Tuesday, March 13, 2007

Arriving in the Emerald Isle

The flight out of Atlanta was on time and uneventful. Best thing I can say was that the food was enjoyable; the worst is that the Boeing 767 is designed for someone with 12 inch femurs. Nice that the seating is 2-4-2, but there is no way for someone of my not terribly challenging stature to fit in the thing without grinding one’s knees into the extruded aluminum panels they use to frame the seat backs. Slouching helps a bit, but then you’re supporting your entire body mass with the nails on your big toes. This was not a sleep friendly hop. Which was good, because it’s best to experience the truly frightening when running on 23 hours of adrenaline and Diet Coke.

Customs and passport control was a breeze and although I did wait a bit for my bag, it did show up. From there it was out the door for a brisk walk around the airport looking for my rental car. I noticed that all the cars have a little sheet with the keys with drawings of all 4 elevations. Dents and scrapes are marked so the damage the car is about to receive under your impending rental will be attributed to you and you alone. Not being prescient, I could not appreciate the offer of “extended insurance” during my rental. It’s also lucky for me there is no drawing for the clutch, because it’s doubtful this car will have one when I am done with it.

Do let’s talk about driving on the wrong side of the road. Here are some simple observations:

  • It is really weird to sit in the passenger’s seat and have the steering wheel there.
  • It is really weird to sit in the passenger’s seat and use the rearview mirror. This is actually doubly weird because you feel like you’re constantly checking up on the driver who isn’t there.
  • It’s hard to avoid running over things with the passenger side, much harder than when you’re driving on the correct side of the road. It doesn’t help that two lane roads are actually 1.8 lanes wide. The fact that I am driving a mechanical running shoe (Toyota Yaris) didn’t help me from hitting all manners of things – pot holes, stone walls, bushes, traffic cones and something big enough to jam the passenger side mirror back into the window.
  • You never know if you’re on the correct side when going around a roundabout. Luckily you get thousands of chances to practice this, because they occur every 3 kilometers.
  • All the roads lead to the same place if you just keep taking those strange left turns.
  • Left handed shifting is really, really hard to execute.
  • You naturally do not look the correct way when pulling out into traffic. At least not until you get crushed by a truck.

I left the airport and found my way out onto the M1 motorway having only one close call – a right turn across traffic in which I failed to remember that right turns are across traffic. It wasn’t as close as I’m recalling it. Really, it wasn’t. Heading north towards Belfast, I had a goal of seeing Newgrange, a restored Neolithic burial mound. I did find it, 1.5 hours before it opened which brings to mind the stupidity of flights that arrive at 6:30 AM. I took a short jaunt down the entrance path though and was regaled by birdsongs I’d not heard before. So far I have tentatively identified Rooks, Jackdaws, some red-faced finch thing and these giant Pigeon-Doves that make our White-wings look like squabs. Also the ubiquitous Eurasian Blackbird (I think) and our family favorite, the Black-billed Magpie, now positively identified on three continents!

Heading back to the car and another brush with death, I made off for the village of Trim home to a well-preserved Norman castle. Sadly, I never did find it what with getting lost down 2 dead ends streets choked with local school traffic and an endless stretch of potholes dying to be invaded. I even went back for one last stab and failed, undoubtedly cursed by the octagenarian who was apparently hitching a ride into town and whom I blithely ignored being unaware of the local customs regarding such aid. Last I saw her she was seen in my rearview standing in the road with her hands on her hips shaking her head.

There were tons of things to look at and photo, but taking pictures is next to impossible. The roads are too narrow and there is seldom a place to turn out. Overall the countryside looks a lot like upstate New York, minus the trees. Very green, daffodils coming up all over.

By now it was all of 10 AM and I still had 2 or more hours to kill before I can reasonably expect to check into my hotel so I decided to save myself a lot of grief and find Intel today instead of tomorrow when the pressure is on. So I did and here I sit in the IFO cafĂ© typing away and looking forward now to finding my way to the hotel in downtown Dublin. Twenty more minutes of staring blankly into space and it’s back into the fray.

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