Wednesday, November 11, 2009

Day 1: Driving in Dublin

We began our Irish adventure on a cool Monday morning in the most obvious of places, the Dublin airport. Ireland boasts only two major airports as far as I can tell, the largest being in Dublin on the east coast, and the other in Shannon on the west coast. Our plan was to spend one night in Dublin before venturing out into the countryside. While everything I'd read had strongly, and I mean strongly, advised against driving in Ireland's capital city, I being the rebel that I am, ignored it. Much to my own peril, I'm afraid.

Driving in Dublin is a bit like drinking your body weight in liquid LSD, spinning in circles until you nearly throw up, and then trying to perform open heart surgery. Suffice to say, it's virtually impossible to do without near fatal injury to oneself or others. My husband Nathan had signed on to be my chauffeur, quite unbeknownst to him until we arrived at the Hertz station. I made this decision based on his uncanny aptitude for Sony PlayStation's Need for Speed. That may sound ludicrous, but I stand by my decision. Believe me, driving in Ireland is not so different from the fast-paced Indy racetracks of a popular video game. The only difference was we didn't get the fancy, tricked-out car. We got an over priced Mazda 3 with scratches all along the left side from the previous inept American drivers who'd rented it before us.

Thus begins my first lesson in Irish cunning: do not get taken by the car hire people. Thanks to the naivete splashed across our deer-in-headlights expressions, we spent an extra 140 euro on our car rental than we should have. It would have been worse had Nathan not caught on before the guy could sell me an additional 200 euro in unnecessary insurance. Insurance is a must have if your driving in Ireland, but if you've already arranged and paid for it online, they are happy to take your payment all over again once you've arrived by emitting that small detail.

With a good bleeding, very little instruction and a sarcastic "Good luck, you'll need it," we were turned loose onto the open roadway in our haggard sedan plastered with "Keep left" stickers. A forty minute drive from the airport to our hotel took us over two hours, thanks to an unnecessary detour through the town of Swords. Why did it take us so long? I like to blame the maps. You see, like snowflakes, no two maps of Dublin are alike, but what they do all have in common are lazy cartographers. Each map shows about half of all the actual roads in Dublin. Of those, only another 50-60% are labeled. I now know why Irish rock stars U2 wrote the famous tune, Where the Streets Have No Name. What you end up with is a skeletal fraction of what you are going to have to navigate. Since coming home, I've torn up all my Dublin maps and begun using them for toilet paper.

Here's the best I can offer those as audacious as myself, stick to the roads lining the Liffey river and the streets labeled with an "M" or "N" (the equivalent of our freeways) as best you can. Once you are off those, Dublin becomes a madcap, wonky ride through the rabbit hole, sans Alice. Just because a street is named one thing on the map, doesn't mean it's actually labeled with that same name on its signage, and just because a street is called one name here, doesn't mean it will be called the same name even a block away. If I could have superimposed all the maps of Dublin atop one another, I might have actually had a complete picture with which to navigate, but as it was, all I could do was flip from one to the next while Nathan maniacally circled the same round-about shouting, "Why didn't you tell me it was going to be like this?"

After unnecessarily touring half of Dublin's outlying towns and villages, circling countless round-abouts (the Irish answer to an intersection) and dodging hundreds of pedestrians, we finally stumbled upon our hotel by sheer accident. The two second trip from the door to the parking garage (called a "Car Park" in Ireland) took us another twenty minutes. We'd made it through what proved to be the hardest part of our trip and perhaps our lives. Of course, Nathan was two heart palpitations away from a full-blown panic attack and threatening divorce, but we'd done it. As we walked into the lobby of our historic hotel, I turned to my poor, frazzled husband and said, "The rest will be easy, I promise." He didn't look convinced. "Come on," I told him, "we're Texans, we tamed the Wild West!" But the truth of it is, the wild west has nothing on Dublin.

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