Driving around Ireland is fairly straightforward for South Africans, as I’d speculatively written about in a previous post. As part of the heritage of British Imperialism, we also drive on the left. In addition, most of the hire cars appear to be manuals (stick-shifts, as the Yanks like to call’em), which we’re used to.
Regardless of any personal feelings around the de/merits of British Imperialism and said nation’s continued presence in Northern Ireland, the fact that we didn’t have to get used to driving ‘the wrong way’ around multi-lane traffic circles – sorry, round-abouts (which flummox me at the best of times) and that we didn’t have to perform complicated mental adjustments when turning into oncoming – whooops! close call! soooorry!! – traffic, was definitely an advantage. (And a darn good reason to visit again, sez I, firmly nudging hubby in the ribs…)
Our hire car
This was our car, a Nissan Almera, which we hired from Budget.
You might just be able to see that the number plate says “Baile Átha Cliath”, so it’s a Dublin-registered car. All the number plates I saw in the Republic had the name of the county on it in Gaelic, which sent me into paroxysms of delight (I know, I’m a bit odd like that…). The next line indicated the year (06 = 2006), followed by a two-letter abbreviation for the county, and then the presumably unique number.
On that score, I fortuitously came across another WordPress blogger writing about travelling in Ireland, who makes the following astute observation about licence plates in the North:
“What’s with the License Plates?: Being the main (actually, the only) driver, I notice car-related things, like license plates. Most of the license plates (but not all, and it’s unclear whether that’s of any significance) are in the form Letter-Letter-Letter [space] number-number-number-number, but for some reason it seems like 90% of the cars have as their last letter the letter “Z”. Very odd, that, certainly not random, so it must have some secret meaning, but I haven’t yet divined what it is. Also, some of them are yellow, and some of them are white, and I don’t know what that’s about either.”
I know! I was puzzling about the same thing! Fortunately, I do have an answer to the ‘Z’ question: our friend from Belfast, a veritable goldmine of information on all things Irish, pointed out that the ‘Z’ indicates the car is from Belfast. I do confess that I found this rather puzzling: surely ‘B’ would be more appropriate? ‘Z’ seems really arbitrary…
The roads … are something else
Right, so driving in Ireland is fairly straightforward – for people from erstwhile British colonies at least.
But the really tricky part are the roads: narrow, wind-y [as in curvy, not wind-swept], bumpy and pot-holey. Most seem to have either/and/or stone walls on both sides, with massive hedges ontop, which you can’t see over or through – so you have no idea of oncoming traffic either. As in like this:
Not only are the hedges really tall, but in their unpruned state, they seem to have a lot of thorny branches sticking out and threatening to scratch your car. Which is definitely not a good thing, especially if your car hire company has threatened to deduct the entire excess of E900 at the slightest additional scratch on your car.
Many of the hedges are, however, pruned – almost perfectly straight to about 2.5 metres above the ground, presumably to allow cars and trucks to pass without getting entangled, but curving across the road at the top, thus creating a lush green archway. I’d love to know, though, who is responsible for pruning them? Is it the local farmers, whose land they line? Or the roads department? Or an independent contractor? If you know – please tell me!
There was only one occasion during the entire trip where we actually saw the machine doing the cutting – it looked like a kind of tractor with a flexible mechanical arm connected to some sort of chainsaw, which thus could be adjusted to cut at different heights. Magic!
If anyone has a picture of one of these contraptions, please send it to me!
* In case you don’t know what an i-trip is, it’s a little gadget that allows you to listen to your i-pod in your car through the FM radio. You just have to find a gap between stations, where there is just the peaceful rush of static. You tune the i-trip to the same frequency as the FM radio. As we discovered, however, this was nice and logical in theory, but almost impossible to implement in practice.
Because we were continually on the move, the radio stations kept changing frequencies, disappearing and reappearing. From one county to the next, from one town to the next, sometimes even from one valley to the next, the stations kept migrating and new ones kept popping up… which meant that there was constantly the snap, crackle and pop of radio frequency interference interrupting our musical pleasure. Seriously annoying.