Thursday, September 17, 2009

driving in europe

After about 2 weeks on the road, driving in Europe is really a piece of cake. Not much difference from driving in California- after all, nothing can really ever get any worse than L.A. traffic, right? 

Freeway driving is pretty much the same as in the States- minus the fact that in Germany they go WAY fast. At one point, we were going 160km/hr on the slow lane, and cars to the left were zooming by like there was no tomorrow. Then we entered Holland, where they love to drive slowly.

Driving within the cities proved to be the most complicated- Paris (too many pedestrians and one-way streets), Zurich, Bonn, Cologne, Brussels, and especially Amsterdam (bikers and one way streets. oh, and watch out for parking- if you're not careful, your car can topple into the canal). Parking is crazy, often expensive, but still cheaper than buying train tickets for 4 adults into the city. In Amsterdam it cost around 45 Euro to park in a garage for a day (which was still cheaper than by-the-hour parking). I think by far, Germany was the most inexpensive country we visited- you could go to a really nice restaurant and spend under 60Euro for 4 people. But if you convert it, its about similar in the United States.  

Driving in the countryside was different in each country- the farmland in central France, the mountains going into Switzerland, the Rhine river and Black Forest in Germany, and the farms of Holland. All of it was beautiful- definitely different than driving up the I-5 through Fresno!

In France and Germany, there are picturesque little villages and historical landmarks every few exits on the "autoroute." This picture was taken in France. In Germany, there were often castles up on the mountains above the Rhine. While the amazing views inspire you to want to get off the freeway and take the scenic route, it's not as easy as it sounds. In France, getting on the big freeways requires you to pay a toll- about 30Euro to drive from Paris to Dijon- and that also means that there are no exits, only rest stops. So you may see a beautiful village or an old castle by the freeway, but there's no way to get there- no kidding. We tried at a rest stop, and the freeway is literally fenced in- so no one can get in, and no one can get out. Weird system, no? 

We ended up getting off the autoroute at Dijon and taking the back country roads- you definitely can't go as fast (40-60km/hr), and the roads are quite windy and sometimes extremely narrow. But the view makes it totally and completely worth it. The countryside in Europe is so CLEAN. Its fresh and breatheable, and all the houses and buildings are neatly kept- but not only that- it is full of colorful wildflowers. There are flowers hanging from street lamps, landscaped roundabouts that are exploding with color, and flowers flowing from each windowbox in every house. It's really like something out of a picture book. 

Driving does have its headaches- like bickering in the car and getting lost late at night- but at least now I can say that I've driven through the arches of the Louvre and past the glass pyramid, around the Champs Elysées (there are NO traffic lanes whatsoever and tons of cars), and over the bridge onto the Ile de Cite-- all in the process of trying to find the car rental return office Paris. And the icing on the cake: my dad was yelling at me the entire time for the navigation system going haywire. Fun times.

But seriously, if you ever drive in Europe, make sure you have a navigation system.


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