Wednesday, March 18, 2009

From the Archives: Drive on the Left (part 1)

From the archives... St. Patrick's Day got me to feeling just a wee bit nostalgic about Ireland. I'm headed there again this summer, so I thought it was time to pull out my travel journal from my first trip.  Erin Go Braugh!

Drive on the Left! (Part 1)
Sunday


She was so pretty, the woman at the Avis counter. With red curly hair and green eyes she looked like a young Maureen O’Hara in a regulation red uniform.

“I have a US driver’s license,” I said. “Can I rent a car here?”

“Of course,” she replied with a broad smile and a thick brogue. She quickly rattled off a few prices and assured me that they had automatics on the lot.

Foggy with jetlag I struggled to understand her sentences. “I may be back tomorrow,” I said and limped across the parking lot to my hotel.

All afternoon and evening I toyed with the thought: could I really rent a car in a foreign country? And would I really be able to drive on the left side of the road? In my sleep-deprived state the idea seemed like a folly, a bubble floating before me, ephemera. Battling sleep as I watched “Friends” reruns, I dismissed the idea completely.

Surely I could entertain myself without taking my life into my hands!

Finally, at eight o’clock I could fight no longer. I surrendered to my duvet-covered bed and slept the deep, restorative, unmoving sleep of one who has not slept in 36 hours – or a lifetime.

Monday

Strangely, when I woke up the idea of driving on the wrong side of the road didn’t seem that odd. As I dressed and packed up a few things for the day, I thought, “I can do this. I am capable. I can do this.” I walked over to the airport to check my email. Sifting through good and bad news, junk mail and bon voyage wishes, my confidence increased. I had one day. One day in Ireland all to myself. No demands. No agendas. And I wanted to see Ireland. According to Lonely Planet “traveling by car or motorbike is the ideal way to explore some of the best of Ireland’s landscape, especially in remote areas.” I wasn’t going to learn to ride a motorcycle on the left, so that left driving.

I looked over to the Avis desk. There she sat, my iconic lassie, looking ever the part of the Irish queen. Let’s call her “Maureen.”

“It’s a holiday. The traffic will be light,” I told myself as I approached the desk. “You needn’t go far. You don’t even have to leave the airport.”

The man standing in front of Maureen looked unhappy and distressed. As he prattled on and on I got decidedly more nervous. Could I really drive on the left? Could it be mastered before leaving the airport and endangering the lives of an entire county? But, I had an out. I could rent the car and never leave the car park, if it came to that. I could just walk away. At least that’s what I told myself.

Finally, the crabby German guy left, and Maureen turned to me. “Right then, so you’ve decided to take a car?” she said.

“Yes,” I gulped.

The rental transaction was just like at home: driver’s license, credit cards, insurance (I got the full stuff – I was only responsible for the keys and the tires). Suddenly, the car was mine.

“Do you have a map?” I asked.

“It is in the car, Love,” Maureen said. “Go out to the curb. Michael will pick you up in the shuttle and take you to your car.” She smiled. “Have a grand day!”

I grabbed the keys, smiled, and headed out to meet Michael. He pulled up in a red van. “Good morning!” he twinkled. Honestly, there is something twinkly about just about everyone I met in Ireland. They just twinkle.

“So, have you ever driven on the left?” he asked.

“No,” I replied.

“Well, let me give you some tips that will help to keep you safe. By the time you go home again, you will have a hard time driving on the right.”

Um. Yeah, I doubt that! But tips are good!

Michael the Shuttle Driver’s Tips for Driving on the Left
  1. “Drive slow at first.” Yeah. Like I hadn’t been planning on that one.
  2. “Take yer time at the roundabouts.” I actually love roundabouts. But here you take them to the LEFT. “They may beep at you from behind, but better that than you take it to the right and have an accident,” Michael said wisely.
  3. “Hug the center line.” Of course, the driver sits on the right hand side of the car. I’d forgotten about this little detail! Michael said, “At home the driver sits by the center lane, too. It is just on the other side.” This became my mantra. Hug the center line. Hug the center line.
To be continued...
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