06 July 2012

England: Impressions

This is a rather quiet day, so I thought I'd toss out a few impressions from "A Virginia Yank in Queen Elizabeth's Court".

One strong impression is how we look at the "sizes" of things...there is a considerable difference in the sizes of things from what we are used to in the US. Let's look at a few:

Two cars can actually pass here. Last night we were on a
road where we had to back up to a wide spot so another
car could pass!
Personal travel. Most cars here are what we would call "sub-compacts". Fords, Kias, Citroens, Coopers, even Jags, Audis and BMWs are smaller here. No model names are the same as in the US that I have seen. I've seen a few full size Land Rovers, but even articulated H.G.Vs (Heavy Goods Vehicles, ie, semi-trucks) are much smaller than in the US. A typical semi has not 18 wheels, but 12. Petrol (gas) runs about £1.339 a litre. 3.78 litres equals one gallon, so £5.06 per gallon, which is $7.90/gallon! You also pay a yearly tax based on your emissions - a Ford Focus pays about £150/year ($234) just to own the car. Of course, you also have to account for the fact that most roads were built a LONG time ago, at least the ones that aren't modern motorways (our equivalent of Interstates). Sort of explains the small cars, trucks, almost all vehicles other than the coaches. Almost every road is paved, even private roads (we've been stopped by cows on the road a couple of times, but  they tend to be narrow and twisty. Even in cities, it isn't much better; in Cambridge the street Mark lives on is a single lane wide with people parked on both sides. In city center, you can count on having to find a wide spot to allow oncoming traffic to pass.

Lots of people walk or bicycle. I know the US could benefit from this custom. There are a lot more bike lanes, and lots of well marked crosswalks, many (in the cities) with their own traffic lights. Traffic is controlled for the most part by round-abouts. This even applies on motorways, though there are some regular exit and on ramps, typically with round-abouts at the top of the ramps. Maddeningly, there are some round-abouts with bloody traffic signals in them, too!

Most cities have excellent bus services. Almost every city, town, village has a bus terminal and the coaches are very nice. There is a rail station in almost every location, too, and transferring between the two is quick and easy. In my experience, at least, they are punctual, clean, and FAST! Passenger trains run at about 80-90 miles per hour. They are quiet and cool.

Housing is very, very different. Yes, lots of people own their own "detached house". But many more live in terraced housing, where there are rows upon rows of houses, each attached to each other on one or both sides. Entire streets are lined with housing like this. Most of it seems to be two story, and lots and lots of them are only two, or maybe three bedrooms. Rooms are smaller all the way around. Personal space is thought of differently here, too. Walk into any pub or restaurant and the tables are close together. Practically touching. But that's OK with everyone. We all just get along! One thing is for sure, Derek won't be able to go to any of his favorite pubs for weeks without being asked about that Yank that was with him! When you go to the places that locals go, instead of the tourist places, you tend to be remembered.

I should probably post this, then work on another one for later...catch you in the next installment!

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