Whenever someone would ask me about which side of the road people drove on in Ireland, I would tell them that they drove on a different side from Americans – but I figured that I would basically drive down the middle of the road and swerve to get out of people’s way. That didn’t work in reality!
I walked out of the Belfast International Airport with my luggage and car keys and headed to the car park to get my rental. I was looking for car #44. Unfortunately, there were no numbers to be found – either on the cars or on the parking lot. I meandered over to a garage where a fellow was working on a car and asked him which was car #44. He knew exactly where the car was and took me right there. It was a Peugeot and looked to be the size of a Hummer! I thanked him, he went back to the garage, and I got in the side of the car with the steering wheel.
After a few difficulties in starting the car, I ended up going back to my friend in the garage for help in understanding the gears. The automatic cars I’ve driven in the United States have “P” for park, “R” for reverse, “N” for neutral, “D” for drive (third gear), and “L” (for climbing steep hills or pulling heavy loads). This Irish car had “R”, “N”, and “A”! It turns out that “R” is for reverse, “N” is for neutral (also known as park) and “A” is for automatic (also known as drive).
I got the car into gear and headed down the street. Belfast is the largest city in Northern Ireland with about 334,000 people. Four hours, three maps, and five very helpful people later, I was in the general vicinity of my hotel. I saw an elderly fellow coming out of a store, so I pulled over to the side of the road (bumping a couple of outside mirrors in the process). I asked him if he could show me where the hotel was. He looked a little taken aback but agreed to get in the car and direct me. It turned out that I was only a couple of blocks away!! At that point, I didn’t care if he was a crazed murderer. I wanted to get out of that car!
I checked into my hotel and took my first load up to my room. I found where the lights were and the air conditioner and turned both on before going back down to finish unloading my car. When I got back to my room, the lights and the air conditioning were turned off, so I called the front desk and learned that for the electricity to work, I needed to keep my room key in the reader box by the front door!
Before I had left home, I had purchased international minutes on my cell phone so that I could call my friends to let them know I had made it to Ireland. When I tried to call home, however, I discovered that the international minutes I had purchased only worked when I was in the United States, calling a friend who was in another country. Back I went to the front desk to ask about getting calling cards. The desk clerk gave me another map and circled where I was and where I needed to go, and I headed out – on foot!
A lady was going in the direction I needed to go, and she offered to walk with me to a marvelous little store that sold all kinds of things – including calling cards! I ended up buying two £10 cards which gave me 600 minutes.
Back I went to the hotel and called my friends. I really wanted someone to come over and bring me home, but no one had the extra money. The hotel restaurant didn’t open until 6:30 and I was tired and hungry, so I went back to my store and got a turkey sandwich for supper and orange juice for the next morning’s breakfast.
I spent that first night in my room recuperating from the traumatic experience of the past couple of days. The view from my window was cozy and inviting. I looked out on a cul-de-sac of houses, roads, and streetlights. In the distance, I could see the tops of two cranes that had been used to build the Titanic! The next day I was going to ride in the top of a double decker bus!