After a bad start (although the morning flight left the gate on time, it was kept waiting for an hour for a slot from Air Traffic control), my first day in Ireland has gone very well, and concerns about huge hidden expenses, at least on the travel side, have evaporated.
I spent most of the afternoon exploring Limerick City, and it's a curious combination of modern, trendy shopping arcades full of bijoux (spelling?) shops and restaurants, quaint castle-walled shops and museums, and then sudden areas of what can only be described as graffiti-strewn slums, all piled up and mixed in together.
First impressions are that it'll be a fun place to live for a while.
Perhaps the biggest surprise is encountering so few Irish people in the shops and restaurants. English is definitely not the first language for the waiters and shop assistants I encountered in profusion today. It seems it's not just London that's been subject to the great Baltic invasion!
It was a surprise to discover that the Hilton Hotel, which is my accommodation for this first few days, has only been open for a few weeks - and it shows. The restaurant (free meal included on your first night - hoorah!) is excellent, the staff friendly and attentive, and the location is superb, overlooking as it does the river and main City just a couple of minutes walk away across a bridge. But there's those tell-tale signs of a new building that's not quite finished: the smell of fresh paint seems to be everywhere, and the air conditioning in the humid, swelteringly hot room isn't working.
Limerick City itself reminds me in some ways of Reading's Oracle Centre with its busy little restaurants and up-market shopping arcades, and my new flat (as of Monday) definitely reminds me of my sister's flat overlooking the canal near there. Apparently costing over 330,000 Euro's to purchase it's a tiny, 'modern' flat overlooking the river, and just a couple of minutes walk from the City Centre. What I'd call a typical modern bijoux 'buy to rent' property. My landlord, Patrick, who I'd only spoken to over the phone after the agency who got me this contract put us in touch, is a 26 year-old trainee accountant who bought his flat in October last year, only to have the relationship he was in fall apart a few weeks ago, leaving him with a mortgage he can't afford to pay on his own. Which is good news for me, if a bit of a nightmare for him! My room might be small by my usual standards, but it has an en-suite bathroom, the location really couldn't be better and the spartan feel to the place (a lounge with a TV, some simple furniture and maybe a dozen CDs and DVDs) is a refreshing change from my overflowing flat in London.
Patrick himself is the sort of polite young man who seems all too rare these days. He's a smoker, but made a point of asking if I wanted him to go outside whenever he needed a cigarette, rather than adopting the attitude of 'This is my flat and I'll do what I want'. He seems to be coping with what is obviously a broken heart very well, by filling his spare time with activities (Monday, Wednesday and Friday nights he's not going to be around because he's started Martial Arts classes to take his mind off things and keep busy after work). I think the decision to take a room in a shared flat instead of an expensive hotel is going to prove to be the right decision.
Even more promising is discovering that the work place isn't as far outside Limerick as I'd been told. A brisk 40 minute walk would cover the distance from the flat, and there's a bus at 15 minute intervals which costs about £1 each way, so worries about expensive taxi's are no longer an issue. If I can resist the temptation to face the weekend commute from hell back to London I might even make more money than is required to pay my mortgage back home!
Of course the real proof of the pudding will be in finding out what the work itself entails, and what the people there are like. Tomorrow I will find out! If you're a friend or relative reading this please cross everything you've got that it turns out as well as the accommodation and travel aspects today appear to have!