Finding Ireland: a Primer for North American drivers

My friend, Barb Beck and her husband Vince, who live in Spokane, Wash.,  took a trip to Ireland in February 2014. Apart from the beautiful countryside, they found the high cost of eating out was bad enough, but driving there was “a total nightmare.” Here’s her diary:

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Photo by Barb Beck

Day 1:  We left Spokane at about 7 a.m. on Feb. 3 on our way to Denver.  Denver is NOT my favorite airport at all  as it seems that every time I have to go through there somehow, I get delayed, and this time was no exception.  We got there and saw that there is a 2 1/2 hour delay to NYC because of the snow.  Originally, we were supposed to have a four-hour window in NYC to get from LaGuardia to JFK to fly to Dublin. I started calling Aer Lingus (Irish Airlines) to find out what we should do. They refered me to the travel agent that booked our trip.  The travel agent suggested that we re-book  for Tuesday night.  We finally took off for NYC and got there at 6:15, and still had a few hours.  It took 45 minutes to get our luggage at LaGuardia.  I once again called Aer Lingus and the agent re-booked us for Tuesday (out of the goodness of their heart with no fees involved). So…..by the time we got to JFK,  they tried to get us on our original flight but the gate was closed so now we had to spend an extra night in NYC, which meant missing our pre-booked one-night in Wicklow. 

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Photo by Barb Beck

Day 2:  We flew out of JFK at 5:30 PM on Tuesday.  The flight was great, and Aer Lingus is a great airline to fly on. It seemed that they were always feeding us.  We arrived at Dublin at 4:30 the next morning.  Vince told me that he wasn’t going anywhere until daylight came. We had become acquainted with a couple of Irish lads who lived in Dublin, and had been to the U.S. on business.  They assured us that we would be fine driving, but watch out for the Garda (police) so we took their word.  It was raining very hard and also the wind was blowing hard but we started driving toward Waterford. I wanted to see Waterford Crystal. I soon discovered that I couldn’t afford any, but it was beautiful to look at.  

After a bite of breakfast at a grocery, we started driving to Cork where we were to spend two nights.  We arrived in Cork  and then the fun starts.  We immediately got lost.  We had a map of the inner city of Cork, but soon discovered that there are so many one way streets, and NO STREET SIGNS.  We later discovered that if there are street signs, they are posted on the sides of buildings. So trying to see the names of the streets, plus driving on the wrong side of the roads, dodging jaywalkers, and driving on very narrow streets, we were ready to just give up. We actually almost ran over a jaywalker…she was talking on her phone and stepped off the curb, touched our car and quickly jumped back.  

After driving around Cork for over an hour we finally found the hotel, the Imperial. What a nice hotel. It is over 200 years old and the ambiance is so warm and inviting (we compared it to Spokane’s Davenport Hotel). After checking into the hotel, one of  the employees volunteered to drive the car to the “car park” where they lease spaces for hotel guests because Vince knew he would get lost again. My nerves were so rattled that when I walked into the lobby, the employees offered me some tea, which really hit the spot. The employees were the very best that we dealt with.  For dinner that night, I had cottage pie, which is shepherd’s pie in the U.S.A.  Vince had Irish beef stew. After dinner, we were just ready to call it a day.  

*A little extra note* On Tuesday night, Cork was flooded. The river rose about 10 feet and there was four feet of water all through the town.  There were still sandbags throughout our stay, so I guess it was a blessing in disguise that we didn’t get there when we  were originally supposed to.  

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Photo by Barb Beck

Day 3: Ireland has such a different power grid.  I had brought a converter, but I discovered that I also needed an adapter which I didn’t have. I started to use my curling iron, and the iron was SO hot that the first curl I did, literally burned my hair. It stuck to the iron and I had burnt hair in my palm.  So….decided that wasn’t going to work, so the days we were in Cork, I went natural and I HATE having straight hair.  The hotel did find an adapter, but the iron still seemed way too hot so I wasn’t going to try it again.  After breakfast, (Mickey D’s)  we drove to Blarney Castle which is about 20 kilometres from Cork.  It was so nice to see the castle in person.  We walked up to it and went in. We started to climb to the top to “kiss the Blarney Stone.  I got about half way up and then the steps became so narrow, and they were wet from the rain, so I decided to abandon that effort.  Vince did go to the top, but didn’t “kiss the stone.”  He said he couldn’t get down and lean back.

Since we were  prone to getting lost, we drove back to Cork, and sure enough, we got lost. We found a local who drove us to the car park.  That night we had Irish fish & chips which was just a take-out so we ate in our room.  That night there was a big loud party (a college group) that went on until 1:00 AM.  Then, not long after the smoke alarm started going off.  We never did find out why it went off. 

IMG_0063Day 4:  We started out for our two night stay in Galway. On the way, we stopped in the city of Limerick which also happens to be a sister city of Spokane.  We only spent a couple of hours there, but did visit King John’s Castle which was fun to see. From the top of the castle, you could see the whole city of Limerick and the River Shannon. IMG_0036 They too were expecting the river to flood that night as sandbags were being put into place. We found out why people only have small cars as the car parks (the spaces, ramps etc. are so small and hard to get into that a regular size car wouldn’t make it at all.)  We left Limerick and drove to Galway.  We actually only got lost twice there and found our hotel fairly easy.  Our hotel in Galway was called the G Hotel.  This hotel was very plush, but it had a “cold” feeling.  To us, there was no ambiance at all.  The hallways were very dark (dark purple carpet) and spot lights on the wall to guide you.  It just didn’t seem to fit into a working class Irish city.  It was located at the other end of the town. One good thing about the hotel was that they had a great adapter, so I could finally have some curls in my hair.  That night for dinner, we went to a ’50s diner which was located right behind the hotel so no driving involved……yeah!

Day 5: We woke up to heavy rain and wind once again. We were going to go to the “Cliffs of Moher” (which are high cliffs that meet with the Irish Sea). We should have gone on our way to Galway (not only was it closer then, but the weather had cleared a little.) We went to ask the concierge for directions. He told us that he honestly didn’t think we would be able to see much because of the weather, so we walked into the town of Galway, bought a few souvenirs, and later took a drive along the Connemara Coast.  For dinner that night, we went to a pub called the Huntsman Inn across the street from the hotel and had the best seafood chowder (huge pieces of salmon), great Irish bread and good Irish Ale. We did have breakfast included with this hotel stay so we had a good Irish breakfast which was good as well.

IMG_0116Day 6:  Today, we left to drive to Dublin for our last two nights.  The front desk at the “G” printed out the directions and assured us again that it was an easy two-hour drive.  One thing, the Motorway (Freeways) are very good – huge signs with arrows pointing the way and the distance clearly marked. It actually was a sunny day and the drive was nice UNTIL we got into Dublin city limits and looked for the road we needed to turn on (St. John’s Rd) and we couldn’t find it at all. After going round and round for a while and asking directions, we got on a road (slight hill). Vince decided to stop and look at the map.  Then and there the car locked into fourth gear, and no matter how hard he tried, he could not get it into first gear. There was a huge gray church on my side of the road and also a pub.  Vince put the emergency flashers on and went into the pub to call the car rental place.  In just a few minutes, Vinnie and the bartender came out. The bartender, Alan, actually pushed the car into a parking space in front of the pub. We both went into the pub to wait for the car people to bring our replacement.  Alan  bought us some ale and cider. (By this time, I personally needed more than one). The car people came and soon we were on our way to “try” and find our final hotel, the Four Seasons. It probably took us 45 minutes and finally found it.  Again the street sign was on the fence.  This hotel was so nice.  It is located in a part of Dublin where the embassies are. (In fact, the U.S embassy was about a quarter mile away, and the British embassy was just blocks away.) Our room was beautiful, and the bathroom was all marble. I could imagine the Secretary of State staying there, or other government officials.  But….the food was so expensive….a bowl of cereal was 8 Euros.  

Once settled in our room and the car in the garage, we were hungry, so we asked where to go.  The concierge recommended a pub called Mulligans. They gave us a map with directions. We started out and Vince thought (he won’t admit it) that we were on the wrong road.  He asked a young girl if she  was familiar with the area if she could direct us to the pub.  She took us a different way which happened to be about two miles out of the way.  We kept walking and asked everyone we saw if they knew where Mulligan’s was.  Finally, two young couples on their way to dinner helped us find it.  The wind was so cold that we were both just frozen. I had lamb Irish stew, and Vince had a steak sandwich and chips (fries) and some more good Irish ale.  We made it back to the hotel going the way we should have gone in the first place. We decided that we weren’t going to drive the car anymore except to the airport.  We would walk or take public transportation.  

Vinnie decided that he wanted to take the car back early so he asked the desk if  they had a hotel shuttle to the airport. Their answer was we contract with a company and the price is 55 Euros per person one way which ended up to be about $75 US. That option was out, so we decided that we would leave in plenty of time just in case. Vinnie had a $50 bill changed into Euros.  We got $35 in Euros back.

Day 7:    We went into the Dublin city center today, and took the train, as the price for the  bus and train were the same. The locals all said that the bus drivers were not nice and wouldn’t help much, so we decided on the train. We started out down the same street where we should have gone to the pub, and Vinnie said, “I don’t think this is the right way.” I could see the train crossing from the corner, so this time we went straight to the train. We got to the city center, and what an amazing city Dublin is. Being so old and so much to see, we enjoyed walking and seeing the sights.  We did some souvenir shopping, went to Trinity College, but didn’t go to the library where the “Book of Kells” is located. The Book of Kells is two pages of the Bible written on papyrus, and is under lock and key. We were tired of spending money. We actually ate lunch at Burger King, and later ate dinner at a stir-fry restaurant. After being in the rain again, it was time to get back on the train and back to the hotel so we could get ready for our flight to NYC the next day.

We got directions to the airport from  the desk. the airport was about 12 miles away. Once again, we were assured that it was easy, and there was no way we could get lost – guess they don’t know who they are dealing with!

Day 8: Even though our flight didn’t leave until 10:45 AM, we decided we would leave very early (6:30) just to make sure.  Well, we left for the airport and sure enough we got lost.  I saw signs for the airport for a ways and suddenly there weren’t any more.  We were supposed to cross a toll bridge, but never saw it.  We started down this road, and it seemed to just go on forever.  We passed a petro station and decided to turn around and once again ask for directions.  A local man told us another way to the airport and we actually only took one wrong turn.  We made it to the car rental return and what a good feeling to be rid of the car.  It took us an hour to get to the airport, and it was a good thing that we left that early as we ate breakfast plus we had to go through customs there, which was nice rather than having to do it in NYC.  We got to NYC and it was a beautiful but frigid day. Our hotel for the night was about five minutes from LaGuardia which was nice.

  Day 9:  We  left NYC just in the nick of time as another snow storm was predicted and sure enough it came early Thursday morning.  It is so nice to be home where we drive on the right side, have street signs and wide streets and don’t have to be two inches away from parked cars on the streets.

There isn’t enough money in the world to get either one of us to drive there ever again.  The next time to Europe will be by the “big white Limo” (aka Princess Cruises).