Thirteen days into this journey and we are already departing Ireland. As I write this, we are on the bus from Belfast to Dublin Airport and I am so happy that someone else is driving us. After 25 years of driving on the left side of the car and the right side of the road, I had a hell of a time wrapping my 42 year old neural pathways around the visual-spatial Mensa puzzle that is driving in the UK. More on that later.
How is this “adventure of a lifetime” going? Were our expectations too high? Did we fail to anticipate how difficult and stressful it would be? Are the kids bursting into flames with longing for the familiar? Straightforward answers to these questions would be lacking. But there’s a comparison that comes to mind.
The weather in Ireland has been . . . Irish. Average temperatures around 20C. Overcast much of the time, there has been some rain but no big storms. And sometimes, frequently in fact, the sun bursts through and suddenly there is a brilliant blue sky backdrop to the impossible green of the hills and the rustic stone of castles that seem stubbornly frozen in a perfect state of decline.
The weather in Ireland is a pretty good metaphor for our collective mental state. It’s certainly not all sunshine and rainbows. We’ve been caught in the rain a few times, both literally and figuratively. No debilitating monsoons. Just enough temporary discomfort to make you reflect and appreciate the periods of sunshine. And those good times have been good. But again, not adrenaline-surging, dopamine-spiking, make you squeal with excitement thrills. Rather, small smile, warm and fuzzy feelings you get from seeing and doing wonderful things with people you care about.
I think we are settling into the traveling mindset. We consciously avoid expectations. We keep our plans as open and flexible as possible. We prioritize eating healthy, play and exercise over making sure we see and do every little thing. And that seems to be working for us.
One thing that we are discovering about ourselves is that we seem to prefer the countryside over the city. Perhaps it’s the constant low level fear of one of your offspring becoming downtown Dublin roadkill, but we would all agree that our best days so far have been spent walking, climbing and frolicking in the natural areas outside of the cities.
We arrived in Dublin ten days ago after another red-eye flight (frugality, you know . . .). Not an easy city to get around even when you’re not sleep-deprived, but after multiple wrong turns (one of those “rainy days”) we did manage to find our hostel. For two days we all shared a room with three bunk beds, ate breakfast in a church turned Hogwarts-style dining hall, and toured the city largely on a double-decker bus. We treated ourselves to an authentic Irish lunch at the famous historic pub, Slatterys (complete with two pints of Guinness for yours truly), found a great park for the kids to play at Merrion Square, and enjoyed a few hours touring the world’s largest collection of dead animals at the Dublin Museum of Natural History (aka “The Dead Zoo”).
Then came our first almost-monsoon. Let’s call it a tropical storm.
Our plan was to take a bus to Belfast then rent a car and drive to our next Airbnb two hours from there on the north coast. We were feeling pretty good about ourselves, catching the bus and making it to Belfast in the early afternoon – plenty of time. Even without a data plan on our phone, we knew there were several car rental places within walking distance of the bus stop.
Then it started raining. Bad omen.
Avis rentals. Nope. Hertz? Nope. It’s not that they didn’t have cars. It’s just that they didn’t have a car that could seat six. It was raining harder. Linds was giving me “that look” that means we have passed her tolerance for uncertainty and I had better figure something out.
The guy at the desk who looked somewhat bemused by the fact that one family of Canadians had suddenly turned his little store into a daycare full of wet kids, offered to call Enterprise rentals. There was hope.
Except that the central booking lady asked for a mobile number . . . which we don’t have. She put me on hold and never returned.
At that point we decided we might just look pathetic enough that if we arrived at Enterprise in person, someone might take pity on us. That is, if they even had a car to fit us. “Big Family Small World” sounded cute before. We didn’t realize the disadvantage it would entail.
Accidentally taking a somewhat scenic route through Belfast in the rain, we finally found the spot. The kids were drenched but somewhat oblivious to the hardship. Linds, on the other hand, wasn’t making eye contact with me. Ugh.
I pretended like I didn’t mind being wet and miserable, gave my best easy-going Canadian smile and lied.
“Central booking told us you have a car that will seat six for next five days?”
“Oh, they did? They never check to see what we actually have. Let me see what we can do.”
Almost two hours later I was in the driver’s seat of an Alhambra minivan. And that’s when things really got interesting.
I like to think of myself as a fairly quick learner. I pay attention. I try hard. I self-correct. But as soon as we pulled out of the rental car parking lot I knew I was in over my head. After 25 years of positioning your body in the left side of the lane (for the very rational reason that most of the car takes up the right side of the lane), it was like the car constantly pulled to the left . . . into the curb, or wall – whatever. It just wanted to go there.
Did I mention it was rush hour in downtown Belfast? Did I mention the lanes are about as wide as a potato cart?
Irish drivers are courteous, but my hesitating, last-minute lane-changing, line-hugging style of driving clearly got on a few Irish nerves. The fact that I didn’t smash that Alhambra into smithereens (incidentally a word or Irish origin: smidinirini, meaning “little bits”) is really slightly more than a small miracle. I’m sure there is some Irish patron saint of protection I should be thanking. Does Saint Guinness count?
Long story long, we couldn’t have seen Northern Ireland without that car of mirrors. In fact, driving the Coastal Causeway was so awe-inspiring it actually made up for the Belfast fiasco. Here are a few pics to prove it.
A church in Dublin
View from the cliffs above the Giant’s Causeway