A June 1991 trip
to Bern by Wasatch
Quote: Boring, Boring, Boring. Skip it.
Walking along the main drag in Rothenburg o.d.T., I fell into conversation with an American on a bus tour. He asked, "What tour are you with?" I answered, "We’re driving." His face took on a look of angst, and he launched into a stream of questions of what it was like, driving in Europe.Americans love to drive, but many are nervous that Europe is too different, so they chicken out and go by bus. We have taken so many driving vacations in Europe that I’ve lost count, but it includes over 33,000 miles in France alone. Here’s what you need to know to drive in Europe.First, learn the international road signs. AAA can give you a copy. All European nations use them. Second, Europeans follow much closer than American drivers. This is functional, as opportunities to pass are few and very short lasting. The first time you get stuck behind a farm tractor on an European road, you too will start to tailgate. Get used to it. They are, and they will not hit you.Third, rent the smallest car possible. Roads are narrow, and parking places minuscule.
Fourth, if driving on an expressway, you must keep to the right except to pass. I cannot over emphasize how important this is.Fifth, never, never, never drink and drive. If caught doing so, you will end up in jail.That’s it. You are now ready to drive in Europe.Some other thoughts on driving in Europe: Distances are in kilometers (km). To convert km to miles, multiply by 0.6. Thus, 30 km is 18 miles (30 x .6=18). The most difficult road sign to get the hang of is Priority/Not Priority Road. If you are on a Not Priority Road, you must stop when you come to a Priority Road, even if there is no Stop sign.Although gas in Europe costs $5-6 a gallon, we found over several decades of European driving that the gas for a day’s vacation trip in Europe costs about the same as a day driving in the USA. Because things are so much closer together in Europe, you don’t drive as far in a day to see the sights.Expressways are fast but often have high tolls. Some countries, like Switzerland and Austria, do not charge tolls on the expressways, but require a special licence plate sticker to drive on their expressways. This is a pain in the ass if you rented a car at Frankfurt or Paris. So stay on the side roads. Since you go a bit slower, you will see more. Germany has the best highway system in the world. I can’t think of ever seeing a pothole in Germany, or a road that needed repair. The expressways, autobahns, are brilliantly designed. Exits are consistently marked with a system that makes it all but impossible to get in the wrong place. Yes, Germany does have a speed limit. Years ago, they did not, but today, too many cars. However, it seems there is an unwritten rule that on a six lane expressway, you can let ‘er rip. These roads operate like this: the right hand lane is full of trunks going about 40 mph. The center lane travels at a constant 80 mph. Lane changes are only made to pass, or to join a lane going a different speed. Then there is the left lane. I do not know how fast cars in the left lanego, but are all Mercedes or Porches or BMWs and they blow by the 80 mph lane like it is standing still. I think it’s smart to stay out the left lane if you possibly can. If a car comes up behind you and flashes its headlights, pull over into the lane on your right. You are being an inconsiderate road hog, and blocking travel.Some mountain roads are only 1-1½ lanes wide. Vehicles coming downhill have the right of way.The least expensive rental cars have manual transmissions. If you can’t drive a stick shift, be sure to order an automatic. A stick sift will drive you crazy in Britain, where you have to shift with your left hand.Highway driving is quite pleasant. Towns are different story, and the larger the town, the worse it gets. If we are taking a trip to the big cities, we do not drive. Driving in the cites is a nightmare. Still, it all works out as long as you plan a trip that avoids big cities. There is plenty to see in the small towns and countryside. So what if you can’t see Notre Dame? You can see the Oratory at Chazaulet. This is the ultimate put down of name dropping tourists. When one of them says, "What! You didn’t see Notre Dame?" You reply, "Of course not. We went to the Oratory at Chazaulet, to which, as you know, Notre Dame can’t hold a candle by comparison." A tourist in London will waste 2-3 hours watching the perpetually boring Changing of the Guard at Buckingham Palace. A tourist with a car in Bavaria can see the inside of Mad King Ludwig’s four palaces, and that is something worth seeing.
heber ctity, Utah