Saturday, April 19, 2014

Travels with Dad: Trouble in Dublin

We left Waterford in good spirits, as you can see. Dad's wisdom with his finances and life choices are certainly the driving force in bringing us to Ireland for this once-in-a-lifetime trip. I owe him so much.

We also left Waterford with a small sense of melancholy, knowing that we had just one last night here on the Emerald Isle. Our mission today was to return our rented wheelchair, and make time for one last tourist stop in Dublin. And the two-hour trip began well, with over 100 kilometres of M-road (4-lane divided expressway).

I have to admit I was looking forward to tackling the roads of Dublin once again. The last time I had been here I had basically been up for about 30 hours straight and was operating a right-hand drive vehicle from the left-hand side of the road for the first time. It was, to say the least, NOT fun. So now, fully awake and aware, I wanted a second crack at driving in Dublin.

Oh, what a fool I was.

Things started out well enough. Thanks to our trusty GPS and memory of having been in the area once before when we rented the wheelchair, we had no issues finding the place again and returning the chair. We didn't use it often, it turned out, because most of the attractions we stopped to see had a better one they let us borrow, but it was good to have along. And bonus! We found out, with a little exploring, that our GPS had attractions and hotels preprogrammed, so we didn't have to rely on trying to find an Ireland street address from Google or some other resource.

So with our confidence high, we set out to find the Dublin Zoo. I didn't recall any of my friends having been there and thought it would be a good day - the weather was still very sunny, mild, and mid-60s here - to kill a few hours before heading out to our hotel in County Meath.

The first sign that something was going to go wrong was that all the handicap parking spaces near the front entrance were full. A sign said there was "more handicap parking in rear." So we set out to find the rear. Turns out the Dublin Zoo is not just big, it is HUGE. We could not find the rear. With both hands. Wound up driving into Phoenix Park, watching the joggers.

Finding a place to pull off, we then programmed our GPS for Trinity College in downtown Dublin, hoping to see the Book of Kells, which was highly recommended by friends back home.

Now, a word about Dublin. On Saturday. On Easter weekend. Driving through downtown Dublin in those conditions is like trying to drive through the crowd at Woodstock. It is not impossible, but it is nearly so. Every person in Dublin was out today, I swear. And they all decided to ignore the pedestrian crossings, en masse, at once. By the time we made it to Trinity College, my nerves were half shot. The next problem was parking. There was none that we could see. Anywhere near Trinity College.

Before we arrived, I had read online that there was no need to drive in Dublin. Public transportation was inexpensive and plentiful. And, in fact, having seen the city I now believe it is best viewed on your own two feet. You can walk nearly everywhere you need to go. However, when you travel with an 81-year old companion who can barely manage three city blocks before needing a moment to catch his breath, you drive.

So we drove to Trinity College but the nearest car park we found was blocks and blocks away. At a downtown shopping mall. We made the best of what was quickly turning into a bad situation. We found a restaurant and had some lunch. This mall, by the way, was the only place in Ireland we had found both a Burger King and a KFC. We had passed a couple of McDonald's, but saw no other fast food the entire previous week.

Well, by now it was time to head out to our hotel in County Meath, about half an hour west of Dublin. So we programmed the GPS and set out through the narrow, congested streets of Dublin once again.

What we hadn't counted on was construction that blocked streets, diverted traffic, and generally made a total confusion out of our poor GPS, which was "recalculating" about every second block. So my Dad is telling me one direction, the GPS is saying a different direction, we wound up going the wrong way down a one-way street, and then the engine warning light comes on again - a different one this time. By the time we left Dublin, this is how I felt (see photo).

I had one nerve left. And then the GPS unit robbed me of that. To reach County Meath, you have to pay a toll right before your exit. We did that, then proceeded to the exit indicated by the GPS. We went through the first roundabout per instructions, then went through the second roundabout exactly as it told us to - only to find ourselves BACK ON THE TOLL ROAD, headed in the opposite direction. And even though we made an appeal for leniency, we had to pay the (insert appropriate adjective) toll again. To add insult to injury, the GPS told us our destination was "300 meters ahead, on the left." About where the toll booths were.

So it was once again time to play "Pin the Tourist on the Hotel." We blindfolded our GPS and went in search of our lodgings through the gorgeous Irish countryside. By this time my teeth were grinding so badly I could have chewed my way through a concrete block and had a box of nails for dessert.

We spotted a petrol station. Dad went in to ask directions to find a very lovely and polite woman from India behind the counter who spoke only a little broken English. She took us over to the attached barber shop where ... we could not find the proprietor. But there was an older woman there, sitting under a dryer and reading a magazine. She pointed toward the door in the back. I waited. Dad went in search of other help.

We both found someone who could give us directions at about the same time. A few minutes later, we got back in the car and compared notes only to discover the directions that each man gave were in the complete opposite direction from one another. My guy had an Irish brogue, Dad's guy had a Jamaican accent. So I trusted my gut and we followed the Irish guy's orders.

Thank God for Irishmen who know their way around the county. About 20 minutes later, we were at our hotel, despite some misgivings and a couple of disagreements with each other about how to get there and exactly which road(s) to take out of the roundabouts.
So this is the Johnstown House Hotel and Spa. A lovely facility situated pretty much in the middle of nowhere. Or so it seemed.

The restaurant on the site was completely booked for the entire evening so our porter told us about a pub just down the road that was fairly inexpensive and had good food. He was right on both counts and it came as close as Dad has come to being in a genuine Irish pub. Too bad there wasn't a band tonight.

And yes, I had a stiff drink.


Mark's Musings is published on a semi-periodical basis that may change without notice. Find me on Twitter at 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. Tomorrow: The flight home.

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