Driving on the Left

28 July 2010

Driving in Edinburgh

I’m the adventurous type. So I was undaunted by the prospect of driving in Edinburgh. My friends from the UK assured me it was easier than driving in the U.S.  Now having had my first lesson driving on the wrong side of the road and the wrong side of the car,  I beg to differ on this point.

Finding the Rental place in Waverly station wasn’t a problem—the cab driver knew just where to go. Checking out, was fairly smooth. The attendant wanted to know if I wanted insurance. I said I already purchased insurance. She agreed, but said I had a 600.00GBP deductible. Hmm…I did some quick calculations, and realized that was almost 1000.00 US dollars. She smiled charmingly at me.

“Would you like to purchase additional insurance for 6 GBP/day? It would relieve you of any responsibility should anything at all happen to the car.”

More calculations. 42.00 GBP, roughly 70 US dollars for no liability. “O.K.” I say.

She adds it on in the computer, prints the paperwork, and has both myself and my friend sign. She then hands me keys and tells me, “You have a blue Mercedes.”

I blink, sure she couldn’t be talking to me. Taking the key fob she is handing me, I see that it is indeed a Mercedes. You have to understand. I’ve rented many cars. Never have I gotten one that was, well, beyond the mere necessity of having four wheels and a minimum of two doors without asking. My smile broadens. She gives me directions for finding my rental, and away we go. The car, was a tiny four door model I’ve never seen before, but nevertheless was very cute. We loaded the luggage and proceeded to drive out of the train station with a heading of Rosslyn Chapel in Midlothian.

It was the second round-about.  On the backside of Holyrood Palace, the curb jumped out in front of me. I know that is what happened, because I was certain I was hugging the inside curb and going so slowly that people were honking at me. I knew immediately that the passenger’s side tire was flat.  I ignored my exit out of the roundabout and continued to the nearest building with a driveway.

“What are you doing?”  Robyn yelled.  “That was our turn!”  She didn’t seem to notice the weird thumping noise coming from her side.

“I’m pretty sure we have a flat,” I say in a flustered voice.

The driveway I navigated to turned out to be the Scotland Standard Newspaper building.

After coming to a rather bumpy stop we got out,  in the rain, of course, to inspect the damage. Left passenger side tire flat as a pancake.

Thank god for insurance. I look on the insurance paperwork and find a number devoted to flat tire problems alone.  This should have been an omen.  I called the number, cursing the minutes I was using, and wondering what the phone bill was going to look like.

Within 45 a gentleman showed up in a bright orange van with RAC Rescue written on the hood.

I had vowed I would not say I hit the curb, that I would play the innocent, “I have no idea what happened!” card.  To my dismay there was no need to. He took one look, and said, “Hit the curb, did you?”

I smiled dolefully, holding my hand above my forehead with my thumb and forefinger in the shape of an L.

“Do you know what this means in America?” I asked him.

“No.” He replies starting to grin. I suspect he has an idea.

“It means I’m a big loser,” I say jokingly.

He laughs at this, while my friend asks him if this happens a lot.

He gives us a Cheshire cat grin. “Every day or two there is at least one American or Canadian who hits the curb and gets a flat.”

I breathed a sigh of relief, feeling very much less a loser while he changes the tire with the admonition that we must visit the Kwik Fit, or some such place, as the spare is only the temporary type.

As we drive into Kwik Fit, we share an ominous feeling that we might be there all day.  I check in at the counter, and explain the situation.  The guy takes my paperwork, and in less than 45 minutes they have us on our way again.  I must say, it was amazing service.

We continued our drive to Rosslyn Chapel, with me insisting that Robyn drive.  I don’t think she was very happy about this, but my confidence was shaken to the core.  We encountered a few roundabouts on the way, but navigated them well. We toured Rosslyn Chapel about which I can only say, it is truly amazing. You can get information on it here.  No photography is allowed inside, and the outside was being restored, so the only photo I have is the following of the front door.

Afterward we walked to a local pub and ate, then headed toward our new destination, Inveraray. Now, we have a GPS, but the owner of the next B&B told us to stay East of Glasgow.  But how exactly, do you tell the GPS that?  I had no idea, so we just did what it told us to–or tried to anyway.  We were about to embark on lesson number 2 regarding roundabouts.  Ever see the movie, European Vacation with Chevy Chase?  Remember the scene with the roundabouts and getting stuck going round and round?  We spent roughly 20 minutes or so going between two roundabouts that were about a half a mile apart, trying to take the right road, but always ending up on the wrong road. There is only a finite number of times one can take hearing that annoying voice say, “recalculating”. I think it must have been the fifth try (that would be 10 times through each one) we got it right, and were going the right direction, which sadly was towards Glasgow. You might be thinking to yourself, how can anyone get lost using a GPS? I’m not sure, but we managed to. I do now know however, that after at least 15 roundabouts, we learned that when the GPS says take the second exit, it really means stay on the same road you’ve been on, essentially going straight through the circle. Better the lesson learned late than not at all.

When we hit Glasgow, it was like D.C. rush  hour.  I called the proprietor of the B&B to tell him we’d be much later than we expected because we were stuck in traffic.

“I thought I told you to go East of Glasgow!” a fatherly tone came over the line.

“We tried,” I stammer.  “I’m really sorry.  We didn’t know how to tell the GPS to take us East.”  There’s some grumbling on the other end where he finishes by telling us exactly how late we’ll be.  I smile, because I can hear underneath the grumbling, concern about the fact that we don’t seem to know what we are doing.  I apologize again, and hang up.

We eventually made it to Inveraray, where there was a wonderful room with a wonderful view waiting for us.

By the time we got settled and in bed it was 11:00 PM and finally dark.  Even with the adventures of the day, I was having a wonderful time and couldn’t wait for more.


4 responses to “Driving on the Left

  1. Have had similar adventures driving on the opposite side of the road. It takes abouta day to really get used to it. Fortunately most UK drivers are polite. You really have to screw up to have them honk the horn at you.

    • It took me longer than a day. I’d say by the time the 10 days were up, I was converted, because when I came back to the US I kept thinking I was on the wrong side of the road! 🙂

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