Friday, 7 March 2014

Photo Friday - Brecon Beacons

This is one of many peaks in the Brecon Beacons. A site to put on the visit list if you're ever in Wales.

Wednesday, 5 March 2014

Driving in the UK

Driving in the UK is a totally foreign experience! (Go figure) Being from a small town in Kansas, I didn't have much in the way of traffic and the roads are wide, shouldered, and in generally good repair.
As a foreign national you are allowed to drive on your foreign license for one year. After this year is over you then have to go through the hoops of the UK driving system as if you've never driven before. This is, of course, unless you happen to be from a number of Commonwealth countries or from somewhere else in the EU.
There are two tests that you have to pass in order to qualify for a driver's license. The first is the theory test, which is a combination of a written exam and a video where you have to identify hazards in real time on a driving video by clicking. This test has questions taken from a highway code book and there are many materials available for this test. Once you pass this exam you will be issued with a provisional license which allows you to drive in a car with another qualified driver, with the stipulation that you have to have a massive learner marker on your vehicle to warn other drivers that you might not be driving like everyone else.
Once you feel you have gained enough experience driving, or if you've taken driving lessons, you then book the practical test. In this exam you will drive in a car with a DMV instructor and he will direct you where to go for about 5 minutes, then tell you to follow the signs to a particular road or location, lastly you will have to perform one or two maneuvers (parallel parking, three point turn, or emergency stop). Provided that you do not have too many minor errors and no major errors, you will then be the proud owner of a UK driver's license!
Don't worry if you've failed your practical. I failed twice before I passed. It seems that the worst drivers pass on the first attempt.. Or so I've been told by fellow failures.

These are starting to pop up around my hometown at an alarming rate (considering there was only one in the whole state when I was growing up).
These circular intersections are prevalent in all sections of the UK. Most of these are mini roundabouts which are one lane, but there are larger ones with four lanes and traffic lights depending on where they are located. The trick to most of these is getting good at quickly reading the signs that are about 100 yards away from them that tell you which lane to be in.
Unfortunately, it isn't just that simple. There are many roundabouts that have very confusing or conflicting lane markings and this seems to exacerbate the confusion of drivers which, at times, will completely disregard lanes, won't signal, and will generally drive you insane and teach you to trust no one.
Traffic travels clockwise in roundabouts and traffic entering a roundabout has to yield to the traffic already traveling in it.

There are a large amount of 'zebra crossings' which are crosswalks. These are usually are incorporated into speed bumps, but not always.
If a pedestrian is on there way into one of these you are require to stop. It seems pretty common sense, but this is very contrary to the intuition of an American driver. This can be particularly dangerous as people are very brave about walking, running, or pushing a baby stroller straight across a road in front of oncoming traffic.
More familiarly, there are some other crossings with lights to give cars the right of way and will only turn red if a pedestrian pushes a button.

Road Space
One thing your going to have to understand and get intimately familiar with is the width of your car and that lanes mean nothing on certain roads. There is a shortage of space in the UK (or so I keep getting told) so the roads are very narrow to begin with. Also, in most neighborhoods do not have see driveways or car garages so they tend to park on the side of the road. In fact, even houses that do have driveways tend to have cars parked outside of them. This makes an already cramped road even more cramped, which sometimes makes roads only wide enough for one car. People will typically flash you with their headlights to indicate for you to pass through this gap.

Man Made Obstacles
There seems to be some sick, sadistic man in charge of the roads and he decided that any good stretch of wide road that is relatively straight and has no cars on the side of it need to have something to spice them up. Some of these infuriating devices include:
Traffic Calmers - these are basically cement barriers that narrow the road to one lane. One way has priority and the other side has to yield. Sometimes there are two or three of these in a row.
Speed Bumps - Yes, you know these.. Although they have a special variety of these nasty things. They are usually round humps that are just narrow enough that you can almost run over them without being affected if you straddle them. Some are just wide enough to make this impossible and are squared in shape to make sure that you slow down or leave something behind.

There are a couple types of cameras that you'll need to be aware of.
Speed cameras come in three different varieties. First, there's the regular speed camera. This is a fixed camera (bright yellowish orange) and will flash when you speed past it.
Second, there's the variable speed camera. This is usually found on the motorway (the UK equivalent to the Interstate) in either high congestion areas or in construction zones. The way these work is that over the stretch of raid they will have several cameras and will check your speed at each camera and will average out your speed to make sure you're not speeding. This keeps people that just slow down for the speed limit to avoid tickets from getting by.
Lastly, there's a mobile speed camera. These are deployed in large, easy to spot police vans.
There are also, in select intersections, red light cameras that will flash if someone runs a red light.
If you happen to be caught by one of these you will most likely receive your ticket in the mail a few days later.

Closing Notes
There are a large amount of differences in the mentality associated with driving in the UK as compare to the USA. You must pay much more attention,  yet drivers are usually very quick to react due to the "every car for itself" style. There are both kind and too kind drivers,  slow and much too slow drivers,  but very seldom have I seen horribly reckless behavior. It's a whole different ball game,  but the same good practices that apply in the States can be used here. Be safe!

Friday, 20 January 2012

Sunday, 15 January 2012

Quick Word!

To avoid burnout, I'll try to be a bit more brief with my posts, but continue sharing out differences that I discover or that occur to me over time. Today's realization: Americans prefer the word "almost" over "nearly". For British people it would appear the opposite is true.

Friday, 13 January 2012

Quick tip #1

If you happen to be looking for a Radio Shack equivalent in the UK, look up Maplins. They have all the wires and parts you might expect to find.

Wednesday, 2 March 2011

News Article

Found an interesting article on the subject of accents that I thought I'd share with you all.

Click here for the article.

Friday, 25 February 2011

Photo Friday!! - Royal Mail Letterbox

This is what the post boxes look like in Great Britain. If you're wondering what in the world the huge E II R is in the middle, It stands for Elizabeth Regina (Queen in Latin) II (because she is Elizabeth the second). This is tradition for the Royal Mail. They put the Latin initials of the reigning monarch on the post box once it is erected. Unlike the US Postal service, you can't leave mail in your mailbox and raise the flag for the postman to pick it up. You have to either drop your postaged letter in one of these or go to a post office.

- An American in the UK