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Wednesday, February 25, 2009

Driving in France

If you're considering driving in France, here are a few things you might want to think about first. How good is your French? Reading, writing and comprehension? One of my first French adventures found me on the Gorge of Galamus (Val de l'Aude) a little tiny car. The road is essentially carved into the side of a vertical cliff several hundred feet high with a roaring river down below. There is maybe a two feet high wall on the gorge side. Not scary enough? It's only one lane with two way traffic. I was on the gorge side. How did I get there, you ask? If you know me, I'm sure you'll laugh when I say my bravado outweighed my common sense. Due to some issues with my flights, my bags hadn't arrived and I didn't have my Michelin map book, AND my French was only good enough at that time to interpret the part of the sign that said Caution High Winds. There will also be times when you have that old guy working his farm for directions or times when you will need to know what's the next town with a gas station, so brush up before you go.

But what I really wanted to tell you about was this great lower priced car rental agency in France called Rent-a-Car. I saved at least $100 on the car rental (for 4 days) when we visited the Loire valley last November, but again, it was due to the fact that I can read French. Also, when we picked up the car, the gentleman couldn't speak English. (This is also why I take people to Paris, to make it easier for you.) Ask one of your French francophone friends to help you with the reservation and maybe jot down a few phrases, like "I pre-paid this on the internet." and "What time do you close?" Mind you, they will respond in French.

A few other differences are roundabouts and tollroads, and the fact that there are not a lot of what we call "freeways" here in California. A lot of roads from one town to the next maybe just one or two lanes, going through or nearby towns and villages, via the roundabout.

At first the roundabout may seem a little confusing, but it's really very easy to use. There is always a sign announcing the roundabout, with the name of the town (or your next direction) marked at the exits of each road. Hopefully before you get to the roundabout, you already know which town/direction you are going. If you see it's the second one, get off on the second one. The entrance to the road is usually marked with the name of the town/direction. If you miss your exit, pas de probleme, you just go around again.

The largest highways are tollroads, and are known as autoroutes. You might not have a toll for a few miles, but sooner or later the tollboths appear. You will be warned by a giant sign that states "peage". Take your ticket and pay when you get off at your exit. Try to have exact change and don't lose the ticket, or you will have to pay some enormous amount. There will also be a few oases on the tollroad for a bite to eat or to gas up your car, and some even have picnic areas.

Another thing to note is that if you are trying to get to a small town, there may not be an exit near it, and you will either have to get off early and make your way to it, or pass it and get off at the next exit and go back. This is really important if you are trying to find a B&B and it's in a little village out in the middle of farm land. It's also essential to have a good map, and I highly recommend the Michelin map book of France.

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