Changing Lanes: The Drive to Dingle

By Melanie Nayer

DSCN1265There are a few significant moments in a woman’s life when she feels like she can conquer the world: graduating from high school/college, getting your first promotion, buying your first home, walking down the isle, and bringing a new life into the world, with or without an epidural, are just a few of the moments that women call their ‘own.’ But after a recent trip to Ireland, I’m adding “Driving to Dingle” to my list of ‘conquered’ moments.

Picture it: Two single city-living women on a trip to Ireland. Me, a travel writer with plenty of travel hours logged on my passport. My friend, a finance executive, on her second go-around in Ireland. Together we have travel and money smarts, two bachelors degrees, one master’s degree, and years of city smarts from living in New York and Boston – in short, we are two smart capable single minded women.  And then we were asked to drive.

Jet lagged and starving, we arrived at Ireland’s Shannon Airport at 6 a.m., grabbed our luggage and made our way to the car rental counter located outside of customs.

Our first smart move was to upgrade our rental car from a manual to an automatic. Most cars in Europe are manual, so upgrading does cost a fee. To help out, Hertz upgraded our car from an economy size (read: shoebox) to a premium size (read: a Ford). We threw our luggage in the trunk, plugged in the GPS, adjusted the mirrors and pulled out of the parking lot. The wrong way.

A few immediate things to remember when driving in a new country:

  1. Forget everything you learned about driving in the U.S. The rules are different, and you have about five seconds to adapt. Act fast, or you’ll be run off the road.
  2. Always go for the automatic, even if you’re used to driving a manual shift car. You may have years of driving under your belt, but your brain is simply not equipped to deal with being on the other side of the car, driving on the other side of the road, looking to the left (instead of the right) to check the rearview mirror, and maneuvering rotaries. Don’t think you can ask your brain to contemplate shifting from first to third, especially on low-blood sugar after a long flight. Upgrade – you’ll thank me later.
  3. Re-read number 2. Europe is full of breathtaking views and many of them are from the top of a mountain, which you’ll have to drive to on very narrow roads.
  4. Forget the GPS system. Yes, it’s helpful for navigating main roads, but it rarely recognizes the country roads. Instead, you’ll confuse the GPS, which will in turn confuse you, causing you to attempt 13-point U-turns atop the Cliffs of Mohr. (Side note: it’s not a wise idea to attempt to U-turn on the Cliffs of Moher.)
  5. Don’t forget about your depth-perception when driving. You think you’re not that close to the car parked on the street, but when you take out the parked car’s side mirror you’re going to feel really badly for the owner of that Volkswagen. (ahem… sorry, Volkswagen).

It didn’t seem difficult. Just switch up right and left and remember to look both ways before making turns. It seems simple enough, but when you first get behind the wheel in a country with ‘opposite’ driving rules than what you’re used to, it takes some getting used to … and a lot of patience.

Our first test of strength came during our drive to the Cliffs of Moher. We ‘oohed’ and ‘ahhed’ at the views from the road at the bottom of the mountain. The landscape was breathtaking – the clouds rolled over the cliffs like waves on the ocean. We were too captivated by the view to realize we were driving into those thick, rolling clouds 400 feet above sea level. The longer we drove, the higher we climbed, the foggier it got. My friend was inspiring. Her hands perfectly situated at 10 and 2 on the wheel, she drove the Ford along the windy, corkscrew roads, up the mountain, merging with other cars, navigating through the fog and parked us perfectly at the entrance to the Cliffs. The half day journey through the mountains was behind us.


View of Dingle Bay

Inspired by my friend’s mountain moment, a few days I later I took the wheel for our drive to Dingle. Driving to the Dingle Peninsula is what we expected it to be: rolling hills filled with sheep, pubs on the side of the road, Gaelic signs and cow crossings. But I had neglected to process one thing: in order to get to Dingle Bay, one has to drive up and over the mountain.

Holding tight to the 10-2 position, I made my way at 50km/hour up the spiral roads. The narrow roads were the least of my concerns. At exactly the wrong moment, I chose to look to the right. We were at what seemed like a 90-degree angle, looking down on fields of sheep, perfectly spaced green patches of land, and miles of Atlantic Ocean. My heart stopped as I realized I had to nowhere to go but up and over. The road was too narrow to turn around now, and trying to might have resulted in an uncompromising position with a family of sheep.

What happened next was the moment of truth: I made it over the mountain just as it started to rain. I conquered the mountain.

I pulled the car over at the nearest open shoulder, handed my friend the keys and stated calmly as I searched for a Valium, “You’re driving us back over the beast.”

While the drive was a test of patience and strength, it shouldn’t set the tone for Ireland. The Emerald Isle is truly a remarkable and inspirational country filled with kind people, beautiful views and endless drafts of pints. The best part: flights to Ireland are heavily discounted today. Ireland’s main air carrier, Aer Lingus, is currently offering package deals to Shannon and Dublin through March 2010.

Melanie Nayer is a travel writer and travel enthusiast who writes about destinations around the world.


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