Thursday, August 11, 2005

Europe 2005 - Driving through Europe

We made the choice to drive instead of using the train and we are both glad we did. We both think we got to see much more (even if it meant getting lost) than we would have otherwise. The farthest we ever got off track was 50 km (in Greece). Most of the times we got lost was in the city before buying a city map so that would have happened walking too. It was not the getting from point A to B that took the time since the toll roads are fast. It is finding somewhere to sleep that you booked or is close to the tourist sites that takes all the time. Our average was 2 hours with all the one way roads and nowhere to pull over.
I made the mistake of waiting until France to buy the road atlas. (The Michelin guide was the most recommended and I agree it is very good) We should have just bought it over the internet when we bought the rest of our books. We could have bought city maps then too to save a lot of hassles. The way the roads are set up here as we found out after buying the atlas is that there are not usually posted speed limits unless there is construction. Every country has different speed for the different roads. Freeways were 120-130 kph, highways and dual carriage ways were 110-90, and in the city was usually 50. We are glad that the atlas explained this. Also every country has their own requirements for what you must have in the car. France did not require anything so of course our car didn’t come with it so we bought a reflective jacket and triangle in Spain, we had a first aid kit with us so I guess that counts, and we assumed that with a new car a bulb would not burn out so we never got a spare. Hungary is the only country that our atlas said required driving with your lights on but everyone else was in Italy and Switzerland. We mainly just tried to imitate whatever the local driving style was.
The GPS we bought was the newest generation chip so it could get a signal even on the narrow streets with tall buildings but sometimes the signal would bounce around a little and mess up the GPS program (I guess there is always a trade off). We sometimes put the top down to get a better signal. One thing I would do differently is to not bring polarized sunglasses since it made it impossible to see the screen with my sunglasses on.
I have a lot of experience driving and in all honesty I enjoy going for a drive. (I couldn’t write this until now or L. would make me drive all the time.) At first, especially driving on the left side of the road, driving was really stressful. But I’m used to driving in cities, one way roads, and navigating by map that I soon got used to the narrow roads and sharp turns that are characteristic of driving in Europe. I could see how someone living in a small town would get freaked out but anyone that doesn’t have a problem driving in New York City and the Freeways of Los Angeles would enjoy driving here. I was successful in returning all 3 cars we drove without a scratch (UK, Ireland, and France).
Tolls vs. Vignettes- I like the countries that had vignettes (Switzerland, Bulgaria, Romania, Hungary, Austria, Czech republic) since you bought the sticker for the time you need.(usually a week but Switzerland was a year and even then that was as expensive as 2 days of driving on toll roads.) This helped for the countries that did not use the Euro. We left Turkey with more money left over then I would have liked because I was not sure how much the toll roads would cost. We only did not have enough money for the tolls once and they took credit cards so we didn't have a problem. France was by far the most expensive to drive in with an average of 20 Euro a day. Germany, the Netherlands, Belgium and Luxembourg were free as far as I could tell (or I will soon get a charge to my credit card by the car leasing company.) taking the toll roads is the way to go though. Every time we tried to save money or take a shortcut we got lost and ended up spending more in gas or finding ourselves even farther back up the road and paying a higher toll.
Aggressiveness- With Naples being a 10, and Switzerland and Vienna being a 1 driving here on the freeways of L.A. is about 6, driving in California 4, NYC roads 8, and driving in Utah 5 to try to give it some scope.
Stats- we drove 11305 km in mainland Europe. Our car averaged 42 miles per gallon. gas prices averaged around 1.15 Euro per liter. (sorry I couldn’t figure out how to get all that in one base system).

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

Thanks for an idea, you sparked at thought from a angle I hadn’t given thoguht to yet. Now lets see if I can do something with it.