Thursday, June 11, 2015

Where Left is Right and Fences are Stone

I took Carol to Ireland for her 70th birthday.  We arrived at Shannon airport about 10:30am on June 2nd after leaving JFK around midnight on the 1st.  I'd reserved a car for the week from Hertz so our first stop after picking up our bags was the counter to get the keys and such. The clerk told me the insurance I added didn't cover tires and wheels, but I could buy a separate policy for that.  I didn't make sense to me so I turned it down.  After the third time I jumped a curb making a left turn on the first day, I thought that might have been a mistake.

There are many signs in and around the airport warning drivers to stay to the left, including a sticker on the driver's side windshield (on the right side of the automobile.)  It took a day and a half for me to climb in the driver's seat without first opening the passenger's door and being surprised at the absence of a steering wheel.  I did however  trade our standard shift car for an automatic before we drove anywhere but around the airport; shifting with my left hand from the right side while keeping to the left was one more thing than my old brain could handle.

The morning of the 3rd we traveled to the village of Dingle (gotta love some of the names) on the Dingle Peninsula.  The road to Limerick was wide with shoulders almost a car wide.  Road markings are similar, dashed white line verses solid white line, but the yellow line marking the wide shoulder was also dashed.  I discovered that slower cars would move to the shoulder to let others pass.

A little aside on roads:
    Motorways are like our interstates.
    National roads are similar to state highways
    Regional roads are anywhere from county road to country lane.

Leaving Limerick on the road to Dingle.  The road wove through some beautiful countryside, which I didn't really get much chance to see because I was trying to stay on the left side of ever narrowing roads without drifting off the non-existent shoulder.

 My ignorance of western Ireland's geography is profound - there are Catskill-size mountains in the area, and almost no trees.  Ireland, like the western Catskills, grows rocks.  Stone walls are everywhere. Some are finely crafted while others are haphazard piles of rock. they enclose fields where sheep, goats, cattle, or horses graze; they border tiny towns and often hug the edges of narrow roads that are nominally two lanes.  I was constantly aware of the proximity of the left side mirror to the walls - add that to the other things I was trying to manage and you have a fairly intense driving experience.
Connor Pass - This is one lane with some wide spots to pass
Ballysitteragh 2050 feet

Things I learned driving in Ireland:
1- Village roads are narrow, often bi-directional, with cars parked facing both directions on either side of the street.
2 - The default speed limit is 100kph. A shade over 1.6 kilometers in a mile (I'll give you a minute to make the conversion ... .)  Many of the shoulderless, stone wall bordered, lanes carry this maniacal allowance and folks actually maintain that speed!
3 - And this I loved - Instead of speed zone signs at the entry to populated areas, signs reading "Traffic Calming 400 m" serve the purpose,

Later in the month there will be a more detailed travel journal on my website, I'll keep you posted.

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