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Observations from our Ireland trip of May-June

Phoenix, Arizona
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Observations from our Ireland trip of May-June

First of all, thanks to everyone on TA for your information and insights! Now, here are some observations and thoughts from my May trip to Ireland with my daughter, Ashley. Please bear with my wordiness.

It looked like our carefully-planned itinerary would be undone by visits by the Queen and Obama. Fortunately, the five-day shutdown of the Rock of Cashel did not interfere. A cold, driving rain did, however.

Living in the western US, flying to and from Ireland seems to take infinitely longer than flying from the eastern US. Travelers back east have it easier – unless, of course, they’re dealing with delays at the NY area airports. We flew via Chicago to avoid that.

After 7 hours in transatlantic coach class, we eyed the first-class seats with envy. But of course, those passengers paid more for their comfort.

One of our “spinner” bags lost a wheel somewhere between Phoenix and Dublin. I imagine that some baggage handler has a display case holding his vast collection of broken luggage wheels – the same way that most people display their prized snow globes or cow creamers.

The first day of driving was NOT fun, especially after getting little sleep on the flight over. A right-hand steering wheel and driving on the left were new experiences for me. And sitting in the left seat, panic and terror were new experiences for Ashley. I finally realized that “nap of the earth” driving was not necessary. So I learned to become very intimate with the road’s centerline, then I progressed to easing a bit over a bit when we had no oncoming traffic. All of this reduced our stress levels dramatically.

“Sharing the road” takes on a new meaning in Ireland – especially on narrow rural roads and in small towns. I learned to look ahead for pull-over spots in case I met someone. I appreciated the rare straightaways on back roads. Driving at 50 kph on those stretches felt like we were nearly going sonic. One back road was so narrow that both sides of our car got brushed by foliage – at the same time! Early in our trip, I was unimpressed with the “R” roads, but I was thankful to get back on an “R” again. I’ll never speak unkindly of them again.

After the fifth day of driving, I progressed to the point where I could drive a curvy road with oncoming traffic and still hold a conversation that required more than one-word responses.

We appreciated the “count-down” signs we saw before exits, on the “M” and “N” roads. A sign with three stripes, then a sign with two stripes, then one with one stripe, then the exit. Very handy.

Because I always hold a steering wheel at the 3 and 9 o’clock positions, I couldn’t easily wave to oncoming drivers as we negotiated our way past each other. I don’t wish to be rude, so I’ll have to invent “The Waver”, a motorized fake hand mounted on the dashboard. It will be voice activated to give a friendly wave. “Wave On!” “Wave Off!” The Waver!

We learned that after you accidentally drive over a tree branch in the road, if you see fluid dripping from underneath you car, you should check the color and smell of the fluid. In our case, I was afraid it was oil or transmission fluid. But the mechanic determined that it was just water condensate from our air conditioner. Waiting for his arrival cost us 2 hours, but we adjusted our plans. He phoned while en route to see where we were parked. When I replied that we were in our car next to a pub, he asked, “Well, why aren’t ye in the pub, getting a pint?!” It was an excellent question, but I had no excellent answer. Alas, I missed an opportunity to enjoy another Smithwick’s.

Before this trip, I despised roundabouts in the US. I still don’t love them, but they do work well in Ireland – at least the ones without stoplights in them.

Phoenix, Arizona
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1. Re: Observations from our Ireland trip of May-June

Our Garmin GPS unit, “Sophie” did very well overall. She made a few mistakes like incorrect speed limits and a vacant lot where a gas station was supposed to be. In town centers with a number of close street intersections, we found that zooming in Sophie’s display helped us differentiate our route better. And as recommended in TA, we had a road atlas with us, and it was worth its weight in gold – even at $1500 per ounce.

Sophie had never heard of the Irish National Stud, but she guided us flawlessly to a nearby McDonald’s restaurant. To me, that speaks clearly about the power of multi-national corporations. I presume that the Queen and her entourage didn’t need their GPS units to find the National Stud. Or McDonald’s – “Would you like fries with that, Your Majesty?”

Sophie pronounced “quay” correctly as “key”, but “terrace” came out as “tay-rus”. Her pronunciation of other Irish names might have been correct, but we had no idea.

We were asked on several occasions if we had Irish ancestors. We replied that nope, we just wanted to visit Ireland.

We each bought an OPW Heritage Card, and they more than paid for themselves. It was a smart purchase.

During our first trip to a grocery store, I bought junk food because HEY, I’M ON VACATION! But after 3 days of snacking on cookies and candy, I went to the store for apples and granola bars. I guess that man does not live by chocolate alone.

Speaking of chocolate, Maltesers are way better than the malted milk balls we get in the US. The milk chocolate tastes the way chocolate should taste. My eyes – and taste buds – have been opened.

The flowers in Ireland are gorgeous in May, especially the fuchsias.

When I die, if I come back as a cow, I want to live in the idyllic emerald pastures of southern Ireland. All I would ask for are warm hands.

I paid 70 euro cents for a big, sturdy plastic shopping bag at a Dunnes store. We reused that bag during the rest of our trip, hauling stuff from one city to the next. It was one of my best purchases of our trip. Ashley pointed out that in the US, we Americans will have to be charged for our plastic bags before we get serious about using earth-friendly, reusable shopping bags.

Phoenix, Arizona
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2. Re: Observations from our Ireland trip of May-June

While eating in Cahir, a group of Americans sat near us for their meal. They all spoke with what I consider a neutral American accent. However, having spent several days enjoying the soft Irish brogue, their American speech nearly hurt my ears. If those diners had been Germans, my ears would have surely bled.

It was amazing to watch gannets plunging headfirst into the ocean off Slea Head for their meal. Our meals were more easily attainable.

In Kinsale, we saw a lady walking her dog. That’s nothing special, except that the dog held a large doughnut carefully in its mouth. He showed patience and discipline, and no doubt he was later rewarded for it.

My pre-trip research uncovered that sunrise would occur around 5:15 each morning. I cannot confirm that, as we were never up much before 8 AM.

Before Ashley and I left on our trip, I asked my wife what gift she’d like from Ireland. She insisted that I didn’t need to get her anything. But I ignored her, bringing back a silver necklace and a pair of mohair gloves from Dingle. She was very pleased, never saying, “Oh, no! You shouldn’t have!” Years of marriage have given me at least some smarts.

In Dublin, we saw FOUR McDonald’s restaurants during our 20-minute walk to the Literary Pub Crawl. Once again, the power of multi-national corporations…

We visited the Murphy’s Ice Cream shops in Dingle and the Temple Bar. Their Irish Cream and Brown Bread flavors are awesome.

After typing a few frustrating texts using my Verizon 30-day GSM cell phone, I was happy to get back home to my QWERTY phone. I had forgotten what a pain texting used to be.

At the end of our trip, I applied our remaining euro bills to our hotel bill, to avoid the currency conversion fees.

At the airport, I didn’t see any buckets for contributing loose change to charity. So we each bought a couple of candy bars from an airport vending machine. Converting our soon-to-be-unspendable Euro coins into soon-to-be-consumed sweets made sense to us. Besides… HEY, WE’RE STILL ON VACATION!

At the Dublin Airport, before we reached our gate, we showed our passports and boarding passes 5 or 6 different times, plus we got a couple of X-ray scans. I felt very secure, but I wondered why we had to keep proving who we were and why we belonged there – again and again.

In US Preclearance, we were pulled aside and sent to a waiting room because we visited the Irish National Stud. Once we assured the next agent that we hadn’t stepped in horse poo, we were allowed to proceed on. Woe is to he who steps in the poo!

A US radio host had predicted that the End Times would begin on Saturday, May 21. That date fell just 2 days into our 14-day visit. Ashley and I were distressed that we wouldn’t finish our trip. But, on the other hand, we were pleased that when the end came, at least we’d be in Ireland.

Phoenix, Arizona
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3. Re: Observations from our Ireland trip of May-June

In closing, here are a few recommendations. You’ve already read many of these on TA, but they’re worth repeating:

The more planning I do, the better our trip. But you should always be ready to wing it if an opportunity arises.

Unexpected delays and problems will likely crop up. Don’t get upset; just go with the flow and look on them as opportunities. Yes, it’s easier said than done, but do try.

Collecting our trip info (airline, rental car, accommodations, directions, etc.) into a notebook worked well for us.

I’m not a journaling guy, but each evening, I jotted down the highlights of the day. My notes will be useful if/when I write a personal trip report so that years from now, we can remember the names and details.

Get out and meet the Irish people. Doing so was a highlight of our trip. Even 2 minutes with an elderly Irish lady who hitched a ride with us uphill to the hotel in Listowel will always be a fond memory.

Don’t crowd too much into your time in Ireland. Don’t view everything through the windshield. Plus, you won’t have to review your pictures later, to see what you didn’t see during your trip.

We stayed 2 nights in most every city, with 3 nights in Dingle. If I did it again, I’d opt for fewer cities, but with 3 nights in each one.

And finally, you’ll love your time in Ireland. We did.

North Coast, N...
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for Northern Ireland
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4. Re: Observations from our Ireland trip of May-June

Brilliant report - it had me in stitches in places - especially with the driving comments!!!

Glad you enjoyed your trip :)

Tralee, Ireland
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5. Re: Observations from our Ireland trip of May-June

Hilarious and insightful - no wonder you had such a good time, you sound like one of our own!

County Meath...
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6. Re: Observations from our Ireland trip of May-June

Brilliant report,I am still laughing at some of it.

Glad you survived the driving experience in Ireland.

Western Ireland...
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for Southport, Connemara, County Clare, Portumna
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7. Re: Observations from our Ireland trip of May-June

You want to send that into one of the travel press's for publication. maybe send it over to Irish fireside it would go a storm over there. Glad you had a great time and I hope it was 70c not €70 for the bag.

http://irishfireside.com/contribute/

new york
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8. Re: Observations from our Ireland trip of May-June

Great trip report.... and I agree with all of your advice about staying in one place for more than a night.... Thanks for posting this!

Whitney, Texas
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9. Re: Observations from our Ireland trip of May-June

toooooo funny....thanks for the laugh....you are proof that if you want to have a good time, you have to have the mind set to do so instead of whining about the little things that inconvenience you and don't matter one wit in the end....

:-)

Limerick, Ireland
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10. Re: Observations from our Ireland trip of May-June

Thank you!!

Brilliant report, I am glad you both had such a good time.