Tuesday, September 6, 2011

Driving Through the Irish Countryside

We are having a total blast in Ireland!!!

The people are friendly, the food and drink have been stellar and the scenery has been gorgeous.

Of course, it has been a bit on the wet side. We saw a quote the other day which seemed to apply to our experience: "The weather has been pretty good the past week, it has only rained twice. The first time for three days and the second time for four days." That, and "Moisture is why Ireland is so green. We have sixty different shades of green and thirty of those are different types of mold."

Many of the Irish roads seem better than what we saw in some areas of Wales and Scotland. There are a number of motorways (divided freeways) and some of their highways actually have shoulders. However, there are also a large number of roads which are true country roads, wide enough for two cars if everyone holds their breath when they pass each other. The interest is heightened by the fact that on one side you have huge tour buses or trucks barreling towards you and on the other side is a rock wall which has been there for four hundred years and will be there long after you run into it. An amusing alternative to the rock wall sometimes appears in the form of a cliff, which falls either into water or rocks, depending upon the location.

Karen, on the passenger side (which is the rock wall or cliff side), has developed a distinct list towards me away from the window. People behind us probably assume she is either a cripple or hoplessly devoted to me. I'm voting for the latter.

One problem with the Irish country roads is that the speed signs are all the same. It doesn't matter if the road is too narrow for more than one car, has rock walls or trees inches from the roadside, twists and turns over a mountain pass or hugs the cliff with a four hundred foot drop to the sea, it is all posted 100 kilometers an hour. There are a lot of areas where, if you actually went the posted speed limit, you would undoubtedly go careening off the road. It only changes if you are inside the center of a town or village or going by the occasional hospital or school (you don't have to slow down for churches or pubs) where they have a few signs suggesting 60 or 50 kilometers and hour. Even there, once you exit the town center, it's back up to 100 per. I have this theory that the Irish got a great bargain on 100 kilometer signs and just posted them everywhere.

Add to these country roads a collection of slow moving farm equipment, the occasional four-footed farm animal, hikers with backpacks and bicylists and you basically have a real life version of "Death Race 2000," complete with targets.

The problem with being an American is that speed limit signs are basically a dare. You know that is the speed that people go who have pocket protectors and sweater vests and drive Volvos because they are the safest car in crash tests. Real American drivers always view speed limits as the low threshold of speed, only marginally acceptable in traffic. This poses quite a conundrum when faced with an Irish country road.

My lovely wife solved that particular conundrum for me. "Slow down, Gary, if you want to share a room tonight."

As a result, we have been delightfully meandering through the Irish countryside at a safe Volvo-speed, being passed by the very occasional lone male driver and everyone else well behind us.

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