|CrystalblueoceanSailing and Diving Around the World|
sailing and diving around the world
Showed up at the Enterprise car rental agency, in Bristol, told Ricky, the associate on duty, that I was used to driving manual transmission, but never on the left side of the road, with the steering wheel on the right side of the car. God love him, he brings out a bright red, six-gear, Astra Turbo! Unfortunately some of the footage that lost along way, included the videos of my very first time driving in England, pulling out of the Enterprise parking lot. Needless to say, my first couple of days were a bit 'stressy,' but I got it down, as most you would be able to, as well.
I want to talk about traffic, in general. First of all, guys, always look both ways before crossing and pay attention to the pedestrian lights!! Walking across the street, in N America, at points that are not designated crosswalks, or proper traffic lights, is called 'jaywalking,' and police officers in N America actually had out tickets for that 'offence.' In England, there is no such thing as 'jaywalking.' In England, it's just called crossing the street. So pay attention. Just because other people are crossing the street doesn't mean it's safe. Example.... I was standing at the pedestrian 'spot,' on the sidewalk, waiting for the light to change so that I could walk across the street. I wasn't paying attention, and just began to follow two other people who started to cross. I assumed they were crossing with a green light, so I followed. Well, I was just narrowly missed by a car. When I say, narrowly, I mean narrowly! The people I was following were 'jaywalking,' so I was actually stepping into oncoming traffic. They drive faster in England, too, so distances are a bit deceiving. A car can seem to you to be 'miles away,' but they're travelling fast and or on top of you before you know. So, look both ways, make sure you're not unknowingly following 'jaywalkers,' always cross with a green light, and always remember you're in England, a country where they drive on the wrong side of the road :)
When you go to England, especially to do a cross-country driving tour, remember that shops close pretty early. It's not like in N America, where you can always find coffee shops, restaurants, etc, that are open 24hrs. The only places that I saw that stayed open 24 hrs, were the gas stations along the highways (motorways). What I did was I tried to never let the fuel level drop between 1/4 tank. This practice actually saved me a couple of times. It takes quite a bit of time to really get to know the traffic patterns, and how busy cities can be at certain times. So I got caught in serious traffic a few times, unexpectedly, but when I looked down at the fuel gauge and saw a near full tank, I breathed a sigh of relief. So, if you're going into a city, stop along the highway and fill up. If you're Canadian, try not to cry over the egregiously unfair exchange rate :)
I've been asked, "...what are the differences between driving in N America and driving in England...?" Well, as you guys know, they drive on the left-hand side, in England, and what's worse, even the steering wheel is on the wrong side of the car! :) So, as I began to drive, I found myself, for the first few days, reaching for an invisible shifter on the right side of the car. Of course, I was always trying to get into the car from the left :) The only thing I really had to adjust, as far as the physical driving of the car, was my drifting. As I was used to driving on the left side of the road my whole life, with a left-hand side steering, when I was driving in England I noticed that I was drifting to the right. Kind of surprised me. I found out because I kept hear the 'rumble strip' on the left side of the highway. I started to pay attention to my left side mirror and noticed that I was just naturally drifting to the left so it took a day or two of focusing on staying to the right and then I was fine.
The only thing that I was really nervous about was the roundabouts. In N America, we intersections everywhere. All the cars stop at an intersection and proceed through on a green light. They intersections in England, too, but they also have a lot of these roundabouts. So, what is a roundabout. Well, you driving down a road, heading north, just as an example, and up ahead you. Well, in N America, when you're driving along a road, inevitably you're going come up to another road that crosses the one you're driving on. So, if you're driving on a road in N America, heading north, you're bound to come up to an east/west road that crosses yours. In N America, you're used to seeing four corners, and traffic lights to control the flow of traffic. In England, driving along a road, heading north, for example, you don't see an intersection or the east/west road crossing the one you're on. What you see up ahead is a barrier, with arrows directing you to go left. If there are no cars impeding you, and you drove to left, into the roundabout, and continued to drive you'd find yourself going round and round in a circle. But, as you're driving around the circle you'll exits onto streets going in different directions, away from the roundabout. If you continue to drive you'll eventually pass the road that you just came in on. If you were listing to a navigation device, the voice might say, "...drive into the roundabout and take the third exit...." The highways, for the most part, don't have roundabouts, but the smaller surface roads have a lot of them. So, if you're on a surface road, say, driving from Liverpool, to Southport, you're pretty much heading in a northerly direction, which mean that most of the time you'll be taking the second roundabout exit. Travelling northbound, the first exit, once you enter the roundabout is the road heading west, the second exit, the one you'll be mostly taking, going from Liverpool to Southport, is the road continuing north, the third exit is the road heading east, etc. However, closer to a city, or near shopping centers, the roundabouts can have five or six exits. You just need to know which direction you need to go in, from the roundabout. Like I said, I spent long drives, heading in one direction for long distances, so was typically going into a round about and taking the second exit. It gets easy pretty fast as you get used to it. It was pretty funny when I was attempting to leave Bristol, the city where I picked up the car. It took me four tries to get out of the city as I was trying to maneuver through a roundabout! :):) Just when I thought I had it right, I ended up back in the same place :)
So, for those of you who are used to manual transmission, it shouldn't take you more than a day or two to get the hang of it. Don't let the cars rile you. If they're honking their horns, let them. Take your time so that you don't make any mistakes, scratch your rental car, or cause an accident. By they way, you can rent cars with automatic transmissions, but it costs a bit more. Stay alert for motorcycle, mopeds, scooters and bicycles. Oh yeah, and jaywalkers :):)
Finally, there are traffic cameras everywhere in England. I found out later, when Enterprise informed me that there was a traffic violation attached to the licence plate of the car I rented. Enterprise automatically charges the £35 admin fee from your credit card. They send you an email notice, but the notice doesn't say how much the traffic ticket is, or what the infraction is. I still don't know, actually. So, watch your speed, and be careful to not run any red lights. In the car that I had, the speed limit was actually displayed on the dash, so that was a pretty handy feature.
London was fabulous, guys, I absolutely loved it! :) I would move there in a heartbeat, if I could. Wish I had been able to spend more time there. It is the most cosmopolitan city I have ever visited. You could sit down in any cafe, and you would hear all of the world's languages represented there.
I must have walked fifteen miles, all over London. I stayed at the Holiday Inn, in Stratford, about a half-hour 'tube' ride from downtown London, so it was a perfect location, actually. So annoyed, because I lost quite a lot of footage along the way, so I don't have the fabulous night shots from the London Eye, and from other places and countries that I visited. I also lost great film of Whitechapel, the district made famous by Jack The Ripper. I know it's a bit morbid, but hey, Jack The Ripper, thank God, is long gone, but the amazing historical neighborhoods remain, many of which are still in their original condition. There is something to be appreciated about that. And of course, there is great shopping in Whitechapel, and lots of other fun things to do there, too. What I really love to do, as I go from country to country, is explore at night. Don't really know how I got hooked on it. Probably from all the long wait times between flights, over the years. Rather than sit in airports for 8 hours, I would leave the airport and explore the city, wherever I happened to be. In any case, there is a completely different, exciting feel about wandering around an unfamiliar city, at night. For those of you that also have the 'nocturnal wandering bug,' you're absolutely going to love London.
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