Wednesday, November 14, 2012

Stay Left

A foggy English morning, an extremely narrow, winding road and the sight of headlights approaching.  

I wish you the best of luck driving in Britain. 

The weekend my parents visited they rented a car so I was able to experience novice driving in England. Not to say that my dad or our family friend John (also here, with his wife) are novice drivers, because they're not, but add in the fact that we have to drive on a different side of the road, that the drivers seats is on a different side of the car and that the roads here are unfamiliar and extremely confusing and you have an interesting experience.

Before this weekend, I don't think I'd been in a car since Peter drove us to our flat the day I arrived in the UK, a month and a half ago. This past month or so I've only really ridden in buses and coaches, driven by experienced English drivers. So riding in the car with my American family driving was a little bit stressful. And slightly scary.

Stay Left. It kind of became a thing to frequently remind whoever was driving to stay left. Not that anyone really ended up in the right lane instead of the left, but it can get confusing when turning onto a road and it's helpful to be reminded that you need to end up in the correct lane. It's also weird because in the US, the easy turn to make is the right turn, and for a left turn you have to wait longer because of oncoming traffic, so I always love it when I have to turn right. Here, it is the exact opposite and we were hoping for left turns.

Wrong Turns. Anytime you drive in a new area, you're bound to make wrong turns, but here, without a GPS or maps on my Mom's iPhone (service was pretty spotty when not in a city) we made quite a few wrong turns. Sometimes because we didn't really know where we were going and sometime because we missed signs pointing in certain directions. In one instance we were accidentally heading towards South Wales, but luckily we were able to turn around. But sometimes it's confusing here as to how to go in the right direction after you've made a wrong turn because exits from motorways don't work in quite the same way.

Roundabouts. Then you have roundabouts. Geeze, they love roundabouts here. Seriously, they're everywhere. We sort of developed the idea to go around the roundabout at least once before exiting to get our bearings. But did we ever really do this. Nope. Should we have? Definitely  There were multiple occasions in which we exited at the wrong point in the circle and had to backtrack. Actually though, we did go around twice on one occasion and if we hadn't we probably would have driven 5 miles in the wrong direction.

No Stopping
Street Signs. We still don't know what half the street signs we saw these past few days mean. We only discovered what this sign meant 5 minutes before they dropped me off in Oxford. We literally saw this sign everywhere this weekend, and didn't seem like these places had much in common. Because they were so frequent, we knew it didn't mean "don't drive here" but we didn't know exactly what it was telling me we couldn't do. Apparently it means no stopping. Huh, didn't know stopping was signified by the color blue.

Leaving Motorway
Another sign we saw a lot was this one. I'm going to be real with you, the first time I saw it all I could think was "no printing". It looks like a printer to me! And then I thought maybe it had something to do with a bridge, like "no driving over this bridge". But then either a.) there was no bridge, or b.) everyone else was driving over it, so it must be okay. What we were eventually able to surmise that it means that you were leaving the motorway. We only discovered this because we saw the image without the red line indicating motorway. But seriously, that wouldn't be the symbol I would use. Just saying.

There are so many signs that will confuse you and some you'll just disregard out of frustration  But if you would like to learn about English road signs before travelling over here, or just for the hell of it, you can consult this helpful guide to UK Road Signs.

Allow Extra Time. All in all, I would recommend allowing a good deal of extra time when driving in the UK, especially if you've never been somewhere before. What seems like it should be easy can turn complicated in the blink of an eye, so don't risk it. I don't even want to talk about the drive to Tesco on Saturday: let's just say it took way longer than it should have taken. We could see it from the motorway, just couldn't figure out how to get there. Can you say frustrating?

Yes, I'd say that's a common descriptor of driving in England, or a new place in general: frustrating  But at least it was an adventure.

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