There are moments in trips that you will never forget as long as you live, for me one of those will certainly have to always be the moment that the enterprise agent handed me the keys and walked away as I stood there next to a bright red ford…..a bright red ford with the steering wheel on the wrong side that was about to start driving on the wrong side. Well at least there was the parking lot for me to warm up in right? No this rental place sits on the side of a huge round-a-bout in the middle of London. So I go from not having driven a manual transmission since….well since the 5 minute drive down to PCC in Chris’ little red Ford while he was in Virginia (whoops sorry Chris, now you know). Before that it was probably Turner’s Subaru during a snow storm. Now that isn’t to say I can’t drive stick, I am actually pretty good at it, it’s just to say that the normal terror that comes with driving in a foreign country had a few dozen exponential factors to make it more fun.
The first clue I had that this was not going to be that easy, was asking at the hostel the insane looks I received when I asked for a recommendation of a good place to rent from. “I never drive, so I have no idea” was the most common response. Hmmmmm….next thing I knew I was listening to a very insistent GPS woman yelling at me to go certain ways while I was gripping the wheel for dear life flying through round-a-bout after round-a-bout. One thing about the round-a-bouts, I grew up in Massachusetts, and when I came out to Washington, everyone made a big deal about a round-a-bout being put in and how novel it was. I thought they were crazy, we grew up with loads of round-a-bouts or so I thought. London has a round-a-bout for every man, woman, child, dog and cat in all of England. Somehow I made it to the hostel where Kailey was waiting, the exact details of that trip can only be divulged over several pints or whenever the statue of limitations runs out.
I got out of the car, got all of our stuff in and began the real fun of driving out of London into the English country. Again with the round-a-bouts, there are a ton, its actually kind of ridiculous how many there are and how many exits are off of each one, the GPS helped a lot but still things got interesting a few times. I quickly learned some of the rules of the road: First the left lane is the slow lane, and there are very rarely any speed signs just some funny circles with lines through them that tell you go either WAY above 70 mph or slightly below 70 mph, that is the extent of speed limits. Also every 5 miles there are hidden cameras to track your speed and mail you huge fines if you are speeding, but they only target red fords driven by Americans, since everyone else seems to just ignore them.
Finally we made it out of London or the beast of city/suburb/city/suburbs that we seemed to go through and got off onto a quite nice one lane country rode that would lead us to stonehenge and our eventual destination. This lovely country road was single lanes bordered by large hedges, fences and fields. I then proceeded to be angrily passed by three or four individuals before I understood that this back country road was actually a hidden racetrack that the government built for people who did not get enough joy out of video game racing. The speed limit on this road was 60, which meant everyone was going 70 (one note this is in MPH not KmPH.)
All of the adventure aside it was great to get out of the big city and head to the rolling hills and farmland to visit Kailey’s friend Anneka and her family. We got to head to a local village pub and have an amazing meal, complete with some pudding (means dessert). The pudding I got was a sticky toffee pudding which was insanely good. We also got to spend some time visiting Bath (more on that in the real England blog post), as well as see Anneka’s sister’s Sharon new house which is a 500 year old farm that they are restoring. The country is indeed beautiful and we realized that we would have to come back to visit and this time head straight out of the city (after a bit more downtown sightseeing since we didn’t really leave ourselves time to see a whole lot).
Next it’s off to Europe where I will not be driving at all, until Perth when we pick up the van.