Saturday, July 19, 2008

What would be the hardest thing to learn if you lived in England?

What's wrong with this picture?

Nothing if you're a Brit! But if you're American, yikes. It's been very easy getting around in England so far, because we've let others drive us around on trains and buses. Today we tried a different plan:

Yes, that's Darrell, sitting on the "wrong" side of the car. We tried driving in England for the first time. What an experience! Here's just one example of a road sign in England:

And that's a pretty simple one. There are much crazier arrows than these on many signs. Why did we decide to drive? Well, we wanted to go here:

This is the Farnborough Air Show. It's huge, and it's only about 20 miles away. So we wanted to go. Finding a way there proved frustrating. There are the trains - at least three transfers and a minimum of two hours each way. There were special buses running to the show - £60 for the four of us. So after much discussion, we thought it would be simpler to just rent a car instead. How naive could we be?

The cars are all manual transmission in the lower price ranges. No problem - we have a manual transmission car. But it's another thing entirely to drive a manual transmission with the shifter on your left, while driving on the wrong side of the road and the wrong side of the car! And then there was the map, or rather, lack of a map. We had directions that I had hand-written from the map site, but no actual map. Anyone who knows Geography Girl (that would be me) is laughing his or her butt off about now at the thought of me navigating anywhere without a map in hand. I love maps. And I especially love knowing that even if we go off track, I can get us back on track. So now we're driving with no map into a part of the countryside where I have no mental picture of where the towns are in relation to each other, and the directions from the map site were basically worthless right from the start. They were about 50 steps worth of "bear left for 0.1 mile, then take the 2nd exit at the roundabout for 0.1 mile, then take the 3rd exit at the roundabout for 0.2 miles, etc." Surprisingly, we actually made it to the outskirts of Farnborough in record time. And then we sat in traffic for about an hour.

Once we got into town, the setup was very nice. The parking was in a huge grass field, with tons of parking attendants. Very efficient. And then there were shuttle buses to the airfield. Many, many shuttle buses. I swear, this is something the U.S. needs to learn how to do. There were no less than a dozen double-decker buses waiting when we arrived. They filled them up and sent them on their way super fast. Same thing at the end of the show. Huge crowds waiting for the buses, but the wait was not long at all, as one bus after another pulled up and took them away.

We watched a lot of great flying stunts. Some of them weren't surprising at all. We've all seen aerobatics from small fighter type planes, for instance. But have you ever seen an Airbus 380 doing aerobatic stunts? The Airbus below did some crazy stuff. I swear, that pilot should fly in the movies! He did some moves that would have had all of the passengers plastered to the side windows of the plane - if he had passengers, of course. And the climb he made on takeoff was amazing!

I thought it was cool that I managed to capture the picture of this guy with his bomb bay doors open. It was tricky taking the pictures, since I have a fairly simple camera. Most of the time, I was aiming a little ahead of the plane and just clicking, hoping that the plane would end up in the frame. I got pretty lucky on this one.

All in all, a very fun day. But after driving back toward the general London area, again without a map, we decided that one day of driving in England was plenty for us, and we turned in the rental car (we had planned to keep it for another day and figure out somewhere to go tomorrow). Darrell was very patient with my no-map freaking out self, and to his credit, didn't even once threaten to make me walk home. He's a keeper for sure! I think we'll let someone else drive from now on.

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