Wanderung 21

Lands Ho! Scotland, England, Shetland, Iceland, Newfoundland

August - September 2009

Saturday, August 29th, 2009: Arrival in Edinburgh, Scotland

Finishing the installation of Wanderung 19 on our web site in the nick of time, we could pack and set off on a new adventure knowing that we were only one trip in arrears, so to speak. That is, I had only completed a rough draft of Wanderung 20, our Austrian Walkabout, and Monika had not even begun to select pictures for it, so it was definitely still a "work in progress". But everything was safely backed up onto one computer and a separate hard disk drive, so we figured it was safe to leave it at that stage while we gallivanted around Scotland and England for three weeks.

Besides, we really had to go back on August 29th since our airplane tickets from Washington to Edinburgh were actually the return leg of a round-trip airplane flight we had booked in the spring to get ourselves back from Venice at the end of Wanderung 19 ("Meandering the Mediterranean"). The "round trip" we ended up booking looked a bit strange on paper as it went from Venice to London to Washington on the April leg, but the return leg at the end of August was Washington to London to Edinburgh! In any event, the British Airways computer accepted it as a legitimate round trip so we got the round trip fares rather than the outrageously expensive one-way fares, which was the important thing.

We were fortunate to get seats right behind a bulkhead separating Economy Class from Business Class, so I had plenty of leg room and didn't have to worry about someone reclining their seat backs into my knees for a flight that normally takes around 7 hours. We were informed that we had strong tailwinds that would reduce the flight time to about 6 hours, which was great, but then we were delayed for over 2 hours getting out of Washington's Dulles airport, which meant we ended up about an hour late in London. The bulkhead seats plus the absence of crying children in our vicinity let us each have a good 2 hours of uninterrupted sleep before dawn once more brightened the sky in front of us.

Unfortunately, even the one-hour delay of our arrival meant we missed our connecting flight from London to Edinburgh and BA didn't have any spaces on any of their aircraft leaving for Edinburgh that day. They rebooked our reservation on BMI airline, some kind of British regional carrier, I think. That in turn meant that we had to fly in an Embraer regional jet that had a fuselage so small that I couldn't stand upright anywhere in it. I didn't mind the cramped quarters, really, but I certainly spent some time earnestly hoping our luggage was successfully following all the changes in our scheduled flights!

As it turned out, our luggage had indeed faithfully followed our trail and was waiting for us at the airport, except that it was not on the luggage carousel they specified for our flight. Once we had finally located our luggage, finding the Europcar kiosk and obtaining our rental car was quite easy. It was only after I got behind the wheel of our car, a stick-shift Volkswagen Passat station wagon, that things went quite quickly downhill.

You must consider that to begin with I was sitting on the wrong side of the car to drive it (right-hand drive) , shifting with the wrong hand (left hand), and trying to drive on the wrong side of the road (left side). I was also operating on very little sleep and that certainly didn't help much, but some quirks of the VW became very frustrating. First, I couldn't get it started because there was no ignition key of the normal type, just a big, fat plastic case with buttons on it. Well, I finally found the slot in the dashboard where you could insert that odd key, but nothing happened. Normally you twist the ignition key clockwise to start a car, but try as I might I could not twist the fat black plastic key in the slot. By accident I tried pushing it in even farther and that turned out to be the necessary trick for starting the car. A note or instructions on "how to start this car" would have been very helpful.

But my second problem was getting the car to actually move. When I very gently let out the clutch the car stood stock still and the engine died. I finally figured out that the parking brake was on, but for the life of me I could not find either an emergency brake pedal, which some cars have, nor an emergency brake lever, which all the other cars I have ever driven have had (except that VW, obviously). After searching high and low for several minutes, we gave up and Monika retrieved the owner's manual from the glove compartment. We spent another ten minutes searching through the index and reading various sections about "how wonderful this car is" before we finally found out that the car had an electronically-operated emergency brake with a button on the dashboard instead of either a brake pedal or a brake bar. Lord Almighty! Don't you just love a car where you have to read the owner's manual before you start to drive it?

After pushing the required emergency brake button the car would, thank heavens, actually move. I should have been ecstatic but inwardly I was getting a bad feeling about all of this. Wondering exactly what else was going to go wrong, I eased out onto the right side of the road, which of course was the left side of the road, and promptly killed the engine yet again. Admittedly, that time it was not the car's fault; it just was so brand new that the clutch was very grabby and engaged right off the floor; my old Mazda Miata with 92,000 miles on it that has a well-worn clutch that engages more like midway up and I just wasn't used to such a new clutch. As a result I kept repeatedly letting the clutch pedal up too far past the friction point and killing the engine.

Repeatedly killing the engine would have just been a nuisance if it had not been for that weird "push-me pull-you" ignition key. As I coasted to a stop I tried experimenting with the key and found out that I had to first push it part way in so that it would pop all the way back out and then quickly re-insert it to the normal position and then give it an extra push back in order to restart the engine each time I killed it. Fumbling with the non-key made me take my eyes off the road (where I was dutifully trying to stay on the right side, which was the left side of course), so the whole process was rapidly transitioning from being an mere irritation to a legitimate safety issue.

The coup de grace of those inventive VW engineers was that there was a safety interlock with the clutch pedal such that I also had to keep the clutch pedal fully depressed while doing the "push-me pull-you" routine with the ignition non-key, and that required coordination with my left leg. To recap, my right hand was fiddling with the ignition key, which left the left hand to steer the car, and my left leg was pushing down the clutch pedal, which left my right leg to both brake to a halt safely and then press the accelerator once I could finally get the engine started.

Given the workload induced by learning to drive a quirky new car on the wrong side of the road from the wrong side of the car in a foreign country with strange driving signs and customs, I decided to go into my "automotive triage" mode of driving. Automotive triage breaks driving down into exactly three priority levels: (1) AVOID HITTING ANYTHING, (2) OBEY TRAFFIC RULES, and (3) EVERYTHING ELSE, where everything else is a rather broad category that includes shifting the gearbox, figuring out where we were or where we wanted to go, and all other aspects of the driving task. Given the car and the situation, I was driving around trying to AVOIDING HITTING ANYTHING and OBEYING TRAFFIC RULES, but had precious little time for EVERYTHING ELSE.

That would have been OK if Monika had been able to keep up with the navigation, but she was confused by the conflicting directions given by the guy at the car rental agency and our GPS lady, who insisted we go in the opposite directions. At the last traffic circle we finally had the hotel in sight, but nevertheless we ended up missing the correct turnoff for the hotel. Instead of circling around in the traffic circle one more time to take another stab at it, a tactic I had learned in Ireland several years back, I got rattled and drove straight ahead, the tactic that usually works best on American roads with their lovely grid system. So away we went charging over the Firth of Forth Bridge to the North side of the firth (fjord) of the River Forth. Since our hotel was back on the South (Edinburgh) side of the firth, I had to first get off the bloody main road and then laboriously turn around and come back across the bridge before we finally wound our way correctly around to our hotel.

Rather exhausted by all the driving, I insisted on walking rather than driving over to a nearby TESCO store for the groceries for our evening meal. After a day of sitting on airplanes we need the walk anyway, and fortunately we found some nice meat, cheese, bread, and drinks for our evening meal plus some scones, honey, cereal and milk for our morning meal. By then we were both fairly worn out, so we read Amanda Quick's "Surrender" together for a couple hours to get calmed down and then turned in for the evening.

Copyright 2010 by R. W. Holt and E. M. Holt
Map of Scotland Map of England Map of Rest of Lands Epilog

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