Monday, March 23, 2009

From the Archives: Drive on the Left (part 2)

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!  

If you missed part one, you will find it here.  And on Friday I posted a bunch of photos from the trip.  You'll find them here. 

“Here you are!” he said, pointing to a miniature red car in the lot.
That’s it? Three tips. That’s all I get? I felt a bit gypped. I mean, I thought maybe ten or twelve tips… a baker’s dozen. Just three tips?

I tried to look cool and confident as I crossed the parking lot – oh, I mean car park. The little red Nissan looked friendly and cute. It was one of those tiny, round European cars – about the size of a Mini Cooper with four doors and a back seat designed for third graders.

Nonchalantly, I sidled up to the door and unlocked it. Damn. I opened the door and found I was standing on the passenger’s side. Seriously? They were going to let me drive away with this car? And with only paying €14 in extra insurance costs? I tried to pass my mistake off as intention: I put my backpack and purse on the passenger seat and then walked around to the other side to get in.

Sitting in the driver’s seat felt oddly familiar and yet disorienting all at once. The gearshift and the parking break were on the left, but the windshield wipers and the lights were on the steering column where they belong. The radio was where it belongs – but now it was on the left, too. Fortunately, the pedals were in the same place. Until I sat down I hadn’t even considered the thought that perhaps the pedals would be different. They were not. Gas. Brake. My foot found the familiar positions.

I’d decided that if I needed to, I could just drive to the hotel parking lot and leave the car for the day. It wasn’t far. I knew I could make it that far. But if it went ok, I was going to head to a ruined abbey about 30 km away. I wrote out my route: N18 to R471 to R462 to R469 to Quin. I started the car. Hug the center line. Hug the center line. Hug the center line. And suddenly I was out of the car park and on the airport road. I was driving on the left!

I passed the hotel parking lot and made my way toward the airport exit. Large road signs lined the road:
  • Drive on the left!
  • Fasten your seat belt!
  • Drive on the LEFT!
  • No Speeding.
  • Drive on the LEFT!
  • Mortuary

As I exited the airport, more red signs and flashing lights: DRIVE ON THE LEFT.

Do you think one or two tourists has had trouble with this concept?

I got to my first roundabout and pulled out – to the left. Michael had said, “If you miss your exit just keep going. Think about Chevy Chase.” I read the signs. I followed the directions. I said aloud, “Look kids! There’s Big Ben! There’s Parliament!” And somehow I ended up on my way to Quin.

While driving on the left was vaguely disorienting, it also became more and more intuitive – that is, until I came to a stop. At each intersection or stop I had to remind myself: “hug the center line.” It worked. Michael, in spirit, was my driving instructor all day.

Now, I will say, I never quite relaxed. By the time I returned to my hotel room at 11 pm, my right foot was cramped and sore from tension. And think about all of the distracting things you do when you are driving: talking on the cell phone (illegal here), eating, reading maps, putting on makeup (never!)… I would imagine this was the safest day of driving I’ve had in a long time!

My first stop was to be Quin Abbey. About 30 km from the airport, the drive took me through gorgeous Irish countryside in County Clare. I drove through the towns of Hurlers Cross and Sixmilebridge (yep, all one word). In Kilmurry, I took one of many wrong turns but finally headed northeast toward the town of Quin.

To be continued...

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