck.  It is 9 seats in a 1-2-1 configuration with a single seat in row 1.   Please and spacious cabin which worked well and afforded great privacy since we were in the middle in row 3 with no one in the window seats and the other 2 passengers in the window seats in row 2.  Comfy but dated seats and no where near as elegant and spectacular as the 4 seat 77W cabin.

Our cabin crew was warm and friendly.  Strange PDB service as we were offered water only with the door open.  Apparently Air France didn't want to pay taxes on the champagne although we were told "we aren't permitted to offer champagne until the doors are closed."  Seriously?  

I was a little concerned about the proximity to the galley but in reality, once the curtains were closed after take-off, there was virtually no noise I could hear.

As soon as the doors closed, one of our FAs came by with the Bollinger.

Today's wine list.  Nothing over top, but reasonable and good middle of the road offerings.

Major oops as I apparently the pics of the menu details.   There were four main choices including duck a seafood and a pasta. 

And the special of the day, which we both had was the Chicken.  It was Mrs. SFO777's first choice but my second as the they ran out of duck (we only have 2 today) despite only 1 passenger being asked to meal choice before us.  OK, not sure what that was all about. 

Once in the air, our cabin crew prepped for dinner.

And closed the solid curtains separating us from the world for the next 10 hours.

IFE is a far cry from the new 77W version and like the F cabin, really needs to be upgraded and refurbished.

Our First Class Flight Attendant Berglind was friendly and accomodating and provided excellent service.     

The amuse bouche of asian veggies, scallop, duck proscuitto and beet and goat cheese was excellent.

There we are...

The pea soup was delicious.

I decided to do some wine tasting tonight and Berdlind was happy to oblige.

The Lobster salad on a bed of melon was wonderful.

Nice fresh salad.

And the star of the night...

... was the chicken.

Absolutely wonderful, poached in chicken broth enhanced with essence of truffle.

Cheese course although not from a cart or tray.   With port.

I couldn't decide on dessert, so Berglind insisted that I try both.  And the Sauternes.

OK, the caramel lava cake was spectacular.

No mas, no mas.  Our beds were made for us on the adjoining window seats, Mrs. SFO777 in 3A and me in 3L

But before my Ambien kicked, I explored the "bar"... meh...

... and took a peek upstairs at Business Class.

Air France has a excellent looking new BEST business class seat in 1-2-1 configuration but not on this plane.  The old 2-2-2 doesn't look that attractive to me.

Not sure what the heck this space is supposed to be.  Seems like AF couldn't figure it out either and decided to do... absolutely nothing.

All that space and this is best they could do for a Business Class lav??

Back downstairs in First, I slept like a baby for nearly 6 hours and was awakened only by the gentle nudge from Berlind.   I went to the lav to change of passed on breakfast. 

We landed on time and then took the usual 10 minute scenic route around CDG...

... pulling up next to another A380.

In summary, I love Air France service and our crew was exceptional.  But I would not fly on their A380 when I had a choice of the 77W or Lufthansa First.   The cabin is simply too dated and too open.  With only 4 passengers, the lack of privacy was not a problem.  But with a full cabin, it certainly would have been.  Also, the single small lav and a small changing room is simply unacceptable for a cabin of this size.  Air France can't refurbish this plane soon enough.  Fortunately, our September Paris trip is on the 77W both ways.

Two La Première reps met us on the jet bridge as the door opened.  One rep took Mr. 2A to customs and baggage claim, while the 2nd rep took us and Ms. 2L to a separate van for the ride to the La Première lounge

Down the jet bridge elevator.

To our van.

A few minutes later, we arrived and the La Première Lounge.

Upstairs in the gorgeous First Class Lounge.


A nice selection of serve yourself options.

But the best part was the Alain Ducasse menu.

Mrs. SFO decided to rest up in the sleep area while I had some lunch.

The coquillettes avec jambon/truffe noir was to die for, especially paired with a 1er Cru Pulingny.  OMG... heaven.

After lunch, back to join Mrs. SFO for a short nap before our connecting flight to Dublin.

Complimentary treatments are available should one desire.


Air France CityJet 1116
AvroJet 85
August 22, 2016
Seats 2DF


At around T-25, our La Première rep came over and escorted us downstairs to our car for the ride to our CityJet flight.

And the short walk to our plane.

And extra leg room bulkhead seats 2DF.

I wasn't hungry at all but too one for the photo op.

OK, the desserts were really good, and the rest of the meal looked pretty tasty.

Our descent to Dublin. 

No meet and greet here, most likely because we were on a separate ticket for this leg.

Strange trek to customs and baggage claims as we had to wait for trucks to pass before crossing an active roadway.

Customs was a breeze and we were outside in a few minutes where our driver Dave was waiting for the 90 minute drive to Ballyfin.

We departed Dublin airport around 5:30p and some 90 minutes later we arrived at one of the most wonderful and special hotels we have ever visited.  

Used as a school until 7 years ago, the buildings were completely restored to a simply marvelous Downton Abbey type home.

Our room, the Lady Kildare suite.

I ordered a capuccino for Mrs. SFO777 and it arrived within 5 minutes.  This type of service was a precursor to what would be a couple of days of absolutely flawless service by a most wonderful staff.

Cocktails and pupus before dinner.

My fois gras was divine.

Back in our room after dinner.

After a wonderful night's sleep, fabulous breakfast.

With it actively raining, we cancelled falconry and took golf carts for a leisurely tour of the grounds.

The shooting range.  OK, we'll be back here later.

Something called the Ice House... perhaps to store ice years ago??

Back at the front, just another of the wonderful staff... indeed a younger Simon Pegg double.

Time for a tour of this beautiful place.


OK, enough of this.  After our active morning LOL, let's head to the bar.

I don't do a lot of loo pics, but this one was pretty cool.

Time for lunch in the exquisite solarium.

By this time, it was nearly 4pm and time to head up to the shooting range to meet another staffer Glenn, who doubles as the shooting range guide.  What a character with an wonderful sense of humour.

After shooting and a rest, time to head for cocktails and pupus.

And another amazing meal.

Breakfast the next morning on getaway day.

What a extraordinary experience at s simply spectacular small hotel.  With only 12 occupied rooms (of 24) and massive grounds, most of the time it felt like we were the only guests there, and with personable, professional and simply extraordinary staff eager to satisfy every need.   The attention to detail was on a level that one rarely sees anywhere.    Ballyfin is one of the finest hotels that we have ever had to pleasure to visit. 

We bid adieu to the wonderful and special Ballyfin staff and  headed out for a day of touring on the way to Killarney, with our driver Patrick and a pretty cool set of wheels.  Just a little fog this morning. 

Which quickly disappated once we left the valley.   

Blue skies!  An apparent rarity in Ireland. 

Our first stop this morning was Limerick.

And St. John's Castle.

And then to Adare.

Where we stopped to lunch.

Nice atmosphere...

...but terrible, and pretty much inedible food.

We walked up the street to the main part of town.  

OK, this looks more like it.

The Irish Stew was much better.

Our next stop was the highight of the day... the Aviation Musuem at Foynes, dedicated to the Pan Am Yankee Clipper and recogniton of Foynes' place in aviation history as the 1st aviation bridge between Europe and America for passenger service in the mid to late 1930s.  Today, it is home to one to the original Yankee Clipper.

And aviation's first FIrst Class suite.

On board dining room.

And the galley!

Upstairs on the flight deck.

With cool simulated view from the cockpit.

Thru Listowel, on our way to Killarney.

Our home for the next two nights was the pleasant Killarney Park Hotel, perfectly located in the center of the charming city of Killarney.  

Our suite...


After a drink the hotel bar, we head a block and a half up the street to Ross Hotel and Cellar One.  

Nice atmosphere and good food.

After dinner, we explored Main Street. 

Due to insurance reasons??  LOL.

We spent part of the next day visiting our friends' family in nearby Listowel.   Then back to the hotel, drinks at the bar and then to Cronins, a local favourite.  Someone's having fun. 

The next morning, I headed out bright and early for a quick trip thru KIllarney National Park.  What a glorious calm and sunny morning.  

Ross Castle.

Pretty funny as our horse queues for the lights just like the cars.

None of us relished a 5+ hour drive from Killarny to Cong via the Cliffs of Moher as proposed on our initial itinerary.   With spectacular scenery all along the west coast, the idea of a helicopter just seemed to make sense, as long as the weather cooperated.   Just 5 minutes from The Killarney Park Hotel was the Killarney Racetrack where our chopper and pilot Liam met us at 10:45am.   We discussed with him what we wanted to see along the way and a few minutes later, we were airborne for a fabulous 90 minute trip to and up the coast, with sites that one just can't see from the ground. 

Ross Castle, which we had seen earlier that morning from the ground.

Less than 15 minutes after takeoff, we were at the coast which features one great looking golf course after another.

To Trump International at Doonbeg.

And the Cliffs of Moher, the scenic highlight of Ireland's spectacular west coast.

And continuing up the coast, now with dramatically different scenery...

... to Galway...

And finally to Ashford Castle.

The nearby town of Cong.

And turning back to Ashford Castle.

And a perfect landing on the castle's helipad.

After our grand arrival by helicopter...

... we checked in...

... took a wee tour and had lunch, whilst our rooms were being prepared.


The bar...

To Drawing Room for lunch and our first encounter with a service-challenged staff. 


Nice view though.

... absolutely horrid food.   Despite numerous RESERVED tables, without any guests the entire time we were there, we were seated at corner tables near the piano.  Our surly waiter snapped at one of our friends when she questioned the lack of a table cloth on their adjacent table.   We ordered lunch and wine, and this same waiter proceeded to empty the entire contents of our bottle of wine into our four glasses.  Huh?  No idea why or to where he disappeared, but fortunately he was replaced by a better waiter who knew how to pour wine properly, and did so on our second bottle.   As for lunch, it was virtually inedible.  

The chicken noodle soup was awful.  Campbell's would have been better.

But worst was the inedible tuna salad sandwich.

Which was mostly mayonnaise. 

OK, not a good start.  Our rooms were now ready so we headed upstairs to unpack and relax a bit.  

Pleasant room with strong period decor.  Nothing subtle here, but it works in a 13th century castle.

Nice view of the lake.

When we checked into our room, we were greeted with numerous embarrassing cards and notes addressing us as "Mr. SFO777 and Mrs. SoCal Friends", apparently assuming that we were swapping spouses this weekend. 
Nice enough room, but the more time you spend, the more you notice.  Like closet for hanging things but no drawers for clothes.  Our fireplace looked nice but didn't work.  I called the front desk and a guy from maintenance eventually came to check but was unable to get it working.  He said he needed to confer with colleagues and return later.  He never came back.

After my tour of the grounds and power nap, still no maintenance on the fireplace.   I called the front desk and the staff person assured me that she would send someone to fix it.  Not surprisingly, no one ever showed up that day.

Drinks in the bar before dinner...

And then across the bridge to Cullen's at the Cottage for dinner.

Dinner and in particular the service were quite good despite the constant menu references to and shilling for Ashford owner Bea Tollman, who seems quite full of herself.

After dinner and an Irish Coffee in the bar, we headed up to our room at around 10:30pm to find that no one had been in our room for turn down service or to fix the fireplace.  Apparently I had inadvertently pushed the small electronic Do Not Disturb button, which had letters too small for a normal person to read.  If the chap that showed us to our suite had explained this feature to us and that the traditional physical Do Not Disturb sign hanging on the door knob was only for show, perhaps I would have known.  I called the front desk to ask about turn down and was advised that housekeeping had gone home for the evening.  At 10:40pm?  While the front desk clerk valiantly attempted turn down, he admitted that he really didn't know what should be done.  So we were left on our own to turn down including figuring out how to close all the blinds and shutters, one of which was missing a knob, and had been for quite some time considering that the knob screw was painted over.  LOL.

The next morning, we ordered room service which, while delivered promptly, was missing an orange juice and a spoon for the cereal.  Also, the bathroom TV did not work.
At my request from the night before, the duty manager Michael called me around 9:30am.   I detailed all of the above problems and he assured me that they would be fixed and that "we'll be speaking later in the day".  I never heard from him again. 

Our first stop this morning was clay shooting.

Mrs. SFO777, who honed her skills trimming the rabbit population in our back yard in Denver, was really good at this. 

Back to castle...

For coffee... 

And a pit stop.

Yet another example of spotty service.

Before heading out to the highlight of our stay, Falconry.

Our wonderful Falconry trainer/guide with one of our two beautiful Harris Hawks.  There are absolutely wonderful creatures and guide docile, although he advised us to lose if we got into a staring contest.  LOL.  They will sit quietly on a glove on your left arm and are trained to return as soon as you stretch out your arm.  Of course, the fact that they get food when they return trumps any affection they have for you.

And the main meal at the end of the walk... a baby chick.

The Quiet Man house, featured in the 1952 movie with John Wayne and Maureen O'Hara, which was filmed at Ashford Castle and adjacent town of Cong. 

What a treat to spend an hour with the beautiful and fun creatures.

Over to lunch at the Cottage.

We returned later in the day to find that while the room had been properly cleaned by housekeeping, they forgot to leave wash cloths.  The TV was now functioning but the fireplace still didn't work. I called the front desk to complain about the fireplace, and I was told that there was "miscommunication in the maintenance staff" but they would send someone again.

And dinner later that evening in the Dungeon.  Wagyu corned beef was sensational.

We returned after dinner to a properly turned down room and a roaring fireplace.  However, the fireplace once again failed to turn on the next morning.
While we enjoyed the activities at the castle, the multiple and continuing service failures during our stay were simply unacceptable, as was the distressing lack of responsiveness or even concern by managers on duty.   Based on our experience, both of us would be hard pressed to recommend Ashford Castle to anyone, especially at the rates they charge.