Sunday, November 14, 2010

Through Streets Wide And Narrow

When my sister and I were little, we had these travel bingo cards with various things you’d be more or less likely to see from the car window. One of the things that never failed to be almost impossible for us to mark off was the dreaded S-shaped curvy road sign, which isn’t exactly surprising considering most of our traveling involved four to six lane interstate routes across open countryside.

Well, not only is the S-shaved curve sign ubiquitous in many, if not most, parts of Ireland, they’ve got curvy road signs here in shapes I didn’t even know existed.

That’s something I had intended to mention while I was comparing striking landscapes earlier, but had forgotten about.

Some other interesting travel facts:
* There is just one bus company for almost the whole of Ireland (the Republic of, anyway). They do the city routes and the inter-city routes. The only city I’m aware of with its own separate bus system owned by someone else is Dublin. As if the agony of trying to find and navigate public transportation in America didn’t already make me weep, here is this beautiful, convenient simplicity. Of course, I realize the U.S. is far too big for this to make sense… but on the other hand, just HAVING affordable and readily-accessible-wherever-you-are buses is something of a novelty for me. I remember trying to explain to my roommate Claudia and her German friends that I’m not really used to getting around on buses because I don’t live in a huge city and realizing how absurd that sounded. I’m sure more Americans would choose public transportation over driving if it were an option outside the most urban of urban areas. I can’t even get from Oberlin to Cleveland on a bus now that LCT did away with the airport express (which never did go to Cleveland proper; you had to go to the airport and then get on a different bus); I’m not sure, but I’m betting the same is true between Selinsgrove and Harrisburg. Here, even though the numbers of people in any of those places would be much smaller, that would be unthinkable. Also, round-trip bus fare from Cork to Dublin (a four and a half hour trip) is significantly less expensive than round-trip bus fare from Bethlehem/Allentown to NYC or Philadelphia (a two and a half hour or a one and a half hour trip, respectively)—even though gasoline is far more expensive. There’s something wrong with this.

Sorry, that was more of a rant than a fact. Moving on…

* Roundabouts (a.k.a. traffic circles or rotaries, depending on what region of the States you live in) are EVERYWHERE. Outside and in between cities and towns, I don’t think there is a junction of main roads anywhere that involves a simple fork or intersection. Ireland is all roundabouts, all the time.
* One-way streets are common to the point of being excessive. I can’t imagine trying to drive here.
* I also sometimes can’t tell what’s a one-way street. I couldn’t tell you what an Irish one-way sign looks like. Maybe no such thing even exists. And the roads themselves do not always have markings on them. Highway routes and streets in the city centre make their intentions quite clear; streets in some other parts of the city, not so much. And it’s not just quiet residential streets like in some parts of my neighborhood in Bethlehem—the road UCC’s music building is on seems to be a fairly important one, and it has no markings at all.
* Pedestrian-only streets exist somewhere in almost every city or town I’ve been to that’s of any respectable size. They’re not all in medieval quarters where the streets are too narrow and/or winding for vehicle traffic, either. In fact, there are plenty of narrow streets with too much vehicle traffic. There are also narrow streets where cars can’t go, but just today I was on a pedestrian street in Waterford that was easily wide enough for two standard car lanes.
* Parking half (or more) on the sidewalk on streets where there’s technically not room for on-street parking (which is most places in the city) is commonplace. I’m not entirely sure how well it’s tolerated by people with the authority to collect fines, but drivers are clearly not deterred.

That’s all I can think of for now.

I had an “Aha!” moment this afternoon wherein I finally realized exactly what a bookmaker is and why there are so many of them. To be fair, I hadn’t exactly been pondering this, or really paying much attention to them at all, but three months is still an embarrassingly long time to be that oblivious.

I’d blame the fact that I come from a country with conservative social values, where people paradoxically prefer to make their vices more sketchy by keeping them underground, but in some other ways (drinking culture being a prime example), the norms in both Ireland and Britain are closer to those in America than to those in continental Europe.

Fortunately, I was alone when I had this little epiphany. And surely that’s better than the fact that one of my roommates, based on a fragment of conversation I overheard earlier, has somehow managed to live here for two months without realizing that “first floor” and “ground floor” are not synonymous and that we therefore do not live on the sixth floor from the ground, but the seventh floor from the ground and the sixth that is numbered. Clearly someone always heads straight for the elevator and pushes a button without paying any attention whatsoever to anything else. I’m still wondering how she hasn’t either had a ton of problems or just figured it out long before now in trying to find her way around other buildings.

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