Friday, August 22, 2008

Ireland, Part I: Reserving, Flights, Car Rental, Kilbeggan, and Clonmacnois

4 comments

As detailed in my earlier post, we had a hard time deciding what to do with our five days in Ireland. But, we didn’t want to wait, because everything we read indicated that it was a good idea to make advance reservations during August, the height of Ireland’s tourist season. We debated and debated, finally making some reservations using Gulliver Ireland at around 1:00am the night before leaving on our trip to Leipzig. Naturally, the best decisions don’t generally happen at that hour and, later, after buying a more detailed Ireland travel guide, we started to doubt our choices a bit, but stuck with them.

We’d resigned ourselves to flying out of some inconvenient airport on Ryanair, but then discovered that at the late hour at which we were purchasing tickets, Lufthansa cost only a few Euros more, had better timing, and went from the easiest airport to get to, Frankfurt am Main. Ryanair flies into Karlsruhe/Baden-Baden and Frankfurt Hahn (nowhere near Frankfurt – seriously), but both take longer to get to than Frankfurt am Main. There’s also Ryanair service to Duesseldorf, but that’s about 3 hours by train from here. Not to mention, Lufthansa has seat assignments, seat pockets, snacks and drinks, and a generally nicer atmosphere than what I hear from all the Ryanair stories. (Something I learned in an Irish newspaper: Ryanair isn’t doing so well now because they didn’t bother to raise their ticket prices in response to rising fuel costs!)

So, we had a great flight on Lufthansa! Passport control was friendly and easy, though it looked like some of the other lines had more prying officials. (I had started to worry that they’d ask us the name of where we were staying and I’d have no idea how to pronounce the name of it!) We’d found a car in advance through irishcarrentals.com and went to pick it up. We don’t have a car so we had to purchase car insurance for the rental, and Damon had done so through the website. But, when we went to pick up the car, they said they wouldn’t recognize the insurance we bought, so we had to put up a 1200 EUR deductible in advance, which would be refunded when we returned the car. The limit on our bank credit cards is only 500 EUR, so this was a problem. We can call the bank for a temporary increase on the limit, but it takes some time to get to the right person at the bank (they pass you around a bit) and we didn’t know in advance that this would be a problem. So, we ended up having to purchase car insurance from the rental company in addition to the insurance we’d already bought. So, don’t buy the insurance from the internet, unless you have room in your credit limit for the giant deductible!!

Damon was nervous as hell about driving on the left-hand side of the road. I failed to learn how to drive a stick, though, so it was all him. It was madness at first – the stick on the wrong side, the steering wheel on the wrong side, the wipers on the wrong side, everything wrong wrong wrong. Despite all this, we successfully made it out of the airport and out of the Dublin metro area, out to Kilbeggan, where we decided to stop for some lunch.

We found a pub that looked cheaper than the others. The menus were hand-written! (See photos.) A friend of the waitress walked in, and she said, “How’s you?” The overall style of the bar was much more similar to an American bar than a German one. I guess that’s why Americans in Germany can always be found hanging out at the Irish pub. As we left, people we didn’t know on the street said hello to us. I don’t think that has ever happened to us in Germany, no matter how small the town we were in.

We continued down the road and saw an exit sign for the Clonmacnois monastery ruin, so we decided to try it. I got out the book to look it up and it turns out that it’s a major site that attracts a lot of tourists. When we got there, two buses full of German-speaking tourists had just pulled in! There was also a large French group there. We managed to get around the crowds and check it all out – see the pictures! The monastery has a museum with several high crosses (large, detailed crosses) from the church grounds inside, and it is situated right on the Shannon River. This was one of the only things we saw under the sun in Ireland. After this, it pretty much rained the whole time.

Kilbeggan, Clonmacnois, & Spiddal Aug 08

We continued onward toward Galway. Our goal was Spiddal (An Spidéal – as it’s inside the edge of an Irish-speaking region, the road signs for it are by law only in Irish), a town on the Galway Bay just beyond Galway. We’d looked for a room in Galway, since visiting there was part of our original plan, but it was cheaper to stay further out, so Spiddal it was. Adding to Damon’s nervousness about the roads were the roundabouts, which were confusing at first. We had those in New England too – there they are called rotaries – but of course here they are all backwards! He was also having trouble deciding how close he should be to the center line, as most of the smaller roads were extremely narrow. Some were too narrow to even have a center line. He told me to let him know if he got too close to the edge of the road, since he wanted to err on that side instead. “Okay,” I said. We slowly made it through Galway’s rush hour traffic and soon emerged on the other side with amazing views of Galway Bay across to County Clare.

As we pulled in to Spiddal, the road was very narrow and lined with parked cars that narrowed it even further. Very ugly when there’s two-way traffic. It was clearly bugging Damon, as he was inching closer and closer to the side of the road and all those parked cars. So, it was time for the warning he asked for.

“Hey, you’re getting really close to these parked cars over here, you should move over.”

A block later the situation hadn’t improved. “Hey, um, you’re still REALLY close on this si….” *THWACK*

4 comments:

  1. oh you can't leave me hanging like this!!!

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  2. I'd just like to stick up for my "Urheimat" by reminding you that random strangers on the street in Ottenhoefen im Schwarzwald wished us a guten Morgen! So it HAS happened in Germany ;) (although rarely)

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  3. I really do feel most comfortable in Irish pubs, even back home! Sorry your trip was rained out, but looking forward to reading more. Ah, I am lucky I tuned in later to your story so no cliff hanger for me!

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  4. Ann: :) It was suspenseful for us waiting to find a place to stop and see if we did major damage!

    Damon: I heard it sometimes happens in the area south of Freiburg too! (See Ian's blog...)

    Yankee: Though German bars have their benefits (they're not selling things at Irish prices!) there is definitely something familiar about Irish pubs.

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