"Look kids, there's Big Ben," Chevy Chase said in European Vacation. In my case it became, "Look kids, there's Edinburgh Castle." I was rather proud of myself when I picked up my rental car (a manual automobile that I had to drive on the opposite side of the road) and drove myself to Rosslyn Chapel without getting lost. Now to give you some idea of what it's like to drive in Scotland, it did take me fifteen minutes to get out of the airport area because every intersection is a roundabout. These roundabouts have large signs before you come to the circle that mark the turnoff you want with a diagram, but once you're on the roundabout it isn't quite clear which turn you're supposed to take. Still, I had found my way from Glasgow to Rosslyn.
As I was leaving the chapel I realized I didn't have directions to my hotel. I figured I'd head into Edinburgh, find a gas station, or internet cafe, and get directions. Life would take care of me and I would find someone who could steer me in the right direction. I didn't end up needing help. On instinct I took a turn onto a road that changed into the one I was looking for and there was my guesthouse.
After I checked in, I drove around a little, went back to the chapel, and I was rather puffed-out about my mad driving skills. I was in unafraid in a new country and driving like I was a local. So, when I decided to drive into the center of town to find a music venue, I was certain it would take me ten minutes tops. This time I had a map and I knew hot to get there.
I got dressed up in a cool outfit, did my hair, and was on the road by 8:15 ready for a night on the town. In the first few minutes I realized I wasn't where I wanted when high on the hill I could see Edinburgh Castle lit up against the night sky. I took a moment to look at the romantic view and then drove on. A few turns later, I looked down at my map and deduced I had gone the wrong way. By some fate, I found my way to the street I wanted, and I was ready to park the car.
Parking wasn't easy, so I took a side road, and from there I have no idea what happened. Suddenly, I was seeing Edinburgh castle again all lit up. I smiled again at the beauty. Then I was going past the State house lit at night, and I enjoyed this sight as well. Look at me, I'm getting a tour of the city by night and soon I'll be back to where I need to be, I thought.
Two hours later, my attitude was much different. Something along the way went horribly wrong. I made circles round the city, I went through roundabouts getting cutoff. At each stoplight I tried to look at my map and find where I was, but even when I did find the street before the light changed, if I tried to follow the map's directions the closure of roads placed me outside the main part of the city. I had to watch for tourists crossing the streets as I remembered to shift, stay on the left side of the road, and remembered to keep towards the center of the road because I tended to drift to the left and bang my hubcap against the curbs. Traffic became worse and at one point I had to maneuver around a parked truck and a cab. I scraped the cab and realized I'd damaged the brand new rental car. The guy waved me on with a smile and I hoped what I heard hadn't been paint against paint.
Twice I stopped for directions and thought, now I can just go home. I'll find take-out to appease my growling stomach, and curl into my bed for the night. Each time, the directions only got me further lost due to closures. And all along, somehow, I would find myself back to the base of Edinburgh castle looking up at that damn romantic view. You would think I could find my way from here, but no. By the end of two hours I thought, I'm never getting back. I'm going to be lost forever.
I did find my way to the guesthouse and to some Chinese take-out around the corner. The next morning, I asked the host where I should park in the city. His response, "You don't bloody drive in Edinburgh. You take the bus. All those road closures will have you going in circles for hours with no way out."
Now you tell me.
When I did take the bus into the city, I realized that I was always just two turns away from being home, if I had taken the right turns. The car is actually fine. The hub cap could look better and there are some surface scratches that can be rubbed out with wax, but all in all, it was a crazy night.