Tuesday, August 20, 2013

Know your limitations

Yes, I'm back! We have returned home to Israel after a wonderful and eventful two week stay in London. Although it went very well, it started out disastrously!

I had ordered a 9-seater mini-bus since there were 9 of us altogether, my son and daughter, their spouses and three grandchildren. Nevertheless, several people had warned us against driving in London, not only from the point of view of the congestion and the charges, but from the "wrong" side of the road driving, as as well as the difficulty in finding parking anywhere.

Six of us arrived at Heath Row from Israel at 8 pm on Aug 4 and we were at the car rental place by ca. 9 pm. They brought the van around and I was surprised to find that it was a manual shift, since I'm sure I had specified automatic. But, they told me they don't have mini-buses with automatic shift, so there was no choice, Hobson's choice. Driving on the wrong side of the road is bad enough but with a stick shift is worse, since I haven't driven one for years, and the van seemed enormous. But, I was confident enough in my abilities to take the challenge and so we drove off into the night.

It was a nightmare journey, with my son-in-law, Jeff, navigating. We had clear printed directions as well as a GPS on his i-phone. But, since I was not used to the width of the van on the wrong side of the road, we came close to the kerb several times, and Jeff screamed out in fear. I actually hit the kerb only twice, but it caused no damage, so we were basically alright, although when we arrived I must admit that Jeff was white.

We arrived on Highgate Hill and we saw number "62." Since we wanted "56" where I had rented the house we stopped and assumed we had arrived. But, there was no number "56." We looked around for a while and several of us thought it might be a scam. We went across the road to the pub to ask them and they were not able to help, but they allowed us to use their phone (we had two English phones waiting for us) and we called my friend who lives in Highgate. He told us that the number we wanted was probably further down the hill, so we continued driving for a way and sure enough the numbers changed and then began to rise again, until we found "56."

So we moved our luggage in and parked the car outside, which we were assured by the representative of the rental company who met us, was alright on Sun night until 8.30 am Mon morning. It was a great house and we were all happy with it, except my grandson who had to sleep on an airbed that had a leak, so he moved to a couch. The next morning we went out to the van and there was a parking ticket on it for £65! Later we called the company and they agreed that we should not have been charged and said they would take care of it.

So Jeff and I drove back to Heath Row on Mon morning to meet my son and his family coming in from San Francisco. When we arrived back at the the airport we could smell burning, but there was nothing we could do about it. We met my son and his family and the five of us drove back to Highgate. But as we drove the smell got worse and finally about 10 mins from the house the van refused to go anymore and I was lucky enough to be able to pull into a gas station, but they did no automotive work there.

So we called the rental company and they said they would send someone to fix it. I told them I didn't think it could be fixed there, since it was probably the clutch or gears and they should send a replacement vehicle but with automatic shift. There had unfortunately been an accident on Archway Road, one of the two main arteries in the area and so the traffic was backed up and hardly moving. Simon and family went off in a taxi and Jeff and I waited for over 2 hours until the repair man arrived. He confirmed that the van could not be fixed there, but he called his company not the rental company. Finally they admitted that it could not be fixed and agreed to send a substitute vehicle.

This took a further 2.5 hrs, so we were stuck there for 5 hrs altogether, from 9.30 am to 2.30 pm, when a nice silver Mercedes arrived on a tow truck. We were given the new car,with automatic drive and drove off back to our house. But, we could not park there, so we drove around for a while to look for a parking place, but could not find one. So we drove back to the house and as I was parking I hit the kerb, and would you believe it, I punctured a tire! It was clear to me that the kerbstone was razor sharp and that the Brits send people around to sharpen them to cause foreigners to have such punctures.

At this point I was essentially pissed off, if I were a woman I suppose I would have broken down and cried, but as it was I just gave up and went to sleep. Jeff decided to change the tire, but Simon said we had insurance so why bother, and he called the company and while I slept they came and replaced the tire. But, then we had a meeting and decided that we could not use the 5-seater for 9 of us, but I think it was because they feared what I might do next to the rental car. So we called the company and we cancelled the rental and asked them to take it back.

I parked the car in a nearby pub parking lot overnight and they charged me £20 and the next morning the company came and took the car away. So from then on we were on our own, facing the rigors of public transport.


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