The decision to drive in Scotland was something I agonized over and will likely be my longest post.
In travel, I try to remain spontaneous and care free; to keep everything as unstructured as possible, but there are things to plan for - transportation is one. Research revealed rental car company nightmare stories, insurance complications, and a rumor that there were few automatic transmissions available for rent. By the time I was done agonizing over my decision, would an automatic even BE an option? I must plan.
The first variable I worked out was automatic vs. manual. My parents taught me to drive a manual/stick but I hesitated to face the combination of narrower and one-way roads, hills, driving the other side, and also the beautiful distractions that surely would be, AND shifting. I could imagine the potential stress, the beauty I could miss, and the innocent lives that could be at risk. So I booked an automatic with Arnold Clark (lots of research for this choice) and told myself I could always change my mind - even if it meant losing money as a consequence, and continued to agonize UNTIL THE DAY I GOT THE CAR. Not kidding. I had to rationalize the safety aspect - the risks are comparable to the U.S., with the exception of driving on the left.
Make a list, they say. Weigh the pros and cons, they say. Cons - well. See above. Killing or maiming someone ranks up there. Pros - and here is where I truly had to soul search. What did I really want? What was most important? I'll spare you the full mental process (you're welcome) but know it boiled down to FREEEEDOOOMMM! Think Mel Gibson, Braveheart, freedom.
Freedom to what?
- To go off the proverbial beaten path
- To relax about public trans schedules (I'm terrible, what bus number goes where and when does it stop, or skip this stop, and only on Tuesdays during business hours...YEAH - NO
- To slow down and explore - to spend three hours staring at a rock or a painting...if I wanted
- To always have a hotel room. Spontaneity has potential to leave a gal without a place to stay, so in a pickle, I could sleep in the car
- To conquer
Then it was time. After almost a week walking and Ubering in amazing Edinburgh, I took a friend's advice and instead of changing my rental location to the inner city, I kept the reservation at the airport. She said it would be easier to learn the car and the roads away from the city, and besides, it was on my way to my next castle...er..stop. I can't thank her enough for that nugget of logic.
Once at the airport, I waited in the wrong rental car company's line then missed the transportation to the Arnold Clark location, which is off-site from the airport. It was a bit confusing at first, but if I'd just read the signs - alas i was too nervous to think straight. The Arnold Clark location was a blessing. It was even farther away from airport traffic, and gave me even more safe space to learn.
I wish I could remember the clerk's name. She was amazing. Kind, helpful, explained everything though I was nervous, and gave me an upgrade and also a free GPS. I HIGHLY recommend the GPS, even if you have it on your phone! The combination of the two got me 'through' a few hairy spots - since some of the terms are different.
Ok - here we go...
Rules, rules, rules
Traffic signs - study them BEFORE you leave home! *Google and Duck Duck GO are your friends here! Here are three:
Emergency info...good to know. :)
ANNND (drumroll please). Here she is. She is a Citroen and was the perfect size, fast, responsive, all buttons and pedals were in perfect locations for me to reach. *sigh* I named her LEMON. She was wonderful. Who's the CUTEST car in the parking lot!?? YOU ARE!
Addresses are different than in the U.S. There is a number that looks like an alpha-numeric zip code - it's a whole, distinct address. Just entering that number takes care of all GPS needs. After too many tries to admit, I had to ask a random attendant for help with this. He was happy to help and had a great accent. So far, both the Scots were very nice!
Here's a shot of the GPS:
It's a pretty great, standard GPS. Tells where you are, outside and inside temp - notice the inside temp of 25C? I like the car nice and toasty - that's 77F.
Rules of the Road
Where there is more than one lane, slow traffic on the left, passing traffic on the right. NO EXCEPTIONS. They actually DO this. If you see someone behind you, and you are in the passing lane, skooch to the slow lane and let them by. They'll usually wave a thanks. Return the favor and enjoy the warm fuzzies. I can't explain enough how this little rule helped traffic move smoothly - that and the fact that turn signals are actually used here.
Single-lane roads & pullouts. Easy peasy. When you see an oncoming car, look for a pullout (called a Passing Place) ON YOUR SIDE. The one of you closest to a pullout, uses the pullout (or backs into it - if you both missed seeing each other), and waits for the other to pass. YES, the Scots usually wave a 'thank you'. Return the favor, warm fuzzies, repeat.
Pullouts (I think that's what they call them) are like what we have in our national parks to take pictures - only in Scotland, they have two types. The ones on the one-lane roads are easy to spot, they look like a skinny cul-de-sac on the side of the road. The ones on the larger roads - come at set intervals and are marked. I used those to stop, rest, stretch, have a snack, text, recheck the GPS, and dispose of trash. You do NOT do those things while driving.
Roundabouts (Traffic Circles). Please kill me. Those were challenging and I saved writing about them till last. Initially, I was able to take my time, watch, wait, enter, exit. The GPS tells you which exit to take. As it got busier, I missed my turns 'cause I had to rush and COUNT the exits, missing an exit meant re-entering the roundabout or fixing it in the NEXT one. This is the only time Scots clearly lost their patience. When someone's behind you, you do NOT have time to sit, watch, and wait to enter a roundabout. You WILL get a honk, and maybe a finger. I did get a single honk - no fingers. I waved an, 'I'm sorry,' and the honking driver, she smiled and waved back an, 'it's OK.' WHEW. Not all my roundabout experiences were that positive.
I cried. Angry, frustrated, HOT, ugly-cry tears. I screamed at the road ahead. I think this was en route to Inverness, I hit a roundabout in the 'burbs every 1/4 mile, it seemed. No one honked or anything, I think my brain just got tired. After a few in a row, I looked down and saw the number of roundabouts before me (on the GPS) and lost my kittens. That's when those tears came. I talked to myself like a crazy woman. I decided I was FREAKING on vacation, was going to DO this, it was NOT going to beat me, I had THINGS to see and places to BE. I decided I would do a car-seat happy dance and gave a loud WHOOHOO, after every successful roundabout win, and I. Kept. Going. I can still recall the brainhurt that day and when I reached my Airbnb, I WALKED to the nearest grocery and stood on the sidewalk and stared at the busy traffic circle. No amount of research had helped me the way watching did.
You use your turn signal as if you are at a four-way stop. Duh. Epiphany. It felt so counterintuitive that you'd enter a circle (GOING LEFT NO LESS) and signal RIGHT for the fourth exit, but there it was. The rest, I'd pretty much conquered - when you take the first exit, stay closest to the curb, and closer to the center for the farther ones. If you get lost or lose exit count, just stay in that very inner circle until you figure it out. It's not ideal, but you won't be the first, nor the last to do that, and you're doing your due diligence to stay out of the way. Roundabouts are all about flow/continuous movement. They became logical, smooth, and more efficient, to me, than intersections at home.
Those traffic circles became something I looked forward to, I 'got' the rhythm of the road, and was able to turn on the radio AND drive the last part of my journey.
Don't ever feel pressured to drive in a foreign country, BUT. If I, a person who gets brainhurt from roundabouts can DO this, you probably can too. Be safe out there.
Here's a spontaneous photo up, possible due to Lemon.
Sweet Lemon - outside of Glencoe
Below is Lemon with me beside. I'd asked the attendant to take a photo of us on the day we parted.
When Scotland gives you Lemon...GRAB that joy, that rush, that feeling that you didn't just win the lottery, you freakin' EARNED it.