Wednesday, December 1, 2010

...Automobiles, Try again

The automobile portion of our journey.  Cars in Europe are in general much smaller than here.  Drive down some of their streets and you can understand why!  I think I saw one full-size Range Rover, one Chevy pick-up, and one Toyota Sienna the whole time we were there.

The first part of our trip took us from Lyon down to Provence, staying in Nimes.  It was our intention to see some Roman ruins and soak up a little French culture before being bombarded with P-A-R-I-S.  (Good plan, more later.)  Renting a car gave us the flexibility and freedom to take the trip.  So, with four kids and associated baggage we rented the largest car available:

In a shocking revelation, it was big enough!  Three across in the middle, one wedged in the back amongst the baggage.  In fact, in a moment of inspired-and-utterly-reckless parenting, we negotiated that the one wedged in the back didn't have to wear a seatbelt.  Really, it wouldn't have mattered.  Deal struck, and three of the kids took turns experiencing relative isolation.

Important things about driving in France:  In the cities, it is better to have a destination like a landmark that you aim for rather than an address.  All the signs point you toward things and street names change arbitrarily.  Come to think of it, that's sort of like driving in Atlanta!  Anyway, DH got waaaaay lost on the way from the Lyon airport to our hotel, turning a 30 minute drive into a two-hour cruise.

It takes a lot longer to get places than you think! Even on the autoroutes, which are similar to our interstates.  Generally in the U.S. we can pick up an hour on a six-hour drive as estimated by MapQuest.  We never even came close to that in France.  And all of the autoroutes have at least a portion that is toll.  I think we spent at least 100 Euros on tolls driving from Lyon to Nimes to Paris.

There are rest stops called "aires" along all the autoroutes.  These have restaurants, gas stations, even hotels, all to keep you on the autoroute and paying the toll!  Some are only bathroom stops, but we stopped at a couple of places and had decent meals with prices no more than at any other restaurant we ate at.  I mean, I wouldn't have looked for it had we not been on the autoroute, but it was fine.  This was J's Crocque Monsieur at one of them:

As you drive along the autoroutes, you'll see brown signs with a picture and a name.  Then maybe a minute later that site will pop up on the side of the road.  So you don't have to wonder, "Wow, I wonder what that is?"  Very thoughtful, those French.  This is, according to the signs, "Villa de Mornay,  11ieme siecle."

Round-abouts are awesome.  They give you a second chance to pick your turn...just drive around until you feel committed.   This option works much better in towns than in cities!  Which brings me to...

No lanes!  DH drove through Charles de Gaulle Etoile in Paris, the giant round-about with TWELVE streets, including the Champs-Elysees.  I did not take this picture, but here it is.  Bill drove through it at NIGHT.  He is the man.

He considered it the crowning achievement of his driving trip.  And we have both come to the conclusion that confusion is a very effective traffic-calming device.  Lanes seem to be very optional in much of French town driving.  Like this:

No one really knows what their lane is, and they certainly can't tell where the other guys think they are going, so you just have to be kind of careful and a little aggressive all at once.  And it works.

So that is a little about how we got around in France.  Except, of course, Paris Metro and taxis.  But they'll wait, because I have to start my day.  A bientot!  (And someday I will find the keystrokes that give me proper accents and circumflexes...)

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