Posted by: mdmusingsie | May 8, 2010

The Good, the Bad ,and the Completely Different

Here’s a few of my observations to date on life in Ireland. Since this is my 5th trip, some of the data is a compilation of these journeys. They are presented in no particular order other than possibly the order I thought of them, though that may have been adjusted as well. Hopefully I haven’t inserted too many “Americanisms” or comparisons to things in the US, which don’t go over well here; but merely made some interesting observations.

The Good

  • Scenery – you can’t beat Ireland for gorgeous scenery:
    • Rolling green hills broken by patchworks of hand built rock walls
    • An eternity of coastline (I do love an ocean view)
    • Ruined and restored castles, both of equal beauty, though sometimes coupled with great sadness
    • Picturesque towns that really do resemble the post cards
    • Traces of the ancients – stone circles, dolmens, cairns, fairy mounds, and the like, reminding us of how temporary our lives are and causing us to think about what legacy we as inhabitants or merely passers-by wish to leave for future generations
  • Weather – obviously and arguable point; however, for me the weather is perfect – seldom too hot; though occasionally too cold. I find something soothing in the sound of rain, whether the softness of a gentle drizzle or the pounding of a storm.
  • Small Cars – given the roads are narrow, the parking spots are narrow and petrol prices are high, they get high marks for having lots of small cars and very few gas guzzling pickups, SUV’s and vans.
  • Checking Credit Card Signatures – a small thing, but I can not remember a place I have presented my credit card where they didn’t verify my signature on the back with that on the paper. It is entirely the opposite in the US – it’s hard to remember a time when they do. Having said that, they do favor the ATM card over credit cards and one clerk wondered why we don’t have “smart chips” in our credit cards since we are more often ahead of the technology game.
  • Smaller roads – I’m putting this one on the good and bad lists. The good thing about them is that they allow you to see the beautiful scenery. Freeways, or motorways as they are called here, just are not attractive, in any way, shape or form. (Please, make them stop building a freeway at Tara Hill).
  • Monetary system – Euro or Punt, it doesn’t matter, what I like about the current European and Canadian monetary system is not only the fine use of color and size to differentiate paper currency, but they have both eliminated the dollar bill, replacing it with dollar (or equiv) and two dollar (or equiv) coins. Yes, more heavy change in your pocket, but according to the US Mint, replacing the paper $1 bill with a $1 coin would save the government over $1 BILLION dollars per year. That’s some serious ‘coin’.

The Bad

  • Cost of Living – in this day and age of a much more global economy, things are not as bad as they might have once been, considering this is an island. For the most part, prices are at an acceptable rate; however here are some things that I consider slightly out of line:
    • Car Rental – by themselves, the car rental prices are somewhat acceptable (though I resent having to pay twice as much for an Automatic transmission vs a manual – I cannot be expected to read a map, drive on the opposite side of the road, watch out for sheep and pedestrians, dodge lorries, and shift at the same time; especially since I wasn’t raised to use a stick shift (and I won’t go into the fact that it, like the joy stick, are obviously a male invention)). The difference in gas mileage is miniscule in the grand scheme of things, and much narrower than it once was. It’s the insurance that is outrageous, nearly tripling the price! I suppose the narrow roads are a contributor to the high cost; however, despite its claims, Bus Eireann does not go everywhere in Ireland and sometimes you just need a car. In addition, could someone explain to me that in a time when fossil fuels are frowned upon and they are instituting carbon taxes, that hybrid cars cost so much more to rent? Isn’t it something that should be encouraged?
    • Petrol – this one surprises me somewhat; though I’ve heard it says that it’s because of the taxes, but with North Sea oil, I would think prices would be lower (current May, 2010 prices €1.35/litre or approximately €5.50/gallon x the exchange rate putting it in the neighborhood of $8.00/gallon – not as bad as the $10+/gallon I paid in Scotland a few years back, but right up there). Of course this may have a side effect of keeping cars small, which isn’t such a bad thing. If gas prices were $8.00/gallon in the US, the SUVs and pickups would become and endangered species (again, not necessarily a bad thing).
    • Parking – €2/hr (or any portion thereof – i.e. rounded to the greatest hour) to park in a parking structure in Galway City near Eyre Square. It’s not like the structure was half empty, either – someone’s making a fortune.
  • Small Cars – yes, this too is a dichotomy. While I like the size for navigating the narrow roads and parking spaces, as the saying goes, “they just don’t make ‘em like they used to”. While pulling over to park recently, a car pulled up alongside and rolled down its window – they wanted to inform me that the hubcaps were wobbling. Nice of them to be concerned, and when I asked them if they all were wobbling, they said yes. So, after parking, I got out to have a look. After trying to kick one back into place I realized that not only were they made of plastic, but they were held on to the rim by those plastic fasteners similar to twist-ties, except that you have to cut them off. The other annoying feature is the antenna. In every single parking garage it scrapes the beams as I drive up and down the aisles – poor design, planning, and placement. By the way, I’m driving a Nissan Micra (keyword micra as in micro or small – only two of my four bags fit in the hatchback trunk (yes, a tad excessive but I’m a woman after all, I’m carting around an inordinate amount of computer gear, and this is a three months trip, minus a week because of a volcano which shall remain nameless because no one except the Icelandians can say or spell it.)).
  • Smaller roads – I don’t mind a nice two lane road as it provides for a much better view of the scenery; however, after not only seeing my life flash before my eyes as a lorry (any type of delivery truck for the Americans) comes barreling down the 1 ¾ lane roads driving down the middle and heading straight for me; or watching two lorries (or a bus and a lorry) negotiate a narrow stretch of road to the point where they get stuck and one must now back up to a safer spot where they can pass; I have to say that I would prefer them just a tad wider – two full lanes plus a tiny bit of walking/biking space, please.
  • Radio – last but not least. Radio contains a lot of talk and a shortage of music. When they do play music, it’s such an odd hodge-podge that it’s hard to stay tuned in to one station for any length of time. You may hear a tune from the 1940’s followed by a country western song again followed by rap or hip hop, ending up with something you can actually tolerate. I have to say that this is one of the most difficult adjustments because:
    • as I tourist, I spend a lot of time in the car
    • as a temporary resident, I haven’t invested in a TV and one did not come with the apartment (note to self, article on life without TV)

The Completely Different

  • Hot water heater – you turn these on only when you need hot water. Electricity is expensive, so they chose not to waste it heating water over and over when it’s not in use. Good for the environment, bad when you want to jump out of bed and head right into the shower.
  • Electrical outlets that have on-off switches – why draw power when you’re not using it? A burgeoning realization in the US as we tend to leave our phone/laptop/ipod charger plugged in perpetually. And when will someone finally decide to create a universal charging device so that I don’t have to haul a separate cord for my cell phone, laptop, ipod/mp3 player, palm pilot, camera, etc., etc., on a trip? No wonder I have 4 pieces of luggage – one is full of charging devices!
  • Sunscreen – I have never seen so many aisles upon aisles of sunscreen products in my life as I’ve seen in the pharmacies. I suspect it’s a product of the pale skin, but it was entirely overwhelming. While it does not always get warm, the sun can be intense when it is out.
  • TV License – from what I’ve read, this is an annual fee that pays for our equivalent of Public Broadcasting programs, only instead of having fundraising telethons, they just charge everyone (get caught watching TV without a license and there’s a fine). Not such a bad idea, though others would argue it’s just another tax.
  • Bus ticket – not sure if this is different or just odd as I’m not normally a frequent bus rider (except when I’m a tourist), but I couldn’t buy a Bus Eireann ticket for a date 3 weeks in advance. You can buy them from the driver the day of your trip, but not in advance .

The Completely Similar (no, it’s not a category in the original title, but that would have made the title way too long and it would not have had the same “ring”)

  • Politics – ‘nuff said.
  • Green Energy – “not in my backyard”, even though they either have or are considering instituting a carbon tax. I read a newspaper article about how:
    • No one wants solar panels because they don’t like the looks (ok, it would look odd on a thatched roof)
    • People don’t like wind farms – some because they kill a few birds (and motorists don’t?), and others don’t like the looks (now if you ask me, I’m all for wind farms – just paint the windmills green and then they would look like trees, making them less noticeable)
    • Wave power isn’t “generating” much interest, either, despite the fact that this is an island (e.g. available all ‘around’ the country).
  • Noisy Electric cars – another newspaper article matching the sentiment I’ve heard in the US about Hybrid cars being “too silent” and people walking out in front of them. Therefore, they are thinking about adding some kind of noise generator so people can hear the cars coming. As much as I’d like to claim this as a Darwinism, I’m very guilty of this, myself. As long as the noise isn’t something resembling that of the ice cream truck……..ok, after further consideration, it shouldn’t be customizable at all (think cell phone rings – ugh!).

Whew – I can be quite verbose, occasionally eloquent, and sometimes even witty when I’m tired. TTFN (that’s ta ta for now from one of my favorite Winnie the Pooh characters, Tigger; who is in a virtual tie with Eeyore, with whom I share a close philosophical kinship).

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