Monday, July 28, 2008

Are We There Yet?

After the exciting boat tour of the Cliffs of Moher, we were all hungry. So we piled into the 'family car' and I set off for Ballyvaughn. I'd given everyone a choice - we could go to a place that was closer but more awkward to get to or a place that was further away, but on better roads. The choice to go with the better roads was unanimous.

I'd forgotten that this particular national road included one of the more trying stretches of road in a country that's full of difficult roads. Built as part of a Famine Relief Project and called Corkscrew Hill, it pretty much does what it says on the tin. It's a series of hairpin turns, twisting down a steep hill, all packed into a mere 180 meters.

Let's just say that in places, I had to use the Wheee! method to keep my composure. At one point, I came around a blind curve, hugging my side of the road, and found myself face-to-face with a big truck. My father later reported that his mother would have said "He wants his half in the middle." I eased little Leo as close to my edge of the road as I dared and (I am ashamed to admit this) closed my eyes and hoped for the best. That we got past the truck without evening scraping a mirror is a minor miracle.

We had lunch at a seafood place in Ballyvaughn. By the time we were finishing up lunch, it was a bit past 2.30, creeping up onto 3. My mother desperately wanted to get to the airport hotel, partly because I think she was afraid they'd give our room away if we weren't there by 6 and partly because she was just understandably sick of being in the car.

I didn't feel like spending too much time in the hotel, since there's nothing to see there and, from past experience, I knew it wasn't even a very nice hotel. My dad and Aunt P were happy to sight-see along the way back to the hotel and Aunt L wanted to cram as much vacation fun as possible into their last day.

I'd plotted a course that took us to Pol na Brun dolmen and mentioned that there were a few other sights on the route to the airport. Aunt L and I were both interested in the Burren Perfumery, because Lonely Planet reported it had lots of good information about the wondrous and rare wildflowers that somehow make their home in the rocky, barren landscape. My mother was less enamoured of this plan and there were grumblings come at me from a few different quarters.

We all piled back into the car and visited the Dolmen first. When we got into the Burren, everyone was quite taken with the landscape. We were also driving through some truly Irish weather - sun and rain at the same time, then flat grey sky with pouring rain, then mist with a hint of sunshine. The weather seemed to shift every ten minutes or so.

We were pulling into the car park near the Dolmen when my mother first informed me that she needed to use the bathroom. "Why didn't you go before we left?" The answer was a predictable "I didn't have to go then, it just sort of snuck up on me." I told her there were no facilities here and if she wanted to go, I would drive her to the next village and then we would return to collect the rest of the family. She demurred, insisting that she would be fine, just fine.

I let them go ahead while I stayed in the car for a few minutes to check maps for the nearest toilet and also to get my temper in check. I didn't want to be the one who ruined the whole holiday by having a meltdown. First, a quick ring to the hotel to confirm that the rooms would be ready and waiting for us, regardless of when we arrived. Then I consulted a few maps to find a bathroom.

It quickly became clear to me that I had the opportunity to fulfill two travel desires with one stop. It turned out that the nearest village was also the village that had the Burren Perfumery. I rang them and asked if they had toilets there. The woman laughed at me (not in a mean way, maybe it was with me) and assured me they did.

I had another look at the map and could see my only challenge was going to be successfully navigating to the Perfumery on minor roads. For many of our car excursions, we'd had the luxury of Peter's GPS, whom we call Emily. My mother loved Emily because she could see how long it was going to take to get places and she would get especially excited when the checkered End Route flag appeared on the screen. I'm no Emily and I had no idea how long it was going to take us to get to the Perfumery, so I decided not to say anything about my plan, just to say that I had located the nearest village and knew of a place there that had toilets.

When the sightseeing at the Dolmen was over, we headed, unbeknownst to everyone but me, to the Perfumery. We ended up traveling over some blessedly straight but cursedly steep and narrow roads. Occassionally, my mother would ask how much longer until we arrived. I tried not to get snippy, but I was sweating this whole gambit enough without getting amped up impatience from the backseat. And I'm no Emily. I had only the vaguest notion of where we were and the best hopes that we were traveling in the right direction.

After an interminable amount of time, which was in actuality only about 15 minutes, we reached the village and I spotted the first sign for the Perfumery. A few turns and several kilometers later, I pulled into the long driveway of the Burren Perfumery. It was an enchanted little place, an English fairy garden dropped into the middle of the Burren, no less strange and surprising than Dorothy's house landing in Oz.

My mom and dad both headed for the bathrooms while the Aunts checked out the Perfumery. I had a look at the wildflower displays but was disappointed to find that they only had some pictures and that their real info was contained in a 12-minute filmstrip. (I knew there was no way I was going to get my mother to agree to stay that long.)

My father came out of the bathroom first and gave me a big hug. "You're the smartest person I know! You managed to find a solution that would please everyone." That made all the sweating it out worth it.


At 28 July 2008 at 20:57, Blogger Irene said...

I was reading this on the edge of my seat, feeling sympathy for both you and your mother. It was hard on both of you. I can imagine both of you getting snippy and admire you both for not getting so, so far.

That's a lot of sightseeing to cram into one day. I would have needed several naps to process all those impressions and all those curvy roads, not to speak of the lunch.

You have a very admirable family, which you are a member of.

At 28 July 2008 at 21:08, Blogger Kaycie said...

Well played, Ann.

At 28 July 2008 at 22:58, Blogger Babaloo said...

I so feel for both of you, you and your Mom. I don't know how many "nature stops" I've had to make in my years here. The funniest was near some cliffs in Mayo, with my two sisters in law. All of us needed to go urgently and there was NOwhere to go. So the three of us went, one after the other, the remaining ones keeping a look out for anyone approaching. It was late January/early February, so luckily there were no other tourists around (one of the reasons why everything was closed).

Well done for keeping your calm on that memorable trip!

At 31 July 2008 at 13:46, OpenID conortje said...

You are a clever one! I also love your method of driving around hair pins. That really made me giggle :-)

At 2 August 2008 at 12:26, Blogger debra said...

Everybody won! When my #1 daughter was learning to drive on our hills and curves, she often sang "Wheeeeeeeee!" as she rounded a curve too quickly. I, however, gritted my teeth and held onto the door handle. I am glad to have found you here.

At 3 August 2008 at 20:19, Blogger -Ann said...

Irene - Thank you. I do love them very much and although I did have moments of abject frustration, the holiday was, as a whole, spectacular.

Kaycie - Thanks. I used all my brain cells on that one alright.

Babaloo - You can't travel comfortably in rural Ireland if you have objections to going in nature. (The same, strangely, applies to playing with the GAA. The number of times I've had to pee in the bushes at a match. Insane.)

Conortje - I try not to make a habit of it, but that one was REALLY terrifying.

Debra - Thanks for stopping by. I cannot imagine teaching a teenager to drive.


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