This was GemPrincess's idea, but I thought I'd get it rolling with tips for France. (One of the most important things for these sites are new breathalyzer laws (required on all cars and even motorcycles), fines for 130 euros for using a phone while driving, and info about radar cameras [don't be surprised if you rent a car and get a bill six months later -- they snap a photo of the registration, and the rental car company will forward the bill to you. They do usually post where they're used.) Then there is the always present priorité à droite (cars entering a roundabout or intersection from the right have priority).
This will come as no news to those who rent cars abroad frequently, but except in some places with some cards (Italy, Ireland, etc.), most of your credit cards will cover insurance automatically though it's a good idea either to look through the brochure that comes with terms and conditions or call them. Rentals abroad come with collision and liability insurance, so all you need to know is what will happen if you wreck the car (we can ask Pluto's relatives ). But here's a really important point. When signing the agreement, for your credit card insurance to kick in, you must decline all of their added coverage and just accept the daily rate.
Also, high-end cars are often not covered in CC agreements, so check with them about that.
Great photos, Jerry! I too usually don't rent cars but when I was researching my Joan book there was no other way to get around in the Loire Valley and Domremy. Fortunately in those areas I had no problems, though when I ventured up north a bit from the Loire to see the Le Mans speedway is when I think the radar camera should have gotten my car. Nothing happened, but I know from others it does.
You bring up a good point about credit cards at toll booths. I have often found in France that none of my credit cards will work because Europe is based on the chip system and toll booths in particular did not learn that language. The first time it happened to me I didn't have enough euros (the autoroutes are EXPENSIVE, not to mention the price of gas -- we have nothing to complain about here) but the toll both guard came over and let me through.
Also, if you only drive an automatic, you'll often get a car that can go either way. I spent a very harried morning trying once to get out of CDG because I couldn't get the car to work. I finally went up to the woman in the kiosk but she couldn't help because she didn't drive an automatic (though she didn't try). She finally called her supervisor and he came out and fixed it -- but the previous driver had left it in manual.
Another oddity if you get that kind of car is that you have to press the gas pedal down before you turn the car on or nothing will happen. This happened about three times and I kept having to beg help from men (most of whom also didn't drive automatics, but they figured out what I wasn't doing -- the trouble is they didn't tell me). It was only when I got back to the college's apartment in Dijon and couldn't get out of park the next day that the next door neighbor came over and showed me the drill. No problems thereafter.
I would also suggest as I think I mentioned in the original email, do not rent a car bigger than you need if you'll be in most of Europe. There just is not enough room to maneuver the roads or park (which is why Pluto's stories are so hilarious).
Also, unless you are in a place where you know you won't be able to make yourself understood in any way, shape or form (or they you), don't bother with an International Driver's Permit. I got one the first time and never needed it. If you're buying or using someone else's car (hopefully with their permission) it might be different, but the rental car company is pretty much your guarantee to anyone who stops you or in case of an accident that you're really a driver.
BTW, French laws also require that you have orange cones and other things (which are detailed on the website I gave). They're supposed to come WITH the car, but check. I've found that French kiosks usually just give you the keys (presumably from their own drivers as well as Pluto's relatives they don't expect the car to come back in exactly the same condition it left.
PS -- I will NEVER drive in Italy because of the mopeds and what I think of as truly crazy drivers or Greece, but in the latter it's the tiny winding mountainous or hilly roads. You'll see little orthodox tabernacles all along most of these roads which look like holy dollhouses. But an excellent tour guide once explained on Aegina that they mark places where drivers have died -- and they are omnipresent. It's also thought to be blasphemy ever to remove one.
In France they put up life size poster of bodies to mark were fatal accidents have occurred. It took me a long time to realized what these things were for, but it is a grim reminder of driving in France.
As far as driving in Italy goes, Northern Italy is not difficult. You are right about the amount of two wheelers on the road, it can get a little "Difficult" when there are so many motorcycles on mountain roads.
I am really hoping that the ubiquitous brother-in-law never finds his way onto this forum! I'll have some "S'plaining" to do!
These are really good tips! I will be sure to not speed in France, nor Germany or Italy, or.... There are lots of cameras and radar devices in Germany and Italy as well (I do think the brother-in-law received a speeding ticket this past trip in Tuscany).
Even though they say that there is no speed limit on the German autobahn, that is not necessarily true. They have digital speed signs that hang over each lane, and depending on direction, location, and time of day, the speed limit (or no speed limit) can suddenly change, and then change again, and can differ from lane to lane. Additionally, there are traffic laws against rudeness! Do not use rude gestures towards another driver, else you may find a ticket in the mail for that as well. To clarify, I have no first hand experience with this(!), but I have read about it.
And it is against the law to not get over into the right lane when approached from behind by another car, no matter what the speed of travel is. This, in my experience can make for very dangerous circumstances, as one can be driving in the fast lane at about 140kph and have an empty rearview mirror only to suddenly have a car pop up in the rearview mirror seemingly out of nowhere, because it approached at about 160-180-200kph (this is common!). Suddenly you must get over fast, however if a car in the right lane is ahead of you and is only traveling at about 100kph, you must get over and slam on your brakes to avoid hitting that car. As a back seat passenger, I encountered this often (with white knuckles). If I were behind the wheel, I would drive slower in the right lane (100-120kph), thank you very much. What is the hurry, anyway that you have to drive 160kph (100mph) to get somewhere? I do not know!
As a point of interest, it is nothing to be driving 120kph, only to be passed (don't blink or you'll miss it) by a volkswagen. I think the Germans put different engines underneath the hoods of their domestic cars than they do their exports!
Here are some photos:
The first time I was ever on the road in Germany (I speak no German), I kept seeing the below sign. After a while I thought maybe we were driving in circles (kept seeing the same sign - what I thought was a city - over and over again!), until I learned what the sign meant. At least it made my kids laugh.
Maybe it would be better to get around this way!
Finally, having an up to date GPS download for the country you're driving in is phenomenal. Takes a lot of work and mystery out of driving abroad. I have found no difficulties driving in France (but not Paris!), Germany, or Italy (but not Rome!), even in mid sized cities like Florence. In Italy, the Vespa's make me nervous, especially with the skinny little girls in flip flops and short shorts riding behind the driver, because they dart in and out of traffic dangerously close to other cars like it's nothing. I drive as best I can trying to avoid them, but in the end, no matter how careful I am, it's their legs on the chopping block, not mine. Not something I would ever do (I used to ride my own motorcycle - SV650 - up until 4 years ago, and I'm a fan of the gear - full face helmet, crash jacket, boots, gloves - because I like my skin and I like my brains intact and all in one cranial bucket, but... different strokes, I guess.)
Thanks for bringing back some great memories. Here are a few "Driving photo's" as well!
Like Pluto says, "Driving in Rural, France, Germany, Italy and Austria is fun. Making frequent stops to enjoy the sights here in Austria.
Frequent stops to enjoy the snow in Switzerland.
My daughter's mother-in-law (a true gem) is currently visiting her. Yesterday on a short holiday, after they crossed over into Austria (so Mom could visit Salzburg and Garmisch), they stopped at a gas station. Mom-in-law asked the clerk how to say 'Thank you.' The clerk replied, 'Danke.' She said, 'Oh, just the same as in German.' The clerk replied, 'that's because German is our language.' Oops! (She shouldn't feel bad. Totally something I would say, too!)
We have a roaring good time across the pond. We laugh a lot (mostly at ourselves!) but we're discreet. And mostly we laugh once we're home and telling stories of deprecation re: one another. Ah, Paris.... fortunate woman. I just finished a delicious book last night. Ken Follett's Fall of Giants. At the end, the players were all in the Hall of Mirrors at Chateau Versailles signing the Treaty of Versailles. Boy would I have loved to have been there for that!
Another interesting thing about using your own auto insurance (may cover any car you drive) or your credit card is that foreign car rental companies may demand the cash on the spot for any damage. They won't wait for your US insurer to pay them. So if you are planning on going this route, best to have alot of cas available through the ATM if you need to payup. They can even stop you from boarding your flite.
This is very valuable information!
Having driven over 25,000 miles in Europe with rental cars I would share the following information with others:
If you don't have to drive, DON'T! It can be very difficult, if thinking about driving in any major city, REALLY DON'T!
If you do, get GPS that speaks your language.
If you rent a car, make sure it will be OPEN when and where you are returning it to. Even airports can be difficult at times.
Try to turn your car in the night prior to your departure. Take a hotel shuttle back to your nearby hotel, especially for early morning international flights!
DO NOT speed in France! It is not worth it and they are really sneaky about catching speeders.
Be prepared for tolls, and most take cc's, but most of the time it is well worth it if you are in a hurry.
If you are traveling to Italy from another country, make sure they allow you to take the rental car to Italy. Recently, in Munich, they would not let me take a BMW to Lake Como!
It can be exhilarating to drive on the AutoBahn in Germany, but don't speed thru work zones, many of them have radar traps. Likewise, do not pass a car on the right, you will get a ticket for that.
Lastly, some of the finest for the price is the "Food Halls" on the highways. They are typically fantastic buffets, inexpensive and wonderful food. My favorite happens to be "Heidiland" South of Zurich on the way to St. Moritz. Don't forget to take you own food and have a picnic. Baden-Baden, has one of the most beautiful "Rest Areas" South of Karlesrue on the autobahn toward either Switzerland or France.
Have fun, drive safely, here are a few photo's you may enjoy:
Heidiland at Bad Regaz, Switzerland. My favorite, but there are many of these in Europe.
Inside what we in America call a "Truck stop", these places are "Far from them"!
Great wood fired grilled food. You just point at what you want, you don't have to speak at all!
So many choices, pasta anyone?
This is a another great place in Tirol in Austria, on the way to Garmisch from Western Germany.
This is a really great place to stop, as most of these type of places are in Europe.
This is a picture from our "Rest area", where we are feasting on some great cheese, ham, and other goodies. A great way to relax and save money!
Hope you enjoy this information.
Thanx ProfC for starting up this thread!
On profchiara's Travel Thread we got to telling ex-pat driving stories along with pluto77. We realized it might be fun to compare driving experiences and stories, so ProfC was kind enough to start up this thread after we could not seem to branch the language thread.
Another fond memory of hanging out in cafe's in college, watching other people drive, as we had no car, was to watch them driving in the traffice and parking.
Some folks would drive down side walks. Once we saw 4 guys pick up a deux chevaux parked at the curb and move it to the sidewalk, and then park their car in its place. The deux chevaux being a odd car to us north american's was the butt of alot of jokes. One was that its engine sounded like a sewing machine winding up. Another was the windows that were hinge horizontally across the middle, so to open it you pushed the buttom of the window out and up till it snapped into place against the upper piece.
Another favorite was watching someone get in or out of a space they were boxed into by first hitting the car in front pushing it, then the car in back, and repeating till they had enough space.
My friends living in Thailand had another story they liked to tell about the expat that returned to the states and was driving on a 2 lane road and wanted to pass, so went between the 2 cars in each lane. The police stopped them and told them it was illegal and was writing out the ticket when the person responded with but there was room between the 2 cars, which is kind of how you drive when you are oversea, with total disregard for the lanes.
Like I said, my sister is an interpid driver, and is great with all this. I am content to be a passenger. Have driven just to make sure I can in an emergency, but prefer not to.