Visiting a foreign country, especially for the first time, is always an exciting adventure. You just hope it’s not too exciting, if you know what I mean. After all, learning about a new culture, interacting with locals, and experiencing first hand how things are different from the US of A adds a breadth and depth to one’s life experience that is hard to put into words.
I am by no means an experienced world traveler but I have been to Mexico, the Netherlands, the Republic of Georgia, several Caribbean Islands and California. I may be wrong, but I have the distinct impression that the Golden State has already seceded from the Union, but forgot to tell the rest of us. Now, I can add Ireland to the list of countries I have visited. Oddly enough, I felt more at home in Ireland than I ever have in California.
My wife, thee of the Irish accent and Irish passport, planned a two-week trip that would allow us to see the sites, visit her extended family and conduct some genealogy research. No sooner had we arrived in Dublin and rented a car then a little voice spoke inside my head, “Buddy, we are not in Georgia anymore!” After checking in with the Hertz Rental Car agent, his parting words were, “I hope you enjoy some good crack while you are here?” Seeing my puzzled look, my wife pushed me down the hall and said she would explain later. No, I had not been offered drugs, she explained. “Craic” in Irish may sound like the word crack but means fun or good conversation. Ah, that explains the bemused look on the rental car agent’s face. Note to self, brush up on local slang.
Given my wife’s heritage, I suspect Ireland will see us again soon. Not trusting my memory, as I think the thumb drive in my brain is approaching capacity, I decided to write a few additional notes to self for future reference.
- The power outlets are different. If you want to charge your laptop or iPhone, better bring power adapters.
- The Euro is in better shape than the US Dollar. We did the currency exchange in Atlanta before flying out. One dollar was equivalent to 0.78 Euro. We also discovered that outside of Dublin, it may be difficult to find a place that will do currency exchange. Ironically, in Kilkenny, the Bank of Ireland provides that service only for their account holders. But next door, Dor’s Ice Cream Shop will do up to $100. And one doesn’t even have to buy an ice cream.
- Europeans generally do not drink iced drinks. The tea is hot, not iced or sweetened. The soft drinks are often referred to as sparkling water and are served cold with maybe an ice cube or two if you are lucky. In a petrol shop that included a sub shop, I noticed an ice machine and asked for a full cup of ice. The clerk looked at me as if I had asked for a ticket to the moon. She laughed, filled the cup and said, “No charge.” Apparently, laughter at my expense was worth the cost of a cup of ice.
- Most hotels, at least the ones in smaller communities, do not have air conditioning. Ireland is essentially on the same latitude as Canada. Want to cool off, open a window. Our first week in Ireland the temperatures ranged from a high of 16 to a low of 9. Keep in mind they use Celsius to measure the temperature. In Fahrenheit, the temps ranged from 60 to 48. But the second week, a record heat wave hit. People were panicking, papers warned about leaving pets and children in cars, hotels were offering fans for rooms, and columnists lampooned that the Irish might have to buy a second pair of shorts. The high that day was 27 C or 82 F. I fear for any Irish who visit us during a Georgia summer. Humidity in Georgia is spelled S-A-U-N-A.
- The full “Irish breakfast” includes something called “black pudding.” Let me tell ya, it ain’t pudding. My wife acknowledged it is an acquired taste, which she apparently had acquired. I never did. What is it? You really don’t want to know.
I will long remember the hospitality of the Irish, the stunning views of the lush green landscape, and the ever-present rock walls and hedges. Yet the most exciting thrilling moments came while driving.
In Ireland, like England, the driver sits on the right side of the car and drives on the left side of the road. Having never driven on the left side of the road, my wife was understandably anxious as to how we might survive a road trip across the Emerald Isle with me at the wheel. She was very helpful, of course, offering unsolicited encouraging words on a rather frequent basis. Helpful hints, like “stay left….Stay Left…..STAY LEFT!!!!!!!”
In urban areas, I just followed the cars in front of me. Streets were narrow, and the lights were only slightly different from the US. Street signs were hard to read as they tended to be attached to the walls of buildings in small print. However, road signs were easy to understand. My favorite one stated: “Caution, side of road is unstable.” Second runner-up was “Traffic Calming Ahead – 400 m” which warned of a change in speed and the presence of rather bumpy speed ramps.
Then there were the roundabouts.
These traffic circles are intended to keep traffic flowing. As one of Patrice’s relatives commented, “The Irish do not believe in stopping or yielding.” Ireland roadways have almost as many roundabouts as they do pubs, aka Public Houses. And they have a plethora of pubs. The car GPS system was helpful and necessary always telling me “at the next roundabout, take the second exit.” Thank God for GPS or I might still be driving in circles.
We drove 1,000 miles, excuse me I should have said 1,621 kilometers in a country the size of Indiana. About a third of those miles occurred on back country roads as we drove through small communities visiting family and searching out thousand-year-old cemeteries. If you ever plan to drive these Six Flag thrill rides disguised as roads, here are a few survival tips.
- Country roads are narrow and curvy and usually both at the same time.
- Locals treat speed limits as mere suggestions.
- There are no shoulders. Roadsides either have an 8-foot hedge or a rock wall.
- Roads are usually just wide enough that your outside mirrors can play kissy-kissy with those of oncoming traffic.
- Sometimes you have to come to a full stop and ease your way past the oncoming car, who may or may not follow your lead.
- Use both hands on the wheel. I promised the rental car agent upon returning the car that the indentations in the steering wheel made by my intensely focused steel-handed grip will surely not be permanent.
- Slow down on every curve, as you do not know what is around the bend, either an oncoming car, a horse, a flock of sheep, a walking child, or a Lamborghini tractor that takes up 2/3 of the road. We saw them all.
During one of our souvenir stops my wife insisted I buy a little sign that spouted a philosophical truism, “If at first, you don’t succeed, try it your wife’s way.” This was a not-so-subtle reminder of the moment at the rental car counter when the agent inquired what kind of insurance I wanted to purchase. In the States, my State Farm policy covers rental cars. No such coverage here. We had two choices, a policy with a $2,000 deductible or one that had a zero deductible. My penny-pinching wife squeezed my hand and said in an unusually insistent tone, “Get the zero deductible.” Now having driven the back roads of Ireland with the constant sound of hedges brushing up against the car, I must admit, my wife’s way was prudent. No doubt, that little sign will soon find a prominent place to be displayed in our home.
We’re home now, back in the all-too-familiar heat and humidity of the American South, filled with the fondest of memories and already planning another trip. However, my wife does have one final responsibility as we readjust to American life. As we drive down our county roads, she is now inclined to say, “stay right,……Stay Right…..STAY RIGHTTTTT!