My family traveled to Europe for a few weeks this last May and we spent a busy 3 full days in Ireland, driving across the beautiful green country. My better half planned this leg of the trip with her childhood friend, who lives in Ireland.
While my wife, our two kids and her friend all had a great time riding around in Ireland (at my expense of sweat and white knuckles) my time was spent driving and focused entirely on not killing or maiming people in our car or others around it. I found driving in Ireland to be more challenging then anywhere else I have ever driven, including Manila. This is in large part because of the skinny, shoulderless roads and the difficulty in remembering to always drive on the opposite side of the road and look for cars coming from different directions when entering the road. I discovered that staying to the right is ingrained in my brain at a pretty deep level and was harder to switch then I maybe first figured.
We began our journey at the Dublin airport on the eastern side of the country. At the airport is where our plans for the trip changed a wee bit. After weeks of consideration and careful scrutiny I had reserved the chosen car weeks ahead of our trip, at a good rate. That car was a VW Passat TDi sedan, manual. This car was chosen to move my 2 year-olds wheelchair, all of his stuff and our junk and still have room inside for people. The problem was that the reservation was somehow made at another airport in Ireland, on the other side of the country. That problem however was quickly resolved because the airport had a Passat diesel available and they would honor my rate. My sense of adventure and security were unfortunately already shaken a bit by the combination of my amazingly bad gaff and furthered by low blood sugar. I mistakingly decided to play it safe (figuring that maybe I had bitten off too much, knowing it would be a challenge driving on the wrong side of the car, on the wrong side of the road). Our local friend advised us that we may be spending some drive time in heavy city traffic. The thought of a manual transmission in heavy city traffic was the last straw. I instead selected a vehicle with an automatic transmission. Afterall, I was there on a vacation.
The rental agency's answer to my request was the Citroen Picaso diesel van; as the Passat and everything else was also equipped with a manual transmission. I suppose Picaso was a fitting name for this van, since I really didn't understand what it was all about. I learned at the rental counter that automatic transmissions in Ireland are unfortunately rare and was thus made available only after a hefty ransom was negotiated. I also soon discovered that this "automatic" vehicle didn't really have a true automatic transmission, as it needed more input on the small column shifter to qualify in my mind as an automatic.
This weird transmission combined with it's dismal auto off engine feature meant trouble. The auto off feature was designed to shut off EVERY TIME YOU STOPPED!. Ugh, this fuel miser set-up resulted in the most awkward and frequently scary moments as the van often rolled back on hills, threatening car bumpers, cyclists and motorcyclists unfortunate enough to be behind us; as the Picaso hesitated to restart as it should have. Unnaturally, the car would not start, until you removed your foot from the brake. Learning to deal with this Auto-Off feature tested my productive sweat glands and tested my (misplaced) faith that it would work as designed and that the design was any good to begin with.
As time went on we crossed from the beltline on the east coast to the west coast of Ireland, before traveling to Northern Ireland; up to the ocean, before traveling back to the east coast again to end our trip in Dublin. We all survived the trip and we enjoyed 2 of the three Bed and Breakfasts we stayed in. Most importantly, we made it through the trip without testing our insurance or the hospitals in Ireland, thank God.
What I learned while in Ireland and Northern Ireland:
1. Don't Drive. Enjoy life, drink Irish beverages and let someone else who is familiar with the bike paths in Ireland drive instead.
2.If you do, Don't rent a Citroen Picaso or most any car with Auto-Off "fuel saving technology". Instead, rent a decent, safe car (like a VW Passat TDi) where you can see the hood clearly from the driver's seat. This helps you in positioning yourself on the road, which is especially helpful if you are driving on the wrong side of the road and on the wrong side of the car. If you like motorcycles this is a good place to ride, as the roads are little more then American sized bike lanes.
3. The roads in Northern Ireland are much better then they are down south. The roads south of the border are ridiculously narrow and have no shoulder most of the time. The speed limit works out to be around 62 mph, which seems suicidal on the narrow, curvy bike lanes that the Irish mistakingly call roads.They also have sheep, cyclists, farm tractors and tour busses on your side of the road when you may least expect them or want to see them.
4. The roads in Northern Ireland have speed signs in miles per hour They don't specify speed measurement on the signs, but the distance is measured in miles and the speed is in mph in Northern Ireland only. Distance and speed elsewhere in Ireland and through our travels to the Netherlands, Germany, Brussels and France (and the rest of the world) are measured in Kilometers per hour.
5. Don't get too excited and make plans to see everything in a short time when you visit a country, especially if you have to drive everywhere yourself. I drove over 1000 miles in 3 days time, starting around 9 am and ending around 10 pm (it wasn't dark until about midnight). I do however remember sleeping very well in Ireland :)
6. If you like fish and chips you will love fish and chips in Ireland. I don't like fish, but my wife was very impressed with the fish and chips each time she ordered them. It did look very tasty.
7. Enjoy the Bed and Breakfasts, the people in the countryside are very friendly and accommodating.
8.Finding the bed and breakfast would be hilarious, if weren't so frustrating at times. Don't expect to use address numbers to find where you are going in Ol' Ireland. We found that address numbers were frequently non-existent and not used.