Category Archives: Ireland

11 Unexpected Things About Ireland

Ireland was really WPT’s trip. I had a few places I wanted to see, but it was really more about fulfilling a promise I made him several years ago. So expect more in-depth posts from him and some nonsense from me. Starting now…

1) DRIVING

I expected to drive on the left-side of narrow roads. I had driven on the left before, but that was 15 years ago. What I didn’t expect was to find the drivers in Ireland to be the most polite I’ve ever encountered. I’m used to driving in one of the most aggressive regions in the US. The drivers in Ireland were such a pleasant surprise. Slower cars and trucks pulled over to let faster traffic pass, people took turns merging, and there was friendly waving and a lack of beeping. I shed my East Coast skin of speed and rage and cautiously wound my way around the island.

Driving the Ring of Kerry
Driving the Ring of Kerry

Much like people ask, “Did that tattoo on your foot hurt?” and my response is generally, “Why, yes, it did. Quite a lot.” People similarly ask about driving in Ireland. The narrow, often dark and rainy, winding roads were very challenging. In fact, after driving all day I was completely spent. I was usually rewarded with scotch and a hot bath for my efforts. I should also mention the black ice. Yeah, that was unexpected. I deserved a badge of some kind for dealing with several miles of that shit and not a scratch on the car or any of us. Ultimately, after 1829km, I could hit a roundabout at speed and merge like a pro.

Pointless studying
Pointless studying

We brought several maps with us, but they were useless at times. Actual street names are something of a secret handshake known only to locals and postal carriers. They change block-to-block and I saw one instance where different sides of the same street were known by different names. WPT deserves a badge for navigating.

2) PORRIDGE

Oatmeal tastes better when you call it porridge.

3) SELFIE STICKS

People really use selfie sticks. This is weird. We saw one guy with a selfie stick and iPad at the Giant’s Causeway. He appeared to be having a great time with himself.

Selfie Date
Selfie Date

4) THIS DISPENSER IN A HOTEL TOILET

What more could you need?
What more could you need?

5) MY BRAIN EMPTIED

Those of you who know me in real life know that my attention is all over the place. I tend to have 2-3 trains of thought going at any given time. Not so in Ireland. I had to concentrate fully while driving. The usual din of brain chatter was quelled. I focused like I hadn’t focused in years (maybe decades). I was thrilled to see it was still possible. An odd side-effect was that my brain was empty and quiet at night. I actually slept. It was amazing.

6) THE QUIET MAN

In the village of Cong there’s not only a statue of John Wayne and Maureen O’Hara, there’s a museum and a gift shop devoted to The Quiet Man. You may want to take a moment and sit on the bench devoted to the movie and reflect on that.

Ireland-0921 Ireland-4554 Ireland-4555Ireland-4555-2

7) EIGHT-YEAR-OLDS IN BARS

People are downright pleased to see an 8-year-old in a bar, requesting songs, at 10pm on a Tuesday night. The 8-year-old was ours.

I loved the child-friendly attitude and that people were so nice to our son.

8) JOHN DENVER

Based on live music we heard, John Denver is very popular in Ireland. Or maybe just the song Country Roads.

9) PICKLED ONION CRISPS

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Simply undeniably delicious.

10) AIR

For unknown reasons I expected the air to be clean and smell of damp earth and the ocean. Instead it often smelled smoky from all of the wood and peat burning hearths. It was also colder than usual.

11) CONFLICT

Conflict
Conflict

There is a constant struggle between the permeating damp and dry heat. The greatest casualties in this war appear to be paint and hair.

Battle of the Split Ends
Battle of the Split Ends
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The Ecstasy of Lists

When I was about 19-20 I started a travel fund, saving $5-10 a week in my Tardis bank. I still save money from every paycheck to support daydreams of far-off places. When WPT and I planned our first trip together in 1999, he was unemployed and I was working for a non-profit. That trip happened because friends and friends of friends offered us places to sleep, we ate at gas stations, and we used my credit card. It took us a year to pay off that trip and it was worth every penny. Now, 15 years later, we are still planning trips, sometimes while we are already on one. Each November we find ourselves debating where to go in January, to mark the anniversary of that first trip. One change is that our son, Garnet, is now part of the adventure.

For me, the planning is part of the fun. The two months leading up to the trip I research places to visit, foods to eat, pour over maps, and create lists. So many lists. Things I need to remember to bring, to do, to look up, and to buy. I obsess. I fret. I worry. And I love every minute.

This year we are going to Ireland. This is the trip we started talking about when WPT got sick in 2007. We could have gone once he was well, but we wanted to wait until our son was old enough to go and it not be seven tortuous days for all involved. This is Garnet’s first international trip and our first cold-weather winter destination in over a decade. He is a great traveler, but all-day travel and no sleep can test even the most airport-hardened soul. I’m more worried about cold, damp feet, so socks have appeared and reappeared on my lists. I think about socks more than I should.

As I obsess I will try and distill the useful bits and offer some travel tips in the coming weeks. I will also attempt to justify packing 2-3 weeks before we leave, but this year I promise to remember Garnet’s underwear (it was just that one time I forgot, I swear!).