Wanderung 24

Spring Fling

From March to May 2011



Lessons learned: Weather

Weather changes very quickly in Ireland--layering for changes in temperature and rain is very important. But on this trip we had consistently sunny and dry weather except for 1 day of rain. That consistently sunny weather is quite unusual in Ireland in the spring, to say the least, and even the Irish were wondering what was going on by the end of our visit. On previous visits like Wanderung 9, we have experienced noticeable and unpredictable changes of the weather in time spans of as little as 15 minutes. The other lessons learned from this visit can be roughly grouped into financial and driving lessons.


This time we lucked out with the weather in Ireland, we had only two days of rain, and on one of those we were driving from Cork to Galway. But in April the sun is not all that warm and the wind was blowing most of the time. So a good sweater and a windbreaker is a must.


Lessons learned: Electrical

Ireland uses a 240-volt system, so before we left we carefully made sure the power supplies for our phones, the GPS, and our netbook computer were dual-rated to receive both 120-volt (the American standard) and 240-volt (the European standard) as input. But Ireland also uses the English 3-prong style of plugs for their wall sockets, so we had to adapt to that. Thus, the main problem was delivering the 240-volt current to each power supply.

To do that, I designed "Rube Goldberg", a conglomeration that started with an English-style 3-prong plug to go into the wall socket and an American-style output. Into that I inserted a normal American-style 3-way splitter so that I could plug in 3 things. The power supplies for each of our devices was then plugged into one of those outlets and I could charge 3 things at once, which proved to be sufficient.


Lessons learned: Financial

Cash and carry: Take plenty of cash and carry at least one ATM card. Many B&B owners take ONLY cash, others charge a surcharge when you use a credit card, and to a person they all seem to prefer being paid in cash rather than credit cards. Given the surcharges levied by Visa and MasterCard, that's no wonder. Many Americans, like Lois, are used to using credit cards everywhere and that just did not work very well in Ireland. Some things, such as meals in fancy restaurants and drinking in pubs, can be surprisingly expensive so you will need a way to replenish your cash expenditures as you travel around Ireland.

Use the ATM: Monika found that most of the ATMs that we used in Ireland did not apparently charge a transaction fee, and from past experience we know that the exchange rate offered for an ATM withdrawal is almost always better than the rate offered at a currency exchange or a bank. However, some machines don't seem to work with some cards, so if you have more than one ATM card you should consider carrying them both.

Buy a multi-site OPW pass: Most of the museums and historical attractions we ended up visiting in Ireland were included in the Office of Public Works (OPW) program. If you want to see the types of historical things we favor, then you should consider the multi-attraction pass offered by OPW. Monika has calculated that it would have saved us a bit of money compared to the cost of all the separate admissions we ended up paying.


Carry cash and/or ATM cards. Most B&Bs prefer cash or even if they accept credit cards will charge you extra -- after all it costs them more. ATM's are widespread and easy to use. They are really the best way to get out cash, since you really don't want to carry more than you need for a few days. The exchange rate is usually favorable and in Ireland at least they did not charge a fee.

When we paid an entrance fee at the first OPW (Office of Public Works) site, I saw a sign for an OPW pass and wish I had just gotten it for us. I had no idea, that most of the historical tourist sites fall under the OPW aegis, and although each entrance fee is not that much (between 3 and 5 Euros) it does add up and so the pass probably would have paid for itself.


Lessons learned: Driving

In Ireland, with the exception of a few miles of "motorways" (American: limited access divided multi-lane Interstates), almost all roads are two lane (and sometimes one lane!) highways. Practice driving 2-lane highways before you leave because you will be driving such roads 99% of the time in rural Ireland. These highways will typically NOT have shoulders of any kind so you MUST keep your car in your lane. The shoulders on most of the country roads were just jagged rocks, sheer drop offs over cliffs, picturesque but impenetrable stone walls, or overgrown hedgerows.

For several reasons, the SMALLER the car you drive in Ireland, the better. You will often be passing oncoming traffic or squeezing between parked vehicles on a narrow city lane by a matter of inches, and in such cases every spare inch helps. Similarly, parking spaces are narrow and often you will be parking in odd places on the side of the road, and once again that is much easier with a smaller car. Smaller cares also tend to get better gas mileage, and petrol (American: gasoline) is very expensive in Ireland (roughly $7 or $8 a gallon during our visit).

Given the lack of shoulders and rough, uneven pavement, the posted speed limits are wildly optimistic on many of the country roads in Ireland. I judged that trying to drive at the posted speed limit would be absolutely dangerous or even suicidal on many if not most of those roads! I was often driving 10-20 kilometers per hour underneath the limit and that was as fast as I felt safe due to the prevalence of blind corners, blind hills, and a plethora of unexpected obstacles in the road. My cautious driving would tend to frustrate the local Irish drivers behind me who knew the road like the back of their hand and could therefore keep a much better pace than I could.

Since I was the one driving slower, I often complied with one curious Irish driving custom, which is for a slower car to pull over onto any stretch of paved shoulder that is available and let the faster, more impatient drivers overtake them. This custom is similar to what I experienced out in Oklahoma--when you have paved shoulders the slower traffic will pull over onto them and let the faster traffic squeeze by in the center of the road. The Irish drivers would typically thank me by blinking their emergency flashers once after they went by.

Expect the unexpected!: Obstacles will occur randomly as you drive along. Most commonly in the western areas the obstacles are sheep or lambs and they are both dumb and unpredictable. But more seriously you should expect bicyclists, mothers pushing baby carriages, kids on scooters, cats, dogs, chickens, and just about any kind of farm livestock. Somehow they all seem to occasionally get loose and gravitate to the nice, warm, dry pavement. That is to say, the driving in rural Ireland required a high level of concentration. I was often so tightly involved with keeping the car on the road that I had to ask Monika to operate the heating and ventilation controls. We never even listened to the radio and I would advise anyone driving in Ireland to absolutely minimize distractions.


Bob wrote extensively about the driving, so I better talk about the navigation. We had a GPS and the more detailed Ordinance Survey maps for the South and West. You do need both. Roads do have numbers so that makes it a little easier, but you still should know the names of the towns on the way since roads do change numbers. I found a combination of maps for the overall planning and GPS for getting more directly to a place worked best. The B&B book has GPS co-ordinates and when we used those we landed directly in the carport of the B&B.

Of course, the most difficult navigation is in the cities, since they just were not designed for modern traffic! I managed to get lost in both Cork and Galway (and we avoided driving in Dublin!). There the GPS helped us get back on the right track even though the streets may not have been to Bob's liking.

Be careful of GPS guidance in the country, since it blithely assumes you can travel 80 km/h everywhere. So if the map says that another way may be better because of better roads, take it and let the GPS catch up with you.


Lessons learned: Social

Such a hospitable people! Like Australians, most Irish folks really welcome you into their country and that is a truly wonderful thing. You can, as we did, use that helpfulness to find things like place names, ancestor's graves, or other obscure details of Irish culture. If you are looking for something old and/or odd in an area, I would suggest you start with the proprietor of your B&B, or the clerk in the nearest local store, or the oldest person you can find in a pub, and ask them where you might find "X". Hopefully they will either know or be able to direct you to a person who really does know, as happened in our case.

The Irish diet, however, runs to potatoes in various forms and meat, but not a lot of fresh fruits and vegetables. It is hard, therefore, to adhere to a low-fat diet. Many restaurants as well as all the B&Bs we stayed at, offered a "Full Irish Breakfast" that usually consisted of toast, eggs in some form, fried tomatoes, English bacon, sausage links, and possibly white and black "pudding" and fried mushrooms. English bacon is more like what Americans call "Canadian bacon" or basically a thin slice of ham rather than the typical high-fat American bacon, which the Irish call "streaky bacon". The "puddings" are basically round sausage patties, the black version containing blood. Although the Full Irish Breakfast is obviously high in fat, it is also quite high in protein and if you eat all of it, the breakfast will sustain you until well into the afternoon. All the B&Bs we stayed at also offered juice, coffee or tea, and cold cereals including the German "Muesli" type of oatmeal mixed with dried fruit and nuts that is also very sustaining. Milk, however, was always whole milk and we didn't even see skim or non-fat milk in the entire time we were in Ireland.

Pubs are an ancient and honorable tradition in Ireland. I was totally frustrated that since I was always the driver I could never settle in with a pint of beer when we had a meal in the Irish pubs. I prefer Murphy's stout to Guinness, but either is good and there are other brands like Smithwick's or Beamish that I would have liked to try. Sigh. The food in pubs tends to be fried and to emphasize chips (American: French fries) as the side dish. I would have loved to enjoy the live music that is available in many Irish pubs, usually on Friday and Saturday nights but occasionally also on other nights of the week--ask around when you get into a small town. Unfortunately, the music always started at 9:30 p.m. or later, and given our hectic travel schedule we just couldn't stretch our active hours that late. Part of the charm of seeing Ireland more slowly would be to take the time to enjoy their music, which is a very important part of Irish culture in my opinion.


Food: Ireland seems to have a lot more cafes for lunches. Since Lois does not like beer and Bob could not drink because he was driving, neither had a burning desire to have lunch at a pub. Only two or three times did I manage to drag them into one and then there were complaints that it was dark and loud, but at least I did have a couple drafts of Murphys.

The menus at the cafes usually tended towards soup and sandwiches. Lois is an inveterate soup eater, so she really enjoyed it. Bob and I usually went for the sandwiches which were quite generous. Once or twice they came with a side of salad, this was, however, not just a green salad, but four different kinds of salad: green salad, carrot salad, coleslaw, and the inevitable potato salad. If you add "chips" (American: French fries) with it, you really have a meal.

Breakfast at the B&Bs always were good and plentiful. After our first try of a "Full Irish" we decided to cut this back a bit to only eggs and English bacon (American: ham) and toast. But even this would keep us going for a good long time. In addition all B&Bs had coffee/tea makings in the room together with cookies. In two of the B&Bs we even were offered sconce with clotted cream and jam for our afternoon tea.

After these meals it is no surprise that we usually were not in the mood for a large dinner. We usually had some bread, meat and cheese, and fruit. In other words, its easy to gain a few pounds in Ireland.


Copyright 2011 by R. W. Holt and E. M. Holt
Prolog Map of Transatlantic Cruise Map of Drive in Ireland Epilog

March 2011
Sun Mon Tue Wed Thu Fri Sat
1 2 3 4 5
6 7 8 9 10 11 12
13 14 15 16 17 18 19
20 21 22 23 24 25 26
27 28 29 30 31
April 2011
Sun Mon Tue Wed Thu Fri Sat
1 2
3 4 5 6 7 8 9
10 11 12 13 14 15 16
17 18 19 20 21 22 23
24 25 26 27 28 29 30
May 2011
Sun Mon Tue Wed Thu Fri Sat
1 2 3 4 5 6 7
8 9 10 11 12 13 14
15 16 17 18 19 20 21
22 23 24 25 26 27 28
29 30 31

Return to the Wanderungs Homepage.
Sign the Guestbook or Read the Guestbook.
Comments about this site? Email the Webmaster.
Contact Bob and Monika at bob_monika@hotmail.com.