After a long adventure like our trip to Scotland, I always have multiple blogs in my head but I never know where to begin. I’m just going to jump in and see how it evolves.
Our itinerary was basically a self guided tour, starting in Edinburgh, to Inverness, to Oban and ending in Glasgow. My Husband was very much wanting to try driving in the UK on his own. If you are unaware, they drive on the opposite side of the road than we do. I had visions of Man slamming his palm on the steering wheel to punctuate his cussing as he tried to navigate through a foreign country. On the opposite side of the road! I told him I would only agree to this idea if he would give himself a learning curve and if he left all navigation to me.
“You turn where I say to turn and go where I say to go, this way you just focus on staying left and figuring out the traffic signs and such. I don’t want you getting all worked up and making the rest of us all tense. This is our vacation. Everything that comes our way is an adventure not a problem or struggle.”
Man agreed to behave and to allow me to navigate though he hoped the rental would have GPS.
Our travel agent arranged our hotels and for a rental and she even pre-printed driving directions to each destination for us. According to the directions our hotel in Edinburgh was a convenient 15 minutes from the airport. I was thrilled because that would give us most of the day to tour the city.
The flight was uneventful and we were soon at the car rental office. While Man took care of things there, I sat with the boys and realized that Bug did not have his glasses. Upon further interrogation he came to the conclusion that he must’ve left them on the plane. The retrieval of his glasses is another story but it created an hour and a half delay to our departure from the airport. Argh!
“I’m so sorry Mom and Dad,” Bug apologized.
“It’s OK! Only a minor set back and we’ll just chalk it up to part of the adventure!” I was determined to stay positive!
We all loaded up into the little Kia standard we had rented and….there was no GPS. Hertz did provide us with a Xeroxed map that I paired with the directions our travel agent gave us.
“Here goes nothing!” Man sounded the charge.
He did great! We got out of the airport and onto the correct road according to our directions.
But then…something happened…
Somehow we found ourselves on a different street then we should be on. The map we had did not appear to have all streets labeled. Man couldn’t really stop or slow down so as he zoomed through block after block and I would search for street signs.
Driving in Scotland tip #1: Street signs are not on the street. They are on the sides of the corner buildings. Sometimes.
Once I identified a street name I’d try to find it on the map but by the time I could see where we were on paper, Man had turned onto another street.
“Stop doing that!” I said. “I can’t keep up with all of the changes you are making.”
“I can’t stop. I have to turn if the street does.”
“Argh! The street name changed again! What the hell?!”
Driving in Scotland tip #2: These cities were created thousands of years ago. There was no City Planner and you are not driving on a grid. There are loops and turns and bends all over and the People Of Old named the streets and then changed the name after every bend in the road. So though you may not have ever left George Street it is now Pickadilly and then Heather and now it’s George Street again.
On top of being lost (and only getting deeper into it) Man was driving very quickly through tiny streets and roundabouts (they call them turnabouts).
“Curb!” I’d shout as we bumped or drove up onto a curb. “Pedestrian! Shit! Holy…son of a…OK! I need you to stop! Just stop!”
“Here! Turn here! Damn it, Baby! You missed it! Now where are we? Sidewalk! Eeee!”
Finally he pulled into an apartment complex of sorts.
“Holy hell…” I sighed.
“You gonna make it?” Man asked.
I tried to smile. “Oh yeah… How you doing kids?”
“Um…great!” Buddy tried. “What’s that terrible smell?”
“It’s the clutch. Sorry guys,” Man said.
“I’m thirsty,” Bug moaned.
“We’ll get something to drink when we get to the hotel,” said Man.
“Yes. Mommy is ready for a drink too, Bug-O.”
“Don’t worry kiddos. We can’t be far!”
Which was true…ish. We both looked all over the map to see where we were but could not find our location anywhere. Finally, Man took the map and went to ask some service guys who were having lunch in the parking lot. After a few minutes he returned.
“Well…?” I asked. “Were they any help?”
“Yeah. Basically, where we are now is not on this map.”
“Swell. Did they give you directions?”
“Yep. Sort of.”
“What do you mean by sort of?” I asked as Man began to back the car up and take us back out onto the street.
“Well…I had trouble understanding what they were saying. He said to turn right when we come out of the complex…”
“Look both ways!!” I screamed. As a habit, Man would only check left when turning right but in the UK that doesn’t work as you are crossing on-coming traffic when turning right.
“Damn! I keep forgetting! Well, we turn right and then left at the second street and then right on to…I couldn’t understand what he said. Started with a ‘CH.'”
And so we followed the “directions” and we did, eventually, get back into the part of the city that our “map” covered. We still were not much better off than before. I was trying to find street names on the walls of buildings and then finding them on the map and then…
“What was that?!” the boys yelled.
“That…was the side view mirror,” Man answered dryly.
“Damn it, Husband! OK. It’s OK. We’re gonna laugh at this later,” I assured everyone as I watched the ground pass through the reflection of the dangling side view mirror. “What did you hit?”
“I think one of those metal posts,” Man speculated.
“I hope it wasn’t a person…”
“It wasn’t a person. That would’ve made a very different sound.
We continued to weave and wrap through the city until we were in a tangled state of lost, once again. We asked an older gentleman at the street corner who, with an apologetic look on his face, gave the best directions that he could. That got us so far and then we had to stop and ask for directions again, this time from a young couple.
“…and then you turn left on Queen’s Palace,” she said.
“OK. So here’s the thing,” I said in frustration, “all of these streets have two or three different names so..”
“Well, I didn’t name them,” she answered defensively.
“Oh no! I know that! I’m not…I’m just…you said to turn on Queen’s Palace but will it be called that when we get to that intersection or will there be another name we should look for just in case?”
The gentleman with her conversed with Man and he had an American accent.
“I think I offended her,” I said to Man as we pulled away.
“I think so too.”
“I don’t know why but somehow my tone made her feel defensive.”
“The guy with her wasn’t bothered. He’ll explain. She took your urgency and frustration personally.”
“I really wish I could explain myself.”
So this is not a driving tip but it is something one must remember when traveling, particularly in the UK: They do not really emote publicly. Man was in his element here.
I remember an interview with Florence of Florence And The Machine and she said that her music was her therapy. She mentioned that it’s not proper for Brits to be very open with their feelings and in her music she can loudly express her angst or passion. I noticed this through out the trip.
There was a British couple at a table near us one afternoon at tea. It was a rainy day and the gentleman commented to his wife that he had accidently dripped his umbrella on his chair.
“Oh dear,” she said with a tone that did not elicit an ounce of concern or sympathy.
“Indeed,” he sniffed. “Unfortunate.”
I imagined that if I went to an ER in Scotland that the conversation would be something like this:
Me: Excuse me..
Receptionist: Can I help you?
Me: Yes well, sorry to bother but…my arm has been cut off… *raising bloody stub as proof*
Receptionist: Oh yes. Indeed. Nasty gash there.
Me: Indeed. Is there a…doctor or…a nurse maybe who could help with this?
Receptionist: Certainly, certainly. Why don’t you just have a seat and someone will be right with you.
Me: Wonderful. Thank… *passes out due to blood loss*
Anywhoo…just try to match their serene composure and apologize for disturbing them or bothering them with your problem.
After much team work and effort we did indeed find our hotel. It was on a beautiful and quiet cobble stone street. It took us two hours to find it and we were always just minutes from it. So, combined with Bug’s missing glasses debacle we had lost 3 and half hours of our day. The boys got a little nap in though while we spun them about the city.
Man went to check us into the hotel while I nudged the boys back to life. In a few minutes he returned to the car with an expression of stifled emotion.
“What’s wrong?” I asked him.
“There’s no where to park near the hotel. He gave me directions to a parking garage that’s only about 2 blocks away.”
I wanted to cry because we had never been far from the hotel to begin with but the one way streets and dead ends and multi-christened streets made it so difficult to get anywhere.
“You and the boys can take the luggage up to the room. Unwind while I go and park.”
We did as suggested and I was totally prepared for Man to be gone for another 2 hours. I was so surprised when he showed up at our room after only about 20 minutes.
The rest of our stay in Edinburgh was spent on foot. We stayed two nights and then hopped in the car to travel to Inverness. We had mapped out castles to stop at along the way. (P.S. We got a REAL map before heading off.)
We stuck to our plan with me navigating and Man driving. It went much smoother out on the country roads. I could read the signs as we flew by and Man was able to concentrate on reversing everything he’d ever been taught about driving. Together we figured out that a round blue sign with a red X through it meant No Parking. We mastered the roundabouts (which are EVERYWHERE) and we met each destination with out losing anymore car parts and with out getting the family killed. There were several near misses. I think we were nearly T-boned 3 times. Man will tell you that is an exaggeration but I can assure you it is not.
After a few stops at castles it was time to get serious and get ourselves to Inverness. We had a good 2 and half hour drive ahead of us. I had to instruct Man to stop looking at the scenery.
“Every time you look out the window you move into oncoming traffic,” I told him. “I’ll take pictures of the scenery for you,” I promised.
So I snapped pictures of pastures of sheep, rolling hill and sparkling lochs and rivers. All the while the dangling side view mirror thumped on my door like a limping pirate. It didn’t bother me but after awhile Man couldn’t take the constant reminder of his mistake.
“Just block it out,” I told him. “It’s just background noise to me now.”
He tried but I could see that it was a real frustration for him. Once in town we asked for directions for a hardware store. For sanity sake we temporarily fixed the mirror by duct taping it back on. I held the mirror in place while Man wrapped up our wounded vehicle. I couldn’t help it. I started to giggle.
“It’s not funny.” Man pouted.
“It is so funny!” I laughed.
Man started to laugh too.
“See! I told you we’d laugh about this sooner or later!”
We stepped back to inspect our repair.
“Not bad,” I told him. Man agreed but then shook his head and voiced his disappointment in himself and hoped this wasn’t going to cost an arm and a leg.
I held his face in my hands, “Stop. You made a mistake. A pretty common mistake. Forgive yourself and move on.” I kissed him and then squeezed his face between my hands. “You are doing a great job!!” I encouraged him as I mushed his face around in my hands. We both laughed and went on our way.
The tape worked great! There was no more thump, thump, thumping to taunt and mock. Once we made it to the hotel, we settled the kids in and went out to do some more repair work on the car. We had bought an epoxy at the hardware store when we bought the tape. We mixed the glues and reattached the mirror, taping it in place while it dried. The mirror was still adjustable and looked completely unharmed.
Driving In Scotland tip #3: Have grace for yourself. You will make mistakes. Allow them. Also, get a taxi from the airport to the hotel and get the car only when you move on from one city to the other.
The driving directions that our agent had pulled of mapquest were never right. Not at a single city. Also, I’m often asked why we didn’t use the GPS on our phones. I have never found GPS to be reliable. I can’t tell you the number of times that I’ve lost signal and been in the middle of a city or no where and have no resource to fall back on. Even though it was really nutty getting through Edinburgh, the map proved to be very reliable for the rest of our travels. Call me old school I guess.