Friday, September 3, 2010

Ireland: Day One

Originally we had planned on going to my own Swiss Municipal, but due to a variety of factors, Switzerland just wasn't going to work. So, instead, we decided to head for Ireland. Very different locations, but in the planning process, a very small change for us.

I did my research, looking up Ireland and what people recommended we see in Ireland. No big deal. I planned and laid out an organized agenda for our travels through Ireland. Since it was to be a very brief trip (arriving around 11:00 on Monday, leaving around 12:30 on Thursday), I had us going to see a few specific things, but not going crazy traveling everywhere.

Originally I had planned on our traveling North to see Brú na Bóinne (neolithic tomb) and possibly Trim Castle in Meath and then West to Westport, climbing Croagh Patrick and driving down to Galway, and then driving back to Dublin and spending our last full day there.

However, when we arrived in Dublin and went down to get our car, a few things occurred to alter our plans rather drastically. Actually, really just one thing occurred. We were talking to the agent at the Enterprise desk (fantastic service, by the way) (especially given that when we first arrived and gave her our reservation information she informed me that I had made it for the wrong day. That's what happens when you forget that you are flying out on one day and arriving on another) and she asked where we were going and we explained that we were headed to Meath. She then asked what we were planning on seeing and we told her. She explained that the reason she asked was because she had used to live up in Meath and that there really wasn't much there. We then asked for her recommendation and she laid out a nice little drive. So, step one: Chuck the pre-made plans.

We got our car (a cute little Fiat Panda) and took off in the direction of Galway. Before too long we stopped to get some fuel and realized that we couldn't put the car (manual) into reverse. We were on the verge of calling the car place to get their recommendation on what to do when we looked in the book and realized that the gear shaft had a ring on it that needed to be lifted in order to go into reverse. Silly us...

Cruising down the road to the song below we enjoyed the beauty of the countryside (or at least what we could see from the motorway) (although we eventually got onto the smaller roads where we could really see what was around us).

They had a kind of interesting thing in Ireland. While many of the tolls along the road were paid on the road, there were also some that just notified you of the toll, requiring you to pay it by 8:00 p.m. the next day. So we stopped (at the same time we figured out the whole reverse thing) and paid it at a gas station. And got a Mars bar for good measure.

Farther down the road we stopped for a bite to eat (I'm very slightly ashamed to say we got something at McDonalds (something we would normally never do!) but they had much better chips (fries) than you'd find in the states, as well as wraps and Mars Bars shakes.) and a quick nap and then continued on, hugging the left side of the road.

Having lived in Wales for a short period of time, I always enjoyed the bilingual signs. I usually had a pretty good idea how to pronounce them though, as well as a pretty good idea what they meant regardless of the translation. No such luck in Ireland. I guess I need to work on my Irish Gaelic.

We continued towards Galway and then curved South/Southwest towards the Cliffs of Moher. We realized very quickly on those tiny roads that it was a very good thing that we had asked for the smallest car they could give us because the roads were very narrow (also because in Ireland you have to pay extra for car insurance...probably the result of too many stupid American drivers not recognizing which side of the road they needed to drive on). Narrow as in, sitting on the passengers side of the car (the left side) I felt like I was constantly cringing as the bushes and brush flashed by me outside my window. I wouldn't have been comfortable sticking my hand out the window. Even opening my window on some of those roads felt a little threatening, like the branches would reach in and grab me.

At one point it became even more abundantly clear that the small car was a good idea because on one of the narrowest roads of the drive we were following a large tour bus and a semi-truck came along in the other direction. The tour bus ended up needing to reverse, along with the twenty-something cars behind it (including us). It was a painful moment in the driving. I've no idea how the semi-truck managed at all on those roads. Particularly on the hair pin turns that we encountered a little further along the road. Scariest Job Ever: Tour bus driver.

It was kind of funny. On those backroads the speed limit was usually 100 KmH. All I can say is: Yeah Right. Well, sometimes.

Along the way the road was often edged in the most beautiful orange and red flowers. I'm not entirely sure what they are called, but it reminded me of fireweed in the states.

Taking the scenic route along the cliffs we found blackberries, a small castle tower, and a beautiful house ruin. It is amazing how many ruins there were like that all over the place. Finally arriving at the Cliffs of Moher we buzzed through the museum/gift shop and then went out onto the cliffs. It was very beautiful.

There were also biting gnats which may have taken away from the entire ambiance slightly, but not too much. The Cliffs were beautiful and the rock they had used to make stairs/fence were also beautiful. There was a poster for marathon held at the cliffs this weekend. Maybe I'll have to train for that...and run my first marathon there. I can't imagine that being a bad thing. :) Although, I do have to wonder a little where people run in Ireland. The roads really weren't pedestrian friendly. They were hardly car friendly. Maybe the Irish just prefer moor running.

We finally left and headed for Limerick. It was a pretty low key drive. No more semi-trucks. Almost to Limerick we passed Bunratty Castle and the thought struck us to maybe stay at the hotel there, if it was in the castle. So we turned around and drove off the road in a few places trying to find the appropriate exit ("Right HERE?") but finally did arrive only to realize it was just a hotel next to the castle. So on we drove to Limerick to a very nice bed and breakfast. Out for dinner and then to bed.

A perfect first day.

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