We recently came back from a trip to England and Italy where we rented a small car and did a self-directed free style tour.
Driving in the English countryside is a breeze as long as one overcomes the psychological hurdle of having to drive on the left in an automobile with manual shift gear. The roads were good. North American style road signs were clear and well positioned; even roundabouts were easy to manage as long as we treated them as ‘yield’ signs and not just to charge ahead. The beauty of the roundabouts is that we could go round and round once we are in them until we are sure of where we are going. Parking in the small towns and villages was never a problem too. By and large, the English drivers were courteous and would not use their horns arbitrarily and that made driving a pleasure.
Driving in London is a very different story though. We definitely do not recommend it. Around the clock traffic congestion and one way streets could drive a visitor not familiar with the city literally round the bend. Parking was not only hard to find but expensive. There were other traps and pitfalls too. We were very unpleasantly surprised when we received a letter from the car rental company after our return when they advised that they had paid a hefty fine on our behalf to the City. Our sin? We had “the use of a vehicle on a road in the charging area to which a charging scheme applies without payment of the appropriate charge”. Heaven forbid! We were totally unaware that there was a charging area and our unfamiliar eyes did not notice any signs at the time. We should have returned the car before going into London and not the day after and thus would have avoided this penalty and the risk of putting our marriage into jeopardy.
London is well serviced by its public transportation system. We strongly advise getting an “Oyster card” from any underground station. It is similar to the “Octopus Card” in Hong Kong in that it is a smart card and the small deposit which we paid to get it could be redeemed at the end. It surpasses the Octopus card because the system would only charge a daily maximum of 5.6 Pounds. On top of that, the lowest fare is applied. To give an example, our trip to Heathrow from our hotel would cost 3.4 Pounds if we were to get a single ticket. The charge to the Oyster card was only 1.3 Pounds. Using their underground system is hassle free and one could get from point A to point B without regard of the horrific road condition above. We now know better next time.
The tour of Kent that we did in England turned out to be very nice even though the weather was a bit on the chilly side. Canterbury was a pleasant surprise and so were some small towns which we visited during the tour. We made a video of the tour and to watch the video, click here.