By Bob Corbett
If I were a rich man...
In The Fiddler on the Roof Tevye sings:
If I were a rich man,
If I were a biddy-biddy rich,
Daidle deedle daidle daidle man
If I were a rich man I think I would change very little about my life. But I know two changes Iíd make. Iíd drink better wines and I'd fly first class. I love to travel, but cannot stand long flights like the trans-Atlantic flight it takes to get to Ireland.
Since this was to be a trip to Ireland relying on public transportation I decided to begin that part right here in St. Louis. I left home early, carrying a very light backpack and pulling one small wheely-cart, the size that easily fits into the over-head bin. I was packing as lightly as I could. As it turned out, I could have left nearly 50% of my clothes items at home, I didn't even wear them once. I never pack light enough!
I walked up Tamm Ave. in a light rain and sat for an hour or so over coffee and oatmeal at Cairdeas coffee shop. A half dozen neighborhood folks whom I know came in and I visited and read. About 8:40 AM I walked the couple hundred feet up to the bus stop on Clayton Ave. and took the bus east to the Metro station in the Central West End, hopped on the Metro and arrived at the airport at 9:30 AM. Not bad for 85 cents. A decent start.
As I was coming into the airport I met my travel partner, Sally Sharamitaro and we headed off for the check in. I had to check my wheely cart since it had my wine opener and pocket knife (I never travel without them), and they canít be carried on. I took my very light back pack on the plane.
All went well through the short flight to Chicago. Then the day turned a bit. We were flying to Ireland out of Newark, NJ and they had snow. The board said our flight was to be delayed for two hours. No matter, we had lots of time. HA!!! Little did we know.
The 2-hour delay stretched into a 4-hour delay, and then another hour was added sitting on the run-way in Chicago awaiting take off. We arrived in Newark long after our flight to Shannon in west Ireland was to have gone, but it had been rescheduled to 11:30 PM which stretched into 2 AM. Nonetheless, we arrived at Shannon in early afternoon, about 6-7 hours later than we were scheduled.
Immediately things got better. Shannon is a very small airport and our bags came instantly. It's only a few steps into the main lobby and we were off to the ATM machine, picked up some Euros and headed to the desk of Erieann (pronounced Air An -- the "an" as in wand). Erieann is the Irish national bus service, our primary means of transportation for the trip. We each purchased a 16 E ticket from the airport to Killarney, and off we went. We couldn't have been 20 minutes from the wheels of the plane touching down and us getting on the bus at the airport to head to Killarney.
Three notes on the above paragraph: For the next 30 days we would both THINK of Euros as we think of dollars. There is a very close similarity for prices one would expect for things in St. Louis in dollars for what one pays for things in Ireland in Euros. It's very difficult not to think in that one to one correspondence. However, right now the dollar is not doing well in relation to Euro and the average rate of exchange during our trip was that 1 Euro costs us $1.30 cents. Thus spending 1000 Euros was actually spending $1300. A significant difference.
Secondly, in Ireland there is no need for anything but a debit card. There are ATM machines all over the place. The only place we visited where there wasn't an ATM was the tiny town of Doolin in county Clare. Even the tiny village of Cong (but still larger than Doolin) had at least one. I carried a couple hundred dollars of U.S. currency "just in case," but the only U.S. money I spent was on the plane (wine) and in the U.S. airports.
Thirdly: Why ride the Irish public buses? This is a major issue for this trip. Basically there are three main ways of "doing" Ireland.
(One could walk or bike, and we saw people doing that, but so few would choose that so I don't investigate that here. However, I do plan to suggest a trip later on that, while using the buses from town to town, would be a trip that centered in walks of under 3 hours a day. More later.....)
For me a tour was just not an option. It is an excellent way for some. One has the benefits of a bus (see below for those), and generally has someone to transport one's bags, and one is delivered to the door of the hotel where you are staying and so on.
However, I need much more freedom of movement than that, plus the Irish institution of Bed & Breakfasts is just a joy to me. However, I couldn't even begin to have my life so planned and have to do things in tandem with others. I was so fortunate to have a delightful travel companion. Sally is energetic, loves to explore, open to changing plans on the spur of the moment, and just generally a fun and easy companion. The person or people one travels with is just critical to having a good time. Much of my travel has been done ALONE. And I love that. My next trip -- 7 weeks to Costa Rica and other Central American countries in October -- will be done alone. But I was privileged on this trip to have a marvelous companion.
So, if one wants the freedom of movement and the privacy of just a single person or couple of people, why not take a rental car? I have done this in the past, at times driving and once being driven (by my brother John in 2003). But I don't like the car and wanted to try the bus. What's wrong with the car?
I have two central objections to a rental car and one lesser objection.
Central: It is too tense and distracting to drive in Ireland. The roads, especially of the west coast, my favorite area, are very narrow. One is driving on the left side of the road, strange for most drivers in the world and distances are harder to gauge. Roads are not well marked, thus even the passenger, if there is at least one, is terribly distracted from sight-seeing by watching the map and aiding in road choices. It is just a tense and scary experience.
I do want to note that Sally and I had planned this trip by bus LONG LONG before my brother's terrible accident in November 2004, so that accident was in no way a factor in our choice of public bus over rental car.
My second objection to the rental car, and EQUAL in power to the first, is that one can't see very well. Again, I am deeply in love with west coast Ireland and that's where 27 of our 31 days were spent. There the stone walls and brush along the roads are higher than most passenger cars and one can't see over them. Thus not only is one distracted by the very fact of driving, but one's vision is drastically limited by the sides of the road.
On the bus we had neither of these concerns. We got on a bus headed for destination X, picked a lovely window seat, sat very high above the road with marvelous vision and just let the driver worry about getting us there.
I love it.
My final concern is cost. A rental car, and MOST ESPECIALLY an automatic transmission is quite expensive and virtually no credit card or U.S. insurance company will cover one for driving in Ireland. Thus if you don't take the Irish extra-insurance option, you are in tremendous risk, and that insurance nearly doubles the car rental.
Sally and I looked into the car rental about a year ago. The cost for a very small automatic transmission auto with the extra insurance was to be nearly $2000. Our TOTAL bus expenditures for the month were just about $400 each.
Okay, back to Ireland. In the time you would have taken reading that diversion from Shannon Airport to us on the bus, we would have gotten from the airport into the main bus depot in Limmerick. We had hurried out the door of Shannon, the woman at Eireann rushing us since the bus was due to leave. Arriving at the depot in town, the Killarney bus was loading as we pulled up, so we quickly hopped off one bus to another and off were toward our first destination -- Killarney Town.
From Shannon to Killarney was just about a three hour trip. We drove in alternating light rain and bright sun, the sun bringing out the many colors of green which simply astound the visitor to Ireland. Even including the villages we passed, on that three hour drive we saw many more sheep and cattle than people, or any evidence of people. West Ireland is sparsely populated but has zillions of sheep and cattle.
The bus depot of every town is in the heart of the city or village center. We walked about two blocks from the bus depot in the late afternoon. At a small jewelry/curio shop we asked about food. They directed us across the street to a very simple family restaurant where we had an adequate meal, but one of the least interesting of our trip. As soon as we were seated and had ordered I left the restaurant and walked three doors up to an off-license shop (a shop that sells alcohol to take away). It was getting close to closing time and I wanted to get us a bottle of wine to take to the B&B with us. A sign in the shop said that the next day -- Good Friday -- no alcohol could be sold, so I purchased two bottles, one for each day. I hustled back to the restaurant before our meal had been served.
After dinner we took a cab to our B&B (in the costs of our buses above, I included the 4-5 cabs we took during the monthís time, but not special tours. More about that later).
I had found this B&B on the internet and had reserved a place. Eventually I will list all the places we stayed with some comments. We didnít have a bad one and we stayed in B&Bs all but one night. That one night was a special exception and that story comes later as well. The descriptions on-line are quite decent in describing the PLACE, but not the location. They lie about that. This one said it was a 5 minute walk from the bus depot, but it was about a 10 minute cab ride!!!!
Our hostess greeted us and showed us to our lovely room with a balcony overlooking the lakes of Killarney. I wrote all these notes sitting out on that balcony on a warm morning. We spent three nights here. It was just lovely. The landlady was so pleasant and offered us a variety of breakfast choices. All three days there we had porridge (oatmeal), fresh fruit and yogurt and toast, juice and tea. In the entire month both of us chose to drink tea instead of coffee (Sally never drinks coffee anyway), and I still havenít had a cup of coffee since March 23rd at Cairdeas coffee shop here in Dogtown.
When I was in Ireland in November when John and Terri's accident occurred, I had purchased an Irish cell phone to communicate with folks back home. I brought it back with me and had plugged in the charger before going to bed the first night. But the next morning the phone was not working. I don't have a cell phone here at home and am not very good with operating them. But, just before we went down to breakfast it occurred to me there was a switch to turn the phone on and I had forgotten to do that. I switched it on and it was in excellent order. I still had some 40 Euros credit on the phone, and used it the entire month, making many calls in Ireland and several home, and still have 33 Euros credit left.
A word about that 7 Euros spent. I discovered before November 2003 that to call Ireland using the 10-10-9-8-7 number in the U.S. only costs a pittance. Thus when I got my phone I called one of my sons, gave him the number and from then on if I wanted to speak with any one I called and just said: Call me back and I hung up. A five second call.
When they would call me back I would pay NOTHING. Unlike U.S. cell phones, the mobile phones of most European countries are such that the caller pays, but not the person who is called. When I got home a few days ago there were several calls made to me from here at my home phone and one was even 20 minutes long. The calls cost under $2.00 EACH. That's a real bargain.
ANYONE HERE IN ST. LOUIS WHO IS GOING TO IRELAND: I WILL HAPPILY LEND YOU MY CELL PHONE AND THE CHARGER. All you'd have to do is, before you leave Ireland top up my phone credit to where it was when you took it.
The phone was invaluable in calling B&B's to make reservations or change them, to get cabs, to check on information etc. It costs almost nothing to call anywhere inside Ireland. Again, I made at least 20 calls, maybe more, and used only 7 Euros credit on my phone.
Puff, puff, puff. Thatís just day one and two. The next edition will be more IN-IRELAND centered, the next day was our spectacular trip round the Ring of Kerry.
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Bob Corbett firstname.lastname@example.org