Monday, June 22, 2015

Driving on the wrong side of the road, Belfast

It was a steep learning curve driving the rented Citroen from the airport to City Hall.
Thankfully the gas pedal, brakes and clutch seemed to come naturally. Not the gear shift.  That took a little getting use to.Driving on the left side of the road was a whole other matter.  I’d watched a video about a man who made a counterintuitive bicycle, then set about unlearning all he’d learned about riding normal bicycles.  At times I felt like that.  Laura beside me was chanting ‘keep to the left. keep to the left.’  The round about was a challenge then the right turn was impossible. I was in the town proper by then and in a right turning lane. Yet there was three lanes with three cars facing me.  Only later did we learn that they parked on either side of the road and the centre lane was taken by whoever got there first.I was fairly shook up by then.
Now I was in the centre of the town, in a bus only lane.    The buses are double decker here so appear immense compared to the tiny Citroen. There was one ahead of me and one behind me and people were walking to and thro across the street not at all expecting to see a little Citroen bearing down on them.  It’s quite amazing how fast the Northern Irish reflexes are.
I saw a space in front of City Hall which looked magnificent,t mind you, and pulled over.  Parallel parking was a whole other matter.  I was stopped and it took a bit to bring myself to start the car again and bring us half a car width over to the curb so that I didn’t continue to make buses go around me.
I got out.  I locked the doors .I walked away.  Laura hurried to join me.
“I just need to get directions,”  I said.  We were looking for Queens University where our Best Western Crescent Townhouse was.  I was shaking just slightly, not shaking really, maybe vibrating.  I’d been putting an immense amount of concentration into the complexity of coordination.  Laura is not a navigator.  She’s a very good passenger mind you.  Her ‘keep left’ chant had helped me immeasurably in that second round about. The one with the vicious cars gnashing and growling at me and the tiny Citroen.  A local guide pointed the direction of Queen’s University. I really do need a compass now.
Back in the car, I broke down. I didn’t care about the threat of roaming cellular costs.  I”m dependent on technology. I couldn’t read a map and clutch and keep to the left and look for street signs.  I turned my will and my life over to my iPhone’s GPS built in voice, plotted the location and pressed the ‘start’.  I gave the phone to Laura who then repeated the instructions.  We only went a mile or so past our destination, turned around and had one more go at it.  Things improved when we saw we were 900 meters, 500 meters and 300 meters from the critical right turn just beside the University, Lower Crescent Road.  Without technological assistance I’d not have known to stop here because the street signs are little hidden bits of writing up on the side of the buildings.  One is expected to see this while great lorries are bearing down on you and lines of cars are pushing up your ass.
We made the turn and then gloriously the machine said, “Your destination is on your left’ and with this huge cue we saw the Best Western sign.  “Home free!”  I shouted like a kid playing a game of hide and seek. There was actually parking too.
I almost ran inside to safety.  The Empire Suite was spectacular.  Huge and elegant.  Laura had the bathtub to die for.   She’d worked up quite a sweat in the passenger seat.    We were alive.  Only once had I ended up face to face with an oncoming car who seemed to take this as a common matter.  I ‘d swerved back into my proper lane. The left turn onto the road had got me.  Local drivers seem prepared for  this. It is a city so loved by and loving of tourists.  The worst that seems to occurs is they call you “Yankee!” And smile.
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