Wednesday morning we got up late and had our first experience with the typical Irish shower: There is a knob on the wall, again with indecipherable markings, and you are left to turn, pull, push, and squeeze until you get a constant flow of warm water. Jen figured this out and we washed the plane off, packed our stuff, and checked out. Back across the parking lot, we picked up our rental car: an Opel Astra, which was larger than I’d expected and a lot nicer than I was hoping for.

A Short Primer On European (UK) Motorcars From The Viewpoint Of An American:

1. First, everything’s backwards. Sure, the wheel and controls are on the right, and getting used to that takes a little time, but I found myself still looking up and to the right to see who was behind me, and finding only the A-pillar of the windshield. Old habits die hard.

2. Shifting is interesting. Here in America, in our Chevys and Fords with automatic transmissions, there’s a choice: P, N, and D. Put it in D and go. In (Ireland), there’s a shift-like knob, no P and something called E. Then, there’s a second area with a – and a +, which presumably is a Tiptronic-type manual-shift deal (I was hesitant to test this theory, for fear of leaving the transmission of our rental car in a smoking heap on some remote Irish country lane). So, putting the car in E means it’s Easy or Elementary or something like that. Swell. The problem is when you go to pass some tractor on the M7 (Because they are everywhere, just like dairy cows are present in the middle of towns) and you get on the gas. The car sits and thinks for a few minutes: “Right. You want to pass this tractor, here, mate? OK. I’ll just set this pint down here, and put my boots back on, and we’ll have a go at it, eh?” Then, after about five seconds, it downshifts from fifth to fourth, which is about as helpful as a kick in the head. Then, it drops into third, and putting the pedal to the floor finally produces some speed. In an American-made car, say, my Jeep, for example, when you kick it in the guts, there’s no thinking. It drops from third to first IMMEDIATELY, and you smoke the tires across the Wal-Mart parking lot or whatever. These cars all have a five-minute waiting period before they get going. Getting up to speed is the same way—there’s a VERY noticeable lag in between gears, as if the guy programming the transmission decided to get all Grand Prix on us and make it seem like it’s actually a standard transmission, instead of the wimpy automatic us poncey Americans request. This made my wife very motion-sick, which was not a good thing. (She got used to it.)

3. They have nice cars. This Opel was put together very well, felt solid, ran hard, and was designed (mostly) intelligently. (Clicking on the turn signal once gives you three ticks, and it shuts itself off. Clicking down hard gives unlimited ticks. However, shutting it off requres a light tap in the other direction, otherwise it’s signalling the other way and confusing the people behind the car, who have spotted the Eurocar rental sticker on the rear window and who are hoping you’re not making a right turn at that roundabout.) The buttons and dials all looked and worked well. One other gripe, though: Every time the car is turned on, the radio turns on too. Even when it’s been specifically turned off. In this way, we got to hear the same Kylie Minogue tune every time we got back in the car. In Ireland, they like their Kylie Minogue. This is all in contrast to the Pontiac we rented to get back from Reagan, which had buttons like Fisher-Price toys for retards, locked the car every time it shifted into Drive, and felt like a cheap 70’s disco couch.

Once I got onto the highway, and past the first three roundabouts, I was feeling better about driving. We headed north to the Cliffs of Moher. Apparently, we were graced with fabulous weather the entire time we were in country, because the Cliffs are usually socked in with fog and at about 200m of visibility, which is useless for something that big. We had cloudy skies and a slight drizzle but excellent visibility, so we hiked up the hill and took in the view.

Cliffs of Moher

By this point, it was late in the day (our perception of distance and speed was off) so we picked a B&B from the guide, made reservations, and headed south to Kilrush. Now, there’s something odd that’s happened in Ireland in the last couple of years since the Celtic Tiger thing happened: They’ve started building houses all over the place. Not nice houses, like the ones in pictures of Kerry, with whitewashed walls and thatched roofs, but McMansions made of cinderblock and wood, painted purple and orange and fucking aqua and surrounded by stone fences and gravel. In what is possibly the most verdant country in the world, people have gravel lawns, like cottages on the Jersey shore, and paint their houses to look like model homes in Miami. And what’s with the palm trees, people?

Anyhow, it was my mission to avoid all such places, so we picked a house that looked old. Unfortunately, it looked old in the picture, but was actually new—which wasn’t all that bad. The proprietor was a nice enough fellow, the room was big and featured a view of the harbor over a lush cow pasture (we woke the next morning to the most vocal dairy herd I’ve ever heard, and I’ve seen lots of cows), and we were a mile from town.

I was led to believe Irish folks like their drink (or at least, their pubs), and I was prepared to represent. Unfortunately, the pub we were recommended only held us, two other couples, and two bored barmaids. Dejected, we ate chips, drank a pint, and left, hoping the party would get started in the Southeast.

Next: Kilrush to Cobh, or: How many times do we have to drive through Cork?

Date posted: June 24, 2005 | Filed under travel | 1 Comment »

One Response to Trip Log, Part Two.

  1. xlt says:

    Opels rock! Rode in one all over Switzerland. At the time, I didn’t know how to drive standard, so I rode comfortably in the back seat.

    And all the major highways are just two lnes each direction. And they WORK, because people know how to drive curteuosly.