What’s it like driving about 8,000 KM (or 5,000 miles) through 12 countries across Europe during a six weeks period? Typically I write all the posts about our adventures but William has decided to pen this post since he was the one who drove all those miles.
Three years ago when we traveled Europe we used mainly trains which is excellent transportation in Europe. This year however we decided to use rental cars to give us a greater ability to see smaller and out the way places on our own schedule and not the train’s schedule.
Our first rental was a Renault Twingo. That’s right, we had never heard of it either. Our rental agreement was for a Fiat 500 (or similar) so we were not really expecting to get this particular auto. It was very small and with manual transmission. As much fun as that sounds the reality is that shifting gears through all those round abouts and tiny roads gets old very quick.
The best thing that I can say about this Twingo was it got us through our first week in France. It was underpowered to say the least and on the Audubon when the big trucks passed us it felt like the whole car was going to be sucked into the truck. It used gasoline and even though it was such a small car the mpg was terrible. Gas here in France costs $1.60 per liter (or $6.00 per gallon) so poor gas mileage can get expensive fast.
The hardest part about driving here is immediately having to learn a new vehicle and all it’s controls whether or not you are jet lagged. Add that to heavy traffic as we left Paris and the inability to read any of the road signs makes the first hours behind the wheel very stressful. It is legal for motor cycles to drive between the two lanes of traffic and it is difficult to start watching that traffic in addition to all other lanes of traffic.
Another barrier to driving is how quickly the speed limits change. It can go from 130 KM down to 70 and then to 50 in less that 1 KM. On a positive note it is challenging but fun to learn how to drive in a foreign country. Parking our car was pretty easy because it was so small and a lot of the roads are very narrow so that was a positive for the small Twingo as well.
We could not take the rental car from France to other European countries so when we left Paris we took a high speed train to Stuttgart Germany where we would pick up our next rental. This time our rental agreement was for an automatic Volkswagen Golf (or similar). Not that I couldn’t drive the manual transmission but that we hoped for a bigger and better car this time. Automatic Transmission cars are rare in Europe so most rental cars with auto transmission come on the higher end cars. We were so delighted when we got the keys to an Audi.
I nicknamed my Audi Q2 – 3 Liter Turbo Diesel automatic “Rover.” This turned out to be practically the perfect car for touring Europe. This car was made by Germans specifically for German roads and the Audubon. Germany is the only country in Europe that has unlimited speed on the Audubon and this car was perfectly comfortable driving at these higher speeds.
I did get the speed up to about 200KM but for just a short period. My navigator was able to capture this picture of the speedometer at 178KM which is about 110 miles per hour. I could drive comfortably at this speed but it did require a great amount of concentration which was tiring. The cardinal rule of driving in Germany is to stay in the right lane. This opens the left lane for those who desire to drive in excess of 200 KM. You may look in the rear view mirror and see a car way back but at those speeds that car can be at your side in a moment. Another tip is that trucks must drive in the right land and they cannot drive on Sunday or at night so if you want to let it rip those are the times to put the pedal to the metal.
It took some time for me to understand when the speed was unlimited. This is the sign that denotes you can drive with no speed restriction.
In my words this meant “Giddy Up” and I called it the Cat Scratch Sign.
Sometimes I kinda hated to see this sign reappear.
I enjoyed shifting gears on “Rover” There were three options. Standard Drive 7 speed automatic just like an American automatic. For a more aggressive driving experience I could tap it into Sports Mode for faster responses. The third option was a clutchless straight drive and I could shift through all seven gears as I desired. This was extremely responsive and lots of fun to drive.
Some of the options on “Rover” that my navigator loved the most were the leather heated seats, the comfort of riding in the car, and the onboard navigation system. In the Twingo my navigator had to use her cell phone and Google Maps to help find our way. On a side note, thanks to our new TMobile plan using the data was totally free and worked well in all of the countries we visited.
One thing I had to learn the hard way was whether or not the country required a vignette sticker on your windshield to allow driving on the major roads. After paying a 150 euro fine at the Slovenia Croatia boarder I started stopping immediately once I crossed into a new country to inquire if a vignette was needed. Typically the cost for the vignette was 20 to 30 Euro
Another tip for driving in Europe is that speeds are not regulated in the same way they are in the US. You will not see any highway patrol cars checking speeds. All you will see is a bright flash in your face from a mounted camera taking a picture of you and your license plate. The ticket is mailed to you and there is no appeal court for it. You are guilty of speeding – period! Fines vary country to country with Switzerland being the most expensive. I wonder how long it will take for my only known ticket to show up in my mailbox in NC. I guess I will be excited to see a nice picture of me and “Rover” if it does show. We are thinking the fine will be for 35 euro.
The only negative about this Audi was having to say goodbye. We could only rent the can for a maximum of 28 days. I think my navigator was sad to see it go too.
Our next rental agreement was again for an automatic Volkswagen Golf (or similar) so I was praying for a BMW, a Mercedes, or another Audi. At minimum my navigator was praying for a navigational system. We picked the car up in Stuttgart, Germany and will return it to Paris, France. It is quite expensive to drop the car off at a different country than where you rented it but factoring in transportation for two to get back to Paris this still seemed like the best option. They gave us a Seat Leon, a French Car. At the rental counter, I asked “What is that?” They told me it is a French Car made by Volkswagen. One person was happy with this car. It had a Navigational System and it was brand new.
I was a bit skeptical but certainly this was better than the Twingo. It turned out to be a very good car and well suited for our travel back to Paris. However, this Leon had a gasoline engine and was very thirsty compared to the Audi diesel.
To sum it up, driving in Europe can be a great experience, a lot of fun, a lot of thrills and a lot of excitement. If you are thinking about driving through Europe, just go for it.