We'd rented mopeds in Bermuda before. They drive on the left there, too. Except for a few close encounters with pink buses and a few "three lefts make a right", it wasn't all that difficult.
Okay, it was quite a while before. Like twenty years ago.
I'm always up for a challenge, so renting a car in Ireland didn't seem like so much of a necessary evil as it did an exciting challenge. I have been driving a stick shift all my life, so why not there, too? Besides, it's cheaper and I like cheap.
So, I reserved a mid-sized car - which should have held the four of us and our luggage. The Hertz counter guy offered up an upgrade - with an upgraded price. An Audi A4. I ususally don't bite on these things. A bit more room? A better car? It's vacation, right? We rented the Audi.
The family pretty much expected disaster. "Oooh! How are you going to shift with the wrong hand and stay on the right..errr...left side of the road? We will all perish in a ball of flame", they said. Actually, what they said was, "Are you crazy?!?" Me? I was a bit more optimistic.
The Audi A4 TDI is a terrific car. It handles like it's on rails, it's roomy enough for four people and lots of luggage. It has a gutsy, turbocharged, direct injection (TDI = Turbocharged Direct Injection) diesel engine, a slick 6 speed transmission and a smooth clutch. It gets great gas mileage. Good thing. Diesel costs 1.60 euro per liter. That works out to $8.00 per gallon. It has some neat but quirky things, too. No key. You push the key fob in a slot and depress it to crank the engine. An electric parking brake. You just flip a lever up and the brake engages. Push it down, step on the brake and let the clutch, it disengages. Works like a Subaru "hill holder" to some extent. Handy, but just adds to all that stuff you have to actively think about. Then, there is that pesky steering wheel on the wrong side...and the shifter is over there next to my left hand.
|Wait a minute! That's not it!|
|THIS is the Audi A4 TDI|
(trade you my 98 Camry for it!)
Ireland has all kinds of roads. There are the type M motorways built in the last 10 years or so. They are great, wide, 75 mph freeways. These were easy
Then there are the type A county roads. With a few exceptions, they come in varying shades of crappy. They are two lanes wide, complete with a white stripe down the middle. But a lane is generally only about a foot wider than your car. The shoulder of the road is generally a stone wall, sometimes disguised by shrubbery growing from it. There is lots of stone in Ireland and they have scooped most of it up and made walls. In the old days, they stacked it up to make houses. Then they took the leftover and made walls. There are stone walls around everything and they line most country roads. They are there to keep the sheep in...most of the time. The roads are paved but they didn't waste much time and effort with the road grader before they threw the asphalt down. They are uneven, bumpy, rilly, hilly curvy cow paths with asphalt on them. Some worse than others. Maybe laid out by drunken cows.
|A very high quality type A road|
|A more standard type A county road (County Clare, I think) Probably 100 kph speed limit here.|
Then there are the R type roads. The good ones have two lanes, but that seems to be a "recommended practice" not a requirement. These have similarly funny 50 and 60 mph speed limits.
|Type R road in Kerry "Kingdom"|
Rock walls, occasional sheep, narrow lanes, opposing traffic (including full sized tour buses!), a right hand that doesn't know how to steer, a left hand the doesn't know how to shift, a 55 year old brain that doesn't know where the left hand side of the car is relative to the right hand seat, right turns into the left hand lane, traffic circles going the wrong direction...."we are all going to perish in a ball of flame"!
The end of the story:
Okay, we survived. The car survived. I eventually got the hang of placing the car in the right side of the lane. Every day elicited fewer gasps and branch scrapes from the left hand side of the car. Right turns got less confusing, traffic circles simpler and I spent more time actually driving instead of just trying to make the car go.
The best part was we got to see great big gobs of the varied, scenic, be-sheeped, Irish countryside. Nearly 800 miles of it.
Amazingly, that Audi only used $135 of diesel (45 mpg, for those keeping score at home). Would I drive in Ireland again? Sure! Even with a stick shift! (just don't tell the rest of my family)
|Cliffs of Moher|