April 9, 2014

Driving In Opposite Land

One of Northern Ireland's most famous sites is Giant's Causeway, a breathtaking coastal area of sea cliffs and unique rock formations. I visited the grand spot two Hens on Ice tours ago and wanted to return. In lieu of taking a mega bus tour plowing through the countryside, many of us discussed renting cars to get there. I pictured the movies, the charm of laughing our way through the rolling hills with the intimacy and comfort of a car. When the question arose of who would actually drive these little manual cars on the left side of the road, I let my friends know I could drive manual if needed. Surely, there'd be enough Brits to drive, but maybe it would come in handy if someone needed a nap or got drunk.

Let's go!
Fast forward to an unforeseen complication with a hen friend's license, and my causal offer turned into this bird renting his first car in opposite land. Cars drive on the left side of the road, the driver's seat is on the right, and I have to shift gears with my left hand. "Giant's Causeway or bust!" could really go either way.

I was excited for many things: spending a day with good friends, seeing beautiful sights, and having my first experience driving on the opposite side of the road. But as I smiled and laughed through gritted teeth getting into the car, I was also slightly terrified to go against all that had been engrained in me when it comes to driving for the past 12 years (I learned to drive in elementary school). But thankfully the car rate included full damage protection. The question wasn't "if" I was going to hit something, but rather "what."

We put the unruly Brit in the front to help guide and keep me on the left, and after a few 3-point turns, we were flying!

Scary moments flying on the opposite side:

  • Which pedal is the clutch? It had been about a year since driving a car with a clutch, and with the pedals on the right side of the car, I couldn't wrap my head around which did what. They're in the same order.
  • Roundabouts/rotaries/circles of mayhem. These were scary. We don't have many of these in the USA, and the ones we do are typically small with cautious, confused drivers. These Brits know what to do in these wild, multi-lane roundabouts that have six exits. I basically just flew into them with minimal yielding, trying to match the British confidence. I only cut off a few drivers. 
  • Starting to drive on the right after a turn. Luckily there wasn't traffic in these situations and our unruly Brit could remind me we aren't in Florida. I always eased my way back to the left. 
  • Intersections involving 8 streets. WHERE DO I STOP AND ON WHAT THE HELL LANE DO I DRIVE?! And how is this acceptable urban planning?
  • Driving millimeters from the left curb. Being on the opposite side of the road, my sense of distance from the curb flew out the window with the map and Budget paperwork. At home, my right eye has learned to judge distance from the passenger side to the curb. My left eye knows nothing about this. Cautious about keeping my space from the oncoming traffic lane, the passenger side wheels only scraped the curb or drove on grass and bushes a few times. The Brit reminded me to keep him out of the grass.
  • Large trucks, busses, and tractors barreling toward me on my right. The coastal road is narrow and these drivers had a sense of their vehicle's width that I didn't. So to play it safe, I slowed or stopped in my lane seeing any of these things approaching. The line of traffic behind me was never more than 10 cars.
  • Shifting gears with my left hand. I justified that this would be fine since I would shift gears while my dad drove just before I learned to drive. But it's been a while since elementary school, so this was strange. Just like my left eye, my left hand was not trained to function in shifting gears. And being on the other side of it, the order was the same, but felt reversed since first gear was furthest from me, not closest. Thankfully the car made a terrible noise to remind me that reverse was not second gear. 
  • Parking in any form. Okay, this is a problem I have at home, but being on the other side only made it worse.

Made it.

  • What's the speed limit? These postings aren't as frequent or large as the USA's, so it was a constant guessing game. I didn't get pulled over, so I guess I won.
  • "Give Way" on a seemingly American "yield" sign apparently means "stop." I learned this on the way home.

What do you mean by this?

Just a handful of screams, sudden stops, and "STAY ON THE LEFT!" reminders later, we had a successful and safe(ish) day through the Northern Irish countryside. Thankfully we were all unscathed to cackle about my driving. I returned the car the next morning, and after getting stuck in the car park and getting lost in the streets on Belfast, I threw the keys at the Budget lady with tears of joy. 

Worth the drive.

Keep reading! Recent travel guides to Estonia and Sweden! 

No comments:

Post a Comment