Tag Archives: driving

My delicious.com bookmarks for August 28th through September 3rd

Egypt: Driving in Cairo

As we approach the capital I feel my life hovering in front of my eyes as the near-death experiences merge into one.

The bus continually lurched from lane to lane, overtaking on which ever side seemed the most convenient at the time, braking and accelerating heavily as obstacles loomed and evaporated. At one point we’re overtaking on a blind corner only to find a man in the middle of the lane carrying a tire towards a broken-down car. The look of horror on his face is going to stay with me for a long time. Our driver is unfazed and laughs as he flicks the bus over into the next lane. Honestly, I’m not sure whether it’s the best driving I’ve ever seen or the worst, but either way it’s surprising that you don’t see more Egyptian Formula 1 drivers.

Leaving the ring-road, things are slower but hardly safer. The whole system is a free-for-all. There’s no such thing as giving way to other traffic, you just move forward as far as you can, sound your horn frequently and loudly and manouver around obstacles as the opportunity arises. Whether it’s just badly designed or is considered to be a traffic calming measure, it seems that you often have to take a substantial detour just to make a turn.

This is inefficient on a whole host of levels1. It can take an hour to get from one side of town to the other and the distances are not that great. The bumps and scratches on pretty much all the cars are testament to how risky an endevour it is to tackle Cairo on four wheels. The most telling indicator, no doubt made worse my poorly refined petrol, is the air quality. It’s a while since I’ve been somewhere that has made my eyes water and given me a cough.

My first thought was, “how did it get this bad?” Then I realised that was the wrong question. Chaos is going to be the default state of affairs. A better question would be, “How did we get a largely effective ettiquette in the West?” Did we just make laws early enough in the development of the car that the rules became ingrained in the public psyche?

Secondly, how would you fix it?

This, in case you were wondering, is where the Darwinianism comes into play. A road system, at its root, is many independent and selfish entities all using the same resources for their own gain. Like a biological system, there are many scenarios that work but some work better than others. These different scenarios require different levels of cooperation, but this team-work has to benefit the individual as well or they’ll just look out for themselves.

How does this work on tarmac? Let’s say an Egyptian government brings in some new law2 that says that at a junction the first person there gets right of way — kind of the same system you get at four way junctions in the US. This works and is fair if everyone obeys the new law. If there is less than full compliance then reverting to the old, chaotic ways might actually be more efficient. In effect this would penalise law-abiding citizen who, in all likelihood, would eventually get bored and fall back on their old ways.

So could a “big bang” work? There are a number of elements working against it. Firstly, how do you inform everyone? Literacy rates are fairly low. Is there even a driving test? And even if you could get the whole population to understand, how would you enforce it? If the number of people disregarding the new law is sufficiently high then there is little that the Police could do about it. Could you give every road user a ticket and actually expect to collect the fine? Do all the cars have to be registered? Would all the details be up to date? I would suspect not.

So, what have we learned?

I think the only real conclusion that we can reach is: don’t drive in Cairo. Oh, and that I probably think too much.

  1. Actually, this is an assumption that I have not really investigated. []
  2. I’m assuming that there isn’t already one that is being ignored. []

Jordan and Egypt

"No Camels & Horses" sign, Dahab, Egypt

I always have immense difficulty choosing my next travel destination. The bottom line is that I’d happily visit almost anywhere I’ve not been before. And even then, many of the places I have been to I’d happily go back to. With around two hundred countries in the world this presents a problem. Then you need to combine this with the fact that I love reading about travel — books, brochures, back issues of Wanderlust — and you can easily believe that it can take me months to decide where to travel to next.

I know. I lead such a hard life.

Anyway, after a relatively short holiday last year, this year was going to be India. Except. Long story short: I did not have enough leave from work to be able to do everything I wanted.

Eventually, through a process of compromise and whittling down that I couldn’t explain even if I tried, I ended up deciding on the middle east in general and Jordan and Egypt in particular. I’ve had a mixed experience with the Middle East in the past. I loved Turkey but wasn’t keen on UAE. Fortunately both Jordan and Egypt promised more of the history and culture of the former and less of the shiny, characterless modernity of the Dubai I had seen.

As I have done for the last couple of trips, I felt it made most sense to break the holiday down into bite sized chunks. I am going to cover the sights in Jordan in the following posts:

And Egypt in these:

Worst. Car. Ever.

?Chrysler PT Cruiser

As is necessary when you travel to the US, I hired a car. It’s always tricky to hire a small car in America — only in the US could an SUV fit in a “small car” parking space — but I dismissed all their attempts to get me to upgrade. Maybe it was some form of revenge, but I ended up with a Chrysler P.T. Cruiser. Not terribly small. But actually terrible.

I don’t own a car. I live in London and have no need for one. I mention this so you realise that every time I drive it’s in a different type of car. Most cars are… fine. Uninspired perhaps but adequate. Put it this way: I didn’t whinge when they gave me a Neon a previous time.

The Cruiser looks hideous. I guess we’re now post-Mondeo where everything is no longer designed by a focus group, so it’s almost positive that its shape elicits an emotion. But still. What were they thinking? Bulbous, bug headlights, chrome accenting, as aerodynamic as a breeze block, this is a machine built this decade but with a design sensibility set five decades ago.

Inside things don’t get better. My eyes are immediately drawn to the clock in the middle of the dashboard. Not particularly because it looks good but because the back-light is twice as bright as the speedometer. Not a great feature when you’re trying to get used to a new car.

But once I’ve moved passed the aesthetics and have resigned myself to driving it, I find that it lets me down here too. The parking lot is, of course, designed for American cars. Yet I still need to do a three-point-turn just to get the vehicle pointing towards the exit. This thing has the turning circle of a small bus.

Out on the road things aren’t quite so bad. Visibility is poor, it’s difficult to tell how wide it is and performance isn’t exactly its middle name but, to be fair, it does get me around the Bay Area without too much trouble.

But, in the end, being barely competent is hardly a cause for celebration. I was happy to get the car back to SFO. Hopefully next time my hire car will be a better drive.

Poland, 2004

I’ve never been the kind of person who just likes to sit on beaches, soaking up the rays. I always burn and I always think that I might be missing something, an amazing sight, some unusual food or a classic local beer.

Sometimes however, I think that I try to over-do things. My recent trip to Poland certainly had the potential. The plan was to fly to Warsaw, try to take in Gdansk, an obscure part of Russia called Kaliningrad that is surrounded by EU states and then nip into Lithuania for a swift look around Vilnius.

Not all went to plan, but we did put plenty of miles in! Most of the distance was covered on roads that had been completed (concentrating hard on the directions, we missed a diversion sign and ended up driving down a partially completed highway) and much was within the speed-limits. We got to the Kaliningrad border only to be told “No” by the border guard. Whether he meant we couldn’t go through or was just replying to the implicit question “Do you speak English?” we’re not sure. The hire car company thwarted our efforts to drive into Lithuania and the bus and train timetables conspired against us, so we never got to Vilnius either.

We did get to see Warsaw, Gdansk, Malbork, Suwalski, Bialystok and much more! I think you’ll agree that that is a lot of ground to cover in one long weekend!

One final note: some Polish words have characters I can’t find on this keyboard (or for use on the web). The main one is an “l” with a line through it, as in Bialystok. My apologies to Polish speakers; I did try to spell it all correctly!

Click the small pictures below for a full size version.

All pictures here have been taken on my EOS300D with the 18-55mm lens. Many of the outdoor pictures were taken using a polarising filter.

If the pictures have piqued your interest, there are a few resources that you might want to have a look out for:

Hungary, Romania and Croatia, 2004

This one came up at pretty short notice. A friend (that I know from my time in Norway) was working in Budapest and suggest that I come and visit. Not an opportunity I was going to pass on!

It was too cold to spend all my time sightseeing outside in Budapest, so we hired a car with the intention of driving to Dracula’s castle in Romania. Unfortunately that was a bit too far away, especially when it started snowing, so we switched plans and decided, instead, to see some of the less well known parts of the country. In the end we also got to see a little of Romania and Croatia too!

Click the small pictures below for a full size version.

View of the parliament buildingAnother view of the parliament building The chain bridge across the DanubeClose-up view of the parliament
The Main Street in Arad, RomaniaBy the river in Arad Building in Szeged, HungaryIn the centre of Szeged, Hungary
Osijek, CroatiaChurch in the centre of Osijek View in Pecs, HungaryAnother shot in Pecs

All pictures here have been taken on my EOS300D with the 18-55mm lens. Many of the outdoor pictures were taken using a polarising filter.

If the pictures have piqued your interest, there are a few resources that you might want to have a look out for:

It’s also worth noting that I was preparing to use a joke based on lack of food, goulash and the country name. You’ll be pleased to hear that I restrained myself.