Tuesday, September 25, 2012

Ireland, Part 2: Driving

(Dear Parents and Other Nervous People, by the time I post this, we will have already returned the car. Please take a deep breath, relax your shoulders, and pour yourself a cup of tea. We are still alive, and will see you in two days.  Love, Lissa)

In Ireland, most of the things you want to see (castles, cliffs, scenery) aren't in the big cities. While you can get to them via busses or tours, those would require us to haul our bags around everywhere, which is not fun when you've got two years' worth of stuff crammed in there. When planning our trip, Bridget, Vicky and I decided that it would be simpler and more freeing if we just rented a car and drove around on our own.

Fast forward to September 20th, when we went to Budget rentals with a copy of Bridget's license and, shortly thereafter, walked out with the keys to a shiny silver Ford Fiesta. In order to save money, we got a manual instead of an automatic, which would have been about twice the price. We skipped the GPS upgrade (these technology things are confusing), but we did spring for full insurance, a move we later realized was our most brilliant of the trip.

It should be said that none of us knew how to drive manual. I mean, sure, we knew the concept and each of us had at some point spent an hour or two trying to shift in an empty parking lot, but beyond that, we were absolute beginners. Also, we hadn't driven in two years. Also, in Ireland they drive on the left. Adventure!

Immediately upon entering the car, our chosen driver Bridget started trying to learn all the rules of driving stick shift all at once. As knots of nervousness visibly formed in Bridget's shoulders, Vicky magically transformed into a kids' soccer coach instructing, encouraging, and occasionally chiding as Bridget scrambled to do all 18 necessary actions at once. In the spirit of solidarity, I sat down in the back seat and immediately turned a festive shade of green.

For the next several hours, we collectively struggled: Bridget with the clutch, Vicky with the bajillion one-way streets in Dublin, and me with my overwhelming desire to vomit. We couldn't find the controls for the windshield wipers when it started to drizzle, then later accidentally turned them on while looking for a turn signal and subsequently couldn't figure out how to turn them off. At one point we ended up in a cul-de-sac, lost and having stalled out (again). After trying to restart the car at least 15 times, we took a pause to ask a concerned-looking service man to direct us toward Galway. He very politely showed us where we were going, then with a look towards our probably smoking vehicle asked in a very bemused voice, "But...how did you get all the way here?" Good question, sir. Good question.

The first day was rough. We had a system worked out (Bridget worked the pedals and the wheel, Vicky shifted, and I kept my mouth shut), but the transmission would never be the same. By the time we got to Bridget's cousin's house, we were ready to hire a chauffeur and/or horse driven cart for the rest of the trip. But as just-finished Peace Corps Volunteers, we are nothing if not determined, and so the next day we got ourselves back in that car, strapped ourselves in, and hit the road.*

It's now day five of our Great Car Adventure, and I have to say, trial by fire works. Bridget can now stop, start, reverse, and shift all by herself, and this morning she successfully started the car on a steep incline and made it to the top (we cheered). She is, for the record, an absolute champion.

There have been mishaps, like that time we accidentally drove into the Ring of Kerry park, which is famous for its extremely narrow, windy, hilly, cliff-y roads...but all cars look better with a little texture, I feel. We've stalled out a truly impressive number of times in a wide variety of places including hilly farmland and busy city intersections, which I think just proves our ability to adapt our particular skill sets to any geographical setting.** Further, we've developed a highly advanced and effective system for preventing collisions, which involves the three of us collectively yelling at whoever is driving/walking/stopping their car in front of us. The turns are now smoother, the shifting less likely to send us to the chiropractor, and we almost always remember to stay on the left side of the road.

We're pretty much professional at this point. Now if only we could figure out how to turn those rear windshield wipers off.

*Jack, and don't you come back no more no more no more no more.
**Don't worry, this is already on my resume.

Actual (and appropriate) toll booth sign in Ireland.  No, they didn't write
this one just for us.

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