In October, I became complacent after I moved across the country to Galway, so I decided to take a road trip down the west coast of Ireland to reawaken my compulsion to be romantic with life.
It was a Wednesday and so early in the morning that even coffee shops weren’t open. I sleepily signed my life away to a Putin-looking office worker (with personality to match) at Budget Car rentals, and followed his confusing directions to the car park. After several minutes of searching the top floor of the garage and pounding the lock button on my car keys to locate my rental, I laughed having finally found the tiny car hidden snugly between two larger cars in the far corner. I decided that if my Hyundai Elantra back home could make babies, this is exactly what it would look like.
I jumped in the front seat like I have a million times in my life and realized that I had made my first mistake of the trip. Driver’s seat is on the opposite side of the car now, Em. I gracefully switched seats and immediately realized my second mistake of the trip. I couldn’t exactly remember how to drive stick like I thought I did. When I thought the car was in first gear to pull out of the parking space, it crept backwards closer and closer to the back wall. Palms sweaty, arms spaghetti.
In my desperate situation, I even turned to Youtube, fast forwarding through stick-shift tutorials. After several more attempts, the wall was even closer to my back bumper. Ditching my frantic research, I saw a man at the far corner of the lot and tracked him down to explain my situation. I could almost hear him say, “Ah ye dumb American lass! Shouldn’t be driving then!” when he reluctantly agreed to help. With the diligence of a loving, annoyed father, the man gave me a short refresher course and I was finally on my way.
Surprisingly enough, driving on the left side of the road was a complete breeze. “Just keep your right shoulder in the middle of the road at all times, and you’ll be grand,” my friend Bryan, another American, told me over a pint the night before. He was right, and I did grand. What was completely stressful that first day of my trip, however, was not ruining the clutch (and not stalling on steep inclines with cars behind me).
I made my way north of Galway to Connemara National Park. Here the country lanes were so tiny that I did not know how even my car could fit properly. There were moments when I would have to pull off the side of the road completely to let another driver pass. These were still two-way lanes, after all. I stalled two times after stopping to let stray sheep cross in front of me.
Despite the battle with the rental car, Connemara was a dream. Clouds collected lazily around hills like basins at the bottom of the sky and farmers’ sheep grazed on the endless grasses below, crossing the road as they pleased and always in search of more to satisfy their bellies.
The drive into Connemara is beautiful. There are miles and miles, kilometers and kilometers, of this same type of beauty. It was definitely worth re-learning stick shift. I spent the rest of the afternoon soaking up the views of Connemara as I passed through and stopped for lunch at the Kylemore Abbey.
Except for comparing driving stories with a woman and her mother from Alabama at lunch, the rest of the day was uneventful. I headed back to Galway and by the time I got home, I was completely prepared to take on the road again the next day… even all the super stressful three-lane round-abouts Ireland had throw at me.
To be continued… Keep a look out for part two (the good stuff) coming soon!