Driving in Germany and France

The lovely Robin and I drove hundreds of miles during our recent ten-day sojourn in Germany and France. While didn't even scratch the surface of those two beautiful countries (our trip focused on southwest Germany and a tiny portion of Alsace-Lorraine in France), we did learn a few things about driving in Europe.

We rented a car, and while our experience at the Dollar rental counter in the Frankfurt airport was unpleasant (the clerk was extremely surly and impolite), our car (a brand new Chevrolet Nubira station wagon, a European-market model) was very pleasant to drive. Except for the radio faceplate, which kept popping off.

I thoroughly enjoyed driving on the highways, which are identified by letters and numbers (I think the letter indicates the size of a roadway, A5 for example being what we would call in the US "I-5"). As we expected, on the "autobahn," their divided highway, where there is no posted speed limit, drivers go as fast as they choose. This was not nearly as scary as you might think, as people generally drove more sanely than many American motorists (and you Massachusetts people know who I'm talking about).

We saw a lot of the countryside, which was tremendously enjoyable. Even when we got lost (which we did twice, but never hopelessly so), it was a pleasure because of the beauty of the area.

Perhaps the most important difference from driving in the US was the way the highway exits and interchanges are marked. In the US, signs almost always indicate a direction as well as a destination (such as, "I-75 North, Dayton"). Not so where we traveled. The signs indicated only the destinations, such as "Karlsruhe/Baden Baden/Strasbourg." Most of the time, this was all we needed. But a couple times, we took a wrong turn because while we knew, for example, we wanted to go to Frankfurt, we weren't so sure offhand if Baden Baden was north or south of where we were.

We also surprised ourselves with our ability to navigate just fine, using signs in French and German. We quickly deduced that ausfahrt meant "exit" and einfahrt meant "entrance" (or, off-ramp and on-ramp). It took a little longer (I had to ask) to learn that einbahnstra├če meant one-way street (I shoulda been able to figure it out, as of course stra├če is "street"). But overall, the signage was surprisingly familiar.

One more surprise: I knew, of course, that the European Union has brought changes, but was nonetheless surprised that crossing the Rhine from Germany into France was like crossing the Ohio River from Ohio to Kentucky. No stop, no checkpoint, no problem.

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