Sunday, 26 February 2012

DRIVING A HIRE CAR - Part 2 ENGLAND

Let me state right at the beginning that for your enjoyment and SANITY the purchase of a sat-nav thingy is
 essential  !

Buy one at home and get used to using it so you know how to operate them and you will be soooo thankful you did.
Hire companies can hire one to you but the cost of the hire would easily pay for one and the most stressful part of driving is usually when you first set out in the car  - in busy traffic and on the wrong side of the road if you come from America or Europe.
We always organise our car over the internet but do not pay for it till we pick the car up. Having all the paperwork done when you arrive speeds things up considerably and the hire company always picks us up from Heathrow and takes us to their nearby office in their shuttle bus.
The same applies when you deliver the car back to the depot when you are flying home.
I always take a few photos of the car and especially the number plate just in case of an emergency like we forget where we've parked it ! or it is stolen because in an emergency you sometimes can't give a good description of the car and rarely can remember the number plate unless you are a numbers person.



Once again the size of the car can be crucial to your enjoyment as those narrow roads are everywhere and passing in tiny spaces is much easier in a small car.


Petrol ( gas ? to those of you from the USA) is hugely expensive in the UK but distances are relatively small so that on the whole it is not too punishing .
Diesel is cheaper I think but I'll leave that debate to the menfolk !

Once you are in the car and on the road your Tom Tom ( sat-nav thingy ) will tell you what lane you need to be in and what speed you can do .
No-one has ever explained the road signs you encounter along the side of the road with diagonal stripes and crosses to us and speed signs are not as common as they are here in Australia but if you are going too fast as you come into a village your Tom Tom will let you know.
At least one of you is not wrestling with a map and missing the scenery while to other is stressed out driving in a strange place without knowing where to turn next.

Believe me many marriages will be saved by using a Tom Tom !!!

We always reset "Home" whenever we change address.
Then you go out for the day,



 meander down quiet country lanes through pretty villages,



turning here and there at whim


 and when you have had enough and have absolutely no idea where you are,
you just hit "Home" and TomTom takes you home.
Brilliant !!
I think it is always important to have a road map as well as your Tom Tom as you need to check the route that has been chosen for you and modify it to suit yourself and on one occasion for us, the road ahead was totally blocked by a road accident which required us to take over and work out a way around it as the Tom Tom kept wanting to take us back to the blocked road.

Most of the time we travel the more scenic route along lesser roads but on occasion, the big motorways are not too bad, with TomTom telling you which lane to be in when an exit is needed.
Keep as far to the left as you can. Trucks are required by law to travel in this lane too but you can easily pass them in the next lane if necessary.


Stay out of the right hand lane if possible.


Cars in this lane travel very fast and can gain on you very quickly, often with complete disregard of the speed limit.....

and finally beware of white vans like these.


Their drivers drive like maniacs !!!

A final word:

There will be times out in the country when you are driving along a narrow country road with hedgerows pressing close to your car on both sides like this and very little vision ahead.


Be alert as you go.

There will be little curved indents in the roadside at regular intervals.
 If you meet a car coming towards you, one of you will have to reverse back to the closest of these little passing bays.
Be patient and polite , you're on holiday and not in a hurry.
Take your turn and acknowledge the other driver with a friendly wave.

In some towns and villages you will encounter roads like this:


or this


and you will learn very quickly to look out for a parking area early ( make sure you always have one and two pound coins in your wallet ) and set out to exlore on foot.
It is easier on the heart !!!!

Being able to get around on your own and explore this wonderful country at will is a fantastic experience with very few problems.
I'm sure you'll love it.

Helen

Friday, 24 February 2012

DRIVING A HIRE CAR - Part 1 - EIRE (The Republic of Ireland)

Our first trip overseas was to EIRE with our daughter Sally in 2002.
( we used our very first digital camera too and didn't know how to work the date thingy !!)

Previously Tony had been very reluctant to travel overseas but when your daughter is so far away on a working holiday the whole prospect becomes more attractive!
We hired a car at a very reasonable price making sure it would fit our 3 suitcases.
Here is a photo of it.


The most important thing about hiring a car in Ireland is to get the smallest car that suits your needs because the roads are very narrow.
As you can see from the photo below this is a typical two way street that will only fit a car going one way!


The double yellow lines mean No Stopping At Any Time.

You will quickly learn to look ahead and take turns
 - drivers are on the whole very polite and patient -
but hey, this is Ireland,
and if someone just wants to quickly dash into a shop it is not unheard of to just stop in the middle of the road and dash off leaving everyone stuck till he rushes back giving a cheery wave to the waiting cars!!!

Once you get out into the countryside we found there was very little traffic


but I expect in the Peak Season at very popular spots like the Ring of Kerry it could be murder on the narrow roads where encounters with tour buses could be an experience to turn your hair grey (if it isn't grey already !!!)


We experienced a huge traffic jam going over Connor Pass on the beautiful Dingle Peninsula where, despite warning signs barring caravans, buses etc., we encountered someone with a loaded horse float and a large minibus full of American tourists which couldn't go forward, or backward or turn around !!

While the drivers tried to extricate themselves from this mess we took in the spectacular scenery.


After a lot of sideswiping and scraping of cars on the rock wall that made up one side of the road ( not our car thankfully ) the jam sorted itself out and everyone proceeded on their way.

Signposts in Eire cannot be relied on.

 Sometimes they point the right way
and sometimes they don't
but all of that just adds to the adventure of driving in Ireland!


And don't be fooled
the distances may not be far
but windy, narrow roads that beckon...


or spectacular vistas....


or
 ancient ruins,



or pubs on the side of the road


may make the journey take much longer than you anticipated!

Make sure you have good insurance cover.
The large majority of hire cars at the depot when we returned ours had bumps and dints down the sides!!!

Helen

Monday, 19 December 2011

CHOOSING TO STAY IN B & Bs

When first deciding to take the plunge & venture out to this wonderful world of ours we had to think of how we would begin. Did we want to choose somewhere & just explore that region or have a taste of everything. We decided on the latter because how could we just stay somewhere if we didn’t know where would we choose? We had seen so many photos documentaries etc of the UK that we decided that was where we would begin.

We looked at the map & literally drew a line of where we would go. Up the west coast from London to Edinburgh and down the east coast to Portsmouth & back to London. I spent 6 months researching B & B’s to come up with a plan. E-mails & bookings were made. I must admit I was terrified that it would all go very wrong….
Well I WAS. Very wrong… It was amazing…… From the people we met, the beautiful sights to the wonderful experiences. I will endeavour to bring to you some of these throughout this blog. I hope that some of your comments & questions will lead me to the direction you wish me to take. I will be covering areas such as cost, washing, meals, booking ahead & travelling out of a suitcase, hiring cars, etc. 
I would like to mention that I chose each of the B & B’s not through a travel agency or the like but from the internet myself which I found much cheaper.



Following is a tiny peak at some of these B & B’s.

Spalding.


 Our first B & B convinced us completely we had made the right choice.
 It had the most amazing view from the window ....


... and the accomodation  was first class. 
We walked into this room & knew all our dreams were happening. 
The wonderful proprietor even kindly offered to do our washing with hers - which we took her up on! 


We thought we had just struck it lucky but found this type of hospitality all through our trip. We stayed for three nights & by the end of that stay we had made firm friends which ended in a hug & the promise of further correspondence.
This B & B at Stirling in Scotland was just as amazing.


Looking forward to sharing more of our planning & travels with you.
Ro

Thursday, 15 December 2011

PLANNING YOUR TRIP TO THE UNITED KINGDOM

When to go

Considerations:  prices, weather, crowds,
Prices: Early Bird deals mean that you purchase and pay for your ticket some considerable time in advance to obtain lower prices. There are three stages and the ticket price increases by approx. $100 each time. Cheapest prices are usually for travel out of the country (Australia ) during the month of April and they drop down again in Autumn (September/ October )
Weather: So far we have always travelled to the UK in Spring – April, May and June. We have made a point of leaving the country to return home in early July as this is moving into the holiday season in earnest and we hate crowds. Prices for everything (accommodation especially )  seem to jump considerably higher in this peak time as well. You might experience temperatures from as low as 7C to 26C during this time so layers of clothing with a good coat that keeps out the wind and something waterproof is the way to go.

( May)
If you plan on visiting in July or August you might encounter very warm weather (especially in London). On one visit  in mid July the temperature reached 33C for several days.
(July)
Crowds: Countless busloads of tourists travel the major centres in the peak time. You can see how busy it gets from the size of the huge parking areas in some key spots. Picturesque villages can disappear from sight when these hordes descend on them ( especially in the Cotswolds ), long queues test your patience and traffic on narrow winding roads can be a real headache.
(July  - Bowness, the Lake District - 31C )
The crowds become especially bad when school holidays mean that British families head for holiday resorts in places like Cornwall or the Lake District. Schools break for their long Summer holidays in July and resume at the beginning of September.
Flowers:
If you love to see the flowers as I do here is a bit of a guide ( my observations anyway ) to what you will see in what month. This can vary immensely as it did this year ( 2011 )  when a very hot early Spring meant that everything bloomed early and some things had their season cut short by the unseasonal heat. It is also affected by how far North or South you are as everything is a little later as you move North.
March/ April – daffodils, primroses, tulips, blossom trees

April / May – bluebells, hawthorne

May/ June – Rhododendrons, azaleas, roses, poppies


July/ August – heather, dahlias

There are countless gardens which can be spectacular and are well worth a visit. I think they need a post of their own.
Helen

Sunday, 11 December 2011

COTTAGE ACCOMMODATION IN ENGLAND



If you have the time, want the sort of holiday where you unpack your clothes into your own drawers and make your own breakfast every day then set out to explore to your own timetable, then staying in a holiday cottage is the way to go.



 If you want to really get to know an area and not just drive through it then this is for you. Setting out every day to explore, walk, stop for a cream tea, shop in the local supermarket, cooking your own meals after a full day out or dropping in to your local pub for a hearty pub meal, you are holidaying as well as travelling.  No loading and unloading the car with suitcases, lugging them up and down narrow staircases every day,  just returning “home” in the evening after a day’s sightseeing and room to move.

Holiday cottages are available all over the UK. They come in all sizes from tiny one bedroom cottages to large houses for family groups and parties, but I’m talking about the small home-away-from-home where you can unpack for a week  (or more) in a cosy cottage in a village and “live the life”. They make a very low cost option too. 


We love the English countryside and spent three months staying in five different cottages. Some places we spent one week, some two weeks and in the case of the Cotswolds three weeks, in small villages spread over the length and breadth of England  and never spent more than GBP450 a week.

For me, probably the most important thing these cottages must have is a washing machine. It makes travelling so much easier if you can just throw the clothes in the washing machine at night and set them up on a dryer to dry over night . It cuts down on the amount of clothing you have to bring with you and no handwashing your undies every night in the shower and hoping they’ll be dry by the time you move on tomorrow.

The Internet is a great resource for finding these cottages but be aware that there are thousands of them out there and it will take a lot of time and research till you find the one in the right place to suit your needs. I think the research is part of the fun. It makes you think about where you want to go and what you want to get out of your holiday before you go.
Helen