Sunday, June 10, 2012

France on $98 a Day - Driving

Pont de Normandie over the Seine River near Honfleur, the longest cable-stayed bridge in the world when it was built in 1995.
Driving in some parts of the world, Mexico and Ireland come to mind, is not for the faint of heart, but driving in the rural areas of France never involves a white knuckles grip on the steering wheel. As long as you keep a few points in mind, driving in this wonderful country is actually a pleasurable experience. But do remember these things:
Know what cities are in the vicinity of your destination and you'll find the road signs helpful.

Map out your route beforehand or use GPS (global positioning system). GPS can be expensive in European rental cars--if you can even find it (Remember that your American GPS system will not work in Europe since it's not loaded with European maps.). Our rental car did not come equipped and was not even available to rent at any price. We had no choice but to rely on mapping websites and David.

Of course, relying on David was a good idea. He did an extraordinary job guiding us on toll roads from town to town, leading us through labyrinthian one-way streets in villages, and finding all of the sites on our list. I didn't mind doing most of the driving because it was effortless with David doing the navigating.
The euro sign on the bill and coins let you know there is a person in this lane to accept cash.
The toll roads in France are a joy. As long as you remember, as you approach the toll booths, that you want the lane with the money symbol instead of the commuter-pass lane, (See the photo.) and the far right lane ONLY if you are exiting the toll road, you will do fine. The toll roads have excellent signage, rest stop areas with picnic tables and restrooms, and service areas with gas stations, restaurants, and restrooms.
The word, "aire," is your clue to a rest area.  Look at the symbols to see what is offered.  This one has a gas station, restaurant, and motel.
Remember that the passing lane is truly used only for passing in France. Once you've passed the slower car, get back over into the right lane. And it is the right lane that you use; only in the UK and countries that were protectorates of the UK is driving done in the left lane.

And please don't forget to pack a lunch. The French love to picnic and you'll find any number of charming spots, usually with a lovely view, to enjoy that croissant sandwich.
This luxurious rest area had a river with ducks, walking trails, picnic areas, a fancy store, restaurant and motel. 
Most of all, relax. Driving in France is no more difficult, and usually much less stressful, than driving in the United States. So, sit back and enjoy the ride.

Practicalities -
It is French law that all cars carry emergency flares and warning triangles.  Make sure your rental car has these before driving off the lot.

At most gas stations, there's only one entrance.  Drive in, gas up, and then drive to the only exit where you pay an attendant for the gas.

The police use radar.  Unless you want a nasty surprise after you get home and find the rental company has billed you for a fine, drive the speed limit.

You may want to make a copy of the road signs from this website.

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