I drove the rental car out of Newcastle-Upon-Tyne while Stephanie
navigated. It was the first time I've driven where you keep to
the left side of the road. And the first time I was driving a
car from the right side. So many of my habits were simply wrong
and I needed to consciously think about many things, like my
positioning with respect to the road, where to look for information
in the car, where to look for the mirrors, where to look for traffic,
what the traffic signs said and meant, and where street signs
are located. Even units of distance in the English system required
thought! We have yard, but don't use them for driving. It's not
hard to multiple yards by three to get feet and then think about them
in that way, but that took extra thought too. I realized that it
was the right move not getting a manual transmission. I didn't need
yet another distraction demanding my attention.
Driving is not that difficult, but basically I have about 35 years of driving habits working against me. Negative transfer would be the more technical teaching and psychology term. Interestingly, while driving I would consistently swap "right"and "left" when talking. Even though I meant to say the correct one, I would consistantly say the opposite, as if my brain was just flipping everything relating to left and right just on the off chance it might help.
I was happy I didn't have to drive and navigate. Navigating was also challenging (it was a fancy new GPS with a weird touch screen input and a semi-complete database of locations). At some point it was around 4:30pm, we had pulled off the side of the road in a neighborhood still in Newcastle to re-evaluate the situation. While not super-heavy, traffic was not light, and it would be slower getting places. The GPS did not actually know our destination (the Visitors Center (or Centre) by Hadrian's Wall) and it was unclear how to toggle the GPS between showing the map and moving the map to keep it updated with our current location (i.e., the difference between where we are and where we want to be, both of which we need to know). We decided to bail on Hadrian's Wall, head to the B&B and have time to relax a bit, then get dinner somewhere, and make plans for Thursday. So we did.
The Alnwick Lodge was a nice place that's about a mile outside of Alnwick just off the A1 Highway. It's a farm and many of the areas used to be stables or similar lodgings. Most of the reviews I saw online were quite positive, though used the word "quirky." It was comfortable, the breakfasts were nice, and the staff were quite friendly and helpful.
Stephanie took a nap and I wandered around the B&B taking pictures. It was still cold, foggy, and damp out. We decided we'd stop at a grocery store in Alnwick, about 1-2 miles away, then head the other way, about a half-mile beyond the B&B to a small restaurant. Easy.
That's when I made The Mistake. The B&B is just off of the A1 highway, 2 lanes in each direction with a big median, sometimes controlled access (on-ramps/off-ramps), sometimes with direct left turns or right turns from the median. It wasn't busy, and in fact there were no cars to be seen in either direction, and it was still daytime. I needed to turn right beyond the median, to head north into town. After checking both directions (still nothing) I pulled into the median and then started to point the car to the left. Stephanie yelled, "What are you doing!?!" I stopped, the car was still in the median, but pointing in the wrong direction, to the left. There's no way to avoid admitting that I had attempted to do something very stupid and very wrong. Checking that everything was (still) clear, I turned from the median onto the left side of the road (in the direction which the car had been facing). I wanted to put that mistake behind me. Stephanie then, more calmly, asked why I was heading away from town and if, perhaps, I might want to stop driving. I was more than willing to admit my mistakes and my appreciation for her catching it and telling me (though in all fairness, we had agreed ahead of time that "wrong side" would be the official, unambiguous phrase for that). But I didn't want to give up. I wanted to get back on this wrong-sided horse because it's a challenge. It's also a low traffic area and safe enough. I said I'd let her do some driving tomorrow and I'd navigate.
We got a few groceries and then we headed to the restaurant, The Cook and Barker Inn in Newton-on-the-Moor. It was a cute place. I got some Thai Fishball thing that was decent, but pretty small. I don't know if I made the mistake on how "entree" means the opposite thing in the US/UK (big dish/small dish) or if it was just a small item. The parking lot was full, so we parked on the road. Everyone was parking on the right side of the road, facing away (i.e., parking as if they were on a US road). I had to make a mental note that when we left for home, I would need to ignore the false cues and immediately switch to the left side of the road. I remembered that and the trip back was uneventful (especially since we had already driven that way.
The next day we went to Alnwick Castle in the town of Alnwick and
explored the area. It is the current residence of the Duke and Duchess
of Northumberland. They have a family line that goes back to at or
possibly one year after the Battle of Hastings (1066).
After touring the castle, we went back to the
car (which took us a little time to find the parking lot or "car
park", which sounds to me either something like a fish kill, or
an amusement park for cars) and ate the lunch we had packed while it
rained. The rain had held off up until that point.
We then went into town and spent some time at Barter Books a cool, used bookstore in the former train station. Holy shit! The "iconic and trivialized" phrase Keep Calm and Carry On from the WWII posters (that were never issued) was fucking discovered by Barter Books! Here's a video from their web site on the history of the poster.
Anyway, after spending some time in the bookstore, we then spent some time walking around the town of Alnwick (the rain had stopped by then). The downtown area (or city centre?) had various little shops, some monuments and statues, and stone gates. The town itself (in some form) dates back to around the year 600 (though it wasn't obvious anything that old was still present).
After walking around Alnwick, we stopped in a
coffee shop to figure out where to go next. It was around 4pm or so.
Originally, we had planned to go to Holy Island/Lindisfarne. It's a
30-45 minute drive, and then we'd drive on a road that's unpassable
during high tide. While the next 6-8 hours would be safe to cross
to Holy Island, we'd be doing a lot of walking and the weather maps
we looked at showed storms in and around that area. It was looking
if-fy in terms of how fun it'd be and we'd spend a good chunk of time
to get there and back, and then it'd be too late to do anything else.
I still wanted to see the coast. So we came up with an alternate plane. Alnmouth is a little village 5 miles away, situated on the coast where the River Aln ends at the North Sea. Plus it was easy to get there, there were a few restaurants that looked like they might be good for dinner. So we went there. Stephanie had driven the car earlier in the day. We decided I'd drive to Alnmouth and back and then Stephanie would drive us back to Newcastle in the morning. That made sense since I could check the route and navigate, and Stephanie was more comfortable with the left/right swap and traffic, and it'd get a bit busier as we got into Newcastle.
It took maybe 10 minutes to get to Alnmouth. It was low tide so the beaches extended way out, and most of the riverbed was dry. Boats in a marina area were all grounded. But they were designed for the twice per day low tide, so they could safely site on the sandy riverbed and not tip over. We walked around there and around the town. It was cold and damp and foggy. We walked around the town to check out our dinner options and warm up.
We saw a hotel called The Schooner and in it was an Indian restaurant called Spice Galleon. The menu seemed acceptable. It was inside and heated. And the sign said that they serve non-locals (my guess is that it was not a joke, and that in the off-seasons, some places might only be open to local residents). So we went there. We were seated and there was no one in the restaurant. But it wasn't cold and they'd serve us, so we decided we'd give it a go. We ordered a number of vegetarian things, appetizer and side dishes. And it turned out to be really good. The portions were small-ish, so we ordered another round (some the same, one thing different). In the end, I think it wound up being equivalent to $18 per person for a lot of food. We talked with the owner a bit. I must admit, the Indian/"proper British" mix with northern English accents sounded a little odd to me. He mentioned how damned cold it was, and how the town was pretty deserted now, when a year ago around Easter the town was really busy. Afterwards we headed back to the B&B, spent some time by the stove, made plans for tomorrow, and eventually called it a night.