We have been to London a few times, but NEVER have we been brave enough to drive. I guess it hasn't been a matter of fear, it's just that between double decker buses, black cabs, and the maze of underground tube lines, you don't really even need a car.
However, Ingrid lives about an hour outside of London's city center... and once you start factoring in the price of train tickets for all of us, and the extra traveling time, it just made sense to rent a car.
So I did.
I rented a car when I arrived with the children at the Stansted airport on Tuesday afternoon. For this trip, Paul, again, got left behind :( At least he was able to meet up with us Thursday night and spend the weekend with us... He's an important boy with important things going on at work.... :)
So I had the wonderful opportunity to drive a car with the steering wheel in the wrong place and on the wrong side of the road!! BUT it gets better, because it always does....
I didn't have a GPS.
My portable GPS was in my car, which Paul had taken on a short business trip. The day we left I had his pretty car with the built in GPS... so I had no GPS to bring with me. Super!
I was too cheap to rent a GPS for the same price I could have bought one, so I figured that if I could just make it to Ingrid's house... on the other side of London... it would be fine and Paul could simply bring our GPS with him when he came.
So I printed a map from Google Maps. HA! Who does that anymore?!!
I studied the maps and verified the directions with Ingrid. It seemed simple enough ...until I had to do it all on the wrong side of the road!
**Long story short, I drove through London ...using a map.
Okay, fine, it was mostly freeways, but there were times when I couldn't believe I picked the right way.
What I learned about driving in England:
1. The seatbelt is not over your left shoulder.
- I would flail my arm around searching for it every time I got in the car... then I realized the seatbelt is over my right shoulder and that I needed to use my left hand to grab it.
2. There IS a rear view mirror. It's just in the middle of the car ...which is on your left.
- I drove the entire week and finally as I was frustrated I couldn't see behind me Paul told me to use the rear view mirror and I said, "Oh yah". I hadn't thought to look left ..at all ...for the entire week.
3. The other cars... and motorcycles are also driving on the "wrong" side of the road.
- You have to remember which way cars are supposed to be coming from ...and it's not the direction you think!
4. Roundabouts are evil.
5. Shifting with your left hand would be impossible.
- Thankfully the car rental place only had an automatic to give me. It was hard enough to go from drive to reverse with my left hand. I had never even thought about it. I would have been in real trouble trying to shift with the "wrong" hand.
6. To drive the car you need to get in on the right side of the car.
- It took a few days of actually opening the left door before I realized that if I wanted to drive I'd need to go open the right door. When we picked up the car from the rental place at the airport I actually sat down in the left front seat and paused for a minute... I thought the rental guy was going to take the keys back.
7. Left means left and right means right.
- When someone would give me directions and say, "Turn left at the light." I'd think in my head... "Okay, left, so that really means right because everything is backwards" ...and I'd get myself all confused. I don't understand how I would think that it would mean the opposite, but I did and I kinda spent the week not really knowing which of my hands were left or right.
...and you have to turn into the correct lane when you turn ...and parking lots are pretty sketchy... and cars come from the lane where you wouldn't expect them... and roundabouts are a whole new world, but all in all driving wasn't that bad and I'd do it again.
Oh, and roundabouts... There are no such things as roundabouts in Germany or Denmark. The "roundabouts" they have here are tiny little circles in which you can see every car that is involved. They should be called "baby circle roads".
A real roundabout is a mess of lights, arrows, street markings, and merging cars coming from several directions. They are so big and even come with their own maps to help you navigate them. They are rarely even round! Roundabouts are more like a giant oval with many, many roads branching off in every direction; not just four like in a German "baby circle road." Some roundabouts had roads going through the middle and some were more like "Figure 8-abouts". Simply crazy...
However, after all of that, I would still tell everyone that driving on the wrong side of the road is something that you should try to do at least once in your life. It was just plain weird. :)
...and Paul never gave his driver's license information to the car rental place so he didn't get to experience the JOY I had... guess we are headed back to Ingrid's in the future so he can have a turn. :)