Friday, February 25, 2011

Driving in Ireland

When I moved to Ireland, the whole everyone driving on the other side of the road thing really got to me. I was terrified to cross the street because cars seemingly came from nowhere seeking to run me over. Even the painted "Look Right" signs at every streetlight corner couldn't stop me from occasionally stepping in front of a car I expected to see coming from the other direction.

As time wore on I became a much better pedestrian, but I was still terrified to become a driver. Fortunately, work beckoned and I had to drive myself and an admissions counselor to a recruitment fair. I was a nervous wreck, convinced I would cause physical harm to those around me. I put the car in gear and inched forward barely able to grip the steering wheel due to the sweat pumping out of my hands. Taking my first turn out of the car park, I managed to bump the side view mirror. No damage done to anything except my confidence! I am happy to say that was the low point and it didn't take long for me to acclimate to driving on the left side of the road. What did take a little longer was getting used to the rules of the road. Today's differences are going to focus on driving.

95% of drivers drive a stick shift and easily half of all cars for not have air conditioning. Both of these considerations are made because they use less gas.

Gas is really expensive in Ireland. Right now it is €1.49 a liter. And there are 4 liters in a gallon, which means here in Dublin we pay $7.74 per gallon. Ouch!

The Irish really love the round-a-bout (known as a traffic circle in the USA). They use them in place of street lights, again to save energy and expense. I used to approach them with fear, but I don't mind them so much now. Carl likes to point out that I don't follow the rules of the roundabout, but that's because I don't think they make sense. I still manage to get through them!

Each car in Ireland is required to display in their front windshield a tax disk, insurance disk, and NCT (car health) disk. There are constant road blocks by the Garda to assure these are all in date.

Here there is no equivalent to right on red. In this case, it would be left on red. But a red light means no go. This is a rule of the road that took me many years to adjust to and gave my Irish passengers many heart attacks. Now when I come to the states I get honked at for not turning right on red, but I think I will readjust to that rule very quickly!

When you pump gas you have have to go inside to pay. There is only one gas station that I have been to in Dublin that has pay with CC at the pump and that just opened at Christmas time. Also if we are being correct about things they refer to gas as petrol (and crack up when you say gas....childish really)

The roads outside of Dublin are really just like you see in the movies: narrow, windy, and covered with farm animals. I have had to stop countless times for sheep crossing, cows crossing, and mountain goats just taking their time.

Also everything here is in kilometers. That is something that I still haven't gotten used to. Every time I see a sign, I instantly convert it into miles. I just can't get with the km's!

Lots of people ask me if they should rent a car when they come to Ireland and very unhelpfully I never give them a clear answer. The signposting in this country is abysmal to say the very least. Lots of roads aren't marked anywhere and several of the roads that are, change names 5 times in 2 miles. Once you are outside of Dublin, you can go large stretches of road without seeing any signs or any people. Roads that look like "real" roads on the map are often barely wide enough for two cars and curvy the whole way. GPS does help sometimes, but cannot be relied on. Plus when you are the driver you really do have to focus on the road here, they aren't built to help you admire the scenery. The passenger spends most of the time navigating and it is nearly impossible not getting lost at some point, adding a bit of tension to the holiday.

The advantages of driving are that you can go anywhere and see anything. Some of Ireland's best sights are tucked away off the beaten track.

If you are comfortable driving anywhere in the states and enjoy reading maps, then you would be fine here. If driving is something you avoid doing and reading maps is something you only do well at the shopping mall, then I would suggest looking into train journeys or small private coach tours.

And if you are coming to Ireland - let me know!

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