Thoughts of Ireland

Our trip to Ireland is over. Our version was an experience that is not for everyone. When you spend 10 days and nights in another country and every night is spent in a different place you have a recipe for turmoil or chaos.  Sometimes the chaotic events that happen during something like this are what help to shape it into an unforgettable ("Ha, remember that time when we...") experience.  I was glad to get home.  In retrospect, I found I didn't need to actually get home to feel that certain sense of relief--I just needed to jump the final hurdle. That meant sitting down on the plane in New York for that final leg home. All the rest of the potential problems were behind me at that point. I couldn't be denied anything or be late for anything any longer. I was coasting. Finally.

The whole trip was not stressful but there were several times that were stressful to me. One of them happened almost the instant we got there: The money exchange. It was somewhat surprising to all of us exactly how pitiful our once plentiful piles of money looked after they were changed into Euro's. After divvying it up among us, it was apparent to me that we should have brought more cash. Then came the rental car. I hate (strong word, but appropriate here) renting cars. They are extremely necessary to me because I don't like the lack of flexibility and freedom that come with tours or groups. I need freedom to stop and go whenever and wherever I want. I think we all need it.  Anyway, to me the process of renting a car is like buying anything with a contract. The unknowns cause me anguish and unease.  As soon as I got to the desk it started stressing me out. The car I had reserved for us was too small. I didn't think it would be, based on what was on the website when I first signed up several months earlier, but it was apparent when the guy at the desk showed me what I had reserved. Maybe it's a mild form of "bait & switch" where they don't give you quite all the information when you're making a choice online. Either way, I was faced with a necessary upgrade for us all to fit into it. After all, we and our luggage were going to be living in it. Then comes the part I hate the most. The insurance. The guilt, the worry, the potential for disaster--all the ingredients that make up insurance. Add to that: the unknown of operating in a foreign country. I opted to waive the insurance (as I usually do) and in doing so was informed that they would put a $2000 deposit on my card--refunded when I brought the car back in unscathed. What escaped me was the fact that what that actually meant was they had charged me an additional $2000. That meant the $3000 Visa card I planned on using for most of our purchases was suddenly full and unusable. I didn't find that out until later when I tried to use it for something. Fortunately, I had other cards. Learning to drive on the "wrong" side of the road? That wasn't so bad. My left arm isn't used to shifting a manual transmission, but it was fine. I'm very adept at driving a stick, but managed to kill it a lot during our time there. It was mostly do to the fact that I was so absorbed in reading signs and watching traffic patterns that I failed to put it back into 1st gear when I came to a stop. Tsk, tsk.  Oh, and did I like the Saab turbo diesel we rented.  You betcha--it was very powerful, and very quiet.

It took us some time to get our roaming and navigating in order, but when we did Ireland grew on us. I really liked driving into the villages. The rows of buildings and storefronts that were painted with bright, cheery colors became one of my favorite sights. I didn't have the pleasure of gazing at them too often though--I was working at not getting lost (which didn't always work as planned).  If I had to do it all over again, I would like to be able to take more pictures in the villages. There was so much to see that is different than we're used to.

The Irish people seemed every bit the same as we are. They didn't look any different or dress any different. (Yes, there were more people with red hair.) What was different about the Irish people became apparent when you talked to them. They gushed with information and passion. If you were asking directions you got it explained two or three times or even more. You got the impression that they'd actually drive you there if you wanted them to. When you asked someone about a particular area or attraction, the pride in what they had to offer visitors from distant places seemed evident.  It's like they were immediately transported into our shoes.  There were a couple of times when we "knew" of something and a local didn't, and they seemed puzzled or disturbed.  I don't know if it's because they had failed as a prideful guide to visitors from other lands, or because it was secret and we weren't supposed to know about that particular place.

The whole country seemed to be built of stone. The fences that lined all the roads and separated the fields, the ruined abbeys and castles, and all sorts of things all seemed to be made of rocks and stone. Maybe that is the reason the entire country seemed to made of beautiful rolling hills and checkerboard fields and pastures of varying shades of greens and yellows--because all the rocks had been picked up! I imagine that way back in the days of early history it was a very different place. All I know is, now it is probably one of the cleanest, greenest places I have ever seen. It's no wonder they call it The Emerald Isle.

Our drive into the country of North Ireland was different. Maybe it was because it was looming in my mind as an unknown where everything was different, or maybe because it was raining and dreary that particular day.  Whatever the reason, it made me a little less comfortable. The driving rain accompanied us all the way to our first stop at the Giant's Causeway, but it did stop at that point.  Some of the most incredible coastal scenery we've ever seen greeted us as we meandered the upper coast of North Ireland. The grassy pastures seemed to go right up to the edge of the sea. Some were cliffs, some were rolling hills that went to the water's edge. To me, there was just a different feel to Northern Ireland. When we left the coastal areas the weird feeling came back.  As I said to various people a few times since, it was as if we might have crossed the border from West Germany into old Communist East Germany. The buildings and architecture was different. Everything in the Republic had character and individuality. Even in a village where all the businesses were part of one long building, each one was painted its own bright color, lettered with its own unique sign style, or had different doors or windows. It was all bright, different, artsy, and unique. In North Ireland, everything was all monochromatic. Buildings were all built of brick or concrete, and had no colors. They were all unchanging from beginning to end. The towns and cities had a "dormitory" or "military" feel to them. At one point, Sarah commented that she missed the Republic of Ireland. I agreed. I think we all agreed. As beautiful as parts of the northern coastline were, we were all indeed very glad to cross back over the invisible border into our friendly Republic of Ireland. It was our friend. You could almost feel a collective sigh from us all.

Some of the things about Ireland I found interesting are probably the same across Europe. The buses
that we came to call "bug buses" because of their unique mirrors that looked like antennae for example. They were everywhere. Also, in all the places we stayed or visited only one time did I see a sink that had a single water faucet for hot and cold. All the others had a separate hot and cold tap. More often than not, something was substandard about one or the other too, be it pressure, flow, or temperature. One thing I never expected was "clean" diesel fuel. I hate diesel vehicles--mainly because of the smell. It's either the smell of the fuel itself, or it's the smell of the exhaust. Either way, I've always had a sour feeling toward diesels. In Ireland, however, diesels are different. I found out because the rental car guy "sold" me on one. I only took it because he assured me that diesel was cheaper in Ireland. You know what? He was right. Unlike in the US, it's a full 10¢ cheaper than unleaded. It's also completely different. There is little or no smell in the liquid itself and in the exhaust. I was very impressed. You'd think that a country as big as the US would have done the "clean" diesel thing long before now. Maybe it's the fact that our fuel is among the cheapest in the world. Many Americans don't know how good they've got it until they pay for fuel in another country.

All said and done, we logged over 1700 miles, took (collectively) over 2,000 pictures each, and spent way too much money.  But isn't that what a trip of this magnitude is all about?  It wasn't a vacation--it was a trip.  We ate fantastic food, stood in places that were rich in history, talked with great people--all the things that make a trip into a true experience.  While we had a few things go wrong, none were serious or out of the ordinary.

Okay, we've been to Iceland, Ireland, and Sarah's been to India.  What's next?  Italy?