Petite Bourgogne

Petite Bourgogne

Sunday, May 24, 2009

Driving Lessons

My vacation in Crete was the first time I've driven in a country outside of Canada/USA. Life on the island is slow and Cretans are very laid back... until they get behind the wheel of a car. Seriously, Montreal drivers are quite relaxed in comparison. As a result, learning the local driving customs was quite an adventure.

Lesson 1: Stop signs are at the end of highway on-ramps
In some North American cities, some highway on-ramps have lights at the end to control the flow of traffic during rush hour. Other than that, we generally use on-ramps to gradually increase speed so we can merge at the speed of traffic on the highway. That's not the case in Crete, as I learned coming out of the airport. There was a stop sign right where the ramp met the highway, resulting in a thorough test of my car's brakes. Why was there a stop sign? A perfect segue to Lesson 2...

Lesson 2: The wide paved shoulders are there for a reason
The major highway has paved shoulders wide enough for a small car to consider it a lane. That's because you are expected to drive on it. Whenever a car comes up behind you, you're expected to drive on the the shoulder and let the other car pass. If you don't, expect the car behind you to flash his lights to let you know that you should move over. Cretan drivers will pass, even on winding roads with blind corners, so you're better off using that paved shoulder.

Lesson 3:
Drive behind a local to learn the customs
After figuring out the first two lessons, I decided to stay behind a local driver and do whatever they did. By doing that, I learned to stay close to or drive half on the shoulder, signaling turns is optional, and one lane can become three lanes. I also learned that the real speed limit is quite different than posted... and not always faster.

Lesson 4:
Traffic lights are NOT on the other side of the intersection
Unfortunately, the local I was following turned off the road right before my first traffic light. I was the first car at the intersection and stopped where I normally would. Then I realized that the traffic light was over my head and slightly behind me. In North America the traffic lights are usually on the other side of the intersection. Not so in Crete. Luckily I was able to see the glow of the traffic light beside me and go at the appropriate time.

A little closer to home, I decided to become a member of Communauto. It's a car sharing service like Zip Car and Auto Share in Vancouver/Toronto. For a security deposit and a small annual fee, I can "rent" cars for as short as a couple of hours to run errands. There is a charge per hour and per kilometer that covers maintenance, gas and insurance. Considering I don't need to drive much in Montreal, I think this is a better option than buying a car.

Sunday, May 17, 2009

Geek Confessions

Because I haven't blogged much this year, I'm going to depart from my more-or-less chronological updates. Clearly I'm not about to confess that I am a blogging geek. I would have to do much more writing, and reading, to be a blog geek. I am a photography geek, especially since I got the digital SLR camera, but that's hardly news.

My first confession is that I have recently discovered that I am a Metro geek. It took me by surprise, really. It started with organizing a MEETin photo "walk" through the Montreal Metro at the beginning of April. Each station is different and many of them also have major art installations. Because of that, I've wanted to take pictures in the Metro since I moved to Montreal. When I set up the event, I was expecting only a handful of my photography friends to come along. To my delight, eight people came out to the event and several more, who couldn't make it, are regularly hinting that I should set up another event soon. We only saw and photographed about a third of Montreal's network. I will be setting up a follow-on event or two. I do need to get permission from the STM (Metro authorities).

As I was researching my vacation, I read that Athens Metro, built for the 2004 Olympics, is also a museum of the antiquities found while digging the tunnels. So, I put the Metro on my must-see list. Here's the confession: I was positively excited when I went down into the Metro to ride one stop to the Acropolis. As advertised, there were all sorts of antiquities displayed and integrated into the very modern stations. In all, I saw three stations: Syntagma, Acropolis, and Monastiraki. All the stations were very clean, spacious, well laid-out with clear signage. I highly recommend the experience.

My next confession involves my Engineering education. I never thought it would come in useful while vacationing in Greece. All the Greek symbols I learned for various formulas and constants have come in very handy to decipher signs and other writings. Most road signs are both in English and Greek, but not ALL signs are bilingual. Being able to decipher Greek letters, though, doesn't mean I know what the words mean. Though I do have to remind myself when I see on road signs the letter "m" in Greek, which usually stands for "micro" in scientific symbols, that it means "metres" not "microns".