Wednesday, September 30, 2009

Do's and Don'ts of Traveling Ireland (by Seth & Sena)

I had so many people tell me something along the lines of "That's on my Bucket List" that I felt it important to make a note of our thoughts while were were traveling and want to share them with you now. These are the things we thought of--Use what fits for you personally.

Do bring hand sanitizer.

With all the H1N1 hype right now, you might be shocked by the lack of soap, hot water, and paper towel in most bathrooms. You might be lucky enough to score some soap, but you won't find hot water or paper towel, so come prepared.

Don't expect gas stations to have public toilets.

I don't know how I forgot this, but after trying several gas stations in a row, we finally realized we would have to be much more diligent about using the toilet when we had one, not needing one and then trying to find one. We found that that's doing it 'backwards.'

Do rent the smallest car possible (if you're renting a car).

Not only are the gas prices three times what we're used to here in the US, but the roads were built for horses, not two vehicles side-by-side. I knew this going into it and was sure to tell Seth before he made our car reservation. We had a Nissan Micra and loved it despite the lack of good wipers, headlight, taillight and hubcap. ! (see next point)

Do check your car out for the basic requirements before leaving the car rental lot.

We checked for things like scratches, but it turns out we should have done a MUCH more thorough check. We ended up putting about 1700 miles on that Micra though, and she did just great!

Do bring cds.

One thing we regretted was that we didn't bring any cds. I thought about it, but expected that our car wouldn't have a cd player so didn't bring any. I should have checked because 1700 miles is a long time with only spotty Irish radio to listen to. We especially wished for music when going through the really beautiful parts. It would have been like a soundtrack to our trip and those songs would then remind us of those places upon future listenings. Highly recommend not falling into our mistake.

Don't expect to find cheap food.

Cheap food doesn't exist in Ireland. Even fast food will easily run $7-8. SPAR, TESCO, and Supermacs will be your friend if you're traveling on a budget like we were. And most 'nice' places stopped serving food before we were done for the day, so we also made use of fast food because it was the only option. --They eat dinner earlier than we're used to here. (We both LOVED Supermacs. Seriously fresh food cooked fast--I saw them dip the fish into the batter and then fry it!)

Do beg, borrow, or steal a GPS for your trip (or download maps onto your own).

My Irish friend offered to let us borrow his before we even checked into downloading maps into our own GPS, and we were praising God every day for us having it. The roads are not as well labeled as we're used to, and even if you know what road you're on, the chances are that the paper map you're holding won't list what the streets are. And, for the driving-at-night-on-scary-small-Irish-roads, you'll need the GPS. Embrace the technology.

Don't rent a tandem bike in Ireland. Ever.

I don't know why we thought this might be a good idea, but after 5 minutes we realized it was a major mistake. The wind is too much, the roads too narrow, the traffic too fast and the horses too close to make anyone feel comfortable on that thing. Romantic but impossible.

Do brush up on your standard-car-driving skills.

Approximately 99% of Irish cars are standard transmission, and I can't drive a stick. I mean, I could probably navigate it to a hospital if there were an emergency, but I certainly could not drive on the opposite side of the road (you're shifting with your left hand) on those extremely hilly, skinny, middle-of-nowhere Irish roads. Thank God Seth is 'fluent' when it comes to standard transmissions. (There was one time we both thought we were 'done for' and were saved literally because he's so good at it. That was some tricky maneuvering!)

Do watch Austin Powers before you leave.

Especially the scene where he does a 50-point turn with the golf cart. Be prepared for it.

Don't expect to hear truly traditional Irish music.

We tried in vain to get to hear good, traditional Irish music, but because it was nearing the end of peak-season, all we got was stuff put on for tourists. This annoyed me because I have lived there before. I know traditional Irish music when I hear it. This was not it. The other challenge was that we only had time to go sit in pubs on weeknights which isn't typical of Irish people. The partying is usually saved til the weekend, and thus nothing 'real' could be found. We left one pub in disgust after they started playing The Dance by Garth Brooks. ugh.

Do bring a nice camera. Preferably one with a good action setting.

I was taking pictures all. the. time. I had the luxury of riding while Seth was driving, and there's so much beauty that I couldn't stop taking pictures. I don't know yet how they all turned out, but do know that several of them will probably end up being blurry trees because I wasn't used to the camera we were using. (Seth's mom let us borrow her really nice one so we'd have good pictures, but I should have practiced before we left.) Also, there is so much beauty that I know the pictures we took couldn't possibly be accurately captured in them.

Do bring sunglasses, a scarf, a rain jacket, and short sleeved shirts.

You know the saying "If you don't like the weather, wait 5 minutes"? Well, that's apparently true for all of the 4 states I've lived in (and surprisingly all the locals think it's unique to them) as well as the other country I've lived in--Ireland. I mean, I think we had really good weather for Ireland--rainy only one of our 7 days there, but we definitely needed the jackets, short sleeves, sunglasses (which seems like an oxymoron when I think of the Irish winter I lived through), and warm layers. One day I was wearing two shirts, a sweater, a jacket, and a rain jacket along with my scarf. The next I was wearing a t-shirt and sunglasses. Bring layers that you can mix and match. (We also each bought a new jacket from REI--wind-resistant, water-resistant, plus warmth and they were perfect. We highly recommend a jacket like that.)

Do bring some Febreeze.

I was astounded at how smelly we were. I mean, I guess we underestimated how much sweating we'd do along with not having a good hot shower every day and how many public places we'd be in that would rub smell onto us. I'd also say that their expectation of cleanliness is lower than ours. I mean, it's not like gross, but the streets and stuff aren't washed fresh every day like they are here. We bought some while over there and were spraying our clothes every morning by the end of our trip.

Don't stay in the Galway City Hostel.

Yuck. I've stayed in plenty of hostels, and this was disgusting. Bathrooms were nasty, linens smelly, people rude, yuck.

Do stay in B&Bs if you can.

We stayed in B&Bs half the time and hostels the other half of the time. We found, however, when traveling with two people, staying in a hostel is nearly as expensive as a room at a B&B--you're paying for two people. And by staying in a B&B you'll get cleaner linens, your own bathroom, nicer people, and everything's included--breakfast, towels, etc. You can also have some good conversations with the owners which can be nice if you're looking to get a sense of Irish culture.

Do bring Rick Steve and someone else along for the trip.

We found that Rick had good information, but often was lacking the basics. I loved my Lonely Planet travel book from several years ago, but couldn't find a 2009 version, so we brought Frommer's along with Rick. They both got a lot of use.

Do go to Ireland.

It's so beautiful. It's so amazing. Going in May or September is perfect, too. The crowds are smaller than they are in the summer, but you're getting the benefit of the nice weather and peak-time attraction operating hours. Most things close by 6 or 7 during the week even during peak-season which is not at all what we're used to here, so plan for that as well.

Let me know how your trip goes!