The long plane ride to Ireland wasn’t as bad as we feared. We were served a choice of pasta or chicken for dinner. Mom and I chose pasta and Vicki had the chicken. I must say it was a step down from business class although it wasn’t too bad. After dinner, all of us slept at least a little and I was able to sleep for about 3 straight hours of the 6 hour flight. About an hour and a half out of Shannon, the flight attendants brought around our breakfast…a drink and a warmed danish.
We touched down in Shannon about 9:30 am on Monday morning. After collecting our belongings and deplaning, we made our way to the Irish Immigration counter. There we turned in the shortest disembarkation card I’ve ever filled out. Name, passport number and address staying…that was it. After immigration, we walked through the empty customs counter and out of the airport. As we boarded a quick shuttle bus to the rental car, my palms started to sweat. We had reached the point of our journey I had been dreading for 3 months…driving on the left side of the road! After filling out the necessary paperwork (and providing a credit card of course), I was handed the keys to a little red 4-door Nissan. We loaded our bags into the trunk and I nervously walked around to the right side of the car and climbed behind the wheel.
Everything was on the wrong side! The rear view mirror and gear shift (automatic, thank goodness) were both on the left. There were also at least 3 stickers on the dash and windshield reminding me to drive on the left. At least I must not be the first idiot to try this! We pulled out our handy GPS unit that Dad let us borrow and affixed it to the windshield and plugged in our first destination…Cork. I gathered all of my courage and started the car. Very slowly we pulled out of the rental car lot and onto a road. The GPS lady very kindly began to guide us out of the airport. For a couple of minutes everything was fine and then the dreaded words “Enter roundabout” came out. There may be many of you in the states who have never encountered a roundabout, so let me explain. Roundabouts are used to control traffic in many parts of Europe instead of stop lights. There are a couple of problems with roundabouts. First, the traffic in the circle has the right-of-way, so you have to wait until the coast is clear (or apparently at least mostly clear) before you enter. Second, you really need to know which exit you need to exit on before entering. Luckily we had the GPS lady to helpfully tell us to take the 2nd exit (I also discovered that it helps to count the exits out loud). We successfully exited our first roundabout. I even remembered to stay on the left side of the road (of course it was a divided highway but I still want credit). We went another 2 km down the road and again heard from the GPS Lady..Enter Roundabout. I think we heard that at least every 5 minutes for the first half hour of driving.
Since we couldn’t check into our B&B until about 5 pm, we decided not to waste time and begin some touring immediately. We headed to Cork to see if we could find lunch. Unfortunately, when we were almost to Cork we encountered a sign that said that many roads into the Cork City Centre were closed due to the Cork Marathon. Almost immediately traffic came to an abrupt halt. What to do now? Luckily for us, the GPS lady helped us to the alternate destination of Cobh. Cobh used to be called Queenstown and was a big shipping port of old. It was the final port of call for the Titanic and was also the location where many Irish emigrants left Ireland for the US and other shores. It was a very beautiful town and we had a lovely lunch of fish and chips at a restaurant called Eleven West.
After lunch, feeling full and beginning to feel the effects of jet lag, we got back into the car and headed towards Bantry. We hoped that the traffic in Cork had cleared because we couldn’t get to Bantry without going through Cork. Heading out of Cobh, we discovered some very important things regarding driving in Ireland. The first was that cars will park anywhere and don’t necessarily do off the road. Second, many cars will drive down the middle. Third, most Irish don’t seem to find the first two of these incompatible. This resulted in me stopping many times to let another car pass me when I didn’t have the nerve. At least if I stopped, the other car was forced to make a decision and any resulting accident would be THEIR fault. Luckily the traffic in Cork had cleared and we passed through easily on the highway and headed towards Bantry. Everything was fine while on roads beginning with N. N stands for National road and these roads seem to be pretty good (translation: wide enough for 2 cars and not many potholes. The adventure began when we turned onto R roads. R stands for Rural roads (translation: maybe 1.5 lanes wide, full of potholes and at many times a car coming towards you down the middle). After a couple of hours of this, we came into Bantry. Unfortunately, the GPS lady had never heard of our B&B and didn’t know where Goats Path Road was. Luckily, there were no males in the car and the GPS lady didn’t complain when we stopped at a local gas station to ask for directions. A very kind attendant explained the directions to Mom and she faithfully relayed them to us. We got back onto the road and headed through Bantry town square per the directions and began to look for our next landmark, the Westlodge Hotel, where we should turn right. We found the Westlodge Hotel and turned right…onto the wrong road. Turns out there were 2 roads about 50 feet apart. Of course, we didn’t discover that until we left this morning. Luckily the wrong road ran into the right road after a few clicks (that’s kilometers for those of you unfamiliar with metric slang). We saw a sign for the Seamount Farm B&B and continued on…and on….and on. We could see ocean on our right but were beginning to doubt we would every find the right place. Eventually, we arrived at our destination.
Wearily, we climbed out of the car and mounted the steps to ring the bell. Our hostess, Julia, opened the door and welcomed us in. Immediately the scent of fresh baked scones filled the air. Julia told us that she would show us to our rooms and that the tea and scones would be ready in 10 minutes. We were charmed by our first views of both the room and the B&B. The view out the windows was spectacular.
We were also charmed by the gardens surrounding the house.
After consuming our tea and scones with butter and jam, we headed up to our room. Completely worn our by jet lag and our travels, we decided to make it an early night and head to bed. I’m informed that I was asleep as soon as my head hit the pillow even though it was still bright daylight outside. Mom and Vicki informed me that it wasn’t totally dark even at 11:00 pm. I wouldn’t know because my eyes didn’t open again until about 6:50 am.
Much refreshed after a good night’s sleep, we headed down to breakfast. Mom had a full Irish breakfast of eggs, bacon, sausage, tomato, toast and white pudding. I opted for the omelet with salmon and Vicki had scrambled eggs on toast. Of course there was plenty of scones and Irish soda bread with tea or coffee to wash it down.
Amazed by another day of bright sunshine (apparently quite unusual according to local residents), we headed outside for a few last pictures of Seamount Farm and its four-legged residents.
Reluctantly, we loaded our luggage back into the car and headed toward Limerick. Feeling much more confident driving free of jet lag and the allergies that plagued me the first day, the trip to Limerick lasted about 3 hours and was uneventful. We stopped once for gas (gulp 115 Euros a liter) and a drink. We arrived in Limerick and checked into the Marriott about 3:00 pm. Our room is lovely with a balcony overlooking the city.
After unpacking our stuff into the room, we took a quick jaunt down the nearby pedestrian shopping street. Vicki and I did some shopping and got a great bargain on some shirts at Laura Ashley. Mom helpfully held bags and provided objective fashion advice. We also made a side trip into a bakery and bought some yummy looking éclairs and a piece of carrot cake. We decided we probably should eat dinner first, so we headed to the Hamptons restaurant at the hotel. Mom and I had pasta and Vicki had a chicken salad. Vicki requested her salad dressing on the side, not realizing that would result in each component in a separate dish. The food was excellent. After dinner, we felt the need for some exercise after 2 days in the car, so we headed to the river walk by the River Shannon. The view was beautiful and there were tons of swans who were vastly disappointed we didn’t bring them dinner.
Now, we’re in the hotel for the night. Tomorrow we are planning to drive the Dingle peninsula, so wish us luck with one-lane roads and tour buses. More to come!