We've done a lot of cruising in recent years so this was something totally different. Kathy is Irish and has talked over the last few years about making a trip across the pond to check the place out. We get a weekly Travelzoo.com newsletter and every so often they feature a package deal to Ireland. Lord knows that at our age the ability to do these things can come to a sudden stop so it was time to stop talking about it and actually doing it.
We've met people who have gone to Ireland on packaged tours where they see the entire country via tour bus. As amateur photographers, the idea of a bus tour just wasn't going to cut it with us. Our preferred approach is to cover less ground but do so at our own pace. In Ireland, that involves driving which they do from the other side of the road. The problem with most package deals is that they fly in/out of Dublin and the prospect of driving around there wasn't appealing.
A friend from work has been on several of the Ireland package deals and suggested we call to see if the package can be modified to fly in/out of Shannon. Shannon is on the western part of the island and is smaller so the driving can be a lot less of a hassle. We zeroed in on a package from Aer Lingus Vacations and made the call. What we found is that Aer Lingus fly's direct from JFK to Shannon on Tuesdays, Thursdays, and Saturdays and, since we're retired, dates could be adjusted to fit the flight schedule.
Getting to JFK from our home in eastern PA involved taking a Bieber Bus from Kutztown PA to the NY Port Authority Bus Terminal. From there we took the NYC Airporter to the airport.
The package for May 2013 included r/t air for two, a compact car with automatic transmission (from Dan Dooley), car insurance, GPS rental, vouchers for 8 nights in B&Bs of our choosing, and trip insurance. The price seemed good to us so we broke out a credit card and booked it! It should be noted that car insurance was just as much as the car rental but it was highly recommended. Without the car insurance, a $3000-$4000 hold is placed on your credit card to cover the cost of damage. Also, cars typically have stick shifts but we opted to spend an extra $200 or so for an automatic transmission. Both of us can drive stick but shifting with our left hand was probably going to be to much of a distraction. One mistake I made was to rent a GPS at $150 because I found out later that a chip for my GPS with all of the Ireland maps and waypoints was available for $70.
To prepare, we purchased a couple maps and books. The most useful book was titled "Back Roads Ireland" because it contained 25 scenic routes located in various parts of the country. Each of these routes called for 2-4 DAYS so it became painfully obvious that 8 days simply isn't enough time to cover the entire republic. We had to focus on part of the country so we decided to book four 2-night stays in four areas. The 1st area would be around the center of the country because the remnants of Kathy's ancestral family home is located there and we thought we'd spend a little time looking for it. The 4th area would be along the western coast because "The Cliffs of Moher" is nearby and it's only a hop skip and a jump to the airport for our return flight. The 2nd and 3rd areas would be the peninsulas along the southwest coast.
Now we've all heard of "Northern Ireland" but, until we pulled out a map, we thought it was simply an area in Ireland referred to like we reference "The Northeast" or "The Southwest". In fact, Northern Ireland is a separate country which is still under British rule. The rest of Ireland is independent and is referred to as "The Republic of Ireland". All of our time in Ireland was spent in the republic which is in the European Union and uses the euro for it's monetary system.
The Actual Experience: (Link To Sub-Pages Below)
The Arrival: Flights to Europe typically leave in the evening putting you at your location the next morning. This was no exception with us landing at the airport in Shannon Ireland at 6am their time. There is a 5 hour difference so our bodies felt it was only 1am. Flying in/out of Shannon was a breeze because it is smaller and doesn't have all the traffic one usually encounters.
Getting thru customs, getting our bags, and picking up the car went without a hitch. If we had to complain about something it would be the rush to get us on our way at the car rental. They pointed us towards the car, put our bags in the trunk, showed us how to start it (it was diesel powered), reminded us to use black nozzles at the pumps, told us to look right and stay left. On our own we spent some time figuring out where the wipers and controls were and even something simple like how to open the trunk had to be figured out. We never did figure out the built-in GPS and were pleased with the decision to bring our own with everything preloaded.
(click-->) Kathy's Irish Heritage: One of the reasons we were in Ireland was to check out a couple things involving Kathy's Irish heritage.
(click-->) Ireland Sightseeing: After the first couple days, we became tourists. As mentioned above, we spent all of our time in the southwest part of the country.
(click-->) The B&Bs: We stayed exclusively in B&Bs. had vouchers for 8 nights in B&Bs so we booked 2-night stays in four different B&Bs.
Driving: The way to "see" Ireland is by car but the experience is not for the faint at heart. We adjusted to driving on the left without a problem but the narrow curvy roads with hedgerows and walls right to the edge coupled with high speed limits took a lot of concentration. And if things were narrow out in the countryside, they were worse in the towns and villages, at least they were slower. These were NOT leisurely drives in the country.
The decision to pay extra for an automatic was well worth it. We encountered more than one intersection where visibility in either direction was limited because hedgerows were right along the edge of the road. You simply had to inch out as far as you dared, see what you could see, hit the accelerator and GO. The GO part might have been a little slower if shifting was involved.
We found our GPS to be valuable because it gave us an advance look at road and intersection flow thereby minimizing confusion trying to read signs. A map was still useful but having a co-pilot calling off the distance to the next intersection was very helpful. One problem we encountered with the GPS was it's estimate of the time to get from point A to B. Estimates were based on doing the posted speed limits which I was never able to do. Something the GPS said should take an hour might take us 3 hours. All of this added up to longer days behind the wheel than anticipated leaving us exhausted. Next time, we're going to plan smaller areas to cover in a given day.
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|Rev Dec 2013|