Friendly French, transportation options in Ireland

DEAR READER, I’d like to share an incident with you that I had on a recent trip to France.

Nearly a thousand years ago, in 1066 to be exact, one of my ancestors moved from a small village in Normandy to England and founded our family. He became known as “Gilbert of (or from) Venables,” and his descendants simply became Venables (without the “of”). Now every five years, the village, north of Paris on the Seine River and still small, hosts a party and all Venables are invited back to attend. This year, three of my cousins traveled with me to attend.

We picked up a rental a car at Charles de Gaulle Airport. Since I believe in preparation, I had plotted a detailed new route, courtesy of, and printed it in vivid color. Unfortunately, the cousin who volunteered to be my navigator almost immediately found she had no idea how to read a map of French roads, and the signposts were whizzing by so fast that soon we were off the printed page and hopelessly lost.

After what seemed like hours of driving, evidentally always in the wrong direction, I stopped in a town, hopped out and darted across the street chasing a lone pedestrian. She was a bit startled, but after I explained our situation she kindly struggled to provide the directions I had requested. Finally she said, “I know how to get there; I just can’t explain it. Follow me.”

She climbed back into her car and took off, leading us in and out of towns and villages for about 10 miles until she extended her arm out her window, pointed over her car to a highway sign, then waved good-bye and went on her way.

We had no further problems and made it to our village in time for the barbecue lunch. Our Good Samaritan had been a total stranger, in a foreign land, who went completely out of her way to help, when I would have been satisfied if she had just pointed me in the right direction.

Of course, the funny part was (at least, to my cousins) the first person we met in France, who remained anonymous, was friendly — not quite what some, especially those who haven’t traveled much, might have expected.

I think Mark Twain said it best: “Travel is fatal to prejudice, bigotry and narrow-mindedness.”

Vive, la France! Vive, le travel!


DEAR STEVE, I really enjoy your column. They just don’t make travel agents like you anymore! I’ve been searching the Internet and looking at hard-copy resources for information concerning ground travel in Ireland. On previous visits I’ve never used public transportation; however, I want to give it a try next May when I return for a visit.

I would prefer to fly to Shannon, but I’ll go through Dublin if it’s more efficient. I will be joining friends for a birthday celebration in Killarney. I would like to land and then just hop on a bus or train and head south. I would appreciate your sharing your expertise on the best (most efficient) way I can do this. I will be going to Scotland after my visit, so I was thinking a round-trip ticket from Dublin might be best. Any information on ferry service from Dublin to Glasgow would be helpful. — Laura Scott, Portland, Oregon


DEAR LAURA, it’s a coincidence that on the same day I received your question I received an e-mail from a client who had just returned from Ireland. He and his wife normally like complete arrangements, but this time they wanted to remain flexible and use public transportation rather than take a group tour or drive themselves. They had purchased air tickets from Glasgow to Dublin.

He wrote, “Though we would lose the money we paid for the tickets, we decided against taking the Glasgow-Dublin flight as I hadn’t really thought it through. From where we were staying with friends, we were about a 2-hour train ride away from the airport. Given the requirement to be at the airport two hours early, and allowing for transit time from the train to the airport, we would have had to leave where we were before 6 in the morning, if there even was a train then.

“So we went to plan B and took a ferry from Stranraer in Wigtownshire in the southwest corner of Scotland to Belfast, Northern Ireland. The ferry is absolutely super, very reasonable and fast. Their literature said it went 55 miles per hour and I believe it. It had several restaurants, free films, very comfortable seating in a variety of formats, kids’ play areas, etc. The ferry must been 80 to 100 feet across inside.

“We then took the train directly to Dublin, which was a dream. After spending two days in Dublin we went by train directly to Cork, where we ended up staying five nights in one of the best hotels I have ever been in, the Hayfield Manor ( — normally from Ä290 per night, double, but they got it for Ä250, about $300, with the help of the concierge at their Dublin hotel).

“We did hire a car and driver for a single day to Killarney and did the Ring of Kerry drive. I would not recommend anyone not familiar with Irish roads to do that on their own. The roads in Kerry, particularly along the west coast, are very narrow, with substantial numbers of buses and trucks. The cost of the private car and driver was Ä300, which was really worth it.

“Trains in Ireland are outstanding. Buses are okay, too. We took a bus from Cork to Shannon, about a 2-hour trip. A car would have been nice (on this trip) but not at all necessary.”

The ferry my client mentioned is with Stena Line (www.stenaline. One way for a “walk-on” passenger (without an accompanying vehicle) costs £19 (about $36) and takes less than two hours. P&O Irish Sea Ferries ( also offers routes between Ireland and Britain.

Check out for Irish train schedules, rates and purchase ability. On the left of their homepage, click on “Company Information.” There you will find route maps and explanations of the ticket deals they offer.

For buses, try According to it, their bus between Cork and Dublin takes two hours more than the train, but trains, as you might have guessed, serve only the larger cities and use Dublin as a hub, so a bus can be a better bet between smaller towns. Plus during the tourist season bus lines may offer local day tours, such as the Ring of Kerry, at a much lower price than private arrangements.

You can start your trip in either Dublin or Shannon, but compare flight schedules and rates first to help determine which is best for you. Also consider flying to Ireland and home from Scotland so you aren’t backtracking.

I can go on and on about Ireland — stunning scenery, historical ruins, pubs, warm friendly people, and emerald-green gardens and fields — but room does not permit. Best wishes for a great journey.

—Ask Steve is written by Steve Venables.