MAXIMUM ARTICULATION 10
My wife and I recently made a trip to England for 3 weeks. We rented a car right from the airport near London and did a driving tour of the middle of the Island – it’s a big island but still an island. It has been 25 years since I have driven a right hand drive on the left side of the road - half my life ago. Changing the side of the road you drive on is far different than buying a right hand drive and driving it here in North America.
We started out making maps to try and reduce our Internet use on the trip. That went right out the window pretty much on day one going around London trying to fins Windsor Castle – after that the Google map lady became our travel companion for the rest of the trip. To say people drive fast in England is a misnomer, the speed limits max out at 70 mph – not much different than anywhere else – but the little back country roads barely wide enough for two British micro-cars to pass are pretty much all posted at 50mph – that’s where the driving gets fun because everyone right up to the oldest grand-dad is rocketing down these little lanes, boxed in by rock walls or hedge rows inches from the white line at 50 mph – in cars with 1 liter engines like our rental Vauxhall Astra – turbo mind you.
Lets talk about this little engine that can. 1L Turbo 104 HP 6-speed standard (you need to sell the farm to pay the rental fee on an automatic in Britain) 4.4L per 100KMs combined that’s 65MPG! This thing sips fuel so going there and paying in British pounds for gas what we pay here in Canada, about 1.30 per liter, won’t break the bank on your travels – but getting a 1.0L turbo or no turbo up to speed needs you to drive… miss a gear (shifter is in your left hand gear pattern is the same as here so all the gears are kinda backwards to you) – and boy you pay.
The great British roundabout… They are everywhere, the break into multi lanes, and have stoplight in them. Everyone is going around them like they are driving Ferraris and god help you if you’re a tourist and pick the wrong lane leading into the roundabout - horns will be-a-blaring – there is no mercy. More than once we made the trip around a couple adjoining roundabouts a couple of times to find our way out of them or onto the right exit. Once we deciphered what the Google lady was telling us – anticipating roundabouts got a lot easier, but those first couple of days were pretty hectic. Take the third exit – make sure your on the inside (right side) lane of the roundabout, drift out after each exit and hit your mark, bang some gears and shoot off in your next direction.
There is nothing slow about roundabouts there, unlike here where everyone seems to not trust anyone else – there is a lot of trust in driving in England be it those one lane back roads at 50 mph where your dodging into the grass to pass each other – or multilane roundabouts. Here is the thing. Everyone there pretty much drives stick shifts with tiny engines, you’re shifting all the time and gunning it up to speed – then banging downshifts in a few miles to hit the next round about – it seems there is nothing like 200kms of interstate there not ever 50kms – every so often, highway or no highway, you’re hitting another roundabout or twisting and turning down a lane.
So no time for texting, eating a hamburger even sipping your coffee from a thermal mug – just not going to happen, you’re rowing gears almost all the time – and after a couple of harrowing days I started to really have a blast. You can trust other drivers to get out of the way – or in turn they are trusting you to get out of the way – so you need to be on the ball and as far as I’m concerned that makes them way better drivers than our lazy driving habits and big fat roads have created here. After those first couple of panicked days, I was truly sad to hand the car back in at the airport. In three weeks of touring all over Britain we used about $200.00 in fuel – more than reasonable considering, had an amazing vacation that took us to spots no train or tour bus would take us and I still miss it very much. Good holidays are always to short. So don’t be scared of countries that drive on the left – but be prepared to DRIVE – not sit back and snooze your way along. Pick a small sports car, brush up on your stick shift driving and have fun with it – and invest your Internet money in the Goggle lady.
After this trip my wife is planning our next big trip in a couple years to Europe and again we will rent a car for a tour of northern Italy, this time into the alps though France and back – might need some type of Italian drop top car for that one can’t wait to see those twisting mountain roads!