The Great Irish Road Trip: Part 2

by Britta on 9 February 2010

in European Adventure

The Village of Doolin

The Village of Doolin

Day 5 — or 6 or whatever it was — dawned in Doolin, a small village near the Cliffs of Moher. I was loathe to leave the Aille River Hostel, where I had stayed for two nights. It was so cozy, and exactly what I needed for a bit of a respite. It was out in the middle of nowhere and just about everything in the town was closed for the winter, so there was nothing to do and nowhere to spend money. I suppose I could have done a hike (and saved myself 8 euros on parking at the Cliffs) but that was just too much effort at that point. I sat and relaxed near the fire and read, and talked over a dinner of pasta with fresh mussels made by my new friends Ann, an Aussie who manages the hostel, and Iman (see her comment on my last post), who’s from Spain but now lives in Ireland. There were hugs and goodbyes when I left the hostel.

I think I might have gotten a better view had I chosen another route, but I was still quite impressed as I passed through The Burren, and area known for its rocky, barren landscape. It wasn’t so much barren, I thought, as exposed. Rock — vast expanses of it, creased and pocked by eons of wind and rain — that in the rest of Ireland is covered with a good layer of soil and vegetation lies gray and flat, with occasional tufts of grass breaking the monotony. I saw a few unlikely lakes and ponds, and farmhouses and cottages, though strangely, they didn’t look out of place.

Ruined (and haunted?) Abbey

Ruined (and haunted?) Abbey

I stopped at a ruined abbey I saw as I passed by on the main road. The cemetery was filled with Celtic crosses, and I was taken by the fact that a churchyard so obviously destroyed — either by time or by force, or both — still had graves dating from the late 1990s. Apparently, though no one worships there anymore, it’s still a popular place to be buried. Only one or two walls of the other chapels still stood, and none of the buildings had any roofs, including the main church, which had Gothic masonry in the windows (I’m almost an expert now, having visited half the cathedrals in England and France), but was unfortunately gated and locked. I was the only one there, and the wind was blowing just right, and the stone half-wall reverberated the sound my footsteps and the swish of my clothing. I was only there for about 10 minutes before the hair on the back of my neck started to stand up, so I got back in the car and drove like a European back to the highway.

I skipped the city of Galway just because I didn’t want to do any city driving, and I made it to the small village of Leenane well before dark. It had started raining pretty hard during my drive (as if I didn’t have enough to worry about on the road already), and the wind whipped around the hills and made me feel as if I was back in Seward on a fall day. The hostel was on a hill above the shores of the Killary Fjord, and was run by a French woman named Freida, and her boyfriend. There was only one other girl staying there, and ironically, she was also from Alaska. We both needed a bit of rest time, so we sat in the living room all afternoon watching movies and drinking tea, and eating chocolate chip cookies that Freida had baked. Again, I was loathe to leave.

Killary Fjord

Killary Fjord

Morning dawned crisp and clear, and I got out of bed and into picture-taking mode before I even knew what time it was. Had I known, I probably would have gone back to bed. The fjord was full of lines of buoys marking mussel farms, most of which were exported to France, and apparently there was a salmon farm at the mouth of the bay. This according to Freida’s boyfriend, whose name I never did learn.

I headed back to Dublin that afternoon. I took major highways the entire way, so the driving was easy. I had been charged for a tank of gas (or petrol) when I rented the car, so I was supposed to return it empty, and I was determined to do so, if only to feel like I was sticking it to the rental company, even just a little. Plus, paying for petrol in liters and euros really hurts, so I didn’t want to have to fill up again. I started the day out with half a tank, and figured I could make it into Dublin if I did it right. I had noticed that I used the least amount of petrol when I was driving the country roads at about 80 kilometers per hour (which still felt too fast on those windy, shoulderless roads, but I was tailgated and passed regularly anyway). So, I was that one annoying car going way too slow on the highway. I stayed in the left lane (the slow lane when you drive on the left) and kept it at about 100 km/hr, about 60 mph. The speed limit was 120. I coasted into the Dublin car park on fumes — the needle was below E and the light was flashing — but I didn’t have to fill up again, and I did indeed return the car empty. And in one piece, which, if I’m honest, is really the more surprising feat.

I had my driving-on-the-left experience, and I’m happy to say I survived. I am now coordinated enough to manipulate the gearshift with my left hand, on time and in the right sequence, and I no longer feel that momentary panic whenever I see a car coming toward me on the wrong side of the road. However, though it may be sacrilege to admit it, good American that I am, I have never felt so happy to be car-free. Perhaps in the U.S., and especially in Alaska, a car does equal freedom. But in Europe, a car is more a liability. Yes, I did make it to some places I might have missed without the car, but it turns out many of those places were actually accessible on the bus, I just had to get the timing right. In the end, I think my frustrations and fears with driving have outweighed my annoyance at taking photos out of bus and train windows. Will I do it again? Perhaps. But for now, I’ll enjoy what Europe has a lot of and America has little of: good public transportation. Plus, I can drink Guinness while I’m on the train.

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{ 3 comments… read them below or add one }

David Reynolds February 15, 2010 at 9:32 am

Hey Britta, sounds like you are having a great time all things considered. I was in Connemara some years ago and i loved the Cliffs of Moher, so your story took me back there. Yeh i did it on bus and bike which was nice. I even had a surf at Doolin (if i remember rightly) at a place called crab island on another trip. Oh well Happy travels david

David Reynolds February 15, 2010 at 9:37 am

PS Oh Yes i also remember discovering seafood chowder there and i had a bowl of it and some apple pie everyday at a pub there. I think it was called Maloneys pub or something. MMmhhh I remember it well …

Rory O'Byrne February 26, 2010 at 10:32 am

Hi Britta (great name by the way)…I’m sitting on a train heading home for the weekend and surfing for roadtrip stories of Ireland.I have spent many summers on the family farm on the East Coast but other than Kenmare have never been West. However I will be in the Burren with 5 mates on motorbikes in 8 weeks and I can’t wait. I enjoyed your blog and strangely read part 2 first so now to try part 1.all the best and as the Irish say “good luck” Ro

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