My wife and I took our first trip to Ireland in September of 2000. Ireland did not ban smoking in the workplace until March of 2004, which had an impact on me, to be discussed later. We had a very rushed itinerary, not knowing any better, and spent much too much of the time driving. Driving in Ireland is not exactly relaxing! Especially your first time. They drive on the left, and the roads are much narrower than in the States. This has improved since 2000 in the more built-up parts of Ireland, but not everywhere.
We spent a few days in Dublin, visiting museums, historic sites, and the Guinness plant. We stayed at the Arlington Hotel, really a pretty nice hotel with king sized beds and an awful breakfast. The hotel has a huge bar, perhaps the biggest in Ireland, and it was so large and open that smoke wasn't much of a problem for us. And so we had our first Guinness there, making the usual stupid American mistake of failing to understand the Guinness ritual.
We rented a car in Dublin, and picked it up at a hotel. I don't know if you can do this any more - the company, called County Car Rental, now does not make cars available in the center of town. So, our first experience driving in Ireland was on O'Connell Street of all places, in the midst of heavy noontime traffic. We had to navigate to the road along the Liffey that leads out of town. The turn was counter-intuitive, but my wife helped me through it. Our first night was to be in a B&B outside Longford, which we chose for no particular reason except that my mother's grandparents came from that area. It was not far from Dublin but given that it was my first experience driving on the wrong side, I was glad not to be driving for very long.
We managed to find the B&B, and rested up for a while.
That afternoon, we went into a little tiny pub in Newtownforbes, and got our first exposure to full-on smokatarians. It absolutely reeked of smoke and we literally bounced out. There's no telling how long that pub had been there, but the interior definitely had not been cleaned in decades.
I made a point of having my wife take a turn at the wheel.
Driving on the left is something that I never quite get comfortable with, and consequently I find driving in Ireland to be much more fatiguing than driving at home, even on country roads with more sheep than cars in your way. It has gotten easier over the years, but it still takes more concentration.
Our week was fairly rushed. The last stop we had was in a town in southwest Ireland called Kenmare, a beautiful little town full of nice restaurants and cute little shops.
Unfortunately, our B&B was not within walking distance of Kenmare, it was nearly in the next county, at the end of a no-lane road where, of course, we encountered an oncoming vehicle. On our last night in Kenmare, we drove into town a little early for dinner. We found a place to park, and were just wandering around, killing time. Now, in 2012, or any time after March 2004, we would have been sitting on a stool in a pub drinking the black stuff. But we could not tolerate the smoke.
There is an old stone circle in Kenmare, thousands of years old, so we wandered back there to kill some time. I took a few photos, and it started to rain.
Moments later, I was walking down a moderate slope, putting my camera away to keep it out of the rain. My left foot slipped out from under me, and all of my weight came down on my right leg, which did not slip, but flexed past the point where it could flex, and I went down with a loud crack. I knew it was something bad, but not what it was. I could not get up. I was not in pain; I do not have a high tolerance for pain - it just didn't hurt at all. I asked Jody to go get some help - we were alone in this stone circle and no one was around.
So she did, and while she was off accosting some unsuspecting Irishmen, I crawled over to some shelter, and pulled myself to my feet. But I could not walk, only stand. Eventually they helped me into a car, and took me to the home/office of the local physician, who, as luck would have it, was on vacation. A substitute doctor was there, and he examined me in a cursory fashion, but he could not diagnose the injury. He just said to keep it elevated and put ice on it. Where do you get ice? In a pub!
We managed to get back to our B&B, and if I had something to lean on, I could walk, so I could do the stairs and hobble around our room. We spent a restless night - we never did get dinner - and the next day we had to go back to Dublin anyway to go home, so we did that. It's a considerable distance from Kenmare to Dublin, and in 2000 all the motorways that cross the country had not yet been completed, and we had to slog through every little town all the way. Of course, Jody had to drive the whole distance.
We stayed at an airport hotel, which was also the drop-off point for the rental. Our car was green down the passenger side, because we always dragged along the left side, trying to duck away from the oncoming traffic, and we were brushing against the shrubbery. But it was otherwise undamaged. As it happened, or hotel room was set up for a disabled guest. The next day we got the van to the terminal, and I had a hell of a time getting to our gate, but with Jody's help managed it. We had to have a wheelchair meet us in London, and I had to have a ride to the gate for the American flight back to DFW. Once on the plane, I was fine, in that I could hold on to a seat if necessary while walking (I hate when people do that to me, but I had no other option). We'd requested a wheelchair on arrival at DFW, but none arrived. Our lead flight attendant got on the phone and got us some assistance, and she waited with us until it came. I didn't know then, but know now, the lady was not being paid by the airline any more once the door opened. She was a lifesaver.
We learned, after some difficulty finding an orthopedist, that I had completely torn my quadriceps tendon, without which you can't walk, at least not forward. Evidently you can walk backwards, but I didn't try it. The strangest thing is that there was just a little discomfort, but never any pain. The doctor was alarmed in that, in his opinion, this injury was a medical emergency and should have been treated within 48 hours. But the nearest hospital to Kenmare would have been back in Killarney, and our insurance would not have been good there, and so the best option was to limp on home.
But none of this would have happened, except for the smoke in the pubs.