It seemed a very workable idea indeed, to drive across Ireland and discover its many attractions, its people, its natural beauty.
The excitement of it seized me. There was the thrill of knowing that even if one lost one’s way, it was not so vast a country that one could never be found again. Moreover, everyone drove on the left, and road rules were most likely to be observed rather strictly. After the trials and tribulations of driving in Mumbai, this should be a cakewalk… well, cake drive!
But strapped behind the wheel of the hired car, the euphoria seemed to evaporate. For one, the city spread out ahead daring me to cross it without losing my way. Even more unnerving was the fear of breaking a traffic rule. The very point that had spelt comfort now stood like a threat in the path of my confidence.
Dublin is a pretty city, but as my friend, playing navigator with an unfamiliar map, and I, praying that the lane I was on was the right one, discovered was not easy to get away from.
Fear of a ticket for breaking a rule was replaced by fear of mishap. We ended up defying the map and shooting off many a time in wrong directions. By the time a kindly gent who dimpled as he understood our plight and led us to the motorway, we had discovered parts of the city our itinerary had never ventured into.
Lesson number one: Nothing ventured, nothing gained. But it is easier in our city of crazy traffic to find your way. You can pull up anywhere and ask. The motorway here was a song, humming along. There was no fear of being crowded in or overtaken dangerously. We made great time, found that we could circle roundabouts if we missed our exit, and that wrong exits did not mean the end of the road… there was always a way back in. Better late than never we said, as we drew into the first of the day’s destinations and tried to locate our designated stop.
Many U-turns later, we discovered we had been misguided. We were in the wrong county! But it was a pretty place and an hour of driving would take us to the right address in the right town of the same name. We tanked up on chips to crunch along and headed out.
Lesson number two: It does not matter how long the ride is as long as you enjoy it!
It has been a week since we started. There have been many excitements of discovery along the way. Lesson number three presented itself when, after a night in the luxurious embrace of a regal suite in a castle, we found ourselves in a B&B at the next stop. The room was lovely, but we had navigated a road so narrow that even our tiny car had to hold its sides in. The prospect of driving back and returning on it at night after dinner in the nearby town was forbidding. We decided to skip dinner. There was no TV, so we read and chatted and shared the evening with the snow-flecked mountain who stood guard outside our window. We slept that night with the stars looking in, the quiet whispering in our ears, and no dreams crowding our minds. When in the morning we walked out to find breakfast laid out by a window overlooking a lake, it was a double bonus.
Lesson number three: Sometimes what seems like deprivation can really be a gift. The missed dinner was of no consequence. Here was a feast for the senses, to stay in memory.
One last lesson. This one learnt after some narrow escapes and close shaves while hunting out a lovely, but very hidden, The Merchant Hotel in Belfast. If you keep your cool, you find the way. So be it.