Wednesday, May 14, 2014

What the Guide Books Don't Tell You

When researching a destination for vacation or other purposes, there is a plethora of information from guide books to websites and forums to blogs and travel magazines. These are all very good and necessary, but I think it is equally important to speak with someone who has actually been there. Now that I have a single stamp in my passport, I consider myself somewhat of an expert on traveling. Or at least traveling in Ireland. Or just traveling the part of Ireland that I saw.

Anyway, here are some things that I found interesting that you also might like to know.

1. Restrooms/bathrooms are called toilets. There are signs for toilets everywhere and it never ceased to amuse me. We started to declare, "I'm going to the toilet" and vowed to say it regularly when we got home.

2. Pay toilets are also endlessly amusing. The ones in Ireland, at least, claim to completely clean and disinfect themselves after each use and we were able to listen to what sounded like a small hurricane whirling around inside before we were allowed to enter. The giggling only started there. The wife and I shared one so that we wouldn't have to pay twice, which we thought made us smarty pants but the toilet was smarter. It wasn't as clean as we'd expected and everything was covered in water, including the toilet seat. Guess what sounded like a giant hand dryer wasn't that effective. Everything is automated though, you don't have to touch anything. Not to flush, not to turn on the sink, not to get soap. Except it only runs through once because it only expects one person to be in there. I got to have clean hands, the wife didn't. Still, it's worth it for the laugh factor.

3. You can buy pretty much anything in a bathroom vending machine. They have condoms, small sex toys, and then diapers in case the condom doesn't work.

4. Ireland closes early. Don't expect to go shopping after 6:00 p.m. Not even in Dublin. Restaurants like to be closed by or before 8:00 p.m. It's weird, it's like people actually go home to spend time with their families for dinner or something. But then they go back out after 9:30 to the pubs for music.

5. Cell phone coverage is spotty. I don't think they have 4G at all. Most of the time I had 3G but then sometimes I only had G. And nothing in Northern Ireland, which you can pretty much skip anyway.

6. It takes a lot longer to do things there than you think. We were told we could see plenty of attractions in Dublin in two days. Not so much. It's a small island so you think it can't take that long to go 60 miles, but it can and it does. Between the smaller roads that twist and turn, you occasionally have to stop because a farmer is moving his cows from the field on one side of the road to the field on the other side. Or there are lost mama sheep with their baby lambs. This will take longer because you must ooh and ah and squeal over how cute they are and want to either sheepnap them or find their proper field. Also, there are cool and bizarre shops to stop into on coastal roads. Sometimes you might even find a bear penis.

Another note about tourism and time - there is this great-sounding bus service. It's called Hop-on Hop-off. Which sounds so simple. You want to go to Guinness? Hop on the bus, hop off when it gets there. Only if you start at Point A and want to get to Point L, you have to ride along and stop at everything in between. Likewise, if you get off at Point C, when you get back on, you don't get to go straight back to Point A, you have to go through all of the other stops. It adds about 90 minutes to anything you do.

7. People in Dublin aren't friendly. You will hear how Chatty Kathy everyone in Ireland is, but this doesn't hold true for Dublin. Everyone there rushes around with their heads looking at the ground. They don't make eye contact. After a while, your self-esteem might feel like it's getting kicked in the gutter. Just get out in the country and you'll feel loved again.

8. Ireland is not a country where heels should be worn. Ever. Not only is there a lot of mud and water, but there are also lots of cobblestone streets where heels can get stuck. Even the sidewalks that seem level have these weird little rain gutters placed at random intervals. Luckily, I didn't learn any of this by experience but by simply observing the silly ninnies that did wear them and ended up looking like toddlers walking in roller skates.

9. A lot of places take only cash. I'm so used to using my debit card nearly everywhere at home but even a lot of the restaurants there take only cash. Be prepared.

10. While we're talking about restaurants, you should know that they take a billion years to bring you your check at the end of a meal. You could probably sit and have enough meals for a week by the time you get the check for the first one. I guess they want to be polite and not rush you out, but it's ridiculous. Someone finally told us that you just have to go up and ask for it. Which then made us feel rude.

11. There isn't a lot of honey available in the country it seems. I only got honey for my tea once.

12. While most guidebooks tell you the best times to travel, they don't tell you when not to travel. We didn't learn until we looked for a place to stay on March 31st that most of the B&B's don't open until April 1st. If you're not traveling in the summer, you may need to make prior reservations.

13. The toilets don't all flush the same way and the electricity plugs have on/off switches. There is a main switch for lights in the room, but then each plug also needs to be turned on. Also, some of the showers run on electricity and need to be turned on before any water will come out. I learned that one the hard way.

14. They still use skeleton keys. Like for doors that are used daily. It's adorably quaint.

What you should really know is that you should just go because it's now one of my favorite places on earth. If they had a Disneyland (and more than a handful of days at 70 degrees), I'd move there next week.


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