|From inside The Rock at Dunamase (Dunamase Castle).|
First off, the people are grand. You will not meet a kinder nor more polite population than we have encountered.
Secondly, it's gorgeous here. The fields are nearly all partitioned off into neat squares with stone fences, hedge rows, or tree lines. You will see more sheep, cows, and green, green grass than ever you will at home.
Ireland seems to have figured out that the rest of the world is entranced and enthralled by the old and the religious, and they have both in abundance here. The artifacts, historical sites, and religious icons all call to something deep inside our souls to which we have to respond. I think it's part of the charm of this "Emerald Isle" that will keep calling us back to it.
Now, on to more mundane observations.
The Irish brogue, or dialect, is such an easy and comfortable way of talking that by the end of the week you find yourself falling into it without even trying. Beware that you don't accidentally offend a native, lest they think you are mocking them. With that in mind, here are a few translations I've noticed:
"Grand" = Good. Fine.
"Brilliant" = Very good. Excellent.
"No Worries" = You're Welcome.
"No Problem" = You're Welcome.
"That's No Problem at All" = I'll take care of that right away.
"Petrol" = Gas.
"Slip Road" = On or Off Ramp from a motorway.
"Motorway" = Divided highway.
"Ramp" = In Ireland, a ramp is a wide, large speed bump. They are strategically placed to keep traffic from reaching a breakneck speed in the neighborhoods. The Irish do like to drive fast.
Ireland does have signs on the side of the road, but they also paint the roadway with directions, warnings about upcoming ramps, and times you should go slow. And they will often paint which lane goes to which road, designating them with the different Regional or National road numbers. (Such as N-50, with an arrow.) You read these painted road signs from the bottom to top. Not top to bottom, as you would if it was a vertical sign. And there is never a right turn on a red light, such as we have in America. Here, red means stop and stay stopped until you get the green.
A word about roundabouts. In the United States, we use electronic controls (traffic lights) or 4-way stop signs to manage intersections. In Ireland, traffic light use is generally reserved only for the larger cities and villages. And the intersections are nearly all controlled by something called a roundabout, which I'm sure you've either heard of or seen in the movies. A roundabout is a large, circular piece of cement - usually grass covered and pretty - set smack dab in the middle of the intersection, around which traffic flows. Roundabouts have no stop signs, only Yield signage. So, essentially, at Irish intersections traffic never stops. Barely even slows down. You enter the roundabout and go around until you reach the road you want. If you miss it, go around again.
Personally, I think roundabouts are brilliant and possibly the greatest form of controlled chaos I've ever seen. I wish we used them more here in the States. They have only recently begun to become popular with American traffic engineers.
The toilets. That's what they are called in Ireland. Not bathroom, not washroom (as they are called in Canada), and not W.C. or water closet. Ask where the toilets are. Most of them work the same way they do in the states. You pull a handle or push a button and the thing flushes. But one or two of them - in our hotels, at least - worked on the pump method. You pump the handle until enough water is in the tank to flush it. And many of the more modern toilets have *two* buttons. A small one and a larger one. The small one is what you use if all you are flushing is, umm, a water-based byproduct. The larger button is used to dispose of solid waste.
Washcloths. Also called face cloths. Irish hotels, for whatever reason (I could not divine one, though I asked Mr. Google for help), rarely if ever provide face cloths. You get a luxurious bath towel, a large hand towel ... and that's it. Pack a few and something to stash them in for traveling when they are wet. Dad and I stayed in five different hotels - four and five star resorts, mind you - and only *one* provided washcloths.
Irish city, town, and village names. Do not try to pronounce them. You will only end up sounding as though you are deep in your cups which, come to think of it, may be how the Irish came up with the names in the first place. The way the alphabet works here is not like any other language I've seen and what research I've done indicates it would be easier to train my cat to use the toilet than to try and reprogram my brain to learn the different pronunciations of the consonant and vowel sets here. Your best bet? Ask someone who lives here how to say the names.
I would highly recommend getting a cell phone (called a mobile here and in pretty much the rest of the world), and having it set up for international use. Being able to make a phone call from the road - especially during one of the times we got lost - would have been incredibly helpful, but neither one of us had an internationally-capable cell.
OTHER TIPS FROM DAD AND I:
- There is very little in the way of what we'd call "fast food" in Ireland. I think we saw maybe three places with a drive-through window. If you'll not be eating at the hotel, you will generally need to eat at a public house (called a pub). And they usually do, in fact, look just like someone's home, only they've been made into a bar/restaurant on the inside.
- Take about twice as much money as you think you'll need. An American dollar is only worth about 65 cents in Ireland. In the south of the island - where most of the tourist traffic is - they use Euros. If you're going to travel to Northern Island, you'll be using British pounds.
- We found food to be our biggest expense, which was surprising to us. We had thought that gas - about $8.00 a gallon here - would be our largest expense, but we only had to fill the tank once and top it off before returning it to the rental agency. Diesel engines are very common and popular in Ireland and from our experience, they get *great* gas mileage. You just have to make sure you give the engine enough "revs." See my blog post from earlier this week. And to be sure - petrol stations are few and far between. Gas up when the tank approaches half-empty.
- Bottled water. There are two types here. "Still" water and "Sparkling" water. Still water is what you are used to buying in the states. Sparkling water is pumped with carbonation and fizzies. It's what you might mix with fruit juice.
- Bring a rain coat. And layered clothing. Dad and I enjoyed remarkably mild and sunny weather this week. I even got a sunburn. Twice! But we're told that Spring weather is wildly changeable and gray skies with cool, wet weather is common.
- If you're going to be driving, a Global Positioning System (GPS) is not a luxury. It is an absolute necessity. However, as you know if you've been reading the last few posts, it is fallible. So don't depend on it entirely. Nevertheless, we could not have had the trip we did without. It was, in fact, worth twice what we paid to rent the thing. Road signs that tell you where you are or what road you're turning onto are nearly nonexistent.
- Most everything here uses the metric system, so if you're used to feet and miles, get to know the conversion factors pretty well. You'll need to be comfortable with kilometers and meters and how far that is to know what you're doing.
- A good pair of walking shoes is essential. If you're on your own, you'll walk a lot. If you're with a tour group, you'll walk a lot. If you visit Dublin, you'll walk A LOT. So wear comfortable yet rugged footwear.
At least a little.
Mark's Musings is published on a semi-periodical basis that may change without notice. Find me on Twitter at http://www.twitter.com/markmusings. Facebook link is over there to the right. This blog is considered to be a digital periodical publication and is filed as such with the U.S. Library of Congress; ISSN 2154-9761. A week ago Friday, we left Chicago at 8:00 p.m., arrived in Ireland at 9:00 Saturday morning. Today we leave Ireland at 3:45 p.m., and arrive in Chicago at 6:05 Sunday evening. Time zones are a funny ol' thing.