Newspaper article Pittsburgh Post-Gazette (Pittsburgh, PA)

European Road Trip Takes Preparation Learn Signs and Kilometers before You Go, and Don't Forget Paper Maps

Newspaper article Pittsburgh Post-Gazette (Pittsburgh, PA)

European Road Trip Takes Preparation Learn Signs and Kilometers before You Go, and Don't Forget Paper Maps

Article excerpt

So Mr. Driver's Seat decided Mrs. Passenger Seat finally deserved a real honeymoon after 27 years together, and off to Europe they went.

She wanted to see Venice or Paris, while he saw cheap flights to Barcelona. "No problemo," he said in his best, passable Spanishish, "I'll test drive some cars." Bienvenue, Seor, Monsieur and Signore Driver's Seat!

Every veteran European traveler reacted with the same astonished look when I mentioned this 1.500-mile, three-country journey. But what some consider foolish, I consider a learning experience, and the next four weeks will feature more about driving across the pond.

If you're considering driving in Europe while traveling, here are the tips I've gleaned from two weeks abroad through the easy parts of Spain and France. (Italy and the French Riviera come later, and they're to be avoided.)

Learn the signs: The European Union standardized signs for speed limits (and other signs) from country to country. It took me only a few moments after leaving Barcelona airport to realize the circular sign with the 80 in the middle meant that was the speed limit (in kilometers per hour).

I knew from a trip to Canada as a young boy that 80 was roughly 45 mph, and I wept when I thought about the slowness of it all. But out on the open road, the 100 and 120 (and in France, 110 and then 130) signs brightened my outlook significantly.

(Footnote: Sauf Riverains means "except residents," but a better translation would be "expect to back out of here embarrassedly." At least Mrs. Passenger Seat gave me props: "You should get paid to drive people around these towns.")

Speed is key: In the French countryside, roads that are narrower than our two-lanes and lack a centerline are often marked for 90 kmh (about 55 mph). The locals don't care if you are nervous about it, so get moving, Yankee. Watch for trucks and buses, and be prepared to push off to the side for them, because they aren't going to do it for you.

Slow down in towns: Traffic-calming devices - speed bumps, raised crosswalks, speed hills, dividers, roundabouts in all sizes - make sure that when the French want you to go 30 kmh, you go 30 kmh. …

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