Finding the Nav and Lav

Wednesday, December 01, 2004 Road Junkies 0 Comments

Atlanta, GA, USA to Bath, England, UK

After a bumpy but uneventful overnight flight from Atlanta, we arrived at Gatwick on time at 9 a.m. We each slept a couple of hours on the flight.

Waiting in line for passport control, we had an interesting conversation with a British immigration agent, who chided Ken because I had a heavy bag on my shoulder (cosmetics and toiletries) and Ken was carrying none. The agent and his wife moved to the UK from Kenya 18 years ago so their children could get a good education. He was quite interesting and amusing and made the time standing in line pass more quickly. The passport control official who interviewed us was a bit surprised that we didn’t know where we were staying tonight. And actually we were also as this is quite out of character for us.

Our first order of business after clearing customs was picking up the rental car. Ken played against type and made a reservation with the rock bottom lowest price company—a rental agency that operates in Europe (and Asia?) called Sixt. We followed the signs from “Baggage Reclaim” to the rental car area, where we saw agents for Enterprise, Alamo, Hertz, Avis, Dollar, etc.—all except Sixt. When we asked an agent at one of the other companies, he snootily informed us that Sixt had an off-airport location, the only car rental company not at Gatwick, as we discovered. He pointed vaguely to an area nearby where he thought we might obtain a ride to the Sixt office.

Sure enough we found a telephone there with a number for Sixt. Ken called and told the person who answered that we were waiting for a ride to the rental office. She must not have been fully awake as he had to repeat this information a couple of times. Finally he was assured that our ride would arrive in five minutes. While waiting, we had many laughs about what we should expect from this Motel 8 of car rental companies. When we saw a battered old van with a bulldog hanging out the passenger window, we joked that it might be the Sixt courtesy van.

After only about 15 minutes, the van arrived—no dogs—and spirited us off to the Sixt office, a 20-minute trip. Pulling into the parking lot, we saw a tiny car about the size of a Gem golf cart. The van driver teased that this was to be our rental car.

We ended up with a silver Ford Mondeo hatchback, about the size of a Volvo S40. The wonderful thing about this car is that even though we didn’t request it and the Sixt agent told us the car didn’t have it, the Mondeo has a GPS navigation system!

About 40 miles from the airport and lots of playing and button pressing and knob twisting, I figured out how to use it. It includes voice commands for turns and recalculates the route if you make a wrong turn or miss a turn and don’t follow the direction to “make a U-turn if possible.”
In addition to driving on the left side of the road, Ken was also learning to operate with a “gear box transmission” with the stick shift operated by the left hand. And, as Woodie warned, getting used to navigating through roundabouts and exiting onto the correct road—in the correct lane—was challenging indeed, especially on just two hours of sleep.

Though traveling on major highways—“motorways” equivalent to interstate highways in the U.S.—we did not recognize signs of any “rest areas.” After a few hours, we were eager to locate a “loo.” By this time the GPS had us traversing A4, a secondary road on our way to the city of Bath. Finally, not being able to wait any longer, Ken turned onto a smaller road, found a place to pull off to the side (there are many pullouts for temporary parking but no facilities) and enjoyed relief standing between the open car doors. I waited as we were quite close to the road, which turned out to be a good bit busier than we first anticipated.

Finally, wending our way back to the A4 motorway with the help of our friendly GPS girl, we passed a sign indicating a camping area and nature hike. Surely there would be a handy loo here, I insisted, so we pulled into the drive. As we approached, a gate, it lifted to allow us to enter. As soon as we drove into the parking area, I spotted—and ran for—the ladies room. It turned out to be very clean and warm. While I was enjoying sweet relief, Ken made the observation that we would be unable to leave without an “exit code” to open the exit gate. What a concept—anyone can get in but only the select can get out! The office and store near the entrance were empty, as were the information kiosk and a nearby shed area. No amount of shouting aroused anyone in a house across the parking lot and a “Beware of Dog” sign prevented us from entering the gate to actually knock at the door.

We looked around and tried to devise a means of escape. Finally a young woman drove into the gate. I flagged her down and asked her how we could get out. She was very kind and asked us to follow her, which we did, down a road that led to a building with an indoor swimming pool, exercise room, and other recreational facilities. She went inside and came out with the new exit code for December. We thanked her profusely and returned to the exit gate, where we were thrilled when it slowly raised after Ken punched in 9065!

With GPS Girl’s guidance, we made it to Bath, which we naively expected to be smallish and easy to navigate by car. Wrong! Arriving around 2 p.m., we found a maze of very busy narrow streets, many of them one-way. We wanted to locate the tourist information center to help us find a place to stay. This is when we learned to use GPS Girl to guide us to a specific street, not just the town.

Committed to trying some new experiences, we asked for and received assistance booking a B&B for two nights in Bath. Unlike many U.S. B&Bs, here they are generally more economical than hotels, plus you have an opportunity to meet some locals. We are staying in the attic of an old house five minutes walking distance from the central city. The rate is £60 per night. After we checked in, Ken enjoyed a one-hour power nap, and we set off for dinner.

On the recommendation of Jan and Bryan, owners of Albany House B&B, we had dinner at Martini’s, a small Italian restaurant within walking distance. The food was very good—an arugula salad and pizza for me and veggie lasagna for Ken. We enjoyed a nice merlot with dinner and Ken finished with a triple chocolate dessert.

At the restaurant, we chatted with a couple sitting at the next table. He is a native of St. Ives and she is from Boston. They lived in the States for several years and now reside in Bath, where she owns a gift shop called Olde Glory, selling Americana, folk art, Shaker crafts and quilts (www.oldeglory.co.uk). They had a lively, adorable 7-month-old baby named Louisa, and when asked gave us some recommendations for places to visit in the area and in the Cotswalds.

We asked our server for “take away” for the remaining half of my pizza and were quite surprised when it was returned to the table wrapped in aluminum foil. When we returned to the B&B, we left the pizza in the car overnight (natural refrigeration) since a sign in our room advises “No Take Away in the Bedroom.”

Our exhaustion from operating on two hours sleep caught up with us and we were in bed before 9 p.m.