Driving in Europe

This item appears on page 12 of the March 2011 issue.
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I just read S. Ryan Edgar’s article “Pulling Out All the Stops on a Self-Drive Tour of Europe” (Jan. ’11, pg. 35) and would like to add some comments on driving that his article didn’t include. I rented a car and drove from Paris to San Marino to Andorra and back to Paris over five days, Nov. 13-18, 2010.

Roads in France are smoother than those in the US. The reason is the government leases out sections of the road to contractors to maintain and profit from the tolls they collect.

The major highways are toll roads and very expensive. Few toll plazas I came to had toll takers; all the tollgates had automatic machines, each with a slot for a credit card, but some did not accept the US magnetic strip-type cards, so be sure to have a lot of euros on hand.

I spent over $200 on tolls on my five-day trek. The amount of each toll depended on the distance and on the contractor for that stretch of road. It ranged from a low of €2.10 (near $3) to a high of €35.10 ($48), the latter for the tunnel through the Alps.

In both France and Italy, even the local roads were in better condition than most roads I’ve seen in the US. France had very few stoplights; there was a roundabout at almost every intersection, even in villages.

Hotels were expensive and Internet connectivity was not always free. Mercure, Novotel and Ibis hotels had free Internet. Marriott and Holiday Inn charged for Internet usage, typically €15 ($20) for 24 hours.

A GPS unit really helps. I used it to not only confirm that I was on the right road and to see an estimate of when I would arrive at my next destination but also to find hotels, restaurants and gas stations along the way.

All the gas stations on the toll roads had food for sale. Some of these “truck stop” stations had adjacent buffet restaurants, and the food was a cut above that at US interstate truck stops. A buffet typically cost €10 ($13).

I saw no highway patrol on the roads. In France, the speed limit on the toll roads was enforced by cameras. The GPS in my Hertz rental car was programmed to alert me when a camera was known to be in the area and I was over the speed limit. At times, this was annoying: the cameras are often used to control the speed in construction areas, but once construction was completed and the speed limit increased, the GPS wouldn’t know that and would buzz when I was driving the posted limit.

I don’t understand French or Italian, but with my GPS in English mode I felt comfortable driving around Europe. Granted, I had lived in Germany, Paris and The Hague 30 years before and was somewhat familiar with the signage.

ED REYNOLDS

Woodland Hills, CA

Please login or subscribe to ITN to read the entire post.

I just read S. Ryan Edgar’s article “Pulling Out All the Stops on a Self-Drive Tour of Europe” (Jan. ’11, pg. 35) and would like to add some comments on driving that his article didn’t include. I rented a car and drove from Paris to San Marino to Andorra and back to Paris over five days, Nov. 13-18, 2010.

Roads in France are smoother than those in the US. The reason is the government leases out sections of the road to contractors to maintain and profit from the tolls they collect.

The major highways are toll roads and very expensive. Few toll plazas I came to had toll takers; all the tollgates had automatic machines, each with a slot for a credit card, but some did not accept the US magnetic strip-type cards, so be sure to have a lot of euros on hand.

I spent over $200 on tolls on my five-day trek. The amount of each toll depended on the distance and on the contractor for that stretch of road. It ranged from a low of €2.10 (near $3) to a high of €35.10 ($48), the latter for the tunnel through the Alps.

In both France and Italy, even the local roads were in better condition than most roads I’ve seen in the US. France had very few stoplights; there was a roundabout at almost every intersection, even in villages.

Hotels were expensive and Internet connectivity was not always free. Mercure, Novotel and Ibis hotels had free Internet. Marriott and Holiday Inn charged for Internet usage, typically €15 ($20) for 24 hours.

A GPS unit really helps. I used it to not only confirm that I was on the right road and to see an estimate of when I would arrive at my next destination but also to find hotels, restaurants and gas stations along the way.

All the gas stations on the toll roads had food for sale. Some of these “truck stop” stations had adjacent buffet restaurants, and the food was a cut above that at US interstate truck stops. A buffet typically cost €10 ($13).

I saw no highway patrol on the roads. In France, the speed limit on the toll roads was enforced by cameras. The GPS in my Hertz rental car was programmed to alert me when a camera was known to be in the area and I was over the speed limit. At times, this was annoying: the cameras are often used to control the speed in construction areas, but once construction was completed and the speed limit increased, the GPS wouldn’t know that and would buzz when I was driving the posted limit.

I don’t understand French or Italian, but with my GPS in English mode I felt comfortable driving around Europe. Granted, I had lived in Germany, Paris and The Hague 30 years before and was somewhat familiar with the signage.

ED REYNOLDS

Woodland Hills, CA