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Ireland98

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Friday, September 4, 1998

As we emerged from the plane I noticed several things. First, it was much cooler in Ireland than in Chicago. Secondly, it was raining. Finally, I was able to get a look at the airplane. From the outside it appeared much smaller than from the inside. Probably because they had us so crammed in the passenger compartments it appeared bigger due to the large number of seats.

We boarded a small bus that took us from the plane to the terminal. In the terminal the first point we passed was passport control. Here they asked us our business in Ireland and how long we were staying. A quick stamp in the passport and we exited into the luggage area. After the usual wait we had collected our luggage and proceeded to customs.

On the wall there were four signs: 1) EU Citizens with nothing to declare; 2) EU Citizens with something to declare; 3) Non-EU Citizens with nothing to declare; 4) Non-EU Citizens with something to declare. Since we had not paid attention to the Customs Video that had been shown on the plane we headed for gate #3. The next thing I knew we were out in the main lobby of the airport having never seen anyone from customs. After this brief shock we started looking for the car rental place.

After a few moments of confusion we found the rental desk. As I stood there I began talking to a man in line. He told me that he had come through gate #3 with someone else. He walked right through but his companion was pulled aside and they went through all of his luggage. So I guess they simply randomly check people.

We decided to add Jody to the rental as an extra driver. This cost and additional 4 ($6) a day. We also had to pay for a full tank of gas that cost 39 ($60). This is quite the scam they have going. It means that unless you return the car bone dry they get some extra money from you. We managed to turn our car in with less than an 1/8 tank of gas left. I think we did reasonably well. I was also put down as the primary driver.

After completing all the rental papers for the car I went to the ATM nearby. I didn't know if my card would work or not. I was soon standing there with 100 in Irish Money. I had no idea what the exchange rate was or if I was being charged a service fee. Later when I arrived back home I found that this was the best exchange rate that I received on the whole trip. I wasn't charged a service fee. Oh well, live and learn.

We then went outside of the airport and across the street to wait the shuttle bus to take us to the Dan Dooley Rental Car lot. It was raining steadily by this point. I went in a store and purchased a Cola to drink. When I emerged the shuttle was loaded with our luggage and they were waiting on me.

In the short drive to the rental place the driver asked us what we thought about Clinton being in Dublin that day. I shared the fact that in a recent survey of women in the USA when asked if they would sleep with Clinton, sixty percent replied Not Again. This brought a hearty round of laughs.

The car we rented was a Renault Laguna. It was a red four door with a sun roof and very nice looking. There was just enough room in the trunk to hold our luggage. I had one bag, Mom had two small bags, and Sallie and Jody had one large suitcase and one small bag. We loaded our stuff and selves into the car. Then we sat for awhile as I tried to figure out the ten thousand buttons on the steering wheel. There was even a lever with which you could control the radio on the steering wheel. I guess reaching down to the radio beside you is just too stressful.

Eventually we were ready to leave. I had gotten directions from the Dan Dooley dude on how to get to Malahide Castle. This was to be our first stop. We had called the B&B people in Dun Laoghaire to let them know we had arrived. We also decided to avoid going into Dublin because of the rain and Clinton, neither of which you can do anything about (well, at least the rain goes away).

Pulling out onto the road I quickly learned that first gear and third gear were nearly indistinguishable in the car. After trying to start out in third gear and going dead four to five times, I also learned that Irish drivers have considerable more patience than their American counterparts. In fact, during the entire trip there were only a couple of instances of rude Irish drivers.

I never did learn to get the car in first gear. Even on the last day I would often go dead when trying to start out. Of course, part of the problem was the car (can't be me). First and third gear were very close together. The car was also very highly geared. This meant you really had to ride the clutch when starting out from a stop while on an incline. The result was the lovely smell of a burning clutch filling the car.

As we headed for Malahide Castle we encountered our first round about. While disconcerting at first we quickly learned our way around these (sometimes going around a couple of times just for fun). It was also at this time that we started to learn how poorly roads and towns are identified. Actually, they are identified very well if you know where to look. It took us a day or so to realize that many road signs are just that, Road Signs. In large white letters lanes are posted with road names, upcoming turns and directions. My favorite "road sign" was "SLOW...SLOWER...DEAD SLOW" as you went into some dangerous turn. Another favorite was at pedestrian crosswalks. On the road would be painted the direction you were to look for oncoming traffic.

We soon reached the town of Swords. I realized that we had missed our turn. As we were driving through the main street we passed the tourist office. Quickly finding a place to park, I ran in and got fresh directions. Every town we passed through had a tourist office. These are the places to stop to get information on local events, B&Bs, directions, etc. At each the people were always friendly and patient.

Back in the car I followed the directions I had been given and with only a couple of wrong turns, we soon found ourselves pulling into Malahide Castle. Malahide Castle was impressive. The grounds themselves were very beautiful and very green. The Castle was more of a large home with very thick walls (in some places as much as eighteen feet). There were only seven or eight rooms that you were allowed to visit but each was filled with antiques and paintings. I believe the tour cost about 3 each ($4.50).

We had a book that was filled with "Buy One Get One Free" coupons which we used as much as possible. There was one occasion where I forgot we had a coupon. However, I think the better deal is to buy the National Heritage Card for 15 a person. This seemed to be accepted at almost every place we went. We did not buy the card ourselves but I think we would have saved money if we had.

During the tour of the Castle we met a woman and her daughter from Alabama! Afterwards, we stopped in the cafe where Jody purchased a dessert and I bought some sparkling water. Sallie purchased a Guinness sweater in the gift shop for around 25 ($40). Mom and I purchased several post-cards. This became the norm. Every place we went I would buy a double set of post cards. We would usually buy two each of two or three cards. By then end of the trip I figured I had spent nearly 40 ($60) on post-cards.

After leaving Malahide we decided to go to Castletown House in Celbridge. While Malahide was to the North of Dublin, Castletown House was to the West. With me driving while Sallie and Jody looked at the map we made our way there. We found out that the major road around Dublin was a toll-road. We discovered this by driving along until we came to a set of toll-booths. This road is very similar to a Interstate in the USA. As we exited the toll-road we came to an intersection. It was at this time that an Ambulance decided to pull in behind me with lights blaring. As I tried to get out of its way the car kept going dead. This was a stressful moment. After several false starts I managed to pull the car to the side of the road. I hope I didn't kill some poor sap in the ambulance by the delay I caused.

With persistence we finally found our way to Celbridge. Looking back I am not really sure how. We came into town and found ourselves at a T-intersection. Not knowing which way to go I guessed and turned right. A few blocks down we passed another one of those blessed tourist offices. After finding a quick place to park we went in to get directions.

Me: "How do You get to Castletown House."

Tourist person: "Go back outside, look to your left, at the end of the block is the gate."

What is amazing was this was said with no snide remarks or impatient sighing. In fact, we were almost parked beside the gate. Yes, make use of these tourist offices.

Walking back to the car we passed the "Bank of Ireland." Deciding that we needed some more Irish money, Sallie and I proceeded to exchange $150 each. This resulted in us receiving around 100 (I think - I don't really remember). I believe if we had any idea what we were doing we could have found more favorable exchange rates. Another factor was the crash of the US Stock Market a few days before we left. The exchange rate moved almost 9% against us.

This was also the only place where a panhandler asked for money. A lady approached us as were leaving the bank. Feeling generous I gave her 2.

We got in the car and drove to the Castletown House gate. There we saw a sign stating it was closed for renovation. This was the only such occurrence on our trip. We decided to drive on to the house anyway and take a look. There was a lot of construction taking place. The outside of the house was beautiful. I wished we would have been able to take a tour.

Instead we decided to walk around Celbridge a bit. The town was small with every building painted some bright pastel color. Most of the smaller towns we passed through were this way and all were very charming. By this time we were hungry so we stopped at a Pub called "The Mucky Duck."

From the outside it appeared small. From the inside it was huge and very well done. There were several levels and even tables outside on a deck. I found this true of all the buildings in Ireland. From the outside they often appeared small but were very large on the inside. How they accomplish this optical illusion I do not know.

The Pub had a "buffet." I never found out if a "buffet" in Ireland is the same as a "buffet" in the USA. I think an Irish buffet is what we would consider a "cafeteria." In other words, you go through line once and pay for everything you put on your plate. I thought the food was good but the others were not impressed. Mom couldn't get over the cost of the food.

Yes, it was more expensive than what we pay in the USA. Basically, what the Irish charge in pounds is what we would charge in dollars in the States. So a meal that cost 6 in Ireland would cost $6 in the USA. Considering that the exchange rate was about 1.5 it meant that the Irish meal would cost $9 USD. Because of the cost of the food Mom would find the cheapest thing to order. She ate a lot of sandwiches. I don't know why since I was paying for all of her meals.

Speaking of Mom this is as good a place as any to mention her "car reactions." Now, she does this in the USA as well so it wasn't unexpected in Ireland. She is an extreme "back seat driver." She is also highly stressed and strung. Every curve, every passing car, every slight bump; she would gasp, flinch, cover her face with hands, or grab the dashboard. I cannot even slightly describe how TOTALLY ANNOYING this is to the driver. Admittedly, Jody's driving often called for this type of reaction - but not mine!

Actually, I know I am not the best driver in the world. And driving on the left while sitting on the right does tend to cause one to drift to the left. While driving from Celbridge to our B&B that first night I clipped the left mirror on a parked car. Luckily the mirror was one that swung in so all that occurred was a small scratch on the paint. The next morning (Saturday) we discovered someone had clipped our driver's side mirror while we were parked. And I heard many similar stories from other tourist.

After finishing our meal at "The Mucky Duck" we walked around town a bit more. At a small grocery we purchased some drinks. I bought some bottled water.

We soon found ourselves back in the car heading for Dun Laoghaire (pronounced Dun Leary or as we began to say, Done weary of Dun Leary) and the Claremont B&B. I had made reservations at Claremont Villas with a phone call from the States (which cost me $11). Dun Laoghaire is south of Dublin which is one reason I wanted to stay there. We had planned on heading to Powerscourt after finishing visiting Dublin so this was in the right direction. After a long stressful ride through the suburbs of Dublin (and being exhausted from having been awake for nearly 30 hours at this point) we finally arrived in Dun Laoghaire. I stopped at a gas station for directions (yes, men can stop for directions). The attendant told me to go up the hill, turn left, go to the fifth light, and take a right. He was absolutely correct. We found ourselves on the right road and quickly found the B&B.

The B&B was a huge town house. Mom and I were in a room on the third floor while Sallie and Jody had a room on the fourth floor. Our room had a ceiling that was at least eighteen feet high. We had one double bed and two single beds. The house was clean but not overly so. The hostess name was Mary. She was very quiet and did not talk much. Mary had six children. I met four of them. The children shared the sitting room and were watching TV, the youngest in his underwear. The family lived in the bottom level (basement level of the house that was ground level out the back). We stayed at Claremont on Friday and Saturday night.

Both rooms were en suite which cost me 16 ($25 USD - 2 per person/per night). Except for one other house this was the only time that we paid for en suite rooms in spite of the fact that Jody and Sallie had en suite rooms nearly every night.

After bringing in our luggage we all collapsed into bed around 6 p.m. After a couple hours nap we left out around 8 p.m. to go into Dun Laoghaire to walk around town and find someplace to eat. Dun Laoghaire is a nice town. It is also one of the major ferry ports between Ireland and England. We first drove down to the ocean to look out at the large artificial harbor. The wind was blowing and it was raining and generally miserable. As we stood there one of the large ferry's was coming into the dock.

We then drove into the city centre. Parking on a side street we entered a shopping mall. This mall was very interesting. From the street it appeared to only be the same small store fronts that you would find in any small Irish town. As you entered into a store you realized you were actually in a tri-level mall filled with many stores. Due to the lateness of the hour many of the stores were closed. We walked around and looked into the few that were open. Jody called home and Mom called her mom (my grandmother) and let her know we had arrived.

I found a computer store and bought some mapping software of Europe. In an autostore we looked at getting some touch-up paint to cover the scratch on the car but decided against. Mom asked the store clerk what the large red "L" in car windows meant that we kept seeing. The red "L" stands for a learning driver. They must keep it displayed in their car until they pass their driving test. Until they take the test they must have a licensed driver in the car with them.

After they take the test, regardless if the pass or fail, they do not need a licensed driver in the car with them anymore. A blue "L" is displayed by a driver who had passed the test in the previous 12 months. We saw many red "L" signs but very few blue "L" signs. Interestingly, some roads were posted, "NO L DRIVERS ALLOWED". The clerk was amazed when we revealed to him that learning drivers in the USA did not have to display any notice.

In another store we ask the clerk for a recommendation on a place to eat. She recommended De Selby's. Upon arriving there we found that it was VERY expensive. This, of course, put Mom in a wonderful mood.

One thing that is nice in Ireland is that all restaurants are required to put a copy of their menu in the front window. This allows you to see what they serve and if you are willing to pay the price. While we saw that it was expensive we decided to eat there anyway.

The interior was decorated with all sorts of antique sailing equipment. It had a wonderful atmosphere. But this did not compensate for the food. Sallie and Jody both order steaks. While the steaks were grilled they each had a breaded taste to them. Mom had a hamburger. Actually her hamburger was good. It was served on French Bread with melted cheese and diced tomatoes. I ordered a bowl of Irish Stew. This was very disappointing. It cost nearly 9 ($13) and amounted to a very small bowl of soup - not stew. This also set Mom off again on the outrageous prices...I agreed with her.

Leaving the restaurant we headed back to the B&B. The only problem was we couldn't find the turn. We drove through Dun Laoghaire twice. The road that we thought we were to turn on was named "Station" street and Sallie insisted this wasn't the right road.

We eventually found ourselves back at the gas station where we had stopped earlier for directions. Following those directions we found ourselves back at "Station" street. It turned out that the "Station" sign was pointing to the DART (Dublin Area Rapid Transit) tram station. The name of the street was on a sign posted on a building close to street level. Silly us were still looking for signs on post.

We soon came to find that signs could be posted anywhere. Usually they were posted where you wouldn't look. At intersections there is only one signpost which by law was always on the corner behind you. As you are driving and come to an intersection merging with your road, slow down and look at the sign to see if you are still headed in the right direction. Anyway, for the rest of the trip whenever we saw a "Station" sign, Sallie got a good ribbing.

Back at the B&B we sat for a while in the sitting room. Soon exhaustion claimed us and we returned to our rooms and passed-out.

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ireland98@johnpmartin.com